When it comes to weather and Springtime, April showers bring May flowers. In baseball parlance, there’s no real equivalent about the upside for having the worst record in the National League and struggling to win at home through the first full month of the regular season.
For the Colorado Rockies, their 9-20 record (.310) projects out to a 50-112 record. In the last 57 years, 73 clubs have lost 100 games in a season. It’s only been three times a team has lost 112 games or more: 2019 Detroit Tigers, 2018 Baltimore Orioles and 2003 Tigers.
A total of 133 games remain and Colorado has never had a stretch of .310 baseball over any stretch that long. But the odds of avoiding 100 losses took a turn on Tuesday when Germán Márquez announced he would undergo Tommy John surgery and would missed the rest of the 2023. Without their Opening Day starter leading from the front of the rotation, the Rockies worst-case scenario is coming to fruition.
Bad news: #Rockies Germán Márquez will need Tommy John surgery.
— Suzie Hunter (@TheSuzieHunter) May 2, 2023
So what are the causes for the most-ever losses in April and the second-worst 29 game start to a season in franchise history?
The Rockies entered the season with one of the oldest rosters in the sport. On any given day, manager Bud Black will write out his batting order with seven players age-30 or older. Make a couple creative defensive changes and an entire lineup card can be filled out of players age-29 or older for a roster averaging 29.6 years of age.
On the pitching side, they’re been only slightly younger (average of 29.5 years old), but it looks less aged when compared to the rest of the league as the arms are 12th-oldest in MLB while hitters are currently 4th-oldest. For a team that wanted to make sure they didn’t block young players, they’re sure doing a good job of blocking young players.
C.J. Cron opened the season with a bang with the first National League Player of the Week Award only to bat .169/.188/.265 over 21 consecutive games before Sunday’s 3-for-5 performance that included four runs batted in. When Cron goes, so do the Rockies. He leads the team with a 1.282 OPS in their nine wins, while posting a .523 OPS during the 20 losses.
Charlie Blackmon, Kris Bryant and Ryan McMahon have all been around league average so far at their respective positions. Blackmon has enjoyed some benefit to the ban on shifts, Bryant has hit for average with several extra-base hits throw in, while McMahon has been striking out much more (34.8%) than over the past two seasons (25.6%).
Mike Moustakas has been a valued bat off the bench, driving home nine RBI and walking eight times, both good for fifth-best on the roster. Harold Castro has had his moments at the plate and has been helpful defensively at four different position, including once as a pitcher. Randal Grichuk is 4-for-8 with two doubles since coming off the IL on Saturday.
Jurickson Profar, who didn’t see his first action until the fourth game of the season and missed all of Spring Training, is still waiting to get comfortable at the plate. His defense has been remarkable at times in left field, but his ability to reach base (.300 OBP) is why Blackmon is back leading off.
We saw more power in the first month of the season than last, but Colorado’s 22 home runs entering May still ranked 25th. The club’s combined OPS — an offensive statistic with stronger ties to winning than batting average — was .689, good for 22nd.
Where they’ve really lagged behind the other clubs are those little things that help advance a runner 90 feet, something that can the difference in winning and losing so often. The Rockies are dead last in the NL in stolen bases with half of their six coming from rookie Brenton Doyle over the last week following his Major League debut. And with runners in scoring position, no team has hit into more rally-killing double plays (13) after the first month.
It’s not common to see the Rockies atop the leaderboard for errors, but there they sit with 21 defensive miscues, tied with the Oakland Athletics. Because of this, they’ve allowed more unearned runs (20) over their first 29 games of the season than any year in franchise history.
Elehuris Montero has three of those errors at third base, two of which came in the same game, and is now playing first base in Triple-A. Elias Díaz also has three. He’s been the best hitter on the roster and has allowed only three stolen bases while having registered five caught stealing. Thanks to a new Statcast figure that utilizes data such as arm strength, speed of the base stealer and the lead off the base, Díaz is tied for best Caught Stealing Above Average.
