The Rockies’ were bubbling over with optimism before the all-star break.
Sure, there was that pesky 8-3 home loss to the Pirates on Sunday, but the Rockies entered the break on a 7-3 roll. Slugging left fielder Kris Bryant, who missed 44 games in the first half, is back and healthy.
“We’re playing better — we’re pitching better, we’re playing good defense, the hitting has come around a little bit. Kris is back in the lineup,” ever-optimistic manager Bud Black said. “That’s a good thing. So we’ll pick it up on Friday. Hopefully, pick up where we left off — playing good baseball.”
Realities, however, could burst the Rockies’ bubble in a hurry.
Start with a four-game litmus test beginning Friday night at Milwaukee where the Rockies (43-50) take on the Brewers (53-43), leaders of the National League Central. The Rockies — lather, rinse, repeat — are struggling to hit on the road. Meanwhile, Milwaukee pitchers own a 3.63 ERA and are holding opponents to a .226 batting average at American Family Field.
The Rockies are on pace to finish 75-87, but FanGraphs projects them to finish 71-91, based in part because they face a difficult schedule. The .522 winning percentage for their remaining opponents is the toughest in the majors. Plus, the Rockies play 30 games at home in the second half vs. 39 on the road where they have a 15-27 record.
The Rockies went into the season believing that their starting pitching was their strength. It hasn’t worked out that way, but the starters will have to carry the load away from Coors Field if Colorado has any hope of getting above. 500
Colorado has committed $155 million to lefty Kyle Freeland and right-handers German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela in long-term deals, but this season they have a combined ERA of 5.17. Overall, the rotation is carrying a 5.01 ERA (third-highest in the majors), a 1.46 WHIP (second-highest) and a .288 opponents’ average (highest).
Veteran right-hander Jose Urena, who has a 1.45 ERA in three starts since getting called up from Triple-A Albuquerque, has been a nice find, and right-hander Chad Kuhl (6-5, 4.11 ERA) has pitched pretty well. There is a chance that the Rockies will employ a six-man rotation, at least for the short term, with right-handed rookie Ryan Feltner (1-3, 6.15) in the mix.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” Black said. “I think German has been throwing better, and statistically he’s been better.
“And Kuhl has had a solid first half, but he has to continue. He’s going to get his starts. (Lefty Austin) Gomber (5-7, 5.97) has pitched well enough in his last four or five to win games and keep us close. Urena has been great in his three and I think Kyle’s stuff is fine. He’s going to do what he does. So I feel good about our starters, I really do.”
Marquez, so bad early in the season, has pitched much better over his past five starts, posting a 3.82 ERA and limiting opponents to a .211 average.
“I feel really good,” he said. “I like my tempo and my fastball command is back where it needs to be.”
Freeland, however, has been wildly inconsistent, posting an 8.44 ERA in three starts in July with a .307 average against.
On offense, the Rockies are counting on all-star C.J. Cron, Charlie Blackmon, Brendan Rodgers and Bryant to stay hot.
The Rockies went 14-30 in the games Bryant missed because of his back injury, but since he came off the injured list on June 27, he’s slashed .333/.391/.587 with four home runs, four doubles and eight RBIs in 16 games.
Colorado enters Friday night’s game fourth in the NL West and 6 1/2 games out of the final wild card spot. General manager Bill Schmidt is hoping the club can somehow play its way back into contention. How the team performs between now and the Aug. 2 trade deadline will determine if they hold onto closer Daniel Bard, setup man Alex Colome, shortstop Jose Iglesias or Kuhl, all of whom are scheduled to become free agents.
Although there are rumors that teams such as the Mets and Red Sox are interested in Cron, it’s doubtful the Rockies will part with the first baseman, who’s under contract next season for $7.25 million.