Even though I am unplugged from Rox baseball right now, I have noticed in print, on the radio, and on the TV everyone is wondering why this promising season has gone bad and so quickly. So, I figured I would take a shot and give the 25 reasons the season has gone south. Yes, this is a long-one, but this team’s problems started early and are in fact pretty complicated. If they hadn’t of had 3 straight last place seasons, the past month would be easier to take. But we have finished in last. This year should have been and could have been different. So here is why I think it hasn’t been any different.
1) Pre-Spring Training and after: Julys Chacin comes to camp with a sore shoulder. Whether it was too much throwing in the off-season, too-little, the wrong-type, Chacin is a by-stander for the whole of Spring Training, has to use rehab starts to get in shape, and takes over a month before he throws his first good game against the Dodgers on Saturday the 7th of June. Two months without the guy who was arguably your opening day starter not only pushed the team to use lesser starters, but cost the team their best pitcher when they needed him in close games, resulting in more usage of the bullpen.
2) Pre-Spring Training and after: Boone Logan, the key reliever signing of the off-season, at 3 years and $15 million, has off-season elbow surgery to clear out debris. He doesn’t start the season with the ball club, and after an effective first month, has a dreadful second month, resulting in a return to the DL. His elbow was hurting evidently much earlier than his assignment to the DL the 2nd time. Was he damaged goods? Most analysts said it was a good signing and evidently he did make it through several team’s initial health check during Free Agency.
3) Spring Training into Regular Season: Week before the regular season starts, in an exhibition game, Tyler Chatwood, being the competitor he is, tries to stretch a double into a triple, injuries his hamstring, resulting in several weeks on the DL. When he returns he is not sharp, before being put on the 60-day DL due to elbow soreness. Tyler had TJ surgery in high school, and most doctors believe the surgery should hold for at least a decade. However, it is possible, as several scouts have noted, that pitching with a bad hamstring altered his delivery, resulting in poor results and stress on the ulnar ligament. One bad decision in an exhibition game cost the team and Tyler half-a-season.
4) Spring Training and Opening Day: Jorge De La Rosa and Wilin Rosario have trouble getting on the same page with a runner on 2nd in a Spring Training game, resulting in Jorge losing his focus. Jorge had serious mental lapses before coming to the Rockies, and it was only when those were addressed by the Rox that he became the very good starting pitcher he is today. The Spring Training problem rolled into Opening Day, when in the 5th with the score, 1-0, after having surrendered just one hit (a homer), the first time a man got to 2nd in the game, and the same problem arose. Jorge melts down, game gets out of control. DLR with new found velocity 2 years post Tommy John, would take until after the game where he gave up a grand slam to the opposing pitcher for the Giants (as well as a sac fly, to the pitcher in the game, one the Rockies were ahead 4-1 in) before he got untracked. Losing 3 weeks of quality pitching from Jorge cost this team at least 3 wins.
5) Opening Series in Miami (game 4)– Wilton Lopez, who was a very good reliever and sometimes closer with the Astros, never adjusted to playing for the Rockies. On Opening Day in 2013 he blew a lead vs. the Brewers and never got untracked. His quality sinker while with the Astros became a hit-me pitch. Opening Day vs the Marlins he once again gave up 2 runs to make the game a blow-out. The Rockies next blow-out loss was in the second home series, middle game vs White Sox, when Lopez was again blown-up, surrendering 6 runs in 2/3 of an inning. He was optioned to Colorado Springs and now has been Designated for Assignment (cut). A good arm who was counted on by this team to suck up a lot of innings instead left the bullpen with one less experienced arm, forcing more reliance on Chad Bettis (until he was shelled and sent back to Colorado Springs) and then Chris Martin (who pitched well on the road but was shelled at home and is the least reliable man in the bullpen). The team, until the demotion of Franklin Morales to the bullpen, had to rely on Boone Logan, Rex Brothers, Adam Ottavino and Matt Belisle (who can no longer pitch effectively if he throws 2 days in a row), and then Nick Masset. These arms (aside from Masset) are all in the top 20 in relief innings thrown. That is the impact of Wilton Lopez no longer being the Wilton Lopez traded for in 2012 (sending Alex White who was part of the Ubaldo trade and has since had Tommy John surgery).
