Are the Rockies and Diamondbacks about to take over the NL West?
The similarities are striking.
The Rockies and Diamondbacks not only are perennial NL West doormats, but they’re also teams with new managers and position players in their primes.
Both are off to excellent starts, the Rockies at 13-6, the DBacks at 12-8. And both are in position to further disrupt the NL West status quo, with Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner out for at least 6 to 8 weeks.
It would be foolish to dismiss the Giants, even as bad as they look at 6-13, with the highest rotation ERA in the majors. It would be even more foolish to overlook the Dodgers, who have pitched inconsistently, again struggled against left-handers and displayed a seeming lack of urgency during their 9-10 start.
The improvement in both the Rockies and DBacks is evident, albeit with the schedule just a little more than 10 percent complete.
Still, both teams face their own issues.
The Rockies’ rotation will include three rookies once they promote right-hander German Marquez to replace the injured Jon Gray on Tuesday.
The DBacks, meanwhile, suffered a potential blow on Sunday when righty Shelby Miller left his start against the Dodgers due to forearm tightness. Miller will undergo an MRI to determine whether he suffered a major elbow injury on Monday.
As the Giants surely can attest, baseball – like life – changes every day.
Early on Sunday, a few hours before Miller’s start, I asked Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo his biggest concern.
He did not hesitate with his reply.
“The fear of injury,” Lovullo said. “The depth in an organization is always a concern. Our health is of utmost importance for us to maintain what we’re doing.”
The loss of Miller for an extended period would diminish the excitement over the early performance of the DBacks’ rotation, which ranks sixth in the NL in ERA. Left-hander Patrick Corbin, in particular, looks ready to fulfill the top-of-the-rotation potential he showed in 2013, before he underwent Tommy John surgery.
The DBacks could adjust by transitioning righty Archie Bradley back into their rotation, but that would compromise their bullpen; Bradley has helped stabilize what many expected to be the team’s biggest area of weakness.
Still, the compelling thing about both the Rockies and DBacks is that their position players, in particular, are not only talented, but also of the mindset that they’re finally good enough to compete with the Dodgers and Giants.
Unusual confidence, considering the Rockies last reached the postseason in 2009 and the DBacks in ’11.
The Dbacks, though, lead the majors in runs, and the Rockies surely will rise from their current position — 16th, just ahead of the injury-depleted Mets.
Lovullo said the vibe with the DBacks reminds him of his previous team, the Red Sox, for whom he served as a bench coach. He likened it to a brotherhood.
Rockies manager Bud Black sees the same thing in his group, saying that from the first day of spring training he saw that his top position players were “raised well” and “went about it the right way.”
“They realize that they’re a good team, that they’re capable, very capable of doing what we all set out to do — and that is contend,” Black said. “There’s a belief that is coming forward from these guys. Then you add the work ethic, the preparation that they put in, it’s really impressive.”
The return of Ian Desmond from a fractured left hand in 7 to 10 days will add another such player to the Rockies’ mix. The Rockies signed Desmond to a five-year, $70 million free-agent contract intending him to play first base for at least this season. But they later added first baseman Mark Reynolds, who in Desmond’s place is batting .318 with five homers and a 1.000 OPS.
Once Desmond is healthy, Black said that he could use Desmond and Reynolds in the same lineup against certain left-handers, with Desmond likely playing outfield.
“His ability to move around the diamond — it wasn’t the intent when we signed him — but things are always fluid, things change. And he’s up for that,” Black said. “The ability to be versatile with guys, give guys days off and still have a very good lineup is advantageous.”
Outfielder David Dahl further will increase the Rockies’ options when he returns from a stress reaction in his ribcage, perhaps in three weeks.
The Rockies’ bullpen, bolstered by the additions of free agents Greg Holland and Mike Dunn and improved health of Adam Ottavino and Jake McGee, is the best in the NL to date. And Black, a former major-league pitcher and pitching coach, views even the inexperience of the rotation in a positive light.
“I dig the young guys. I think it’s fun to work with these guys. And I know that (pitching coach) Steve Foster and (bullpen coach) Darren Holmes feel the same way,” Black said. “These guys are coachable, they listen, they don’t scare off.”
Black is not delusional — “there are going to be some growing pains . . . these guys in a lot of ways haven’t passed the test of time.” But maybe what the Rockies needed all along was a manager with a pitching background. And maybe the DBacks, in choosing the upbeat, organized Lovullo, also found the right man at the right time.
Neither manager will publicly admit the obvious — that the Bumgarner injury and Dodgers’ sluggish start creates unexpected opportunity. Fans are right to remain suspicious — if recent history is any guide, no one should get too excited about either of the NL West upstarts.
The Rockies and DBacks do not want to hear it.
New managers. New ambitions. And maybe a new west order.