Wait, not “The Series.” That is the ultimate goal, but to get to that goal you need to make the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, I really do believe baseball is a lot of luck (ask the Indians who came within a bad drone accident and a weird rain delay of winning the World Series last year, or the Royals who should have won 2 World Series back-to-back had their not been enough off-time to allow Madison Bumargner to drink enough coffee to pitch in a complete game on Sunday and 5-innings of relief to save Game 7 (trivia note, the game 7 Winning pitcher, old Roxtober 2007 hero Jeremy Affeldt…who should never have been allowed to leave the Rox and remains one of my favorite all-time Rockies). But those same Royals should never have won a World Series in franchise history were it not for one of the 10 worst calls in baseball history in the 1985 Game 6 World Series against my childhood team the Cardinals. So luck…yeah, it makes a huge difference.
But luck needs you to be in the playoffs. And to get there, you need to win one of the 5 playoff spots in your Division. And the way you do that…is winning series. Sure, look a bunch of 8 or 9 game winning streaks helps anyone. I remember reading this story about a team that went 21 for 22 at the end of a season to get to the World Series. But in a 162 game slog, the best way to end up playing October baseball (and not Arizona Fall League) is to win as many series as you can.
The thing about winning a series is in a 3 or 4 game stretch you are probably only going to get good to great starting pitching 50% of the time. You are going to face the other team’s best starter at least once. And your bats or bullpen might struggle at least one of those games. While the idea of winning series sounds easy, it is really actually pretty hard.
And the team in 2017 best at it in baseball on May 20th? The Colorado Rockies, using a revamped bullpen, more 2nd-year, 2nd-Tommy John and Rookies in the rotation than any team in history, and an offense that still seems stuck in 3rd. But in a series, the key is to exploit the other team’s weaknesses while protecting your own all while not doing long-term damage to the season’s prospects to win a single game or series. To take a look at how the Rox have started 2017
Series One – Brewers – Road – 4 Game Series’ Win 3-1 – despite a bad 10 pitch stretch for ace Jon Gray the Rox use Reynolds homers and great bullpen work to win game 1 and Reynolds, Parra and enough starting pitching from Anderson to gain game 2. Chatwood gets exposed in Game 3 but Game 4 saw Antonio Senzatela and Nolan Arenado setup the 3rd save for Greg Holland of the season.
Series Record 1-0-0
Series Two – Dodgers – Home – 3 Game Series’ Win 2-1 – Denver native Kyle Freeland goes 6 innings for his first career win in his first career start in his hometown, then Gray outpitches Kershaw for 5 to win game 2 (but hurt his foot), but Anderson’s bad start and poor bullpen work make a sweep impossible.
Series Record 2-0-0
Series Three – Padres – Home – 3 Game Series’ Loss 2-1 – A scary flashback to 2016 when the Rox beat good teams and stunk it up against bad ones, the Pads feast on Chatwood for 4 in 5.1 to win game 1, get saved in game 2 by Senzatela’s 5 innings of mastery and Holland’s 5th save, before seeing Freeland’s control issues and no bats lose the finale.
Series Record 2-1-0
At this point, 2017 feels like a nice starting clone version of 2016. But things begin to chance as the team heads on the road:
Series Four – Giants – Road – 4 Game Series’ Win 3-1 – The first 4 game series win in San Francisco since the Bonds era starts with 3-1 win against Bumgarner on a night when Gray’s foot finishes going pop, is followed by the expected loss to Cueto because the Rox never beat Cueto, but is salvaged by 2-hit mastery by Chatwood against left Matt Moore and another 7-inning effort by Zenzatela and Holland’s 7th save.
Series Record 3-1-0 (Road Record, 2-0-0)
Series Five – Dodgers – Road – 2 Game Series Split 1-1 – A weird two-game set bookended by the first and second off-days for the team at that point they beat Ryu in a game when Freeland only goes 4 and has 4 walks (1 run) thanks to 5 great innings of bullpen work and Holland’s first shaky save, but then lose to Kershaw when Anderson makes him mad about being 1 minute late to the dugout).
Series Record 3-1-1 (Road Record, 2-0-1)
Series Six – Giants – Home – 3 Game Series’ Sweep 3-0 – Game one sees Chatwood pitch well enough but the Rox jump for six runs on Cueto who has owned them in his career (this was the day that Bumgarner hurt his shoulder motorbiking) and Holland was awesome to get save 9, then in Game 2 Senzatela threw 7-innings of 1 run ball as they blasted Moore again and then finished the sweep of the Giants on Sunday with Freeland’s 7-innning shutout providing their first series sweep of the Giants at Coors since 2002…the Giants WS run and Dusty Baker Jr’s nearly getting run over at home in the series – he is likely to get drafted high in June…so feel old everyone. The series leaves the Rox mark against the Giants at 6-1 at this point.
