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Series Preview: Colorado Rockies vs. New York Mets

The Rockies just did the Mets some favors. Hopefully they won't make up for that this week.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It's been another lousy season for the Rockies in 2015. The team that plays its home games a mile above sea level has scored and allowed more runs than any other team in the National League. If only those two figures were equal, the Rockies might have a shot at the second Wild Card spot.

But they don't, because it's still just as maddeningly difficult (impossible?) as it has always been to build a decent pitching staff in Denver. Even when you're able to load the lineup with players who play offense and defense as well as Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and DJ LeMahieu (Colorado's top three players in WAR), the lack of quality pitching is too much to overcome.

None of the hurlers are worth even one win above replacement, and some of those that have come close are injured. Chad Bettis was putting together a nice stretch of starts before going down with an elbow injury (but he should return this season). Jordan Lyles had a ground ball profile that made him a good fit for Colorado, but he's been out with a toe injury since late May. Adam Ottavino was looking like a shutdown reliever before undergoing Tommy John surgery three months ago.

Even if everyone was healthy, though, I'm not sure those guys are enough to turn Colorado's pitching into a staff capable of postseason contention. The good news is that the team has finally traded Troy Tulowitzki for some young players that can help in the future. What's really interesting to Mets fans is the old guy who came back in the deal.

Return of the Kings

When we talked about Tulowitzki possibly being traded in the past (or rather, fantasized about him being traded to the Mets), we didn't expect a player with as much major league success as Jose Reyes being included in the deal. Reyes is exactly what it took to get the move done, though. Plus, Colorado obtained a trio of talented pitching prospects from Toronto, including 2014 first-round draft pick Jeff Hoffman.

Was acquiring Reyes the right move for the Rockies? The shortstop is 32 years old and still has two years after this one (plus a club option) left on his contract. He's not exactly what you'd consider a building block, especially when compared to Tulowitzki. The guy Colorado traded away was two years younger and on a longer contract with an annual payout that was easier to stomach.

All signs are pointing to the Rockies eventually dealing Reyes for another prospect package, but apparently that trade will have to wait until this winter. That's bad news for Rockies fans who want to move on and get a look at budding shortstop prospect Trevor Story (.281/.373/.523 as a 22-year-old in Double-A this year), but it's good news for Mets fans who get to see Reyes in the National League again. Since being traded to Colorado, he's only hitting .205/.238/.256 with a pair of stolen bases, but maybe he'll snap back to his old self when he hears a rousing ovation from the Citi Field faithful.

Tulo wasn't the only slugger

When we talk about why the Rockies shouldn't have made the move for Reyes, we talk about "building blocks" for the future. While Reyes doesn't look like one, that doesn't mean that there aren't any on the current Colorado roster. Just look at Arenado, the 24-year-old third baseman who already played Gold Glove defense coming into this year. Now that he's crushing the ball the way we expect a Rockies corner infielder to (I'm looking at you, Garrett Atkins!), Arenado finds himself on the cusp of superstardom.

That five-percent walk rate could use some work, but Arenado doesn't strike out too much and he hits the ball with power at home and on the road. That last trait is what made Tulowitzki such a valuable player for Colorado, and it's making Arenado into someone who can lead this franchise into the future. Amazingly, Arenado's isolated power is 50 points higher on the road than it is at home.

What's strange about Arenado, though, is that he has struggled mightily against left-handed pitching despite being a right-handed batter. His 61 wRC+ against southpaws is concerning for a cornerstone player, but pretty much all of those struggles come on the road even though he's doing great on the road overall. At Coors field, Arenado is hitting .302/.375/.465 versus lefties.

Another Rockies slugger who is awesome against right-handed pitching is Carlos Gonzalez, the outfielder who is so hot right now. Like with Tulowitzki, the questions about Gonzalez were never regarding if he could hit, but rather how long he could stay healthy. This season, the veteran outfielder has only missed seven games, but he barely hit at all for the first two months. Things started getting warmer in June, and now Gonzalez is raging hot with 15 home runs in his last 27 games.

He's not stealing bases this year, but it sure looks like Gonzalez is back to being the perennial All-Star slugger we're used to seeing. He used to get mentioned in just as many trade rumors as Tulowitzki, but at 29 years old, Gonzalez might be someone worth holding onto until his contract expires after the 2017 season. On the other hand, if he keeps slugging like this for the rest of the year, he might fetch a higher return than Reyes in a potential winter trade. The only problem is that unlike Arenado, the left-handed Gonzalez hasn't hit lefties at home or on the road this season.

Hope in the pitching department

Yes, pitching has always been the bugaboo for Colorado, and injuries haven't helped the matter this year. However, there are some young guys pitching for the team right now that might be part of the solution. The most prominent of those is Jon Gray, the rookie right-hander who is supposed to bring balance to the force in Denver. That sounds like a lot of responsibility, but the first-round pick of the 2013 Draft was pitching solidly enough at Triple-A to warrant a call-up. Gray's major league debut last week was short (four innings) and not so sweet (three runs allowed), so it will be interesting to see if he fares better away from Coors Field.

Date Time Television Rockies Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
August 10, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Jon Gray Jon Niese
August 11, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Chris Rusin Matt Harvey
August 12, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Jorge De La Rosa Jacob deGrom
August 13, 2015 12:10 PM SNY Eddie Butler Noah Syndergaard

Tuesday's starter will be Chris Rusin, the ground-ball lefty who was picked up by Colorado off waivers at the end of the 2014 season. This year, he's done a great job to boost his strikeout and ground ball rates over those from his Cubs career, but (shocker) he's also allowing more home runs. Rusin's 4.66 ERA isn't anything special, but the way he has improved this year as a 28-year-old (career-low 3.76 xFIP) gives hope that he can be a back-of-the-rotation guy in the future.

Hope is something that Rockies fans are beginning to lose when it comes to Eddie Butler. The 24-year-old was a highly-touted prospect coming into the year, but he hasn't posted an acceptable strikeout rate since 2013 at High- and Double-A. Butler reached the majors for a cup of coffee last year thanks to a 3.58 ERA in Double-A, but he was only striking out around five batters per nine at that level. Now in the big leagues, the right-hander is walking more batters than he's striking out for a 1.81 WHIP. That's kind of scary and probably a sign that Butler should be working on his craft somewhere outside of Denver.

Before they see Butler, though, the Mets will deal with Jorge De La Rosa, one of the rare hurlers who has made a long-term career for himself in Colorado. The left-hander has been pretty consistent since June aside from a trio of starts that saw him give up six runs in each. This year, De La Rosa has found success by getting some more of the swings and misses that helped him establish himself when he first came to Denver in the late 2000s. He's not going to the Hall of Fame (or even an All-Star Game) any time soon, but this is a guy who is unfazed by altitude that the Rockies should look at and say "we need more like him."

With a hot Jon Niese and the big three right-handers on the hill this week, the Mets have more than enough pitching talent to be successful at home. They shouldn't get too confident, though. Not only is Noah Syndergaard coming off an outing that made him look like a mere mortal, but when Arenado and Gonzalez face right-handers, it's like every park is Coors Field. Another reason the Mets shouldn't let their guard down: They just watched Colorado take a series in Washington over the weekend.

Prediction: Mets win three of four.

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