6) Opening Series in Miami – Blown Saves. This team has blown a lot of late inning leads, and it started with Franklin Morales’s game, game 4 in Miami with a chance to have 2-2 series (as it turns out the Marlins are the best home team in the NL). After Tommy Kahnle gave up a run to tighten the game, Matt Belisle let the game slip away in the 8th, granted with only 1 hard hit ball. This established a pattern of losing games when handed a lead, sometimes because they have to pitch too many innings (anything over 3), but often it is a solid pitcher having his off-night and giving up the lead. Currently the team stands at, depending on your count, around 3-15 in bullpen games.
7) April 12 – Brett Anderson’s injury. While Anderson had pitched well enough to start the season, but was 0-2 (with a solid ERA – 3.60). However he was giving the team 6 innings of quality starts each time out. Then in the Top of the 4th, while bunting the ball, the shockwave from the ball hitting the bat went up his finger and shattered it. To quote the team’s trainer and the surgeon – had never seen this in all their years of baseball. The flukiest of fluke injuries, and although Anderson has been injury prone (and the Rockies knew it) this was just strange. He may return in early July or maybe even late June, but injury meant that even with the next day’s return (temporarily as it turned out) of Tyler Chatwood, the team would need Franklin Morales to stay in the rotation. While Morales wants to be a starter (and had a decent April giving the team a chance to win all but 1 start before falling apart in May), he is a quality pen arm and that is where he belongs. With Anderson out, that now meant that 2 of their expecting top 3 pitchers were on the DL.
8) April 13-14 – The disappearance of Rex Brothers from 2013. Within about 30 hours Rex gave up a walk-off homer to Rockies killer (and lefty) Brandon Crawford and then walked in the winning runs against the Padres. Rex has throughout the season had weird velocity issues – sometimes 93-95 with his fastball, sometimes 89-90. His slider is sometimes killer, sometimes batting practice. He has walked a ton of batters, he has been completely unpredictable, and has left Walt Weiss struggling to figure out the bullpen. Even more than the issues with Logan, who was not counted on to potentially close games, Rex’s weird season has been the most destructive to the Rockies bullpen and to the team’s chances in close games.
9) April 17 vs Padres – Micheal Cuddyer pulls his hamstring. While trying to beat out an infield ball (he was out) Cuddy severally damaged his hamstring). The team, based on Cuddy’s feedback, kept him on the active roster until the 21st. This became a problem when he was unable to hit in the Sunday game vs. the Phillies when they rallied in the 7th, 8th and 9th but did not have Cuddy (or another bat) to help out in a key situation. During his DL stint the group of Dickerson, Barnes, and Stubbs filled in well, but time-after-time in close games the lack of an impact bat off the bench in close games (stuck with Charlie Culberson), impacted close games, adding to the team’s poor record in close and bullpen games.
10) April 23 – Chad Bettis pitches himself to Colorado Springs. I have already mentioned the stress of Wilton Lopez’s failure to perfume placed on the bullpen. This team also counted on Chad Bettis and his power arm, which showed real promise at the end of last season, to play a big role in the pen this year. There was even talk of him being a potential future closer. In a game that the team battled and battled (after giving up a bit early lead due to Tyler Chatwood’s poor performance, though he did go 6 inning), Bettis in the 11th inning gave up a hit, two walks, and then a grand slam to the Giants back-up catcher. The next day he was in Colorado Springs. His recent return, despite good performance in Colorado Springs, shows that Bettis is not the reliever they hoped he would be…at least at this point.
11) April 29– Tyler Chatwood’s elbow. Have already mentioned the potential of his elbow suffering strain due to his hamstring. Against the Dbacks, in a game they would win, after 5 innings Chatwood was finished, not just for the game but for a long time to come. The strained ulnar collateral ligament and nerve doesn’t appear to need Tommy John, but with his loss the Rockies had now lost their #1a in Chacin, #3 in Anderson, and #4 in Chatwood. Even with Chacin returning soon, this placed more emphasis on Lyles, Nicasio, and Morales to carry the weight of the staff – and that is three pitchers who starting careers coming into this year were all poor to awful.
