Rockies face healthy to-do list to stay in NL West contention |

Rockies face healthy to-do list to stay in NL West contention

DENVER, CO - MAY 19: Dexter Fowler #24 of the Colorado Rockies scores during the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field on May 19, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Giants 5-0. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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On this date, one year ago, the Rockies lost 6-4 to the lowly Seattle Mariners, giving the Mariners a three-game sweep. Boos rained down at Coors Field.

“We are in a rut right now,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said at the time. “We are going to have to dig our ourselves out. Nobody likes it. It’s no fun to go through it.”

The Rockies’ record was 15-25 and they were already 12½ games out of first place in the National League West. Their home record was 9-14. The journey toward a 98-loss season, the worst in franchise history, was just beginning.

A year later, the landscape is dramatically different.

After taking three of four from the Giants, the Rockies entered Monday night’s game against the Diamondbacks with a 24-20 record and a 14-8 mark at Coors Field. They are just one game behind the D-backs in the NL West. By the end of the three-game series, the Rockies could be leading the division.

It’s an encouraging turnaround.

But can the Rockies be true contenders as first-time manager Walt Weiss professes? Can they really win the West?

I don’t think any team is going to run away with this division, so it’s there for the taking. But for the Rockies to stay in contention and play meaningful games in August and September, they have an extensive to-do list.

Let’s begin:

• Tulo must stay healthy. After missing most of the 2012 season, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is once again playing at an all-star level. Still, his leg issues will have to be monitored every day, all season. So far, very good.

• The rotation must keep evolving. Starting pitching has been better than I expected, and Juan Nicasio’s start Sunday against the Giants was heartening. But it’s been a roller-coaster ride for everyone in the rotation, No. 1 starter Jhoulys Chacin included. What the Rockies need is one pitcher to emerge as a true ace — someone who can halt a losing streak.

• Stay steady in center. Leadoff man and center fielder Dexter Fowler is a streaky hitter. That’s just who he is. He needs to eliminate the deep troughs that plague him. He’s a dynamic part of the offense, and the Rockies can’t afford big-time slumps from him. When he’s on, Colorado’s lineup is the best in baseball.

• Hit on the road. The Rockies hit just .241 on the road last season, as opposed to .306 at home. The splits look much better this season. They are hitting .285 at home (and that will go up as the weather heats up) and .260 on the road (third best in the NL).

• Improve their defense. It’s been OK, but it needs to get better. Currently the Rockies rank eighth in the NL with a .984 fielding average. But playing at Coors Field requires near perfection. I have concerns about Eric Young Jr. in the outfield, and I had hoped Josh Rutledge would have been a little smoother at second.

That said, Nolan Arenado gives a Gold Glove dimension at third, and Tulo, Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton have been 24-karat.

• Lessen the bullpen’s load. Rockies relievers have done a remarkable job so far. Their 3.04 ERA is the fifth best in the National League. But I do have concerns that a heavy workload is going to get wear out bullpen arms.

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