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First place Colorado Rockies channeling past World Series Champions

Drew Creasman Avatar
April 25, 2017

 

DENVER – Something strange is going on in Colorado where the Rockies lead the NL West and came into this week’s four-game set against the Washington Nationals tied with them for the best record in the National League. After Monday night’s 8-4 win, the Rockies stand alone atop the NL standings.

That, in and of itself, is actually not that surprising. We’ve been writing about the 2017 Rockies chances to contend since at least 2014 as the development of players like Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, Trevor Story, David Dahl, Tom Murphy and plenty of others made it clear that this team had a bright future.

And while most of that positive projection on our part was in response to the overwhelming number of promising young starting pitchers the Rockies managed to stockpile, we still didn’t think that when this whole thing finally came together, it would manifest in quite this way.

As of the publishing of this article, the Colorado Rockies have the fifth worst offense in all of baseball according to the wRC+ statistic. The offense ranks behind only the San Diego Padres in the NL, and while the explosion of runs over the last three games has done a great deal to ease these concerns, the negative run differential that Colorado possessed before that is still reason for to pause. Until the last three games, they simply were not slugging their way to victory like they did in years past.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Rockies sports the second-best ERA in the National League behind just the New York Mets and by just a tenth of a point. They are second in all of baseball, behind the Cleveland Indians, in fWAR for their pitchers.

That’s right; Colorado is winning primarily because they are pitching incredibly well, playing exceptional defense, and getting just enough timely hitting.

Of course, major offseason acquisitions in the bullpen deserve a ton of credit for this turn of events. Mike Dunn and Greg Holland have been exceptional since joining the squad and have allowed the rest of the bullpen to be used in ways that set each guy up to succeed. With almost no exceptions in 2017, the Rockies have been able to use their “positive side” guys when tied or up and their “negative side” guys to eat the innings that need to be eaten in blowouts.

But what is most surprising about this start for the club is that the biggest source of concern among experts and analysts coming into this season was the sheer lack of experience in the rotation. Tyler Chatwood remains the only guy making regular starts who has more than a full season of MLB experience. Conventional wisdom says it should take time for players like Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela to settle into the majors and it probably still will despite pretty awesome early showings from each.

Senzatela, in particular, is already making history through his first four starts.

When Jon Gray went down, the Rockies lost the guy they expected to anchor the rotation and Tyler Anderson really hasn’t found his way back to being the pitcher he was a year ago, though he looks closer to that after his last two starts. And yet, with relatively mediocre performances from Anderson and even Gray before his injury, and a hodgepodge mix of young guys likely to see German Marquez added to the list on Tuesday, quality pitching has been the engine driving the first-place Rockies.

BSN Denver asked manager Bud Black this spring training if the Rockies could compete with such a young and inexperienced staff. He responded without hesitation that they could, remarked on how “fun” it is to be able to coach so much potential, and recalled his days in Kansas City when the Royals found World Series success behind a group of similarly young and inexperienced pitchers.

There are 143 more games to play to see if the 2017 Rockies follow in the footsteps of the 1985 Kansas City Royals who won 91 games and the World Series while Bret Saberhagen won the Cy Young award at 21-years old. That Royals team had just one All-Star in George Brett who was also the only player on that team to bat over .300 for the season. In fact, he was the only player who hit over .280 for the champs.

But each of their starting pitchers won double-digit games, four of them pitched at least 200 innings, and two of them posted ERAs south of 3.00. They backed that up with a lockdown closer.

The Rockies have their Dan Quisenberry in Holland and their Brett in Nolan Arenado. They’ve also got their Bud Black in … y’know … Bud Black. Though, obviously, he is working to fill the role of Dick Howser now. Whether or not they have their Saberhagen (Senzatela?) or Charlie Leibrandt (Gray) or Danny Jackson (Chatwood?) will be the story of 2017.

Whether or not the Rockies have their Saberhagen (Senzatela?) or Charlie Leibrandt (Gray?) or Danny Jackson (Chatwood?) will be the story of 2017.

Can the Rockies young pitchers pay full homage to that Royals team? We will find out soon enough. But one thing is clear already; the Rockies have finally built themselves a team that can not just win but can excel when they aren’t hitting. And if this recent outburst of offense is the real deal, the Rockies are about to send a message to the rest of MLB this week.

That message? “Watch out.”

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