We have now played a bit more than 10% of the season, including three series on the road and two series at home. At home they only failed against soft-tossing lefties, the death’s nail of Rockies in past years and evidently still a major issue.
On the road they have been just poor enough to be a lousy team. In Miami they easily could have won at least 3, and should have had at least 2, but ended up with just the 1 win. Then in San Francisco they blow a 4 run lead and lose both that game and a Sunday game when they fought back hard to get even. They managed to come home only one game below .500 thanks to their ability to win games in San Diego over the past few years. To be fair, they have lost two games, the opener in Miami and the Wednesday night game in San Diego against Cashner where there were few teams, no matter how good they are offensively, that would have been able to beat Fernandez and Cashner. But that is the 30,000 view. What is the field level reality?
This team heads home down only one in the lose column, despite 0 starts from last year’s opening day starter and arguably #1, Chacin. They got 3 starts from Brett Anderson but and 0-2 record, a decent ERA and four weeks at least on the DL. And one quality start from their opening day starter, Jorge DLR, who has not been that bad, but who is still making the one mistake a game he didn’t make in last year’s games. I think the contract issue may be adding to his issues, as DLR has been known throughout his career to get distracted by mental issues. They have seen Juan Nicasio perform ably, 3 starts, and 2-0 record and 3.50 ERA, but only throwing the 6 innings max that has been an issue with him throughout his career (this bullpen is going to need guys to start going more than 6). Jordyn Lyles has been all you can ask for out of the #5 slot, giving them a 2-0 record, a 4.32 ERA, and almost 6 innings a game. The team has also thrown Franklin Morales out there three times, again a sign of the injuries this staff has suffered, and he is 1-1 with a 5+ERA, but pitched better than that. On the last road trip we saw the season debut for Tyler Chatwood, and although he had a bad inning, giving up 4 runs, looks like he might be able to give them some solid innings in the coming weeks.
If yours staff has its top three guys at 0-5, only 6 starts, and a 4+ERA and you are sitting just under .500, you have to be happy. Everyone is going to have injuries in their starters and underperformance (check Stephen Strausburg in Washington, with his 6ERA and 1-2). It has all hit early this season, but there is depth there. The Fowler for Lyles trade so far has worked out for both clubs (okay, right now it’s a steal and if you leave out the first series when Dex was on fire, its highway robbery). Franklin Morales, whose heat still makes you think he could close out games, but his arm has been great in the rotation. There is of course help coming – Chacin will pitch soon, maybe the first week in May. Chatwood is back. DLR is going to win games. And then there will be the question how to keep all those arms stretched out as starters.
Again, if you were told your star closer from the year before was topping out at 91-92 and had already given up 2 walk off losses, and you are only one game under .500, you take it. Something doesn’t seem right with Rex, though he looked great in San Diego on Thursday, but he may just not be fully loose yet. The slider when it comes back is deadly. But after Rex, the problems have been salvageable. Wilton Lopez is having a refresher in AAA. Chad Bettis has been up and down, but can still bring it. But the rest of the pen, overused as they may be, have been great. Logan and Ottavino have yet to give up an earner run. Belisle has seen a bit of a rebound (holding our breath still), Tommy Kahnle looks like a potential long-term arm (there is no way they are sending him back to the Yankees now). Hawkins has closed out games, even if it has been at times a bit…stressful. The pen maybe the single biggest reason this team is only 1 game under .500.
This team should be better, not just because it plays at Coors, but because they have so many good hitters. Tulo and CarGo have been okay, Tulo hasn’t been getting much to pitch and CarGo has been his usual boom or bust self, but still he is CarGo. Adding Justin Morneau to Cuddy adds another bat that knows how to hit in situations. While Arenado has shown flashes, he also hasn’t yet become the bat a lot of us counted on last year and again this spring. Rosario has just the two homers but as a great April hitter, he has disappointed. Instead, most of the damage has been Charlie Blackmon, who has been amazing this month. We know it won’t last, but enjoy it. The other hitters, like DJ and Rutledge, Dickerson, Stubbs, and Barnes have had good moments, but really have not taken off either. This team has the second lowest number of two out runs in the majors. How can that be? Because put simply, this team is under-performing at the bat. It can be and needs to be better. Of course, they have faced both some great pitchers (Fernandez, Cashner, Cain, and Miley) and pitchers who frustrate them (Quintana, Eovaldi). So, some of this is facing great pitching in great pitching parks (they have played road games in Miami, San Fran, and S.D, three of the five toughest places to hit in the majors). Some of it is a lack of stringing things together. Sooner or later they will get to face guys who are not former or likely 20 game winners. They will get bad pens and bad starters away from home. They need it!
Aside from a little bit a poor fielding that has not hurt them (Arenado’s errors, DJs, the continuing issue with passed balls and wild pitches), they have looked good overall. I was not in favour of caring the five outfielders, but it does give them a lot of options, including an offensive lineup (Blackmon in CF and Dickerson in RF, with Cuddy at 1B), or great defensive ones (Stubbs in CF and Barnes in RF with CarGo in LF and Morneau at 1B). Flexibility for matchups and late inning defense is not to be overlooked, including not just the impact on wins and losses, but also how it can extend the number of pitches that a pitcher, especially in the pen, must throw. The catching position still seems really weak. I know the pitchers say they like throwing to Pacheco, but it still seems they could use one of their two catchers to be a shut-down pitch-and-catch guys. Given the depth in the farm system, I still think Pacheco reflects a potential piece to continue to build either the pen or lineup. I had no idea how good Morneau was at 1B, saving errors already for the other three guys around the horn. The question of Dickerson and Blackmon’s defense still is out there, with Blackmon looking acceptable and Dickerson still a work in progress (if Cuddy is down for anytime, I can imagine putting Dickerson there as the FT starter). While the D has looked good, it also seems, especially in the closer games and DLR’s starts that there has been an abnormal amount of infield hits. With this group out there, that should not be happening. Improvement matters in keeping pitch counts down and starters’ innings up.
This is a very average team right now. Average means between 78 and 84 games. This team has too much talent to be average. But it needs to get healthy and it needs to start hitting more intelligently. The road-trip finale showed exactly that kind of game. That is what will be needed if they hope to be more than average going forward.