*** This post reviews games up through Friday, April 15 only ***
So, it’s here, the best time of the year. Baseball! Real baseball, not the stuff that MLB Network puts on during the off-season of baseball from Australia or whatever. Real meaningful baseball. Even that annoying little game that the NFL points to is over (though, Broncos rule!).
The 2016 season for the Rockies I see as a transition year. Can the players they are counting on for the future show progress? Can the players with trade value (McGee, Blackmon, DJ, and CarGo) play so well that other teams would give a ransom of players, including guys near to The Show, for the right to use play them in 2016. And there are others, like Jordan Lyles and Eddie Butler for whom this year is a try out. Do well and they are part of the future. Do poorly and look for a November Designated for Assignment transaction.
When I looked at 2016 for the Rox as far as record I thought the high side was 83 wins (if the young guys they bring up after the All-Star break play well and the team stays relatively healthy). The low side was 69 wins (the inverse of what I just said). Those predicting a 100+ loss season for the team do not recognize there is real talent on the roster. And what has been declared by everyone but Keith Law of ESPN as the deepest farm system in the league. They have players from Low A to AAA who can be big league contributors soon. And some of them real soon.
So how did they do the first 10 games (note, I wrote this before Saturday’s loss to Jake Arietta, which was game 11)? At the end of their game on Friday they were temporarily in first place, before the late games were played. I argued for a strike right then so the 2016 was lost but the team could raise their first Western Division championship banner. But, for some reason the league thought this a bad idea. In those 10 games they managed to win a series against a good team on the road (Dbacks, 2-1), lose a series at home to a really awful team (San Diego, 1-2), take the series against the Giants at home (2-1) and had won the opening of the series against Chicago, leaving their record at that time as 3-1 on the road. And at home as just 3-3. As is usually said, it is early and trying to forecast the future from the first 10 games is probably a fool’s errand. For teams seeking the playoffs the first week is important because the 4 loses the Rox had will matter at the end. For playoff teams, every 10 games no matter how early matter. Or others… well, it’s fun to watch.
So, first 10 games from their four key areas:
Starting Pitching – Yes, there were serious issues. However, I was listening to the Yanks game the first week of the season and Joe Girardi, a guy who knows a lot about pitching, made an interesting point. The first two or three starts of the season he doesn’t really worry about as regards whether a starter will be a season-long starter and positive or not. Timing for the motion, pitch execution, and tiredness can really throw a quality pitcher out of whack. If a guy looks sharp you expect to be sharp, hurrah. If not, don’t panic.
Which leads me to Jorge De La Rosa, DLR, the best pitcher this team has had (and I argue developed because although they didn’t have him in the minors, the coaching staff in 2008 and 2009 totally re-worked him, so yeah, they developed him). DLR has a very funky motion. And he depends on enough control to make his change-up so effective. And so, if he is just a bit off, he is Kyle Kendrick. And that is what he was his first two starts (though it should be noted Kendrick threw a shut-out first game of last year – see, the first two or so starts really doesn’t tell you much). DLR got shelled and he had walks a many. Though he had a fair number of strike-outs as well. But in his third start we saw a lot of the DLR this team depends on (had he not have turned out the 7th inning to Justin Miller with two-outs and have Miller give up a double DLR would only have given up 2 runs). DLR was the guy this team has seen be the only “dominant” (to use the term lightly) pitcher at Coors in history, giving up only 1 walk (the single biggest thing to have success at Coors) and had 7Ks. As happened last year in his first starts after his DL stint, it just took time for him to get right. Actually, April has generally been a bad month for DLR.