12) April 30 – As well as the Rockies had played, winning series after series after the split with the Padres, they could not get a sweep, failing in 5 straight series coming into Arizona. In the final game of that series, having already won games 1 and 2, and after a great start by Lyles (6 inning of 1 run ball, and had it not been for Nolan Arenado’s inexplicable wiff on a ball hit at him, that was scored a double but should have been picked clean, he would have thrown a shut-out and gone 7 innings based on pitch count. Alas, in the last 3 innings (after a good inning by Belisle) of a 10 inning game the pen allowed 1 run by homer (off Ottavino), 2 runs off Brothers and then Tommy Kahnle goes out in the 10th and first pitch gives up a walk-off homer. While the team would rebound in its next series, this loss began a change in the Rockies road performance and meant they came back further back of the Giants.
13) May 1st or so – Rosario and Rutledge lost to virus. Indeed something nasty went through the team over the next few days. The fact they won 3 out 4 against the Mets was impressive. Both players would lose a lot of weight and not be in baseball shape for quite some time. Hitting is all about timing, and when players lose or gain significant weight, it throws their timing off. Rosario still doesn’t look right (Rutledge had time in the minors to get his swing back). This also mean that the team was stuck with Culberson as their primary bat of the bench as an infield replacement (though he had his one night in the spotlight on Saturday night) and the catching platoon of Pacheco and McKenry left the team with no pop behind the plate, making their lineup much shorter, especially on the road where DJ has a very low OPS.
14) May 8th – shutout, bats go quiet. In the final game of a 4 game (2 at home, 2 on the road) series with the Rangers they were easily dispatched by Ranger former ace (before his back issues) Harrison and their pen. The Rockies managed only 5 hits. All baseball players I have ever heard on the subject say that if a team faces a tough pitcher, it can really mess your timing and swing up for days. From this point forward the Rockies would face Johnny Cueto (arguably the best pitcher in the NL, though they manage a tie only to lose it in a bullpen game), Homer Bailey, Big Game James Shields, and quirky lefty Vargas. Before the game with Harrison the Rockies were in the bottom 10 in striking out on the road. After this trip and the one with the Braves, Phils, and Indians, they would be #2. Whatever happened starting with the game against Harrison, the Rockies bat would not break out of it until the 2nd game of the DBacks series at home. From that shutout they would manage more than 5 runs just 4 times, after having been a good hitting team prior, even on the road. And that count includes games at Coors. For the first 6 weeks of the season solid starting pitching (especially at home) and hitting had covered for an increasingly troubled bullpen. Now each of the three phases of the game would start to struggle.
15) May 17 – the end of Jordan Lyles good motion. In a game that started Lyles off on a spree of mediocre performance marked by a large number of walks, after striking out the first batter of the game (indeed striking out the side…around a lot of hits and walks), he appeared lost on the mound. He took lots of time between pitches when prior to this in every game he got the ball and fired. He could not get hitter to chase his sinker as it moved out of the zone. He would walk 6 in that game, and was not the same the rest of the season to this point. Along with DLR Lyles, 5-0 at that time, was carrying the strongest arm in the rotation. After this game he pitched like a 5th starter, though still giving quality starts most of the time.
16) May 22 – the rain delay game – With the Rockies facing off against the Giants for first place, they lost the day before to give the Giants a 3 game lead again. The day game of the 22nd started off great for the Rox, getting a run in the 2nd, Jorge De La Rosa was pitching a no-hitter (1 walk) through 3 innings. Sadly, the rains came and came, and it was too long before the restart to allow Jorge to pitch. He was as dialed in as he had been all season. The rain gave the Giants the reprieve. They scored 2 runs off Kahnle as the rains threatened again, but got the run back in the bottom of the 5th. In the bottom of the 6th, with 2 outs and Tulo coming to bat…the game was called. The Rockies missed out on a chance for a key win before heading off on the road. Worse still, their charter plane was damaged, meaning their flight to Atlanta was delayed significantly. They arrived in Atlanta well into the next day, tired and frustrated.
