The Colorado Rockies were considered a threat to win the World Series in spring training, and now there’s doubt concerning whether they will even make the playoffs. If they’re going to return to the postseason for the third consecutive year and compete for the National League pennant, the Rockies need left-hander Kyle Freeland to endure a severe midseason turnaround.
The Rockies slumped out of the gate this season, going 3-12, but they’ve righted the ship since. They’re currently 36-32, which warrants second place in the NL West, and their offense has catapulted them back into the playoff mix — which should come as no surprise.
Nolan Arenado has been his prolific-self at the plate, as he’s hitting .325 while demolishing 17 home runs and driving in 57 runs; Trevor Story has totaled 16 home runs and 46 RBIs; Charlie Blackmon is hitting .316 and has driven in 41 runs; David Dahl is hitting .330 and has driven in 28 runs; Tony Wolters has impressed many, hitting .306 while holding down the fort behind home plate; Daniel Murphy is hitting .289 and has driven in 35 runs; Ian Desmond has driven in 27 runs.
Another positive for manager Bud Black is his bullpen. After a treacherous and puzzling season, the Rockies pen has been a reliable force in 2019. Wade Davis has returned to being a shutdown closer; Bryan Shaw and Carlos Estevez have been steady relievers in the late innings; Scott Oberg owns a remarkable 1.78 ERA; Chad Bettis is adjusting to being a primary reliever.
The Rockies’ problem is their starting rotation; last season they were quietly one of the most reliable rotations in Major League Baseball. This season they’ve been a collective mess.
German Marquez has nasty breaking pitches, is a strikeout machine, and an innings eater, but he has taken a step back this season, from a production standpoint. He currently owns a 4.19 ERA, has surrendered 13 home runs, and isn’t stranding runners at the rate he did last season.
Antonio Senzatela is in the midst of a disastrous season. He owns a 5.48 ERA and 1.63 WHIP and has been unable to give the Rockies length. In the five starts he has made, Tyler Anderson has recorded an abysmal 11.76 ERA and 2.13 WHIP while his opponents hit a whopping .363 against his offerings. In the five starts he has made, Jeff Hoffman has recorded an 8.06 ERA. Jon Gray has been respectable, but far from dominant.
Despite the struggles of the aforementioned starters, Freeland has been the most disturbing element of the Rockies’ 2019 campaign.
Last season Freeland was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He was pitching deep into games, working out of trouble, and recorded an impressive 2.85 ERA. His efforts were highlighted by a heroic outing in the NL Wild Card Game against the Chicago Cubs. Tossing 6.2 innings of shutout baseball, which included totaling six strikeouts and surrendering just five baserunners, he made a statement to the baseball world on a national broadcast: The Rockies have found their ace.
This season he has looked nothing like the dominant left-hander of 2018. He’s averaging just under five innings a start, has recorded a 7.13 ERA, and surrendered 16 home runs in 12 starts. It reached the point where his struggles were hurting the Rockies so much to the point where they sent him down to Triple-A. You don’t see someone finish fourth in Cy Young voting and then get sent down two months into the ensuing season every day.
Freeland relies on soft contact, but is a pitcher who can thrive by means of keeping hitters guessing, except this season hitters aren’t being outmatched by the southpaw. This kid has talent. He showed what he was capable of last season, and that’s being an elite starter. However, if the Rockies don’t get Freeland back in the majors in the near future and see him pitch more so like he did last season, they’re in trouble.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a nine and a half game lead on the NL West, are firing on all cylinders, and look invincible. In short: Winning the division isn’t feasible for the Rockies. When it comes to the Wild Card, their competition is stiff.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves are capable of making the postseason; the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers are going to battle for the division lead through September, as well as playoff positioning; do the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, or Washington Nationals — who all have talented rosters — have a summer push in them?
The Rockies lineup is electric, and their bullpen has been reliable, but if you don’t have steady and consistent starting pitching, you won’t win in October. And the Rockies starting pitching has returned to being the Achilles heel that holds back their title aspirations. There’s no ace, or starter pitching anywhere near an All-Star-caliber level, and that’s a real shame considering the talent they have around the diamond, as well as the improvement they showed on the hill in 2018. Plus, they gave Arenado an eight-year, $260 million extension in the offseason, so management likely expects to contend.
If Freeland doesn’t return to the show this season, or returns and continues to get hit hard, the Rockies won’t stand a chance of getting past the NL Division Series, if they even earn a Wild Card seeding. On the other hand, if he returns and regains his command, he could be the face that turns the Rockies into a championship contender; you can mask a few inconsistent starters with a deep bullpen, as long as you have a couple starters capable of carrying the load — which they need Freeland and Marquez to do.
Kyle Freeland will be the death or the resurrection of the Colorado Rockies.