Sarah's Take: Surprising starts for Rox, Dodgers

Sarah's Take: Surprising starts for Rox, Dodgers

When Spring Training began, most members of the media, including me, believed the Colorado Rockies would finish last in the National League West, while the Los Angeles Dodgers would finish near the top.

So far, the Rockies have competed well. The Dodgers have disappointed.

Why?

No one can predict accurately how a baseball team will do, but everyone who follows the sport somewhat tries. However, teams with too many expectations often disappoint and frustrate while teams with no expectations delight fans and live in our memories forever.

The Rockies had an abysmal record in 2012, narrowly missing 100 losses for the first time in franchise history. They had injuries to key players such as Todd Helton, Michael Cuddyer and Troy Tulowitzki, but they also had deficiencies in many areas.

The Rockies had awful defense giving the opposition more scoring opportunities. This was surprising from a team managed by Jim Tracy, who always stressed the importance of fundamentals. The Rockies play in Coors Field so they may never have excellent pitching statistics, but they should not have the worst in baseball. The 2012 Rockies had the worst pitching in the NL. Their offense could never capitalize on scoring opportunities, and they weren't aggressive on the bases.

At the end of the season, though the Rockies wanted him to return, Tracy resigned. He appeared not to want to deal with the challenges of managing the Rockies.

The Rockies took a long time looking for a manager who had experience with Coors Field. They settled on Walt Weiss, a former Rockies shortstop from 1994-98, although he had no Major League or Minor League managerial experience. He was coaching a high school baseball team, where the emphasis was making the players into good responsible young men instead of winning games and championships.

Although Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox and Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals experienced exceptional success in their first year in managing in the Majors without any prior managerial experience, they didn't face the same challenges as Weiss. They didn't take over a last-place team, nor did they have their teams playing half of their games in a high-altitude stadium.

Weiss has brought new intensity to the Rockies. With no expectations of winning their division, except within the organization, Weiss can do several experiments to see what works. The Rockies are aggressive on bases. Their fielding has been awesome, so the opposition has been forced either to connect hits together or to homer to score. The pitching, especially the bullpen, has been amazing.

Despite not making many headline-catching moves during the offseason, the Rockies have played like a contender. And while Denver has had unseasonably cold, snowy weather, the Rockies have played exceptionally well at home.

But the Dodgers have disappointed everyone. Despite their humongous payroll, the Dodgers finished April below .500.

They didn't begin May well, either. The Dodgers haven't won a game during this month, and Hanley Ramirez returned to the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Adrian Gonzalez, nursing a stiff neck after running into the umpire, can't play. Ted Lilly has returned to the DL with an oblique problem.

Mark Ellis has not played since Friday after straining his quadriceps. The Dodgers don't have anyone to promote to play second base. Although Carl Crawford returned to the lineup Saturday, he missed three games with a tight hamstring, further weakening the offense.

Even with everyone healthy, the Dodgers haven't played up to expectations. On the base paths, the team isn't aggressive, so the Dodgers appear to be waiting for the three-run homer to score. Even though they have at least two power hitters in the lineup at a given time, three-run homers are rare. Every team needs to manufacture runs regardless of the number of power hitters in the lineup.

Like many teams that have high expectations before Spring Training begins, the Dodgers feel the pressure to perform instead enjoying the game. They have played the game cautiously.

Oh yes, injuries have decimated the Dodgers' starting rotation. Although throughout Spring Training Chad Billingsley didn't experience elbow problems, the Dodgers shouldn't have been shocked when he needed Tommy John surgery. The injury to Zack Greinke shouldn't have happened, but Greinke appears to be ahead of schedule with no discomfort after throwing a bullpen session Saturday. Chris Capuano returns from having a calf muscle strain Monday. Hopefully by June, the Dodgers will have a stable starting rotation.

While the starting rotation has had many injuries undermining its effectiveness, the bullpen hasn't performed the way that the Dodgers expected. However, the bullpen has become a weakness. Coming into the season, everyone associated with the Dodgers thought the bullpen would be a major strength. Though the starters' injuries have put more stress on the front end of the bullpen, they haven't affected the back of the bullpen.

Brandon League since the first week of the season has made every save an adventure. On Saturday in a game where the Dodgers battled to overcome a large deficit, League gave up the winning home run to the Giants. The Dodgers must consider removing League from the closer role and replacing him with Kenley Jansen.

While the Rockies are going to be competitive in the NL West with their aggressive play, the Dodgers with all of those expectations might sink to last place in the division. With the recent promotion of Dee Gordon, they should increase their aggressiveness and might overcome their disappointing start.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.