Well, a good time to write this after the team finally strings together two wins in a row (and a series win over a very good Nationals team). But in the past two weeks a number of things have gone wrong but they are part of what hasn’t been quite right even since the All-Star Break. So let’s take a look at Problem #1 (clearly it takes someone watching baseball 40 years to expertly pick this issue as #1)
The Bullpen: Clearly this has been the biggest issue. While the rotation has continued to pitch well (not as well, largely because Jon Gray has hit the wall), but going back to the stat of the 2nd half we have seen that the bullpen has been the big issue. And not just the bullpen, but how Walt Weiss has managed it.
Let’s take a look at the games 2nd half that the bullpen has been a significant factor.
Game 2 (of 2nd half), Rox come from behind for the first time all season after trailing in the 7th, winning 4-3 after scoring 3 runs in the 8th and getting excellent bullpen work from McGee (to finish the 7th) and Logan (in the 8th) and a perfect 9th for the save for Estevez.
Game 3, Rox lose 1-0, after 7 shutout innings from Gray after using Motte in the 8th (solid decision) but then bringing in Gonzalez German…the worst arm in the bullpen and used despite the bullpen still being fresh.
Game 8, Rox win 4-3, another big performance by Gray but Motte gives up 2 runs in the 8th to make it close. Not a good night for the pen and just revealed the weaknesses due to too few guys able to get key outs and too many injuries…Motte was soon on his way to the DL.
Game 10, Rox lose 3-2. De La Rosa pitched well into the 7th, allowing 2 runs (1ER) and probably would have lasted longer but Arenado had a bad day in the field and extended two innings. But the game was lost in the 10th when Jordan Lyles gave up the winning run. Had Lyles fielded the ball cleanly…he got exactly what he wanted a ball hit back to him to start a double-play, they escape the 10th and keep going. Instead, the bullpen was responsible for 2nd loss of just their 4th total losses at that point.
Game 12, Rox win 3-1, thanks to 2 great innings to preserve the win by Gray after his 7 innings of 1 run ball.
Game 13, Rox win 2-1, thanks to great pen work by Oberg (in relief of awful pitching from McGee) who got out of a bases-loaded and 0 out situation. Lyles and Estevez followed that up with 2 more innings of shutout baseball.
Game 14, Rox win 5-1, thanks to great work by Oberg again (coming in with 2 on and no outs in a 2-1 game at the time.
Game 16, Rox lose 6-4. This was really the turning point in the bullpen’s recent implosion. Boone Logan who had been excellent all-season clearly didn’t have it from the get-go. He surrendered two walks and labored even to lefties. With Neil Walker next-up, a switch hitter, Weiss chose to stay with Logan despite having Oberg ready to go. Logan promptly surrendered a 3-run homer and the Rox lost what should have the sweep game of the series. Weiss had now used McGee twice in high-leverage situations despite not having demonstrated success, had pitched Germen in a tie game despite his being the low-man in the bullpen and having other options, and stuck with Logan despite his clear struggles. Weiss has also had an issue of not getting up protection for relievers in the 8th and 9th in close games…leaving struggling relievers there to fail.
Games 17-19, the Rox took 2 of 3 from the Dodgers and only Chatwood’s struggles in the middle innings of the final game prevented a sweep. With the schedule now in August, a month that has typically stressed Rox bullpens both because of the usage up to that point and the impact of altitude on relievers recovery time.
Game 20, Rox lose 5-3. The Rox had come back against the Marlins after trailing 3-1 going into the 8th. Estevez was thrown in the 9th after Weiss had mixed and matched Logan, Oberg and Ottavino to get the prior 6 outs. Estevez had no control from the get-go, walked 2, missed badly on location to give up 3 hits and the Marlins scored 4 runs before Weiss finally brought in Lyles to get the final 2 outs. Why was no one readied earlier when again when it was clear from the first batter that Estevez didn’t have it that night. Instead not only did the team lose a game in the 9th, they lost a game that had been well-pitched by their arms and where the team had put major energy into coming back. The emotional weight from that loss could be felt in the post-game interviews.
Game 21, Rox win 12-6, but after 6 innings of 3 run ball from Bettis the pen struggled again with Lyles giving up 2 runs and Oberg walking 2 and also giving up a run. This set-up the next day when the dam broke.