Series Record 4-1-1 (Road Record, 2-0-1)
Series Seven – Nats – Home – 4 Game Series’ Loss 3-1 – The Rox win Game 1 for what became the season high four-game win streak, behind more shaky pitching from Anderson, but great pen work over final 3.1. That would not be the case next 3 games as Nats won Game 2 scoring 8 off Marquez in his season debut (cold seemed to impact him plus the Nats were flat rolling on offense) and Trea Turner’s cycle as only Estevez and McGee threw scoreless innings. Game 3 Chatwood give up 5 in 5 and Chris Rusin gives up 4 in 1.2, and then Game 4 Senzatela lose for the first time giving up 4 runs in 6 innings (his worse outing all season?) but the bullpen give up 11 runs in 1.2 innings of Estevez and Lyles (who was solid before this series and awful since). The Rox looked overmatched but the Nats were on a huge offensive roll.
Series Record 4-2-1 (Road Record, 2-0-1)
Series Eight – Dbacks – Road – 3 Game Series’ Win 2-1 – the team bounces back with 6 innings of 1 run Freeland pitching and 3 innings of 1 walk ball from the bullpen and Holland’s 10th save. Gave 2 sees the team comeback for a win (as they showed against the Nats, they don’t just pack it in when behind), after an awful 6-run, 5-inning performance by Andersons the bullpen throws 4 innings of 1-hit, 0-walk ball including Holland’s 11th save while scoring 1 in the 6th, 2 in the 7th and 3 in the 9th against Dback closer Rodney to win the game. The lose their chance for a sweep 2-0 in 13 innings after Marquez’s 6 innings of shutout ball and great relief by Oberg, Ottavino (2inn), Rusin (2inn) is undone in Lyles’ 2nd inning when he gives up the walk-off homer). Still, that close to a sweep after the disaster against the Nats is something.
Series Record 5-2-1 (Road Record, 3-0-1)
Series Nine – Padres – Road – 3 Game Series’ Win 2-1 – May began with what looked like a resurgence for Chatwood…through 5 innings of no-hit, two-walk ball. He then fell apart in the 5th walking and falling behind hitters, resulting in a 6-2 loss. In Game 2 the team jumped all over Jered Weaver and Senzatela gave them 6 innings of 2-run ball. In the finale, Freeland gave then 6.1 of 1 run ball but lost the chance for the win because of Otto’s wildness but after squeezing out a run in the 11th saw the 2.2 innings of great relief from McGee and Qualls turned into Holland’s 12th save.
Series Record 6-2-1 (Road Record, 4-0-1)
Series 10 – Dbacks – Home – 3 Game Series’ Win 2-1 – after a shaky start from Marquez as he lacked secondary command early leading to 6-innings of 5-run ball (he did give them length at least), the real Tyler Anderson showed up in Game 2 and was dominate with 6-innings of 6-hit, 1BB and 10K pitching that was even better than the boxscore and the bullpen was saved by a dominant 3 inning, 1 hit, 3K save by Rusin. Sunday saw Chatwood throw another outstanding start (he either is outstanding or horrible this year), going 7plus, giving up just 2 hits and 3 walks and Holland notched save 13 as they won 5-2.
Series Record 7-2-1 (Road Record, 4-0-1)
Series 11 – Cubs – Home – 3 Game Series Win 2-1 – after losing the chance to take advantage of an exhausted Cubs team after losing a 17-inning Sunday night game due to a Monday rainout the team got excellent another 6-inning outing from Senzatela in Game 1 of doubleheader while winning 10-4, then were totally shut down in the nightcap by Lackey with Freeland losing 8-1 with Freeland throwing 6 innings of 3ER (5R) ball, undone by bad defense and 4 walks. But the real gem came in the finale where Marquez went 8 strong, taking a no-hitter into the 7th, with 8K and pitching the 7th despite a runner on 2nd and 0-outs in what was then a 1-0 game – real confidence from Black there. In the end, Holland closed out another series winner with his 14th save.