17) May 23 – losing Nolan Arenado. Some games really hurt to lose. This one really hurt. On a double to the outfield Nolan slid head first and broke his finger (one of many star players to be injured doing so this year). Whether the late night charter made it so Nolan was that much slower or slid that much more awkward, we cannot know (the team talked about fighting through the fatigue that game). But the team’s defensive wizard (who had been all over the late-night highlights), the player who allowed Tulo to position differently because of the ground he covered (have you noticed how many more hits through that left side or back up the middle have happened since May 23?), the team’s best 2 strike and 2 out bat who lengthened the lineup, and the team’s most energetic player and their spark was gone for 6 weeks at least. The decline of the Rockies from a team close to the Giants to their 4 games back in the Wild Card chase can be pinpointed to the Giants game and all that followed. To make things worse, in a well-pitched game by Lyles, with the score 2-2, Adam Ottovino allowed a single to back-up catcher Jerald Laird – his 2nd RBI of the day, who was hitting under .200 coming in. Losing the game, and Nolan sent the team on a downward spiral.
18) May 28 – the closer switch, error, and walk-off. The road trip was already marked by back-to-back shut-outs as well as the blow game on Friday. But the road trip was currently 2-3, and Lyles was pitching. Due to a lot of walks and strikeouts (4BB,5Ks) his pitch count ruled he was pulled after 5. With the score 2-2 in the 8th DJ hit his first homer of the season. The road-trip just changed. In the bottom of the 9th, with Letroy Hawkins pitching, he got the first out. On the next hitter a ball was hit to Rutledge’s left (he was playing 2nd because DJ was moved to 3rd after Culberson was pulled), he fielded cleanly and with all the time in the world to throw out the runner, airmailed it over Morneau’s head. Hawkins gave up a bloop single next, but got Rollins (after a Tulo error on a foul ball), so now 2 outs. Hawkins was throwing well, the best he had in weeks, but Weiss pulled Hawkins in favor of Logan. The rest is history – a line-drive single to Utley and a 3 run walk-off to Ryan Howard and a road trip that was 3-3 going to Cleveland was not 2-4, and for the first time all season, the resiliency of the Rockies finally was broken.
19) The Great Cleveland Disaster. For all their ups and downs, the Rockies had not been swept beyond a 2 game set with the Royals. Now in Cleveland they would not only get swept, they would put on one of the great strike-out shows in history – sadly, their own guys striking out. Against league leader Corey Kluber they struck out 12x (15 overall) and Juan Nicasio blew a 2-1 lead in the 5th as the Rox lost 6-2. On Saturday they would strike out 11X, and lose the game in the bottom of the 8th after a big rally when Brothers walked a guy, who advanced to second and scored on a single. On Sunday they Kd another 12X but again after rallying gave up a walk-off in the 9th to light-hitting Michael Bourn off Adam Ottovino. Sadly the two blown saves would set-up the worst home stand in Rockies reliever history.
20) June 3 – Losing Carlos Gonzalez. The truth is, this probably could have been near the top after losing Chacin and Anderson. CarGo is the definition of a 5 tool player, showing 20Hr, 20 steal talent from 2010 to 2013. His defense has made left field the place where balls go to die. But early in the season knee tendinitis took away his base stealing and turned him into a slow and sluggish left fielder. Added to that, somewhere early in the season his finger injury returned. Hitters need their legs and/or their hands. Slap hitters like Rod Carew can get away with out healthy legs, but most players need the push and turn from their knees, thighs and hips and strong hand and wrist strength. CarGo had neither since early April and slowly his stats dropped and dropped. When he wasn’t striking out (as he had to guess to generate anything close to power), he was lofting lazy fly balls. I give him credit for trying to play…but it hurt the team. Finally after pulling himself out due to hand pain on June 3rd, they put him on the DL, the surgeon found a nasty tumor with tentacles in his finger (which probably developed last year when he got hurt). Wish they had done this last off-season, but the doctors didn’t find anything, which given the nature of the injury isn’t surprising unless you do surgery. He is out til the All-Star break, but hopefully with lots of rest his hand and knee will come back as the old CarGo.
