While the Rockies have already begun to report to their shiny new complex in Scottsdale, the Sox won't begin to arrive in Glendale until tomorrow. In celebration, I've put together a list of the key items I'll be watching while the teams prepare for the 2011 season. Buffs basketball coverage will return in earnest tomorrow.
How does Ubaldo rebound: Rebound in this case is relative. Obviously Ubaldo had a great season last year. No-hitter, All-Star game appearance, 3rd in NL CY Young voting, and only the 3rd pitcher in baseball history to win 11 of his first 12 starts and post an ERA under 1. However, his post All-Star performances didn't live up to his sterling 1st half. Sure, a large part of that was a paucity of run support, but it would be nice to see Ubaldo get back to the dominating Ubaldo of the first 2 months of 2010.
|Ubaldo needs to prove that he can continue to be that pitcher from April and May 2010.|
Jhoulys Chacin stepping up to a larger role: (swear to God I spelled his name right without looking it up) We all know about Ubaldo, and Jorge De La Rosa was the one who got paiiiiid in the offseason, but I think Chacin will make or break the starting rotation this season. He can be a little bit of a wild card, but Jhoulys closed his 2010 season strong, going 4-3 with a 2.13 era over the final 2 months of the season. If he carries that strong performance into 2011, the Rockies will have a great shot at winning their first division title in team history.
|It can't just be Ubaldo, the Rox need Jhoulys to have a good season to go far.|
How hard does the media in Denver embrace the Rockies: The Broncos were awful this past year, the Avs are currently in the longest losing streak in team history, and the Nuggets are overly depressing as they fade out of a playoff spot and look to trade superstar Carmelo Anthony. Amidst that tri-fecta of shit step the Colorado Rockies.
When I first moved out here I was dismayed and horrified to find Broncos chatter still dominating the airwaves and back pages in May and June. While that has slowly changed, this is still a football town, and it treats baseball as if it's a passing diversion. This year marks a terrific opportunity for the Rox to change that as nothing else in Denver deserves people's attention. If I hear one more day of talk radio devoted to Broncos mini-camp, I'm going to scream. The Rockies are a good franchise, and they've begun to pony up the cash to back it up.
I expect the media to slobber all over the Rox this season. If they don't, there may be no saving this town.
How the Sox use Chris Sale: The story of Chris Sale is beginning to closely resemble that of Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlain. Is he a closer or is he a starter? In a normal year, this wouldn't be an issue, but with Jake Peavy still recovering from a detached back muscle, there is a hole in the rotation that needs to be filled by someone.
|Sale was flat nasty last season. Now the Sox just need to figure out how to use him.|
In my eyes, since Sale proved to be superbly effective in a set-up/closer/high-leverage role, he should stay in the pen. Regardless, the Sox need to pick a lane and stick with it. Close or start isn't that big of an issue, but constantly switching him back and forth may stunt the kids development. This spring, how the Sox use Sale will be telling. If he begins to go 3+ innings per outing, it's a telling sign that they plan to use him to fill Peavy's slot.
When will Peavy return: Speaking of Peavy, the timing of his return to the mound could determine the course of the whole season. The Sox may have the best 1-5 rotation in the league if everyone's healthy, but Peavy needs to be there to anchor the rotation. He may not be the same pitcher that won the Cy Young in 2007, but he's still superlative, and can get the job done when given the ball.
|This is not the image of Peavy that the Sox were expecting when they traded for him 2 years ago. For the Sox to win he needs to be back in the rotation and pitching well.|
While he seems optimistic, I've yet to be encouraged by the pace of his recovery, and there are still doubts over weather we will see him before the All-Star break. His performance, if any, at Camelback Ranch is key to knowing his return date.
Brent Morel's Development: If Mark Teahan is the 3rd baseman this season, the Sox won't reach .500 and Kenny and Ozzie may murder each other. The only way to prevent this awful event from occurring would be for youngster Brent Morel, with his good glove in tow, to settle into the hot corner on the major league roster. For that to happen, he needs to have another good spring, proving to Ozzie that he can hit on a consistent basis.