Series Record 8-2-1 (Road Record 4-0-1)
Series 12 – Dodgers – Home – 4 Game Split – the Dodgers might be the most improved team since opening day as their rotation has gotten better with Alex Wood and Cody Bellinger has been a huge addition. Add in facing Kershaw and splitting this series was hard work. They won the opener with the team again hammering Ryu and Jeff Hoffman getting a spot start. The first 5-innings were really solid, but he seemed to tire in the 6th and was lifted 2 outs short of a quality start after allowing 6 hits and 2 walk to go with his 8 strikeouts. The bullpen struggled…or rather Lyles and Oberg struggled…giving up 4 runs over 2.2 innings and requiring Holland to come in and get save 15. Game 2 saw the team waste chances to get to Kerhaw who threw 7 innings of 2 run ball as Tyler Chatwood put the team behind giving up 5 in the 2nd thanks to two walks around a strikeout, a triple, another walk, an out at that plate, a double and a double. Against Kershaw it was too much. Things didn’t get better in game 3 when Alex Wood using his fantastic breaking pitches tossed 6-innings of 10K ball before handing the ball over to one of the best bullpens in baseball. Anderson gave up 4 runs in 5.2 and continued to make strikes with 8Ks vs. only 2 walks though 1 homer. With 1st place on the line, the Rox took Game 4 behind a gutsy 5-inning 4ER effort by Senzatela who was supported by good pen work from all but Otto as the team won 9-6 and remained in 1st place.
Series Record 8-2-2 (Road Record 4-0-1)
Series 13 – Twins – Road – 3 Game Series’ Win 2-1 – after a day off the team got solid if still wild work from Freeland, going 6 innings (4BB/3KK) and 3 innings of 1 hit, no walk baseball though thanks to a hit and dropped 3rd strike Holland had to come in and throw 4 pitches to get his 17th save. After a rainout the team played 2 on Thursday, getting another solid 5 innings from Marquez (too many pitches) of 1-run ball followed by 4 innings of 4-hit, 1BB relief, and Holland’s 18th save (4 pitches for a strikeout). In the nightcap, Chatwood again gave a great pitcher too much support by allowing 2 runs off of 5 hits and 5 walks over 5 innings. Didn’t really matter because Berrios was dominating, but the team again came very close to another sweep.
Series Record 9-2-2 (Road Record 5-0-1)
So on Saturday May 20th, 43 games into the season (sadly with only a 2 game lead over the Dbacks and Dodgers who have been great as well), the Rox hold the 2nd best record in baseball, best in the NL, and have yet to lose a series on the road (even the 1 tie was in just a two-game series) and have not lost a series in May. With one in the hand already against the Reds and with the pitching matchups in their favor in Saturday and Sunday’s games, they have an excellent chance to make it 10-2-2 and 6-0-1 before heading for 4 games to the Phils who just lost their bets pitcher so far this season.
Is this a different team than we have ever seen in Colorado? Winning consistently, not in spurts and fits? Really breaking down each 3 or 4-game set and finding a way to win that matchup, and them moving along. Yes, I have never seen a Rox team like this. And the truth is, we have yet to see their best baseball. The defense would be hard-pressed to get better but the rotation is still missing Gray and Anderson has just (since the knee brace?) started to pitch like 2016. Chatwood has been awful even on the road. And while Senzatela and Freeland are pitching well, they aren’t pitching “out of their minds.” They have stayed in their game plans, understanding their defense is there to pick them up. Marquez might be about to take off – he has the most electric stuff if he can control his secondary pitches…but he still has only thrown 5 starts and would be in AAA was it not for Gray. Jeff Hoffman will likely get a second spot-start but he seems to still be fully pulling the corner. The back-end of the bullpen has been very good – Dunn, McGree, Rusin, and Holland (obviously), but Lyles and Oberg have been pretty bad thought Chad Qualls has been pretty good. And of course, the offense has been skittish at times, with Reynolds and Blackmon the only ones really “on” so far, though Arenado has been steady and Wolters very solid. Parra has hit the last month like a 4th outfielder, DJ like 2015, and Desmond still just two weeks back from injury. With very little from CarGo and Story, with Dahl and Murphy still waiting in the wings, the offense has more upside than the bullpen has downside. If there has been one surprising plus, especially in May, it has been the bench, with especially Amarista and Valaika. And for a team that does better with the extra arm in the bullpen, carrying multi-role players is big. On a night when neither Wolters or Desmond start their entire bench is capable of paying at least two positions, and really three since Wolters says he can play both 2B and SS, Desmond all 3 OF positions plus first, Amarista all but catcher and pitcher and Valaika now adding outfield to his infield resume. That is a pretty good National League and especially Coors Field bench.
Is this team a shoe-in to win the West? No…not with the Dodgers especially just 2 back. But barring an injury to the big two of Arenado and Blackmon, this team is playing and approaching its schedule more and more like a team that wants to try its luck in October and November.