What Are We Seeing in the Rox in the 2nd Half

0-21 for the year facing a 9th inning deficit and 1-41 trailing after 7 is so 1st half of the season. The Colorado Rockies are simply playing confident baseball. No, more than that. They are playing excellent baseball, among the best in baseball.

For years we have heard that the Rockies cannot develop pitching. We hear that the Rox are just a Coors Field team and that they cannot do the things on the road that needs to happen to win games. And based on just 3 playoff trips since 1993 and the great despair of 2011-2015, those voices are right.

I read all the time comments at the Denver Post, Purple Row, Roxpile and especially the MLB website that the Rox stink, they can’t do anything right, this team should be contracted (no, really). And these are from people who say they are Rockies fans. I don’t think so. I think they are simply miserable. Suggestion: the same one my psychiatrist has given me – Seroquel, 2X a day.

Now the 1st half of 2016 has looked a lot like 2011-2015, or even 2002-2006. The team kept saying they have talent but they were busy getting blown out by the Reds, the Padres, the Pirates and even in the 2nd half the Rays. You can say you have talent but winning…that is where it shows up.

The last series of the 2nd half was another disappointment at home as the team split with the Phils and that after a real disappointment against the Giants and Dodgers at home when those two teams were playing great baseball.

So what happened during the All-Star break? I can only assume that they pulled the non-All Stars into a cave, hypnotized them and told them to just win baby.

The post break first series was just what you want to start off the 2nd half. The Braves are a bad team. Yes a young team (aren’t the Rox at key spots), but even some of their youngsters just look like they don’t belong. Their pitching though…pretty good. The Rox beat up on Lucas Harrell who has since been traded (the Braves got a nice return for essentially someone they picked up at a thrift store for $0.99). They finally won a game after trailing going intp the 7th off great looking youngster Foltynewicz, but then lost a heartbreaker to the Braves in walk-off fashion 1-0 when Julian Tehran matched Jon Gray pitch-for-pitch. The key in those three games though…excellent starting pitching (DLR, Bettis, and Gray each had quality starts), and solid relief (Gonzalez German, a 6th inning guy at best blew the Sunday game…why he was pitching is simply a mystery). The good run continued with Chad Bettis’s win against the Rays at home. And then Chatwood and DLR had awful starts at home vs. the Rays when the offense had to face to great starting pitching in Snell and Archer. At that point almost every article I read on-line said…season over. Start the sweeping out via trades. Hey, maybe its time to see what Nolan can fetch.

And then…things just start of switched on. Look, when you are facing good starting pitching it is always an uphill climb and Snell and Archer along with Tehran are great young pitchers, with Snell maybe having the best arm as he continues his rookie climb. And Chatwood has struggled at home but may have really suffered by the pro-longed delay between starts (yes he’s coming back from TJ surgery but regularity remains key for control). DLR? Well, even good starters have clunkers. Those who thought the Rox starting staff was still a weakness were simply wrong. They have an interesting one.

But what was huge was what happened Thursday. Now reeling, 21-24 and a very tough road trip looming the Rox should have folded like a Goodwill Store card table. But they didn’t. And you can’t say, “well yeah, but it was the Braves.” The Rox had been blown out by the Rays! By the Pads! The Reds! Home had been a mystery for the Rox. And with their confidence shot sitting 43-51 the Rox should have at best split with the Braves as they did against the Phils. Heck, I was wondering if Walt Weiss might be replaced before they left for the East Coast. He was not after all Bridich’s hire. And I like Walt but he really struggles with bullpen usage and handling of pitching and close games. But…hey, it’s still just his 3rd year coaching more than church-league softball and high school baseball.

