Now that the last 3 days in Los Angeles are over, we can take a look at what to truly expect from the 2015 Colorado Rockies.
Starting the season 7-2, with sweeps on the road of Milwaukee and a very dilapidated San Fransisco Giants team, had a lot of people excited. Maybe this team was better than it should be! I get it. They were fantastic to watch. They were doing everything right. They were hitting on the road like we’ve never seen them hit before, tying the record for most doubles in 2 games. There was even a pinch hit home run to take the lead. They were playing gold glove defense. The bullpen, which was admittedly terrible last year, was lights out aside from a little hiccup by an aging LaTroy Hawkins. Our starters were quite good. Although if you looked deeper, a few of them, including rookie Eddie Butler, were living by the skin of their teeth with deep pitch counts and a lot of traffic on the base paths. After 9 games, they looked solid. Then Los Angeles happened.
The Rox rolled into Dodger Stadium fresh off a sweep of the defending World Champions and promptly got exposed in all 3 games. In game 1, Kyle Kendrick became the Kyle Kendrick this writer expected from day 1. For me, Kendrick is an innings eating 5th starter, nothing more. And he didn’t even get that done in L.A. lasting just 4 and 2/3’s innings allowing 6 ER, throwing more balls than strikes (53 out of 104 total pitches) and walking 4. Not what this rotation needs. Kendrick has now made 3 starts and 2 have been terrible. The Rockies only scored 3 runs with the bright spots being Troy Tulowitzki and Charlie Blackmon’s home runs off of the usually fantastic Clayton Kershaw. Not that he wasn’t fantastic this night. He struck out 12 Rockies.
Game 2 featured Jordan Lyles’ third start of the year. He was mildly better than Kendrick in that he went 6 innings, but he too walked way too many guys to be effective. 5 walks from our starting staff is not going to get the job done. Aside from a 2 run home run from D.J. LeMaheiu, the Rockies bats were again silent.
Game 3 brought Eddie Butler his 3rd start of the year. This is the kind of start we need on a regular basis. Butler went 5IP, giving up 6 hits, 2 earned runs (although better defense from Corey Dickerson likely saves a run), and walking only one, while striking out 6. Butler threw 85 pitches and in my opinion, earned another inning. Instead, Manager Walt Weiss went to a pinch hitter in the 6th to try to get the offense started, but Rafael Ynoa was stranded after reaching third with no outs in the inning. Scott Oberg entered in the 6th inning and promptly gave up 3 long home runs putting the game out of hand in a hurry.
“You’ve got to play tight, clean games against these guys,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. “You’re not going to have many opportunities against this pitching staff and you’ve got to cash in if you do. But we’re going to go home and get on a roll.”
So what did we learn? Well, first and foremost, the Rockies starting pitching is going to have to be very efficient and work deeper into games. According to Fangraph’s, the Rockies starting pitching is 25th in all of Major League Baseball in innings pitched. The walk rate is going to have to come down as well. Rockies starters currently lead the bigs with 5.13 walks per nine innings. Our starters only lasting 5 innings is already forcing the bullpen into a heavy work load (38 2/3’s innings in 12 games). And that could get dangerous over the course of 162 games. The bullpen is going to be very good as long as they don’t have to cover 4 innings every night. Secondly, I think the approach at the plate in Los Angeles was a bit too aggressive. There was a sequence in game three where the Rockies had 1st and 3rd with no one out, in the middle of a 2 run game. Carlos Gonzales had a poor at-bat, and popped up on the infield. Tulo came up and grounded back to the pitcher who started a 1-6-3 double play to end the threat and the inning. In that situation, pitch selection and plan is key. Aside from striking out, those are about the only two things the Rockies didn’t need in that situation. They need to stay aggressive, but be smart and selective too.
The reality is the 2015 Rockies will need a lot to go right for this team to have a shot at any postseason baseball. We’ve more than covered the health issue in the past. They’re a top defending team with maybe the best infield in baseball. Their offense is going to score a lot of runs and should help win a lot of baseball games. More than anything, they’re going to have to pitch, just a little bit, and that needs to start with Jorge DeLaRosa’s return to the team tomorrow. If we’re lucky enough to be within 10 games of the playoff hunt come July, Jeff Bridich is going to need to make a trade for some quality starting pitching. As our own Jeramiah Penaflor wrote, the culture is changing, and maybe that big trade will finally happen. Jon Gray still doesn’t appear quite ready for the big leagues. I’m hopeful that will change sooner rather than later and he can join Butler, Matzek, DeLaRosa, and Kendrick/Lyles. Time will tell. If our starters can pitch to a 4.50 ERA and average 6 innings, this Rockies team should be very successful.