The defense hasn’t helped the pitching, but the pitching hasn’t helped itself adjusting to the new rules with five balks, most in all of baseball. They’re currently on pace for 28 balks; the record in a season is 22 set by the inaugural roster in 1993.
Bullish On The ‘Pen
The veterans performing quite well have all been sequestered in the bullpen. FanGraphs ranks Rox relievers as seventh-best. At 114.1 innings pitched, they have been the fourth-most used ‘pen entering Tuesday.
Since Colorado hasn’t been ahead late in the game very much, the benefits of having such a relief corps has been minimized. Their current streak of 19 games without a save is tied for 10th-longest in club history. (The record is 29 games from Aug. 13 – Sept 16, 2003.)
Brent Suter has been better than advertised (1.04 ERA) and Daniel Bard has been scoreless in four outings since being reinstated from the injured list on April 19. Brad Hand had a 2.08 ERA before his last two appearances of the month. Pierce Johnson has a 1.86 ERA when removing his performance on April 11 that gave the St. Louis Cardinals a comeback win and spurned Colorado for eight-straight losses.
The young arms have also contributed to the back-inning success. Justin Lawrence’s breakout season began with strikeouts of the Padres’ Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts and Jake Cronenworth and has continue to the tune of a 1.93 ERA. Jake Bird has pitched 19.2 innings, most by an NL reliever through April. His 3.66 ERA is even more impressive when you recall it was 11.12 three weeks ago.
Injury Bug Bites Marquez
The loss of Germán Márquez for two starts was bad enough with others in the rotation struggling to make it through five innings. Many worried about the forearm tightness that cut short his start on April 10 only to see him return on April 26. Then, the worry was back when he exited early from that start in Cleveland with right elbow inflammation.
Now, Márquez will be lost for the year. Colorado has a team option for 2024 for $16 million, something that was once a foregone conclusion they pick up. Since the 28-year-old may not even be available to pitch in a game again until next June and won’t truly be himself until the start of 2025, the future is unclear for Márquez with the Rockies.
Other than that gut punch, the 26-man roster that trotted to the third base line at Petco Park on March 29 has been fairly healthy. Bryant was pulled from a game with an injury that impacted his lower spine, but he returned to the lineup quickly. Yonathan Daza was hit by a pitch on the hand and is fine, despite losing his place in center field to Doyle for the time being.
Noah Davis was placed on the 15-day IL on Sunday following his first difficult start. Leading up to his Coors Field debut, he had given up just one earned run in 9.2 innings. On top of that, he became the first Rockies’ pitcher to ever avoid an extra-base hit through his first two career starts.
With José Ureña having been designated for assignment only a few days prior to Davis’ injury, Colorado is walking on a tightrope with only three starting pitchers in their rotation at the moment. The return of Antonio Senzatela, who made two rehab starts with Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, cannot come quick enough.
Kyle Freeland has been the workhorse (33.1 IP, 6 GS) the rotation desperately needs. Ryan Feltner and Austin Gomber have given up one run combined in their last two starts over 22.2 innings (0.40 ERA). All three will need to provide quality outings until GM Bill Schmidt figures out what to do about their starting pitching depth.
Of the nine series they play this month, only three games at home from May 15-17 against Cincinnati (12-16) are against a team with a losing record. The Reds have shown a propensity for streakiness, having immediately followed a six-game losing skid with a five-game win streak that ended on Sunday with a walk-off win in Oakland.
Colorado greets the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday at 6:40 p.m.
Tuesday: RHP Ryan Feltner (2-2, 4.68) vs. RHP Freddy Peralta (3-2, 3.77)
Wednesday: LHP Kyle Freeland (2-3, 4.32) vs. LHP Eric Lauer (3-2, 5.19)
Thursday: TBD vs. LHP Wade Miley (3-1, 1.86)