Following DLR has been Chad Bettis. Bettis has been pretty darn fantastic (for a Rockies’ Pitcher) so far. He simply ran out of steam in his first starts (only 2 earned runs before the 6th), then a 1 earned run performance over 7 in his second start (granted it was the Padres, but it was at Coors) and then his shut-out versus the Cubs on Friday (he was aided there by the wind blowing in at Wrigley). Bettis stuff has been nasty at times. The Rox have hoped Bettis would fill his promise. Well, we are beginning to see it. The former 2nd round pick in 2010 is pitching like a guy who could be a #2 in this rotation going forward, and maybe even more. The next few starts should let us know if Bettis can be “the man.” Health is another big issue for Bettis, so can Bettis go out and continually pitch into the 7th?
And then there is the rest of the story. The four man rotation (that ended with Christian Bergman’s start on Saturday… but again that is the next 10 games). First we have to talk about the Elephant, or batting practice machine, in the rotation. Jordan Lyles has real talent. You don’t get to be a supp #1 pick or make it to the majors as a 20-year old without real talent. His power sinker should be perfect, especially for a team with the defense of the Rockies. But he has been troubled throughout his career by both injuries (weird ones) and an extreme lack of control. There is no reason that Lyles cannot at least be Kyle Hendricks, the pitcher the Cubs threw at them on Friday. Hendricks is not a Cy Young contender but he is a solid innings eater who can be a #4 or #5 that is dependable. So far… Lyles stinks. In his first start he got lit up by the at that time zero run scoring Padres. He was good through his first time through the line-up but in the 4th he got shelled, giving up 5 earned runs with only one out. He had 3 strike-outs that first-time through the lineup, along with 2 walks. In those first three innings you could see the promise of what Lyles can be. But… it is that 4th inning, his problem throughout his career. In his second start he gave up 2 runs the first-time through the lineup (hurt by a walk in the third). But again the Giants go to him in the second-time through, as he gave up a single, a double, then a walk and another single (while getting 2-outs including a sac-fly). In this game he was saved by the Rockies offense. Now, as said above, the Girardi law means we still probably need another start or two to evaluate where he is at. Lyles has gotten a fair number of strike-outs… but his walk rate is at the same level – 5.6/9. He has to be better… soon. Or… is it time to take his stuff to the bullpen and see if he can be an impressive long-man or two-inning reliever. He has good stuff. We just have not seen it except in flashes. Right now though he has been the worst possible thing for the Rockies… a reliever destroyer. At the very least, they need him to get into the 6th. If not, he will single-handedly destroy the bullpen.
And then there is Tyler Chatwood. We are all cheering for Tyler. He won’t be the guy we saw in 2013 most likely (his velocity appears to be down and he can’t through the split-change with the same break-rate). But can he be an effective 4th or 5th starter. His first start was all that those of us cheering could hope for as he pitched into the 7th, where he gave up 2 singles around a ground-out that if the batter had been slower could have been a double-play. His only bad inning was the 3rd, where had he executed a better throw on a ball hit back to him, he turns into a double-play and therefore had a shut-out for his first start. His second start was not as impressive. He gave up 5 runs on 2 homers against the Giants (facing Jeff Samardzjia who was on and he had to be very sharp). He gave a run in the third on a pair of hits and then a 2-out homer in the 5th to Hunter pence and another 2-out homer in the 6th to Brown. I always say a Coors Field “Quality Start” should be 6 innings with 4 runs, so nearly a Coors Quality start. Not being able to get that last out in each of the three innings he allowed runs is a point of concern but again, still early. He has time to work out the kinks. And he has a whole team that is cheering him on.
So through 10 games the team has one starter doing great, one starter who seems to have turned the corner, one who has been “middling” but close, and one that has been a reliever killer. Somewhat normal for the Rox, but, there is real potential there of this rotation being better than we though. When Jon Gray gets back in the rotation it should be an interesting group. And if Lyles continues to struggle and Hoffman continues to excel in AAA, the rotation could be really interesting. Aside from DLR the entire rotation would be 26 or younger. That is promise.
