Rockies Journal: Ezequiel Tovar team MVP? Kris Bryant’s productivity? Peter Lambert’s future?

A month’s worth of questions as the Rockies begin September baseball:

• Will the Rockies lose 100 games for the first time in franchise history? They entered the weekend with a 49-84 record (.368) and on pace to finish 60-102. To avoid 100 losses, the Rockies must finish with a 14-15 record in September.

• Will the Rockies top last year’s attendance mark at Coors Field? Given their record and quality of play, you wouldn’t think so, but there is a chance it will happen. Entering the weekend series vs. Toronto, the Rockies had averaged 32,050 per game at Coors compared to last year’s 32,467. But here’s the thing: the Cubs, Dodgers and Giants are still coming to LoDo and they tend to bring lots of fans to the ballpark.

• Will shortstop Ezequiel Tovar, just 22, finish the season as the Rockies’ best all-around player? He’s clearly the club’s best rookie but he’s also rivaling third baseman Ryan McMahon for team MVP honors. Tovar’s .986 fielding percentage is second to former Rockies star Troy Tulowitzki (.987 in 2007) for the best fielding percentage by a rookie shortstop in National League history.

Tovar’s already hit 15 home runs, second behind McMahon’s 22. And Tovar’s 62 RBIs are tied with Elias Diaz for second-most on the team behind McMahon’s 67. Tovar’s been the steadier player and he keeps getting better.

• Is rookie outfielder Nolan Jones a budding star? September could provide more evidence that he is. There’s work to do, for sure. He’s still a project in the outfield and his 33.5% strikeout rate is concerning. But Jones is hitting .415 with runners in scoring position, which ranks seventh all-time among rookies (minimum 60 plate appearances) since 1974 when the statistic was first tracked.

And here’s a mind-boggling stat to consider: Jones already has 12 outfield assists, and his current 0.20 assists-per-nine-inning rate is tied with Robert Clemente (1961) and Jeff Francouer (2005) for the third-best mark in the majors since 1960.

• Will any of the current “fill-in” starters be in the rotation next season? I use the term “fill-in” because the Rockies weren’t counting on the likes of right-handers Peter Lambert, Chris Flexen and Chase Anderson, or lefty Ty Blach, to be big-league starters in 2023. This final month of the season will tell us a lot.

If I had to predict one pitcher who will be in the rotation next season, it would pick Lambert. He’s finally healthy and has posted a 3.60 ERA with 1.133 WHIP in his nine starts. Blach has been good, too, posting a 2.86 ERA with a 1.212 WHIP in seven starts. But since the Rockies already have lefties Austin Gomber and Kyle Freeland in the mix, I can envision Blach in a long-relief role next season.

• Will Charlie Blackmon return to the Rockies next season on a new, team-friendly contract? And can he still play? The answers are yes, and yes.

As Blackmon told me recently, “There is definitely a possibility I’ll come back.” Since returning from the injured list, Blackmon is slashing .377/.492/.585 with two homers and two triples and has reached base safely in all 15 games.

• Will Kris Bryant play again this season? If so, will he produce? The answer to the first question is yes, but he’s still waiting for his broken left index finger to heal. The answer to the second question is the Rockies better hope so.

Since Bryant signed a seven-year, $182 million contract before the 2022 season, he’s played in just 107 games and accumulated a minus-0.2 WAR. He’s hit just 13 homers and driven in only 37 runs in 446 plate appearances. In 2016, when he was the National League MVP with the World Series champion Cubs, Bryant’s home run rate was 5.6%. With the Rockies, it’s 2.8%.

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