BY: MICHAEL PINA, ESPN's TrueHoop
The beginning of a fresh baseball season inspires hope in just about everybody: fans, coaches, players, agents, managers, and owners. Everyone peripherally involved feels hope towards April baseball games in a way that very few aspects of life can equal.
|Dexter Fowler helped propel the Rockies to a hot start.|
It’s another chance. No matter how putrid a team was the previous year, by the time Opening Day arrives everyone forgets about it and moves on. The slate is wiped clean.
This isn't to say reasonable expectations aren't placed on every single franchise, and that pressure is nonexistent. But for the many teams projected by common sense to fall on their face, the new season is a time to play fearless ball. There’s no anxiousness, only excitement.
This is how the Colorado Rockies have approached the 2013 season, and it shows. Microscopic sample size and elementary strength of schedule aside, they’re playing phenomenal baseball, fifth in the entire league in run differential (+2.0 per game) after the first week, after many believed they’d struggle.
This isn't to say a good first week makes for smooth sailing the rest of the way, but a five-game winning steak beats a five-game losing streak any day. The Rockies will find hardship, because baseball season’s are long and it’s a game where failure is always waiting around the corner.
But right now, at least, the sun is shining on quite a few of Colorado’s players. Let’s talk about two, starting with Dexter Fowler, the switch-hitting center fielder who’s been incredible so far.
Probably best known for leading the league with 14 triples back in 2010, Fowler’s speed and quick wrists have been on full display so far. After hitting 13 home runs in 530 plate appearances last season, Fowler is already responsible for four moon shots in just 38 appearances. (So, you know, if he keeps this pace up, that evens out to a totally realistic 124 homers!)
In his rookie season back in 2009, Fowler hit four home runs in 518 plate appearances, and the 13 he hit last year were more than twice as many as he’d produced in any single year after that. Unfortunately, Fowler is at the top of the order, and nobody has been on base when they happen (Fowler only has seven RBI) but that obviously a factor beyond his control.
The serious question is how many home runs can he club while playing in the batter friendly confines of Coors Field? Could 13 realistically grow into 20? How about 30? And what does sudden power atop their order do for a Colorado lineup that finished sixth in runs, third in doubles, sixth in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging percentage, third in OPS, and tied for first in hits in 2012?
Obviously defense was the Rockies’ biggest problem last year, but it couldn't hurt to see even more production from a stellar top of the order this year. Fowler’s ability to take the ball yard should be welcome as long as it doesn't have a negative effect on his ability to get on base.
Speaking of defense, the team’s pitching so far has been pretty solid, aside from Jorge De La Rosa’s 6.10 ERA, and the fact that the opposing lineups don’t quite qualify as quality Major League talent. The only real change from last year is the addition of the one-time strong-armed Jon Garland to Colorado’s rotation.
Coming into his first start since undergoing serious shoulder surgery that nearly ended his career in 2011, Garland was concrete. It was just one start in April, but Garland showed he can still go six innings and get a win.
It’s early in the year. That can’t be stressed enough. And it wouldn't go beyond the realm of possible to see Colorado drop five of their next six games. But an improved Dexter Fowler brings as much hope to the ballpark as a 33-year-old Jon Garland winning his first start in nearly a year. The regular season is a long journey that could go horribly wrong at any moment. Sometimes it’s important to recognize all the good that’s going on and appreciate it for what it’s worth.
Michael Pina is a writer for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network and ScoreBig.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.