If you had told me at the beginning of the season that the Rockies were going to be in third place in the NL West with a record of 40-42, 6.5 games behind the first place Giants, I would have called you crazy.

The Rockies have a lineup that can strike fear into any pitcher in the league, and they have a rotation that rivals any (save for the Phillies).

But after watching the Rockies fail to score many runs and the starting rotation struggle to find continuity, much less wins, it is painfully clear that Rockies fans should count their blessings that winning the NL West is still within reach.

The question, though, is what went wrong? Wasn’t this team supposed to be the team Rockies fans were waiting for to follow up the 2007 World Series team?

Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez both signed long-term, big-money contracts this offseason only to show up this year and fail to even come close to meeting expectations. Granted, it is only the first half and both players had breakout second halves last year, but it still begs the question: was that money well spent?

“Tulo” and “CarGo,” as they are known locally, have put up fairly average numbers so far. Tulo is hitting .271 with 16 HR, 55 RBI and a .341 OBP while CarGo boasts a mild, but improving .291 BA with 12 HR, 41 RBI, and a .358 OBP.

After hearing about these signings, these aren’t the numbers fans were hoping to see. Tulowitzki is a player that should be hitting over .300 year-in, year-out. Gonzalez is talented enough that he should be hitting near .350 with more than just 12 homers.

The fans have every reason to be displeased with this team. Thank goodness for a strong supporting cast.

Todd Helton is quietly proving that he is one of the best first-baseman in the league this year by hitting .318 and playing the best defense of any first-baseman. At age 37 and in the twilight of his career, those are simply outstanding numbers.

Along with Helton, Seth Smith is one of the MLB‘s most consistent hitters. He is one of only 5 players to hit over .300 every month of the season so far. This is a list that includes the likes of Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Reyes.

It seems that Smith and Helton are the only ones on the team who can find that needed timely hit with runners in scoring position.

Against the Indians on June 21, Smith hit two home runs in the 6th and 9th innings to give the Rockies a win. Locally, Smith has been known as “Mr. Late-Night” due to his heroics in the late innings of games since he came up to the club from Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2007.

In addition to Smith and Helton, Ty Wigginton (lately) has been a huge help in the lineup. After starting the year by failing to meet expectations, Wigginton has finally found his stroke and is hitting balls out of the park with relative ease. His batting average is climbing and he is beginning to gain the trust of fans.

The pitching staff has had more than its fair share of ups and downs this year. The first, and probably most important storyline from the rotation is the struggles of ace Ubaldo Jimenez. He started the year by going 0-7 while lacking control of his fastball, a pitch he lives and dies by.

Lately it seems that he has finally figured out his control problems, but he still lacks velocity on his fastball. Last year, Jimenez boasted a upper 90’s and sometimes 100 mph fastball. This year, his fastball is ranging from 94 to 96, and sometimes hits 97 mph. Most pitchers would love to have this problem, but for Jimenez, that velocity is key.

Because of Jimenez’s struggles, Jorge De La Rosa was thrust into the spotlight as the Rockies’ best pitcher, until he tore a tendon in his pitching elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. It seemed that nothing could go the Rockies’ way this year in the rotation until Jhoulys Chacin stepped up and became the new ace.

Chacin has shown that he is ready to be a big time pitcher in the MLB. His stuff is nasty and can easily fool any hitter. This pitcher is showing the fans that the Rockies’ future is very bright, with a rotation that will boast Jimenez, De La Rosa, Chacin, Juan Nicasio and Jason Hammel.

But this year, with De La Rosa out and Jimenez still searching for his form from the first half of the 2010 season, Chacin, Nicasio and Hammel haven’t shown that they can pick up the slack effectively.

Chacin has great stuff, but he is still very young and is learning how to be a really effective pitcher in the MLB.

Nicasio has brilliant stuff, but he has a lot to learn before becoming a stud starter.

Hammel needs to find consistency and to beg the offense for run support. There are games when his head simply isn’t in the game, as evidenced by his body language during some games. There are also games when he pitches brilliantly, but the offense can’t get anything going, so he takes the loss after surrendering only a few runs.

If this pitching staff could get 100% healthy while playing to its potential and the offense plays to expectations, this team would easily rival the Red Sox or the Phillies for the best team in baseball characterization.

After 2007, the front office of the Rockies promised fans that it would do anything it could to become a perennial contender. So far, the front office has done its job. Now its the players’ turn to prove that the Rockies are for real.

But if this first half is any indication of what is to come, Rockies fans better hold on tight, because it will be a quick, fast ride right back to the cellar in the NL West.

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