Colorado Rockies: Pitching shining through offensive strife

SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 2: Chad Bettis #35 of the Colorado Rockies pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on April 2, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 2: Chad Bettis #35 of the Colorado Rockies pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on April 2, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

We’re a little over a month into the 2018 season, and despite a very slow offensive start, the Colorado Rockies are 21-16 after splitting a brief two-game series with the Los Angeles Angels at Coors Field. The club has the pitching staff to thank.

It’s odd, isn’t it?

Through the games of May 9, the Rockies are five games over .500, with a 21-16 record, and 3.5 games behind the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s not because of impressive offensive performance. In fact, Colorado sits 29th in Major League Baseball with a team wRC+ of 76 according to FanGraphs, just above the tanking Miami Marlins, and behind the nine-win Baltimore Orioles. If anything, offense is the club’s anchor through the first 37 games, due in large part to underperforming, everyday-starting veterans.

No, the club has fought tooth and nail for those 21 wins, carried by the young pitching staff and the imposing, big-money bullpen. We’ve entered into a new era of Rockies baseball.

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Until it was halted by the Angels Wednesday afternoon, the Rockies had rattled off a six-game winning streak. All but one of those wins were on the road.

The final scores of those six games? 3-1, 11-2, 8-7, 2-0, 3-2 and 4-2. The Rockies scored more than four runs just twice, but gave up more than two only one time. Even more impressive, Jon Gray‘s seven scoreless innings on Tuesday night secured the ninth straight quality start for Rockies pitching. According to the Rockies’ PR Twitter account, that set the record for the longest streak of consecutive quality starts in franchise history.

A welcome surprise

Perhaps the greatest story of the young season for the Rockies has been the resurgence of right-hander Chad Bettis. Currently holding down the fourth rotation spot, Bettis has exceeded expectations so far. After losing the majority of his 2017 season to his bout with cancer, he’s putting together a Comeback Player of the Year-worthy campaign. He owns a 4-1 record through seven starts with a 2.05 ERA, good for seventh-best in baseball, tied with the Phillies’ Aaron Nola. He’s not striking out many hitters (he has just 27 so far), but he’s been effective so far in limiting hard contact. Through 44.0 innings, his WHIP is just 1.05, and he’s limiting opposing hitters to a .206 average against, as well as a .224 BABIP.

Bullpen cornerstone

The Rockies spent more than $100 million during the offseason to shore up the bullpen, but arguably the Rockies’ best reliever this year has been on the roster since 2012. That’s right, I’m talking about Adam Ottavino. He’s been virtually unhittable in his 19 appearances, owning a 1.35 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and .095 BAA in 20 innings. He’s struck out 35 of 72 hitters he’s faced this year, and is already worth 1.1 bWAR.

The difference between his 2017 and 2018 seasons has been night and day after he posted a 5.06 ERA in 63 games last year, and didn’t even make the Rockies’ Wild Card roster. If Ottavino can keep this up, he’ll be a huge piece of the puzzle as the Rockies aim to play meaningful second-half baseball for the second straight year.

Rockies ace?

Gray has been one of the more controversial players on the team. Many want to think of him as the Rockies true ace, but he just hasn’t been able to take the next step to become an elite shutdown starter. His 2017 Wild Card start didn’t do much to earn him brownie points with critics, either.

Enter 2018. After a slow start to the season, Gray is pitching like the ace the Rockies need him to be. He’s won each of his last three starts, and has lowered his ERA to 4.24 after giving up just one run on 10 hits in 20 innings in those starts. He has also struck out 18 hitters during that span.

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Final thoughts

If Colorado’s pitching staff continues to perform like it has been the past couple of weeks, it will go a long way toward the Rockies’ postseason chase later on in the season. The bigger problem the club has at the moment is the offense. Jeff Bridich and Co. will have to be on the lookout for possible trade partners to give the starting nine a boost.