The Colorado Rockies couldn’t complete a four-game sweep of the Phillies on Thursday night, dropping the series finale in extra innings. Nevertheless, it was still another series win for a team that’s lost just one series this season.
This squad came out of nowhere to produce the best record in the National League. It’s easy to assume luck has played a key role and everything is going its way. Colorado was 12 games under .500 last year. You don’t make that kind of jump without catching a ton of breaks. Nevertheless, the Rockies have won despite numerous injuries and individual struggles.
Sure, they’ve been lucky, too. Mark Reynolds will regress. He won’t have a .311 average at the end of the year. He won’t have a .948 OPS either. Those numbers are lower than they were a few weeks ago and they’ll continue to slide closer to his career norms.
While Reynolds will see some regression, there’s plenty of room for growth elsewhere in this offense. In fact, this offense is probably under producing. Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon are the only other starters putting up above-average production, according to OPS+, and both have already established themselves as star players. Their numbers will continue.
Meanwhile, Carlos Gonzalez’s bat is just now starting to heat up. He’s still only hitting .256 and has just four home runs in 44 games. But we all know that he’s a much better hitter than that. He will get hot. The same goes for Ian Desmond, D.J. LeMahieu and Trevor Story. The return of players like David Dahl and Tom Murphy should help, too.
Of course, offense was never a question. The Rockies have the luxury of hitting in baseball’s most hitter-friendly park for half their games. We can usually find Colorado amongst the league leaders in runs scored, even in losing seasons. The pitching, on the other hand, typically pays the price.
This year, the pitching has been a pleasant surprise. But can it continue?
The addition of Greg Holland in the closer’s role was, perhaps, the most important and underrated move of the offseason. The ace reliever has allowed just two runs and 15 base runners in 18.2 innings of work. He’s leading baseball with 19 saves and has effectively shortened the game to eight innings for the Rockies.
The addition of Holland also allowed Colorado to push the rest of the pen up an inning. Adam Ottavino has been a success setting up Holland despite some command issues. He’s getting the job done from the right side and Jake McGee has allowed just four runs in 19 innings as another big strikeout pitcher from the left side. Chris Rusin has transitioned well from the rotation to a long relief role. Other arms like Mike Dunn and Scott Oberg don’t have great numbers, but they’re both strikeout pitchers, which translates well in the Rocky Mountains.
Ten years ago, the Rockies advanced to the World Series, and they did so on the strength of their bullpen. The starting staff was nothing to write home about. They got enough from Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook and then 23-year old Ubaldo Jimenez, but only Francis had more than 10 wins or 166 innings in that rotation.
It was the bullpen that carried this team. The Rockies routinely battled in early slugfests before the pen shut the door. Between Brian Fuentes, Manny Corpas, Jeremy Affeldt, LaTroy Hawkins and Jorge Julio, they had an endless supply of closers and setup men.
A decade later, the 2017 Rockies are built similarly. Look for them to sustain success in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests.
Much like the 2007 team, they’re getting solid work out of the rotation from a collection of generally young arms. Josh Fogg was the exception in 2007. This year’s team doesn’t have an exception, but Bud Black has done a great job putting these pitchers in a position to succeed. Interestingly, the younger rotation of this 2017 group has actually produced even better results than the 2007 starting staff.
Rookies Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and German Marquez have been dealing, each posting a sub-4 ERA. They’ve combined for a 14-5 record and found early success at Coors Field.
Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson are the veterans, per se, and they’re not dominating, but what they are doing is keeping the team in the game. They’re allowing the offense to keep pace with the opposition, giving the game over to the pen with a chance to win.
How far Freeland, Senzatela and Marquez are able to go will factor heavily into whether the Rockies can sustain their success through the summer, into September and beyond. Black will need to find times to give his young rotation extra rest to save innings. What could help with that is depth.
Jeff Hoffman has come up and made a couple successful starts. Meanwhile, let’s not forget that Jon Gray was the team’s Opening Day starter and he’s made just three starts due to injury. Gray’s return could boost this rotation, as could the return of Chad Bettis. The 28-year old is battling testicular cancer, but expects to return later this year. He’s produced back-to-back winning seasons with Colorado, going 14-8 last year.