Colorado Rockies: 4 Takes from Sunday’s Win in Washington

Aug 28, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon (19) is congratulated by manager Walt Weiss (22) after scoring a run against the Washington Nationals during the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 28, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon (19) is congratulated by manager Walt Weiss (22) after scoring a run against the Washington Nationals during the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

The Washington Nationals are almost certainly going to win the National League East. One thing they will not win, however? The season series with the Colorado Rockies, after a 5-3 Colorado win Sunday. Here are the four biggest story lines from the game Sunday.

1) Nolan and David go back-to-back for the Colorado Rockies:

After giving up a lone run in the first inning, Nationals starter Lucas Giolito looked like he was settling in. He set down the side in order in the second before getting the first two hitters in the third as well. However, the young Giolito got a first-hand glimpse at how hard it can be to close out an inning against hitters as good as the ones in the middle of Colorado’s lineup.

Carlos Gonzalez worked the count full before ripping a hit back up the middle. Then, after getting ahead of Nolan Arenado 0-2, Giolito attempted to throw a fastball past him for strike three, and Arenado hit a low line drive just over the left field wall for his 35th home run of the year.

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Arenado had barely returned to the dugout when David Dahl sent the first pitch of his at-bat over the wall in left-center field. In fact, the home runs came so close together that the Rockies TV broadcast was unable to show Dahl’s swing live because they were still replaying Arenado’s blast.

As fast as Arenado’s home run left the yard, Dahl’s might have been even more impressive. It was not a bad pitch from Giolito, but the Rockies young outfielder went with the outside location and drove it roughly 400 feet to the opposite field. That’s a remarkably impressive piece of hitting, particularly from a guy with all of 32 big league games under his belt.

Sunday was the first time that Arenado and Dahl have hit back-to-back home runs, but there’s a good chance it won’t be the last time.

2) Not bad, Chad:

Sunday’s game didn’t start well for Chad Bettis, as Nationals lead-off hitter Trea Turner hit a no-doubt home run on Bettis’ 4th pitch of the afternoon. But after that ominous beginning, Bettis settled in and pitched quite effectively.

Bettis went went seven full innings, his longest start since April 10th, and allowed just two runs, both on solo homers. He was also very efficient, throwing just 106 pitches. For contrast, Bettis threw 111 pitches in his previous start, which was a full two innings shorter. Perhaps more importantly, the Rockies are now 8-2 in the last ten games started by the right-hander.

Bettis’ lack of truly explosive “stuff” makes him more of a mid-rotation type of guy than a true ace. But you don’t have to be an ace to be a valuable member of a MLB rotation, and Bettis now has a team-leading 11 wins to prove it.

3) Bryce Harper and the pressure of expectations:

2015 was Harper’s breakout season, a monster campaign that saw him hit .330 with 42 home runs and win the National League’s MVP award. Because Harper is still so young, and because he was one of the more hyped prospects baseball has ever seen, many people saw 2015 not as a career year, but the new baseline for the incredibly talented outfielder.

That is, of course, completely insane. Expecting a 23-year old to consistently post numbers that roughly match the peak of Willie Mays‘ career is kind of asking for a lot. Asking him to do it in a largely underwhelming lineup is asking for even more.

Colorado Rockies
Aug 26, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) sits in the dugout during the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite cranking his 23rd home run of the year Sunday, Harper has looked stressed by the weight that comes from an expected franchise leader. That stress has manifested itself in ways that are statistically obvious (a .175 average with RISP and two outs, for instance), but also in less tangible ways (like Harper’s meltdown and subsequent ejection on Saturday).

Harper is a great player, and even in this, a “down season”, he’s one of the game’s best outfielders. While he may never hit .330 again, he’s also certainly better than the .250-ish hitter we’ve seen this season.

This is all just educated speculation here; it’s possible that Harper isn’t feeling the pressure of carrying his team to the playoffs or living up to his spectacular MVP campaign last season. But watching him play this season, it certainly can’t be ruled out either.

4) The last (home)stand:

Let’s be brutally honest here for a second: the Rockies probably aren’t playing postseason baseball this year. However, they aren’t eliminated from contention yet, and at just seven games back of the second wild card spot, crazier things have happened.

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Colorado is back home tomorrow night for the start of a nine-game homestand, all against NL West opponents. The Rockies host the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers; whichever of those two teams doesn’t win the West will likely be a primary Wild Card contender. There’s also a three-game set with Arizona, which will (hopefully) give them a shot to string some wins together.

Next: Colorado Rockies Explode in 11th Inning in Win Over Nationals

Again, it’s a long shot for Colorado at this point. But it’ll be September in just a few days, and the Rockies are still playing meaningful baseball games. That alone is a huge step in the right direction for this franchise.