21) June 4-10- The end of the bullpen. Whether it was the warming up the air, the soreness in their arms, the damage to Logan’s elbow, the period from June 4 to 10 was the implosion of the bullpen. Didn’t matter who Weiss went to (aside from Morales and Kahnle who have pitched very well all home stand, as has Hawkins in his limited appearances). But all the guys they counted on over the first 6 weeks – Ottavino, Masset, Brothers, Boone, Belisle – coulndt get anyone out. Even as the Rox rallied to tie games or take leads…it didn’t matter. The bullpen was just done. This homestand was probably the team’s Waterloo, having come in at .500 and still only 1.5 out of the Wild Card (the Giants have raced away with the division leaving the Rox stuck playing for the WC). The offense was the cost of game 1, despite a good outing by a sore Jorge De La Rosa. But the next two nights the bullpen cost them the game. Even the game they won against the Dodgers was a comeback because after 6 solid innings from Chacin, the best performance of the season, Masset came in after he gave up 2 hits to make it a tie game. Chris Martin and Chad Bettis were brought up to help the pen after Logan’s injury – but both have gotten hammered. Can the pen rebound? Of course…but it is a reason why this team isn’t sitting with a 4-5 homestand right now.
22) June 4 – Losing another starter, Jordan Lyles. A team that has already sent 3 of its starters to the DL (though Chacin is back) didn’t need another to go. Lyles, who had a rough first inning against the DBacks, threw a pitch that got away from Rosario (and the regression of Rosario both offensively and defensively could be another item, even beyond his illness and lost weight as an excuse). Covering home Lyles somehow, again another fluke injury, breaks the middle finger on his glove hand. He pitched 3 more innings, but those will be last for about a month. For the whole season the June 4th game was only his 2nd truly bad game of the year. He still needs more fastball command, but they didn’t need to lose him.
23) June 6 – Losing your top prospect, Eddie Butler . We were all looking forward to seeing Butler pitch. He had dominated AA since his promotion there last year. He either needed to pitch in the bigs or AAA, and with Morales having proven he was no starting pitcher (and remember, Anderson and Chatwood should already have relegated him to the pen), it was time. He didn’t pitch a bad game, but he got too much of the plate and had 3 walks, resulting in 10 hits and 6 runs. Not great, but showed real promise. Alas, that promise is going to have to wait because he woke up the next day with a sore shoulder, or inflamed rotator cuff. The team doesn’t think it is serious but they will be cautious. And so another starting pitcher hits the DL. To add insult to injury, on Saturday after 4 strong innings in Tulsa, Daniel Winkler, the ace of the Tulsa staff and the expected starter in the AA All-Star game came out with a blown elbow, and TJ surgery is scheduled.
24) June 8 – Cuddy takes a fall. With Nolan out of action and needing more offense and with Culberson having shown shaky defense, Cuddy had been manning 3rd base. He dove for a ball and he too experienced a sore shoulder. They thought it was a bruise, but no it’s a weird dislocation. Keith Dugger again, asking around said this is the first type of shoulder fracture he has heard of in baseball – football sure, but not baseball. For a team that started the season with 6 outfielder, they are now down to 4, meaning Drew Stubbs is playing every day, including against righties, the reason he has been relegated to a platoon player the past few seasons. With Cuddy gone, it is now 3/8 of the expected starting line-up gone, and Rosario has been having dizzy spells, so really its half for now though hopefully not long-term.
25) June 10 – the implosion of Juan Nicasio. Nicasio came to camp this spring armed with a 2 seamer as well as a 4 seamer fastball, his slider, and a new pitch, a change-up in the form of a split fingered pitch. He looked great throwing that pitch this spring. He needs a 3rd pitch (his 2 and 4 seamers really are too similar, and the truth is he throws mostly 4 seamers anyways). We have heard it time and again, only those who have top line fatballs and sliders can survive as 2 pitch pitchers (aka, Randy Johnson and…no one else in the past 25 years). So how is that going? He has thrown only 2% change-ups…the lowest of his career, despite it being a very effective pitch this season. After giving up 10 runs on the 10th (his team managed to get all 10 back, but sadly Bettis gave up 3 runs to put the game away), promising season that Nicasio showed at the home opener is truly over. Nicaiso has in one month seen his ERA go from 3.77 to 5.70, over 5 starts. The guy who earned the 5th starter spot this Spring and who has had to serve as the #3 for much of the year, has proven that he cannot give his team a chance to win. Were it not for the lack of alternatives left in the minors (had Winkler not blown out his elbow, he would probably have had Nicaiso’s spot in the rotation). The rotation is now 2 prospects who have thrown one game each (both allowing just 2 runs) in Bergman and Matzek, 2 guys who have ERAs over 5 in Chacin and Nicasio, and Jorge De La Rosa, whose ERA just went back over 4 (4.04, after being over 9 to start the season), but who has lost his last 2 starts at Coors despite one good and one weird start (he allowed 2 runs in the 1st, shut the Dodgers out til the 6th, when the rain impacted his grip and he allowed a homer, 2 walks, and then Belisle, in a dounpour, allowed the other runs to score). They needed Nicasio to step up this season…alas, we now know he couldn’t or wouldn’t take that step.