Game 22, Rox lose 10-7. Gray struggled from the beginning, allowing 4 runs in the 1st. He struggled but got through the next two innings but gave up 2 runs in the 4th and was clearly laboring. Weiss made the decision to leave Gray in…yes, the bullpen was tired from the day before but Gray was already at 82 pitches (well, 81 before he sent the pitch towards the plate that Stanton crushed). The end result of that decision was instead of trailing 6-1 they trailed 8-1. In the 4th and 5th innings the Rox scored 5 more runs, which would have made it 6-6. Chris Rusin gave the team 3 innings of 1 run ball (is Rusin the MVP of the pitching staff the past month?). Another run was given up by Logan in the 8th. Had Weiss managed the bullpen better (recognizing that Gray was going to blow the bullpen apart regardless that day…but it could have been in a potential win instead of a loss), the game may end with the Rox winning. Instead, a 10-7 loss. And the, um, Roxslide picked up speed the next few games against Texas.
Game 23, Rox lose 4-3. Leading 3-1 going into the 9th Weiss again goes to Estevez (a reasonable decision…he had a good run of success in July), but again, without a net. Estevez proceeded to walk one and give up 2 hits before being replaced by Logan with only 1-out. Logan gave up one more hit to go with a strikeout. That hit, a double to lefty Morland (Logan clearly was exhausted after overuse in July as seen in the Mets finale and outing against the Marlins) which plated the winning run.
Game 24, Rox lose 7-5, 5-1 going into the 7th this time it was Oberg, again, who had been pitching a lot since his recall…and in high-leverage situations…who blew-up. He struck out 2 (his only 2 outs) but gave up 4 hits with all 4 scoring. What was curious in this game was that Oberg was brought in during the 7th to get the last out (Chatwood had given up the 2nd run the batter before at 108 pitches). Oberg got the strikeout to end the inning. But then when he returned for the 8th he was completely out of sync and missing his location. Why use him in the 7th for a single out and bring him back? How familiar has Oberg been with that role in the majors (I don’t really know) but knowing his exhaustion level with having thrown so often of late, did it make sense to do that? With a 5-2 lead and one-on, Weiss could have used McGee (who he did use in the 8th after Oberg’s failure) to get that single out in a relatively lower pressure situation (rebuilding his confidence). Regardless, the end result was another loss and another one that hit the team’s morale heavily.
Game 25, Rox lose 5-4, on a hot day De La Rosa gave the team just 5 innings of 3 run ball. The got through the 6th with German (who walked 2 but gave up no hits), and Estevez pitched the 7th allowing just one hit. In the 8th the team rallied against the solid Texas bullpen to take a 4-3 lead. The ball was given to Logan, who still looked fatigued though he struck-out Andrus on a 2-2 count. Then he was undone by the defense as Mark Reynolds fumbled a ball from lefty Moreland. He then hit Choo (again his location being the issue), putting men at 2nd and 1st with only one out. Weiss did replace Logan (recognizing his fatigue and the need for a net under him) but Jordan Lyles threw too good a pitch and got a too-slow roller for the 2nd out. With men at 3rd and 2nd now he walked Carlos Beltran and Weiss went to Ottovino (a lot of people don’t like managers using their closers before the 9th but…this was the on-the-line situation…right move for Weiss I must admit). Sadly Beltre cranked a single to left and the game was lost.
Game 26, Rox win shootout 12-9. Bettis like De La Rosa the day before was done after 5 (100 degree daytime heat with 90% humidity), leaving with the score 6-5 (the run of quality starts through July ended with Chatwood’s loss in the finale versus the Dodgers and really hasn’t begun again…fatigue showing up with the starters as well). Rusin, who had been excellent of late may also have been fatigued and gave up 2 runs. But in his first inning he was fantastic, getting 2 strikeouts. When he returned for the 7th he gave up back-to-back homers to Beltre and Morland (Beltre has always hit the Rox well and is a future HOF…giving up the bomb to the lefty Moreland highlights his exhaustion). Scott Oberg came in and allowed a single and a walk and a double before getting an out. He then got a strikeout and a walked the bases loaded intentionally. And then…just as has happened a lot lately…a too good of a pitch meant the ball was too softly rolled to get a double-play. With that the 4th run of the inning scored. The Rox trailed 9-7 but showed they aren’t quite dead yet. They put up a 5 spot on the Rangers bullpen in the 8th (remember, in the first half the team simply was dead after 7 innings trailing…this team has fought back throughout the 2nd half in the final three innings). Jake McGee gave them a solid 8th and Ottavino let his anger at the last week show as he threw 15 pitches and struck out all three batters. The bullpen struggled…but also helped hold this win.
