Making sense of the Colorado Rockies roller coaster opening month


Try and remember how you were feeling before April 14 when German Marquez threw a one-hit shutout against the San Francisco Giants to what still feels like the moment that saved the Colorado Rockies 2019 season. I’m sorry to bring up the bad memories. The Rockies were 3-12 before that brilliant gem by Marquez and there was little hope in sight. But that game has been an insightful microcosm of how the club has gone 10-4 since that shutout.

To put this season in comparison to the last two, where the Colorado Rockies have gone to the playoffs for the first time in back-to-back season, the 2019 version isn’t far off in the first month of the season. In 2017 the Rockies went 16-10 and the 2018 club was 15-15 after April. If Josh Donaldson didn’t hit a three-run homer off of Seung-hwan Oh or Chris Iannetta stepped on home plate in an 18-inning affair in two games before German Marquez’s gem, this club might be on a very similar trajectory. The 2017 club was more consistent with the wins even though they won 87 games compared to the 2018 club who won 91. But the later club was three games under .500 in June. It is fortuitous that the Rockies righted the ship so quickly. The reason behind the turnaround has mostly been because of their starting pitching. The bullpen has held steady even though there were concerns after the club didn’t add much after the departure of Adam Ottavino. While the offense has been some of the worst in baseball, the bats have been picking up and helped the club turn the corner.

This formula has been reminiscent of the past two years and especially towards the end of last season. German Marquez has been the obvious standout of this rotation much beyond his brilliant one-hitter. Kyle Freeland has not been bad by any means but has seemed limited by a blister on his pitching hand. Before going on the injured list, Freeland was 2-3 with a 4.23 ERA. He got back to his 2018 ways by pitching a scoreless six inning sparkling performance against the Phillies. He certainly could have gone further in that game if he wasn’t injured and hopefully the precaution and subsequent rest can help fuel some momentum from where he left off. Against the Brewers in his last game of the month, he really only had one bad inning in the first and pitched sharply the rest of the way.

Jon Gray has been the most promising pitcher of this season. While Marquez has been the best pitcher, Gray is benefitting from putting on muscle in the offseason and really improved the command of all of his pitches. On the start on Easter Sunday against the Phillies, he got into some trouble by walking the eighth hole hitter and the pitcher. Maybe in years past, Gray would have let that get to him and would have lost his composure. Instead, Gray got out of the inning unblemished. While the record of 2-3 might not show his improvement, but his 3.65 ERA does.  Gray will need to limit his walks (as his last start against the Braves showed that he only threw 54 strikes of his 87 pitches and three walks) to continue this upward trend but this is the Jon Gray the team desperately needed to help stay afloat. Tyler Anderson and whoever is in the fifth spot of the rotation will need to create more stability but the starting rotation has been the anchor by far for this Rockies opening month.

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Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Rockies lineup. The same pattern of futile hitting from the end of last season has crossed over into this season. That has slowly been changing though.

The Athletic’s Nick Groke has a great piece analyzing the improvements of this offense, but he points out that this club has a lot of optimism going forward especially with the getting Daniel Murphy back from injury. They still have a lot of room for improvement though. Their swing and miss percentage is the worst in baseball (13 percent) and their OBP is still much to be desired. Since that day in San Francisco, the offense has generally improved and there is optimism heading into the summer. Maybe even to the extent where they can add a bat at the trade deadline and not give up on the entire season.

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That determination was never better encapsulated than when Charlie Blackmon hit a walk-off homer in extra innings after Bryce Harper hit the go ahead run in the top of the 12th on April 19. While the offense looked pedestrian in Milwaukee to open the last series of the month, just like it did in the 2018 NLDS, the previous swing through the NL East looked like they got out of their early season funk. Against the Braves, in arguably the best offensive series of the early season, they scored 25 runs and had commanding leads in each game.

The shut out against the Giants was a good microcosm because it showed the determination of the team. The best moment came when Evan Longoria squeaked a single out in the late innings just past Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story. Arenado threw down his glove in disgust showing more emotion than Marquez did the entire game. They all knew what was at stake and the determination Arenado displayed for his team despite an eight game losing streak is what gives confidence this team won’t back down.