So there you go….25 reasons for a bad season (as of June 12th). Not quite one of those Advent Calendars with candy behind each day. More like lumps of coal!
If I had to pick the most important, it wouldn’t be the now 5 starting pitchers who have been on the DL (and again, hats off to DLR for pitching through a bad back, a bad finger, and a bad defense). It wouldn’t be CarGo getting hurt and never being himself. It wouldn’t be Brothers or the pen in general.
This season changed in the 30 hours or so between the washed out DLR start against the Giants, the suspended game, the very delayed charter to Atlanta, and Nolan’s injury. The ball club went from having a chance to be 2 games back with DLR throwing a masterpiece to having lost arguably their best defender, line-up lengthener, and the ball of energy of the team. It changed the line-up, it changed the offense, it has caused the left-side of the infield to allow far more hits, it has I think caused a change in the pitchers, and the team lost a lot of their resiliency with him. Just like last year the Tulo injury ended any chance of this team competing, Nolan may…stress may have done that to this team.
But there is hope. There really is. The team seems to have gotten a boost from Bergman and Matzek, and while both are going to get knocked around some – almost all rookie pitchers do – Matzek has incredible talent and Bergman is one of those pitchers who just knows how to change speeds, avoid the fat part of the strike zone, doesn’t walk guys, and can compete. Never going to be a star, but as Mark Buerhle has proven, lack of star talent doesn’t mean you cannot win. Collin McHugh is 4-3 with a bad Houston team this year with a 2.82 ERA doing exactly what Bergman is doing. So we shall see.
Corey Dickerson appears to be the real thing. If he can learn to hit even decently against lefties, they have their new right fielder (he will switch back I am guessing when CarGo comes back). Rutledge is finally hitting (.440 OBP, nearly 1.000 OPS) like they believe he can, and the only way his defense is going to get better is time at the position. Tulo is having a great season and should continue to regardless of all else. And the team will get healthy. Andreson and Chatwood are starting bullpen sessions, and should be back by or around the All-Star Break. Butler won’t be out too long. Chacin may finally be getting back to himself. Every day is one day closer to Nolan’s return. This team is still a good team at its core, but as small market clubs cannot absorb injuries well. But even with that they need to get their spark back.
If the bullpen can get more starts like Matzek’s last night, and they have been getting more 6 and 7 inning starts of late (thanks to Bergman, Chacin, and Matzek), the rest should allow them to bounce back. Kahnle and Morales are the hot arms. Logan will be back at some point and refreshed. Brothers cannot possibly really be this bad? Ottavino has scuffled, but if he gets fastball command back and that slider gets back to form, he is a dominate set-up man. Belisle had a good 6 week run and really just the really atrocious game in the 16-8 game. And Hawkins hasn’t allowed an ER since May 20th. So this pen has potential (bullpens can get caught in cycles just like a lineup of hitters can). The bats have potential. If they get back to getting quality starts from their pitchers…this team can win on the road and at home. They dug a big hole and have a tough schedule going into the AS Break (no teams under .500 currently).
In case you are wondering, the worst records at the AS Break to make the playoffs are 51-54 by the 2005 Padres and 50-55 by the 2006 Dodgers. They are going to have to play over .500 ball on the road til the AS Break and get back to .650+ baseball at home. The past two weeks, the 2-7 road trip (which should have been 5-4 darn it) and the current 2-7 homestand is all it takes to move you from 3 games out of 1st to 4 back in the Wild Card. They need two weeks with the opposite to get them back in the conversation. I don’t know if they can do it. I certainly would not bet more than $10 dollars on it.
But as they say, that is why they play the game.