The Colorado Rockies rolled into the midpoint of the 2017 season like a stock car that blew two tires and started spewing steam.
Wednesday’s 5-3 loss in San Francisco marked Colorado’s eighth-straight defeat. During that stretch of games, the Rockies were outscored 66-23 and swept by the division-rivals Dodgers and Giants. Life, as the kids say, comes at you fast.
Still, there was plenty of good to take away in April, May and June. The Rockies at their high-water mark were 21 games over .500. Even with the recent bumps in the road, they’re still 6 1/2 games up in the Wild Card race and on a 94-win trajectory.
The second half of the season begins Friday in Arizona. Before it gets going, let’s take stock of four things we’ve seen so far.
Blackmon, Arenado and Reynolds are raking. Desmond, CarGo and Story are struggling.
Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and Mark Reynolds have done much of the heavy lifting at the plate for Colorado this year.
Blackmon is slashing .319/.374/.584 from the leadoff spot. He’s got the most hits in baseball (102), the 16th-best OPS (.944), five more triples than anybody else (10) and is smashing some spectacular golf ball #dongs.
Meanwhile, Reynolds has reinvented himself at 33 years old. Reynolds is posting career highs in batting average (.300), on-base percentage (.388) and slugging percentage (.554). He’s already hit 19 home runs and is only striking out 26.4 percent of the time — a dramatic improvement from his boom-or-bust Arizona days.
Arenado (.292/.344/.548, 15 home runs) is as steady as ever. He might not go for his usual 40 home runs, but he’s making up for it by crushing doubles. He’s already hit 27 of them this season.
In the eight hole, Tony Wolters is doing his part. He’s rocking a .288 batting average and .388 on-base percentage. And so are the pitchers, who’ve excelled at moving hitters up with the sacrifice bunt.
Colorado’s biggest problem is its middle-of-the-order guys.
Carlos Gonzalez and Trevor Story are batting a respective 21 and 22 points over the Mendoza Line, and they’ve combined to hit 49 RBI. There are 27 players who’ve racked up 50 or more RBI this season by themselves. Ian Desmond has been better than those two in terms of hitting for average, but he’s getting on base barely three in 10 times thanks to a walk rate so small you need a microscope and Uncle Junior’s glasses to look at it.
The rookie arms have hit some bumps lately, but they’ve kept the rotation afloat when it could’ve sunk.
Chad Bettis and the Rockies received some awful news in spring training when Colorado’s affable right hander learned his cancer had returned. Bettis has since beat it, but that misfortune opened up one spot in the rotation. Then another opened up when Jon Gray went down in his third outing of the season with a broken foot. Second-year lefty Tyler Anderson has been in and out of the lineup.
With all that’s gone wrong, it’s a minor miracle the Rockies rank fourth in FanGraphs’ park-adjusted starting pitching ERA metric. Antonio Senzatela, 22; Kyle Freeland, 24; Jeff Hoffman, 24; and German Marquez, 22, took turns guiding the ship with a steady hand as Colorado’s gotten only a combined 75 2/3 innings out of the Gray-Bettis-Anderson trio.
It will be interesting to see how the rookie arms hold up in the second half. Gray is slated to start Friday. That likely means Senzatela, who only threw 34 2/3 innings in Double-A last season, will continue to work out of the bullpen.
The Rockies are a good defensive team.
You know what’s helped those young arms look so good? The guys in the field. The Rockies might have the best defensive infield in all of baseball. Arenado is a demigod at third base; that’s really the only explanation for stuff like this…
Look at how his body was contorted when he made the throw.
He gunned a guy out at first mid-yoga pose. Who does that?
The rest of Colorado’s infield is pulling its weight, too. D.J. LeMahieu, who ranks 13th in the MLB in FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved, could win his second career Gold Glove. At shortstop, Story has displayed impressive range and a penchant for turning two. Reynolds has looked solid at first base.
Rockies pitchers are inducing the fourth-highest rate of ground balls this season. The guys behind them are handling those grounders put in play well.
One of the big-name bullpen acquisitions is looking like a great investment; the other is not.
Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich made two big moves to shore up Colorado’s woeful bullpen this offseason. First, Bridich inked lefty Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19 million deal. Then he convinced Greg Holland to sign a one-year, incentive-laced deal. So far, one has worked out beautifully and the other … not so much.
Holland looks every bit as dominant as he did prior to Tommy John surgery that cost him all of the 2016 season. In 29 1/3 innings, he’s allowed 15 hits, five runs, 14 walks and struck out 25. He’s dominated the ninth inning and is the biggest reason why Colorado is 11-3 in one-run games.
On the other hand, Dunn has been a disappointment. He’s allowed 28 hits and 16 runs — including six home runs — in 26 innings. Lefties are batting .294 and slugging .594 against him.
Colorado’s bullpen as a whole is drastically improved from a year ago. Rockies relievers posted the fifth-worst park-adjusted ERA in 2016; this year, they’ve posted the eighth-best. Still, it’s a top-heavy unit. It could use some help, whether that comes by shifting a starter over when/if Anderson or Bettis return or by making a move at the trade deadline.
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