If anyone watched a Rockies game last year and saw the bullpen stringing together shutdown innings while the offense scuttled along, they might have thought they were living in an alternate reality.
In 2016, Colorado ranked second in runs scored (845) scored. Its ‘pen ranked dead-last in ERA (5.13).
But so far in the still-young 2017 season, last year’s weakness has become this year’s strength and vice versa.
Rockies relievers are collectively rocking the seventh-best ERA in baseball (2.31). They’ve logged 35 innings — an average of 3 1/2 per game. Meanwhile, the Rockies are failing to generate much at the plate; Colorado, which was blanked 6-0 by the San Diego Padres on Wednesday, has scored just 21 runs over its last eight games.
“We’ve got to get going,” said right fielder Carlos Gonzalez, who’s started the year hitting .200. “Offensively, we’re not scoring runs. I think the pitchers are doing a tremendous job. We’ve got to step up and score some runs. It’s kind of hard for the pitchers when we don’t score runs. They’re giving us a chance. We’re just not doing it.”
Gonzalez is right. The Rockies are hitting just .225 as a team. Several of the team’s best bats are off to slow starts.
Center fielder Charlie Blackmon is hitting .256. D.J. LeMahieu, the National League’s reigning batting champion, is hitting .171 after an 0-for-3 day Wednesday. Gonzalez is struggling to find his rhythm at the plate, as is shortstop Trevor Story, who’s batting .129 and has more than three times as many strikeouts (13) as hits (four). Those four have combined for 27 hits in 140 at bats — a .192 average.
“We’ll get it going,” Rockies manager Bud Black said Wednesday after his club was three-hit. “This group is too talented offensively to stay mired in a slump.”
When Colorado’s gotten early leads this year, it’s actually been able to hold on to them. The club’s two offseason additions to the bullpen — Mike Dunn and Greg Holland — have looked great. They share almost identical lines to start the year. Each has thrown five innings, given up no runs, walked two and struck out eight.
Jake McGee, whose average fastball velocity has creeped back up past 95 mph, looks like his old self. Youngster Carlos Estevez looks more comfortable in an earlier-inning role. Even Jordan Lyles — Jordan Lyles! — pitched a clean 2 1/3 innings Wednesday.
Colorado relievers have struck out 47 batters and walked 11 the first 10 games of the 2017 season. The ‘pen’s improvement has played a big role in the Rockies getting off to a 6-4 start.
Now if only the bats can get going.
“They’re fine,” Black said. “These guys are confident players. This group all believes in themselves, they believe in each other, they believe in this team. Again, this is a long haul. I don’t think there is anything to worry about offensively.”
Subscribe to Denverite’s weekly sports newsletter here.