Confidence matters. And confidence is in the old-venacular of baseball, the next-day’s starting pitching. Chad Bettis was that man. Bettis, who looked like he was about to see New Mexico sunrises back in early June has become the guy we all hoped he was going to be after last year. Not an ace, but maybe a good #2 or a great #3. In his last 5 starts an ERA of just 3.38 (last 3, 2.79). And some of those runs were 7th inning hits that scored after he was pulled…he does seem to still be limited at 6 innings but he has already thrown a career high in innings. All that said, the Bettis recovery continued. He handled the Braves giving up just 1 run in 6.2 while the Rox once agains got to Foltynewicz the third time through. Starting pitching marker laid down, next man tries to meet it. Next man, Jon Gray. He goes 7 innings of 1 run ball (Tehran was matching him until pulled due to a possible injury). Okay, next man – Tyler Anderson. Same. Then Sunday Tyler Chatwood pitched one of the more unusual games I have seen, a 1-hit, 8 walk, 6 strikeout 5 inning performance. Not a quality star (unless you use my Coors Field definition, 5 innings of 2 runs or less, 6 innings of 4 runs or less), but shut-down stuff.

Suddenly this team’s starting pitching had become something to crow about. 6 of 9 games were quality starts. 6 of 9 games produced wins. Getting to starters from the other team in the 3rd time through the line-up. And the bullpen save for a few sore spots (cough- Gonzalez Germen – cough) had been very good. The Rox leave Coors with their home record 25-24 and only 4 games under .500. And now they trailed the Wild Card by only 6 games. But now comes one of the toughest road trips in recent memory. First 3 against the team with the best home record and only one series loss in Baltimore. And then the Rox personal house of horrors, CitiField in New York where the Rox had lost 10 straight. Realistically the best they could hope for is 2-5 on the trip. And you could easily see a 1-6 or another big clunker on the road and going 0-7.

But baseball is simply a difficult game to prognosticate. Oh, you can tell when teams are going to be really bad (the Braves had stripped their team down…really, tanked, and the Reds were not far behind). But sometimes teams you think might be good (the Twins) end up awful. And teams you think won’t be part of the playoff discussion (Baltimore) are. And since the advent of the Wild Card we have seen teams like the Mariners, the As, the Rox, and the Royals storm through the last 2 months and make-up sizeable deficits to get into the playoffs. The Rox trailed leaving Coors the Wild Card by 6, but with the Marlins in the 2nd spot they also had the Mets, Cardinals, and Pirates in front of them. This is not an easy row to hoe.

And so they stepped off into the road and ran into a very good pitching match-up of De La Rosa and Garrado. The Rox took a 2-1 lead off Garrado in the 7th but gave up the tying run in the bottom of the 7th when with one out DLR hit a batter (barely…on the foot), then gave up a double. Zero was brought in and got a ground ball, but too weakly to prevent the run from scoring. Then in the 10th Jordan Lyles with the bases loaded managed to bobble a perfectly hit double-play ball and then fire an awful throw to home and failed to get the runner.

Baltimore’s pen had shut down the Rox (in fact, the Rox scored no runs against the Baltimore pen in 3 games). And they let the winning run score thanks to a few small issues. Typical Rockies, right? Time for Bridich to call-up the rest of the GMs and see if they like a combination trade of Blackmon and Parra…if they just please take that contract.

But this is why I see more 2007 and 2009 Rox than 2014. Just like after the two blow-out losses at home, they could have folded. They were facing the Baltimore ace in Tillman the next day, who hadn’t lost at home all season-long. But thanks to excellent 2-out hitting, they put a 4 spot on Tillman and then 2 more later. This win was not a fluke. Too often wins the Rox have on the road are fluky. This was a solid well-played game with the Rox rookies having good at-bats. And again…great starting pitching, with it provided this time by Bettis again. Now with the series win there for the taking the team threw out Gray again facing the only 3-time Oklahoma state player of the year in Dylan Bundy. And Bundy had a perfect game going until the 6th again (3rd time through again) when a good eye by Reynolds and a bomb by Nick Hundley were enough while the fresh rookie David Dahl showed everyone just how good he can be by blasting a deep homer into the center field batters-eye. Great bullpen work again sealed the victory.