The bullpen has been much like the starters. Some great performances. And some very up and down ones. Jake McGee has been what was expected. Miguel Castro is starting to show why he could be the future closer on the Rox… if the team decides he should not be a starter (and now that relievers are seen as important as starters, it may make more sense to keep him as a reliever). Boone Logan for the most part has been really solid, even against righties. The long-relief has been pretty poor (though Rusin looks like he could still be a good 5th starter). Chad Qualls has struggled, but… when you have a good track record it means you are good (the comment about the first couple of starts can apply to the first couple of weeks for relievers). Justin Miller and Jason Gurka have had rough times of it for the most part (though Miller was overpowering in the Friday 9th inning and Gurka looked like a strike-out machine in Spring Training). So far Gurka has been scored upon in every outing, but his 7Ks to 2BB shows again he has real promise. David Hale gave-up another homer in his first and only appearance – a problem that has haunted him in his Rockies career, perhaps making him a young arm that needs to be elsewhere.
The big issue that the bullpen has… is innings are about equal to starter innings. This cannot continue long. 6 innings needs to be the mantra of the starting rotation if the team is to even have a chance at being competitive. But again, real promise through the first 10 games, as Castro and McGee look to be 2/3 of a very good end of the pen. Miller, Qualls and Logan have shown flashes, and could provide additional back-up to the 7th and 8th innings (they need Jason Motte back soon… and we know Zero is working his way back). So… promise… but danger as well.
OFFENSE AND DEFENSE
In the first 10 games this team has been a homerun machine. Led of course by the great first week by Trevor Story. Yes, there are going to be some really bad stretches for Story (like the one he is in right now). He is going to strike-out a lot (right now the low and away pitch, when properly executed has really hurt him). But the kid has some of the best bat-speed I have seen in a long time. A lot of people compare his swing to Tulo’s and in appearance it is. But his bat speed reminds me of one of the under-rated (though evidently a total jerk who may have taken steroids) players of recent times – Gary Sheffield. Sheffield had a funky stance and approach but his bat speed helped him thrive. Story’s bat speed can help him regardless of other issues. A number of people at the start of the season said that Story could win the Rookie of the Year. I still think he will hit around .275 and I was thinking 25 homers, but thanks to that funky first week and his bat speed, maybe 30? His offense and the homers by the rest of the crew (3 for CarGo and 4 from Arenado already) have led this team, though on Friday, with the wind blowing in, they showed they can play small-ball. Small-ball is how this team can win on the road. Steals, bunts (even one by Arenado knowing that the wind made homers really difficult), and taking the extra base is how they got six runs on Friday (and taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes, like walks and errors).
CarGo has been at his best so far this year, with a 20-game hitting streak (dating back to last year) that was extended in game 11 with a homer. He is showing power (at home and on the road) and hitting the ball hard in almost every AB. CarGo is showing why trading him is a difficult decision. Yes, the team has Tapia, Dahl and Patterson coming quickly but, there is no guarantee that they will all make it as a major league hitters (and Patterson can play 1B). And yes, they have already invested in Parra. But CarGo is, even if no one has noticed it, still one of the elite players in the league. His speed on the bases has declined (that darn knee), but his power is still there, he has a great eye when he stays back on the ball, plays great defense (not at Gold Glove maybe anymore but… still pretty impressive), and his arm is still a weapon as well. If the Rox think they can contend in 2017 (or maybe even this year if their young players provide the boost like in 2007, especially in terms of pitching), then having an elite player like CarGo is something you need (CarGo and Arenado are arguably the best 3-4 combo out there right now), something you want. And, as we saw with the Royals and their decision regarding Alex Gordon, they may want to bring him back if at 32 he is showing he can still be a top 30-40 player. Of course, an elite player also can fetch back a huge return in terms of a trade deadline deal. So… what do you do? One of the things that people forget when they focus on trading away the best players is that prospects are not a guarantee. Its not trading a 50 dollar bill for three twenties. It is a stock purchase. Could be the next Apple, or the next Enron. Right now, as we saw in these first 10 games, just enjoy watching CarGo play.