Game 27, Rox lose to Phils 10-6. This was another awful start from Gray (I still expect him to get his second wind before the season is over), but the team could have stayed in this had the bullpen been solid. Gray was already into a high pitch count at the beginning of the 5th (practically a third of his pitches were thrown to the Phils leadoff man who simply fouled off everything). It was another hot and muggy early evening, and while Gray got the first out of the 5th on a strikeout to his tormentor Hernandez, Gray was done. But because the bullpen was exhausted Weiss stuck with Gray who didn’t have his best stuff as well as being elevated in pitch count. He walked the next batter, gave up a single and then another infield “hit.” Much as the situation with Logan against the Mets when it was clear Logan didn’t have the stuff to get Walker out (and gave up a homer) and Gray against the Marlins when he didn’t have the stuff to get Stanton (and gave up4 a homer), he was kept in to face lefty Ryan Howard…who hit a grand slam. The game changed in that one series of plays but really…with that one pitch. What was a 3-3 game (the Rox had managed to scratch a run over in the 5th to tie it but failed to score more that inning), became a blow-out and again…you could see the shoulders sag on the team. But the offense kept pushing, scoring 3 more runs. But the bullpen allowed three more runs to the Phils (Matt Carasiti getting his first action in the bigs gave up 2 runs in 2 innings). The combination of an over-used bullpen from the week, a starter who had nothing to give being kept in one batter too long, and a bullpen that didn’t keep it at just 7 runs doomed the opening of the series.
Game 28, Rox lose to Phils 6-3. This was the ludicrous Tyler Anderson ejection game. Anderson didn’t look sharp really for the first time all year. He gave up a 3-run homer in the first, then after hitting Franco in the 4th was gone. Talk about an ejection when the Rox least needed it. No warning had been issued and Franco wasn’t hit in a way that even intimated “throwing at him.” Ridiculous. Rusin did allow Franco to score to make it 4-0, but threw 3 inning not allowing any of his own batters to score. The Rox scored 3 in the 6th to make it 4-3 (had Anderson not been tossed…would he have held it at 3 runs total?), but the bullpen again undid the efforts of the team (again, you can sense the hitters shoulder just sagging…we make it close and then…they score 2 more in the 7th). The end result another loss, 5 innings of bullpen use, and Estevez still looking off (it is his location more than his control…he’s not walking guys each time out…but he is leaving flat pitches in the zone).
Game 29, Rox lose 7-6. A day after getting only 3 innings from Anderson because of the umpire making a poor call, they lose Chatwood after just 4 innings (and 4 batters) because of his back again. Tyler didn’t look right after the first. He had a great first. And then starting in the 2nd he seemed to be having trouble finishing his pitches. Another Arenado error (do the Rox lose every game he has an error in or is it just me…and has he looked tired the last month to anyone else) and walk allowed the first run. In the third a single on another softly hit ball and then an error by Chatwood followed by yet another Arenado error allowed another run to score. In the 4th he gave a full-count home run to lead off the inning and then really struggled to throw strikes the rest of the inning (I was shocked he was allowed to stay in with 2-outs because he didn’t look right on the television…I know Weiss is a player manager but you have to make the call that the guy isn’t getting the job done…and here because he looks hurt). But it all fell apart in the 5th. A walk, sharp single, sharp single (after which Weiss came out with the trainer to check on Chatwood), and then once again, facing one batter too many…he gave up a double to score the next run. And his day was done (his season too maybe). Lyles came in…gave up a run on another good pitch this time deflected by Lyles, but managed to hold it there. The score was now 6-3. Unfortunately McGee came in for the 6th, allowed a single to Howard (a lefty) and then a double to right to score the run making it 7-3. He didn’t pitch awful though. And Lyles and Oberg were solid and Estevez was…better (still one walk and a hit but the two strikeouts showed he is getting a bit closer). The offense scored to make it 7-6. But too little.
Game 30, Rox lose 5-4 to Nationals. When you put 4 runs in 4 innings against arguably the best pitcher in the National League in Matt Scherzer, you should win. De La Rosa gave up 2 in the 3rd, and one in the 5th to make it 4-3 as they entered the 6th. De La Rosa’s pitch count was still relatively low. He needed to give them a quality start and get through the 6th with the game still a lead. But he gave up a 1-0 homer to lead off the 6th to Ramos (whose having a great season to be fair), and the work the offense did against Scherzer was wasted. Though the face the offense got just 3 hits and no other baserunners in the 5 innings against the Nats bullpen…is a huge issue. But with the game 4-4 a win was still there to be taken. But Lyles pitched the 7th (I like Jordan as a reliever but more of a 6th inning guy or a “we need a double-play guy”). He gave up a single to the speedy shortstop Turner…who promptly stole second, used his speed to move up on an out to center, and then scored on a Harper double off Boone Logan (Logan has struggled the past 2 weeks primarily against lefties, though Harper and Murphy, who waked…are great hitters). That was the game. I suppose you can ask what Hundley is still doing catching games in August, and especially late in games when a defensive switch might be of use (does Wolters catch Turner???), but the fact is, the Nats bullpen beat the Rox 1-0, and that is what matters.
