Last year's late run obscured the fact that the Rockies began playing strong baseball in late May. Also, the Rockies attacked an issue that had vexed them throughout their history -- the troublesome home/road split. Last season, Colorado's 39-42 road record was the best in team history. The Rox were 21-17 on the road after the break. And even bad Rockies teams have been strong at home. This year's club enters the year with unprecedented confidence.

Calling card

Holliday

The Rockies have pitchers who don't walk batters and a dependable defense. They also have legitimate 20-plus homer threats in spots two though five in the batting order and can put up runs.

Achilles' Heel
The No. 3 and No. 5 spots in the rotation have a make-you-laugh, make-you-cry quality that comes with talented, if inexperienced pitchers. They're going to make mistakes, but too many short, unsuccessful outings could have a ripple effect with the bullpen.

You'll know they're rollin' if ...
The strong heart of the order is beating up other teams' No. 1 pitchers. A high-scoring series at Coors Field in which the Rockies win often leaves the opponent weakened for the next series because of overuse of the bullpen. If the Rockies are doing this to division foes, it bodes well.

Projected starting lineup
1. CF Willy Taveras
2. SS Troy Tulowitzki
3. 1B Todd Helton
4. RF Matt Holliday
5. 3B Garrett Atkins
6. RF Brad Hawpe
7. C Yorvit Torrealba
8. 2B Jayson Nix
Projected rotation
1. LHP Jeff Francis
2. RHP Aaron Cook
3. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
4. LHP Mark Redman
5. LHP Franklin Morales
Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Manny Corpas
Setup: LHP Brian Fuentes
Setup: RHP Luis Vizcaino
Middle: RHP Matt Herges
Middle: RHP Taylor Buchholz
Long: RHP Kip Wells

You'll know they're in trouble if ...

Jimenez

Starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales -- who have never begun a season in the Majors -- are bowing out of too many games early, putting pressure on the bullpen and possibly creating a troublesome chain reaction for the pitching staff.

Testing, testing
The first home series, Friday through Sunday, April 4-6, against the Diamondbacks, should be an indication of how a budding rivalry will progress. The teams will see one another plenty, with nine games between April 4 and May 15.

Interleague Play
The Rockies face the strong American League Central. The White Sox, Indians and Tigers have, to varying degrees, legitimate hopes of representing the American League in the World Series. The Rockies will face the Indians at Coors Field, and the White Sox, Royals and Tigers on the road. Facing the Sox and the Tigers on the road during a June that also sees them traveling to face the Dodgers will be a major test.

The Bottom Line
The Rockies have by far the best offense in the National League West, and there's a good argument for it to be considered best in the NL. The starting pitching has a leader in Jeff Francis and plenty of talent behind him, but they must produce. The bullpen -- the quiet reason for last season's success -- is expected to be strong, but the starters will have to pitch enough innings to prevent overuse.