Arenado has been a quiet good so far. His power on the road hasn’t shown itself yet but, surprising, his speed has increased. According to stat cast he got to over 20 mph as he went from 1st to 3rd on Friday. We haven’t seen the incredible defense yet. But we know it will be there. Arenado is simply one of the top players in baseball.
Alas, the rest of the lineup is still a work-in-progress. DJ has been pretty good to start the season, even showing a lot more power (slugging .649 thanks to 4 doubles and 2 homers), but you have to think an OPS over 1.000 is not going to happen the next 152 games. But great to see a solid start. Reynolds and Paulsen have been pretty good at first (.757 and .795 OPS respectively). Parra has been about what they expected (.817 OPS), especially on the road (contact hitters are the new craze for the Rockies, which is why Tapia has to be of particular interest). Ryan Rayburn has provided a good bat so far against lefties (and a solid day against righties a few games ago). Wolters and Hundley have provided good offense (around .800 OPS combined) and solid defense, though Hundley’s concussion issues have to be a big concern (I think Hundley is the most likely player to be traded at the deadline, especially if they see Tom Murphey make progress in the minors). And then there is Blackmon. He is about the only player so far this season to not be hitting well (though his defense has continued to improve, and last year he was in the top 10 in route efficiency on fly-balls, something I never saw coming back in 2012). The turf-toe injury is a nasty one. How long will be in the boot? Will his speed, a huge factor in his value, be there when he comes back? And with David Dahl pounding the ball in AA (a .913 OPS thanks to 5 homers to go with 3 SB), does a longer-term stay on the DL bring Dahl to the position and move Blackmon to the 4th outfield role? Right now, they just want their lead-off man back.
The bench has been solid so far. Tony Wolters has continued to be a surprise, hitting a .762 OPS (his power numbers will likely never be that big), Brandon Barnes has been very good on defense and has had a solid start to the season offensively (he is a weapon, when his at-bats are against lefties and limited to the 300 range, not 600 level), and as mentioned earlier the platooning of Rayburn for one of the other outfielders, Paulsen and Reynolds, has worked. Cristhian Adames has been the real struggler so far. His defense makes him a very valuable piece but he has to hit. He had a great Winter-ball season but so far he seems to have regressed offensively. That reserve infield spot has to be at least decent offensively, but a negative 43 OPS… that is not decent. When Daniel Descalso is ready to return, is Adames’s spot in trouble?
The defense has been solid. We have seen a few great plays, especially by the outfield, which may be among the better defensive units in baseball. They have had 8 errors in the first 10 games while turning 7 double-plays. They have not been great at the running game, with Hundley only getting 1 out of 6 runners, though Wolters is 1 out of 2 so far. De La Rose also picked a runner off. But solid overall.
So, at the 10 game mark, the Rox are 6-4. They are a half-game out of first. They have had a few bad games. The last 3 innings of the 2nd game of the Dbacks series when the bullpen imploded. The first two games of the Padres series. The game against the Giants they lost, while the score was 7-2, was actually a decently played game. Some nights you face a pitcher who is on, and all you can do is battle. But their wins have been impressive, with 7 of the first 10 games the offense scoring 6 or more runs. Most nights they have either gotten strong starting pitching or strong relief pitching (the Saturday game against the Padres being the exception where both sides were bad, while the 3rd game of the season vs the Dbacks and the 10th game vs. the Cubs being examples of both the starting and relief pitching being excellent.
There is a lot to enjoy about these first 10 games. No one thinks this team is going to be .500 or better. The first two or three times through a rotation you can’t really draw a whole lot of strong perceptions. But, this is not, as the idiots who are on the Colorado Springs sports-talk station (1300, from 3-6 pm) said, a god-awful team. They have been decent. A team that is capable of winning 75-80 games. And to be interesting, something they have not been since 2010.
And at the end of the day, be happy we are cheering for the Rox instead of the Twins or Braves. It can be worse. Much much worse!
Agree? Disagree? Let me know