And then game 1 versus the Mets. This time the mantle fell to Tyler Anderson as he faced arguably the Mets best pitcher, certainly the most dependable in Jacob DeGrom. And DeGrom was excellent especially against hitters with 2-outs. Interestingly two of the guys with the best at-bats against him…David Dahl and Trevor Story. But they couldn’t push across runs against DeGrom or Addison Reed. And despite 6 quality innings from Anderson the 7th was a disaster. After some better performances by Jake McGee today was awful. A double and another hit they forced the Rox to walk intentionally Mets best hitter Cespedes. Why did Collins go to him here knowing that walking him was the smartest move. If those first two runs score to make it 3-0 was practically as bad as his walk coming around to score and making it 4-0. So, McGee intentionally walked him and was promptly pulled for…Scott Oberg.

If the Rox are to be a playoff team this year and in years ahead they need to hit on lower round picks. They need to have home-grown players take on key spots and be big in the moment. Oberg is just a 2nd year player. He has just 76 games of experience. After But here was his chance to be part of the future. He got the first batter to hit a grounder to Story who fired home to get the runner. Then a big strikeout. And finally a shallow fly-out. Mets score zero and you could feel the belief rise in the Rox that they find a way to win. Jordan Lyles got through the 8th inning allowing one hit but getting another big strike-out (question – with Lyles stuff can he turn it up a notch and become a bit of a power strikeout and groundball arm for the 7th and 8th innings?). And then in the 9th the Rox finally broke through against Familia, who had been perfect all season on saves until the night before. On the broadcast Spillbourghs made a point you can tell when a pitcher has no confidence when you come up to bat. Story fired a single to left. Then Dahl worked a great walk. Daniel Descalso (role-playing veterans who have career years tend to be key in playoff teams) laid down the best bunt I have seen in a long time. While Wolters struck-out (on the best pitch that Familia threw in the inning) pinch-hitter Adames jumped on the first pitch, grounded into the hole between 1st and 2nd and on a tough play James Looney, a great defender, couldn’t corral the ball and Familia never covered first. At best they were going to have a play at 2nd but in fact…had none. Score 1-1. Then in a good at-bat by Blackmon Familia fired a 55 foot sinker that ran past the catcher and allowed Dahl to score. That was all that was needed. Estevez came in and on just 8 pitches (7 strikes) dispatched the Mets in the 9th. No fuss. No excitement.

And with that the Rox moved to 14-4 since the All-Star Break. They are now within 9.5 of the Giants! They remain essentially 6 back in the Wild-Card race (which may seem a sign of how hard this will be to catch the leaders but they have maintained their positon while on the hardest road trip of the year.

And we have now seen the Rox be the only team that has won a series at both the Cubs and Baltimore, two teams with just 16 total home losses. They broke the CitiField curse. And they are tied for the most quality states post-break and lead in road ERA in that time. The Rox do not have a rotation like we saw out of the gate from the Mets, or like the 2015 Nationals. But, they have a better rotation right now than probably 25 other teams. And the fact I just wrote that tells me how much things have changed.

The hiring of Marc Wiley has to be given a big check for why this has happened. There is a consistent strategy now among the Rox minor league coaching staffs as well as the Majors. After the absolute chaos that former Assistant GM Bill Geivett created, things haven’t just turned. They have turned out excellently. Some of this is due to health of course. Both Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson spent far more time in the trainer’s room in 2015 than on the field at any level. Both have shown the talent that got them picked as high as they did and why former GM Dan O’Dowd. O’Dowd deserves a lot of credit as well. He was always best at scouting, and while the 2006-2010 stretch didn’t go well, some of that is due to injuries. But of the current pitching group Chatwood was acquired by trade, Gray by draft, Anderson by draft, De La Rosa by trade, and Chad Bettis by draft. That is an all-O’Dowd acquired rotation that is excelling like no group of Rockies pitchers ever has. The bullpen includes a few O’Dowd pieces, like Justin Miller, Zero, and Boone Logan. But give credit to O’Dowd. He didn’t leave the cupboard bare and no direction for the club. And this is despite the complete flameout of Eddie Butler and Tyler Matzek, two arms that should be good enough to pitch in the majors with success (as Matzek did in 2014…he was promoted to AA last night, so kudos for Tyler).