Game 31, Rox win 6-2. For all the bad luck and other issues, Game 31 was a pure bullpen victory. With the score tied 2-2 after 3 innings Chad Bettis (and Nats starter Gonzalez) were done thanks to a lengthy rain delay. When the game resumed Chris Rusin was again money, tossing 3 innings of 3 hit ball. The Rox scored against the Nats pen (okay, 1 run against former Giant Petit but 2 runs against Oliver Perez who the Rox usually enjoy hitting against as well as one more run to top it off against a good reliever in Treinen). Rusin was followed by Carasiti (who has yet to show the success heh had in AA and AAA this year…allowing a walk in .1 of an inning), Logan (with his best work in 2 weeks getting Murphy and Harper who beat his the night before), Estevez (1 hit and a K) and another great 9th from Ottovino (surprised he threw in a non-save situation but…they needed the win). Whereas they faced everything that they had the past 2 weeks that went wrong, in Game 31…it started to go right. Despite a short-start (not Bettis’s fault), some wildness, and even some hits that should have been…the bullpen was the way it was in most of July. A good sign going forward?
Game 32, Rox win 12-10. Again, things that had been going wrong…went right for the Rox again. Gray was better than recently but he still isn’t finishing hitter, taking nearly 100 pitches to get through 4 innings in a game the team led handily at the time (9-4). In the 5th Christian Bergman reappeared for the Rockies (I would ask why he is up but…that is another discussion for tomorrow), and he gave up a walk to Murphy and a long homer to Harper. He was only able to give the Rox the one inning meaning that the next 12 outs were needed from 5 other relievers. Lyles gave up a run on 2 hits and a walk along with a wild pitch (the 2 hits were 2 doubles). It was the hardest hit he has looked in a while. In the 7th Carasiti gave up a pinch homer but took care of his walk with a double play (on speedy Ben Revere). In the 8th Estevez again got hit hard, allowing a triple that was plated by a sac fly before being replaced by Logan to again face Murphy and Harper. The first game they won the battle. The second Logan did but it was still a battle. Today, he struck them both out, Murphy on a full-count and Harper on a 1-2 pitch. Logan looked more and more the last few days (even Monday…give credit to good hitters) like he is working through his funk and exhaustion. In the 9th Oberg too gave up a pinch homer but also struck out 2. In a 12-9 game you want him challenging hitters and if you give one up on a windy warm day at Coors, well…its just one run. The bullpen though did its job. Not great…but it won the battle (The Rox scored 9 runs off Strasburg, the best road pitcher in baseball this year…who had given up 11 road runs all season before today…but only 3 runs off their bullpen). The bullpen lost the run count, 6-3, but won the game by focusing on getting outs with a big lead. And after the last 2 weeks…that is what matters most.
So, after taking you back through that trail of tears, here is what we can see in the tale-of-the-tape.
- Since the All-Star Break depending on how you look at the games you can argue the bullpen’s “record” (significant influence win or lose) is 6-13. The decent to great starting pitching is why they got to .500. The trouble before that…and definitely after is due to the bullpen.
- August is a bad month for Rockies bullpens historically. The too many innings (especially early in the year when even starting staffs that become good…like this one and 07 and 09…take too long to get into form and cause too many innings on good arms. Additionally the wear and tear of altitude plus the heat on road trips and the warm and windy nights at Coors aids to tough Augusts.
- The starting unit has gone through a weird phase. Gray has looked lost for 3 straight starts. Anderson was ejected from a game. Bettis and De La Rosa pitched in a heat-box in Texas and could only give them 5 innings. And Chatwood got hurt. Add in the rain delay factor with Bettis and you suddenly have a staff that was shortening the game to 6-9 outs for the bullpen making it a 12-15 out game. More innings at the wrong time of the year.
- Bizarre decision making by Weiss. German pitching the 9th? Leaving in Logan when he clearly didn’t have it and you have Oberg ready to go. Letting Gray and Chatwood both face batters long after they lost it that took close games and made them blow-outs that your offense fought to make close but ultimately failed. Plus sticking with Estevez when he has had control issues. Good relievers will still get beaten from time-to-time, especially when tired (like Logan), get hurt by good pitches hit just right (like Oberg), and other just bad luck situations.
