DENVER -- The 2016 Rockies have exceeded the dire preseason predictions. Still, at 40-48 at the break, they know they should be better. Now Colorado must turn the frustration into better second-half performance.
The resurgence of veteran lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who struggled early before a brief tuneup in the bullpen, and the development of rookies Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson are factors behind the better-than-expected rotation. The starters' collective ERA has improved each month -- from 5.60 in April to 5.51 in May, 4.68 in June and 3.98 in July.
But offensive performance -- even with Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez and Trevor Story having combined for 63 homers -- has been spotty. The team OPS went from .838 in April to .765 in May to .671 in June. Also, injuries, from which the Rockies are just recovering, destabilized the back end of the bullpen. The result is a team that has fallen below expectations. This is especially true at home, where Colorado finished two games below .500 (20-22).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Over the past year and a half, Arenado has solidified his superstar status and Gonzalez regained his. Also, center fielder Charlie Blackmon has developed into one of the National League's best leadoff hitters, and second baseman DJ LeMahieu has quietly become one of the best offensive players at his position after already establishing himself as a top defender. Righty Tyler Chatwood returned from Tommy John surgery and was strong in most outings, De La Rosa posted a 2.61 ERA in five starts after returning to the rotation, and Gray and Anderson have pitched like the No. 1 Draft picks they are.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Could the fact the Rockies haven't won in recent years be a part of the explanation for the club going 0-42 when trailing after seven innings and having only one walk-off win? Colorado began the year performing well on the road before falling into the old pattern of non-productive offense as the away team. The bullpen has much potential, but Jason Motte (shoulder) and Adam Ottavino (elbow) were missing to start the year, Jake McGee (left knee) went through an injury period, and Miguel Castro (shoulder) faltered after a strong start because of pain. Motte and McGee finished the first half on sour notes. Left fielder Gerardo Parra, signed for three years and $27.5 million, had 27 extra-base hits, but a below-expected .274 on-base average -- and he hasn't played since suffering a high ankle sprain in early June.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Gray can be dominant with his power and Anderson has advanced knowledge to work his way through the lineup, and both are able to remain composed despite low run support. Righty Carlos Estevez has shown a fastball capable of reaching triple digits, but he has also had some location issues in his trial by fire. If the Rockies don't make a second-half run (as they hope) and they struggle to a well-below-.500 record (as many predict), the key will be Story, Gray, Anderson, Estevez and other young players. In the Minors, knocking at the door are pitchers Jeff Hoffman and Kyle Freeland, outfielders David Dahl, Jordan Patterson and Raimel Tapia, and catcher Tom Murphy.
FIRST HALF TOP POSITION PLAYER
In his fourth season, Arenado has made himself the subject of two discussions. Is he a better defender than former Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, who set the standard from 1955-77? And where does Arenado rank on the list of greatest third basemen in history?
FIRST HALF TOP PITCHER
Chatwood's 1.30 ERA in eight road starts is tops in the NL among pitchers who have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and it's the third-best such mark in the game. Chatwood missed a couple of starts with a back strain suffered in mid-June, but he appears to be healthy.
FIRST HALF TOP ROOKIE
Story finished his first half Sunday with his 45th extra-base hit -- a rookie record before the All-Star break -- and tied Dave Kingman (1972) and Albert Pujols (2001) for the rookie pre-break homer record with 21. This one is easy.