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It had to end sooner or later.
The Colorado Rockies surprised everyone when they started the year 4-0, including a sweep of the Brewers in Miller Park to start the year. However, on Saturday night, the Cubs ended the party, taking advantage of a shaky Kyle Kendrick. The Rockies lost 9-5, picking up their first loss of the 2015 season.
For Kendrick, his start couldn’t have been more different than the one he pitched on Opening Day. On Monday, Kendrick pitched seven innings and didn’t walk a single Brewers batter. On Saturday, he couldn’t find the strike zone. When he did, the Cubs belted the ball. The newly acquired righty gave up five free passes in his five-plus innings of work. He also gave up eight earned runs on eight hits.
Simply stated, Kendrick was awful.
Of the five walks that Kendrick gave up, three of them came around to score. The problems for Kendrick went beyond the walks. He was constantly working behind in the counts. He wasn’t attacking the strike zone like he was in Milwaukee. He couldn’t locate any of his pitches and when runners reached base, he was unable to make the pitches that he needed to limit the damage.
What happened on Saturday night shows exactly what the Rockies will need if they are indeed going to turn their fortunes of the past few seasons around. The first four games–even with Tyler Matzek’s clunker–showed how important it is for the Rockies to get at least decent starting pitching performances.
With Kendrick struggling, the Rockies offense was playing catch-up all night long. Instead of getting to step back and score runs when the opposing pitcher gave them the pitches to drive, the Rockies were in a position where they had to go out and continue scoring runs, knowing that even if they tied the game, Kendrick was likely going to give a few runs back to the Cubs.
A good starting performance on the mound opens up tons of opportunities for the team’s offense. The guys with the bats don’t have to press and try and make something happen. It takes pressure off of a team when the starting pitcher can be depended on for a decent start. Even though Matzek struggled in the opener on Friday, he still was good enough to limit the damage. He gave up an early run, but was able to keep the Cubs from scoring again on him in his four-plus innings. He wasn’t good at all, but he didn’t allow things to spiral out of control.
The wasn’t the case for Kendrick on Saturday. He wasn’t able to minimize the damage. In fact, quite the opposite, it seemed that the Cubs were able to pile on the runners when Kendrick started giving free passes and leaving balls up in the zone.
On the opposite side of the field, Cubs starter Jason Hammel knew exactly what it would take to win at Coors Field. The former Rockie gave up three runs in six innings, but struck out six and most importantly, he didn’t walk a single Rockies batter.
The reality is simple for the Rockies. If their starting pitchers can be even just decent, the 2015 season could end up as a really good one. If their starting pitching can’t string together consistent starts that keep the Rockies offense in a position to strike, their season will look similar to recent years.
As for the Rockies offense, all seems well for this team. Nolan Arenado continues to show that he is improving at the plate. He drove a Hammel fastball deep into the left-center bleachers to get the Rockies on the board. His bat has been nothing short of spectacular in the early going. Everyone has seen the potential from the young third baseman and his steps have been noticeable. However, his bat looks like it is making the final turn. If he continues improving, Arenado is a no-brainer All-Star and could be a huge factor in the Rockies season.
Saturday was just one game. There isn’t a Rockies fan in the world who wouldn’t be thrilled with a 4-1 start. Sunday brings the first opportunity to see how this team will react after a loss. They have a chance to win the series and head to the west coast with a great start to their season. They could also come back to reality and allow Saturday’s struggles to roll into Sunday.
The Rockies are still in a very good spot. They have still surpassed expectations through just five games. Sunday is a chance to build on that.