Rockies hope hitters are blasts from the past.
Tucson - When outfielder Dave Roberts became a free agent last winter, he talked personally with manager Clint Hurdle. The Rockies never came close on the money, but as Roberts retired to his new San Francisco Giants clubhouse he was asked why he considered Colorado in the first place.
"Atkins, Holliday, Helton, Hawpe," Roberts said without hesitation. "If you get on base, those guys are going to knock you in."
Entering today's Cactus League opener against the Chicago White Sox, the heart of the Rockies' lineup - Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday, Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe - has quietly evolved from unproven to undesirable for opposing pitchers. The Nos. 3-6 Colorado hitters have 30-home run, 100-RBI seasons on their résumés or the potential to reach that benchmark.
"Honestly, I don't like pitching against them," San Diego Padres starter Chris Young said. "You are talking about guys who have a good approach who can really hurt you."
The Rockies are counting on a ramped-up, wide-open offense to steer them to their first winning season since 2000. They promise to be more aggressive on the bases, bunt less often - "We don't need to give away outs," Hawpe said - and deliver more haymakers.
The Rockies scored only 813 runs last season, well shy of their goal of 900, and hit just 157 home runs, including a franchise-worst 75 at Coors Field. But reel off the names of Atkins, Holliday, Helton and Hawpe and the optimism is startling in spring camp.
"It's as good as we have had since the days of Galarraga, Bichette, Burks and Walker," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "This group has a chance to have productive power."
Owner Dick Monfort inched one step further, making a comparison unimaginable three years ago when the franchise launched a full-blown youth movement.
"Could it be the Blake Street Bombers again?" he wondered. "I hope so."
The production of the foursome is paramount, because most scouts believe the Rockies will have to outhit teams to win due to questions about their starting rotation.
Atkins and Holliday added teeth to the lineup with breakthrough seasons a year ago. Only reigning MVP Ryan Howard had more RBIs than Atkins over the final four months (102 to 94). Atkins led the NL with 102 hits after the all-star break, among them 18 of his 29 home runs.
Holliday made his first all-star team and blasted 34 home runs, second-best ever by a Rockies homegrown player.
"I don't think it's premature to call those two elite players," Padres catcher Josh Bard said. "They better back up the jumbo jet to pay them, because they are only going to get better."
Holliday believes the threat of power can be as important as real power, influencing how the team is pitched and defended. Atkins said the Rockies' group is capable of maximizing home-field advantage, even if Coors Field doesn't play like the pinball machine it reverted to last September.
"I wouldn't mind that, but nobody wants to play 3 1/2-hour games all season," Atkins said. "We just have to be more consistent, instead of winning 10-0, then getting shut out the next night."
Central to the lineup living up to its potential is Helton's recovery. He has bulked up to 230 pounds - "I have never seen him stronger or more focused," Hurdle said - and is bent on rebounding after hitting just 35 total home runs the past two seasons.
Once the focus on the team, he's now just another critical component to a lineup that could be a blast from the past.
"You pretty much know what you are going to get from Atkins and Holliday," Helton said. "And you have guys now who can produce runs. The power is part of that, but it's all about producing runs."