Can the bullpen develop in the 2nd half and 2017? Estevez of late has looked more mature and confident, not just relying on his stuff. Zero will continue to progress towards his 2014-2015 levels as he gets more innings under his elbow. Miguel Castro has all the tools, but since his stint on the DL has had trouble with location. Chris Rusin and Jordan Lyles have proven to be able to get outs, though Lyles should never see the same guy twice in a game and Rusin is best as a swing man. Sam Moll is knocking at the door. Matt Carasitti has shown a lot as the AA closer and now getting plenty of experience at AAA. He is a big strong former starter (a 6th round pick in 2012 – the Rox have to start hitting on more and more of the picks outside the Rounds 1-3). It will be interesting to see how these live arms do in The Show. Add him to Scott Oberg (another O’Dowd pick) the team should have a young group with power arms for a few years to go (and save the need for spending prospects on rental arms in the bullpen).

At the beginning of the season I believed this was a 78 win team with decent health. They are still at about that pace but now the direction of the team is on the upswing. While the Marlins are emptying their prospect list to add a guy like Andrew Cashner and have gotten back Dee Gordan, but what is the chemistry like? The Cardinals are still the Cardinals, and have a deep but average farm system with a great top of the group in Reyes. The Pirates? I think they will trade of bullpen pieces, most likely Melancon. The Mets? With Harvey done for the year and Matz and Thor both fighting elbow issues and an offense that is moribund they are not a team on the upswing.

The reason that the games since the All-Star break this team feels different is it is different. The youth is starting to come and show energy and excitement. Tyler Anderson may be the most surprising rookie in the National League. Jon Gray has put his name in the hat now as a serious candidate for the Rookie-of-the-Year, and gives them an arm to match against team’s ace. Trevor Story, while not at the level of Cory Seager in terms of pure talent, might force his way to the Rookie-of-the-Year finalist group. Carlos Estevez has arguably the best pure power arm among the prospect group and suddenly is showing control and confidence to make himself in the top 10% of closers. And now David Dahl…not yet doing to big league pitching he did to AAA pitching, but he is showing why the team made the big decision to promote him, over even a guy like Jordan Patterson who has been as impressive as any prospect in the system this year. That is just the rookie group. Add in Scott Oberg who looks like he can be a quality set-up man going forward and this is a team loaded with young talent that brings lots of energy, something that is needed to win the race to October.

And down on the farm the Rockies have three starters who are showing they can help in that push. Everyone is waiting for Jeff Hoffman, but his inning limit can make his impact less. Of late Kyle Freeland seems to have turned the corner, discovering his control and strikeout pitch. Freeland is healthier than Hoffman and has more innings left in the team-created limits. And German Marquez…well even as bad as Jake McGee has been he has the potential to make the whole trade worthwhile. The 21-year old has 118Ks in 128 innings with a 1.14 GO/AO ratio. He might provide the extra boost that the rotation or bullpen needs down the stretch. I would bet all three pitch in Colorado this year.

And the position player list is also there to add energy. Ramiel Tapia has simply dominated AA pitching after his slow start. Tapia has a .331/.372/.459 line. An OPS of .831 as a 22-year old in an older league is very impressive. Some doubt the power will come but 19 doubles and 4 triples alongside 8 homers shows there is a lot of sting in that bat. His defense and base-running still need to improve but…he can provide a spark off the bench as the run down the Wild Card. Add in Jordan Patterson and his .314/.404/.495 line shows that he has a mature bat, and since mid-June the power in terms of homers has finally come (8 now from a guy who should be in the 15-20 range). And then of course there is Tom Murphey who is actually making the push by Dahl to get to the majors look middling. In July he has hit .569/.615/1.155 with 8 bombs. And no, the 1.155 isn’t his OPS, its his slugging. I can’t ever remember a hitter doing that for a whole month against advanced pitching. Or college pitching. Or heck, Little League. The Rox have to do something…and that something is to move Todd Hundley…soon.

Those are 6 players (and add in Castro and Moll and its 8) that the team can bring up to help the push to the playoffs. Aside from the Dodgers no other team in the National League Wild Card hunt can bring that kind of extra energy and help. Add that to the already improving group of players and…hate to say it, its time to start bringing our hope to this team. Because I think…this team is playing important games the last week of the season.

And that…puts a smile on my lips and a big eyes behind my purple-tinted lenses,

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