- Injuries have hurt this bullpen. While Justin Miller hasn’t been his 2015 form, he hasn’t been any form for months now as he sits on the DL. Motte’s shoulder has been a mess. Chad Qualls looked bad early in the season, then he just looked bad because he lost a ton of weight thanks to intestinal issues. This has meant guys like German (before he was DFAd), Lyles, and now Carasiti all were throwing when you would have preferred steady veteran arms in those spots.
- Estevez and Carasiti are still young. Oberg too. They are still learning their craft. Should Estevez remained closer after Zero came back? Riding a hot hand is the easy thing to do. But good managers don’t get fooled by short-term results.
- The other guys are pretty good too. We forget that even good pitchers get beat. Quality starters are going to have a bad outing 20% of the time…you just hope you can still win those. Great relievers are going to lose to guys like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy at least some of the time. What you don’t want is to get beat by the Neal Walkers and Mitch Morland of the world. Sadly…they have been exactly the type to hurt the Rox the past 2 weeks.
Does the bullpen issues mean the season is over? Currently the Rox sit 6.5 games out of a Wild Card slot. They have the Cubs for 3 at Coors (not an easy task) and then go to LA and Washington in the next 2 weeks. Not easy pickings. But they can beat those teams. If they can get things back going. So in that vein, here is what has to happen.
- The starters have to get back to 4 out of 5 games being quality starts. Gray has to get his stuff back. Bettis needs to pitch just a bit better. Anderson has to be Anderson we have seen (he is getting close to a level of innings he hasn’t tossed in the pro ranks before but he is older and a big kid). Jorge needs to be a bit better. All of those are real possibilities. And whoever the #5 guy is…needs to be competitive. They also need good luck with regards to weather (fewer 100 degree, 90% humidity days, fewer rainouts), no more injury-shortened starts, oh…and no more ejections.
- They need their key veterans arms to be rested. Zero should not be pitching in 4 run games but has to stay sharp. If Logan is through his dead-arm period that is a good sign. Same with Scott Oberg. If Chad Qualls can come back and be even league average and Jake McGee continue to improve then…then they have enough arms to get through games. Chris Rusin has looked good enough to be another 7th or 8th inning arm, despite his already being hugely valuable as the long-man during this bizarre stretch. As both Jordan Lyles and Christian Bergman have proved…not everyone is great at it (two words…Yohan Flande).
- They need young arms to take the next step. I think Estevez who is still learning the art of pitching (Wild Thing indeed) might just need some minor mechanical adjustments. Matt Carisiti has good stuff. He can get guys out here. Last year it took Scot Oberg a while to figure it out…perhaps Carasiti will (remember, he has made the jump from AA this year). Sam Moll down at AAA gives them another left-handed option…but isn’t on the 40. Miguel Castro sadly has had a lost season since his early-season shoulder woes. Simon Castro has suddenly been hot…perhaps he can help. But the team may also decide that Jeff Hoffman and Kyle Freeland (and/or a Yancey Almonte or German Marquez who continue to impress as starter despite their move to AA and AAA respectively) could come up and throw key innings from the bullpen without adding too many more pitches on their arms in a single year. If the team believes they have a chance then the 40 man roster moves that will have to be made in November might be made in September.
- I know this sounds silly but bullpen life is also about luck. Balls hit a bit more sharply to be caught…or at an outfielder perfectly positioned. Plus good catching (at this point someone needs to explain the value that Nick Hundley is providing to this team because it isn’t showing up in terms of defense or catcher ERA…or batting average). As we saw with the Royals last year in the playoffs, yes good teams make their own luck but the Astros bullpen make good pitches that got hit or were hit at fielders who missed it. The difference between the great Royals bullpen and what on the surface looked like an awful Astros one (but wasn’t) was so very slight. The Rox need a little more luck…be that preparation meeting opportunity luck or just…luck.
The fact is that the teams ahead of them in the Wild Card are…very flawed. Last year both the Cubs and Pirates would have won divisions in 4 of the 6 divisions in baseball but ended up as Wild Card teams. They were good and deep clubs. Right now the Giants lead the way and they have flat out stunk since the All-Star break (and now trail the Dodgers in the West). The Cardinals have as many injury issues as the Rox, and are a good team…but not a great team. The Marlins just lost Stanton. The Mets…are in as much trouble as the Rox have been the last two weeks. The Pirates…have huge issues. 6.5 games is a lot to make-up. Or 8.5 if the focus is on the Giants (not a bad focus right now). But with 45 games or so to go, 7 weeks, that is a game a week. It starts by winning series. Which they just did…thanks to decent, not great, but decent bullpen work. A lot depends on other things but as for the #1 reason for the recent nightmare…this team can still wake-up and start having rainbows and puppy dreams again…but will it?