Starting Pitching Woes Have Brought the Colorado Rockies Back to Square One

The Colorado Rockies (46-50) have been the biggest disappointment in Major League Baseball this season, and their starting rotation is the direct culprit.

Last season, German Marquez totaled 230 strikeouts and threw one of the filthiest curveballs in baseball. In the Rockies’ Monday afternoon matchup with the San Francisco Giants, the right-hander surrendered 11 earned runs and hits and couldn’t escape the third inning. He went into the outing with a 4.45 ERA. Marquez has struggled to put away hitters, his command has been spotty, and he’s on pace to surrender a career high in home runs this season.

Antonio Senzatela owns a 5.79 ERA and 1.65 WHIP, while opponents hit an alarming .295 against his offerings; Tyler Anderson owns an 11.76 ERA in the five starts he has made; Jeff Hoffman owns a 6.75 ERA in the seven starts he has made; Peter Lambert owns a 6.06 ERA in the seven starts he has made; former starter Chad Bettis has struggled mightily coming out of the bullpen, as he owns a 6.00 ERA.

Last season Kyle Freeland finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting. He was efficient, caught hitters off-guard, recorded a 2.85 ERA, and pitched 6.2 shutout innings against the Chicago Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game. It looked like the Rockies found their ace; then the 2019 season began. Freeland owns a 7.39 ERA and 1.61 WHIP, while opponents hit .294 against his offerings in the 13 starts he has made.

Manager Bud Black was forced to, more often than not, take the ball from Freeland in the middle of games, and the organization later sent the southpaw down to Triple-A. In his first start back in the big leagues (July 13), the left-hander surrendered five earned runs and nine hits in four innings pitched.

Right now, the Rockies are precisely what the Miami Marlins were pre-2017 fire sale: a team with a formidable offense, but little to no reliable pitching.

With a lineup that featured the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, and J.T. Realmuto, among others, the Marlins had one of the best offenses in baseball. Simultaneously, they were never able to complement their bats with respectable starting pitching. As a result, they never made the postseason with their star-studded positional core.

The Rockies lineup includes Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story, David Dahl, Daniel Murphy, Ian Desmond, and Tony Wolters. Here’s a translation of those names: three Most Valuable Player Award-caliber bats, a .300-plus hitter, one of the best pure hitters in baseball, a versatile power hitter, and a rising star catcher. You could argue this is the best lineup in baseball.

So, what can the Rockies do to address their pitching crisis? Well, not much. This is an organization that spends the big bucks on their lineup with the mindset that they won’t attract pitchers to play for them due to the climate factor of Coors Field.

Could that be the problem? The Rockies rotation took an enormous step back because of the altitude? If that were the case, then perhaps pitchers such as Freeland and Marquez aren’t the ace-caliber pitchers they’ve been proclaimed as dating back to last season. Plus, it would be difficult to envision such a drastic change in production resulting from the aforementioned factor when their staff is accustomed to pitching in Colorado.

The Rockies were supposed to finally have two top-of-the-rotation forces and a reliable starting rotation. Their Achilles heel was their bullpen in 2018; that aspect of their ballclub has improved, and their lineup is even more lethal. Last season they got over the Coors Field hump and established themselves as a potent foe.

They’re committed to this team. Their rotation is young and under team control. Of course, select individuals have the pitching arsenal to perform at a much higher level than they are presently. But it’s July, not May. It’s evident which teams are going to be competing for the playoffs and/or which ones have the talent to make a late-season push. The talent is there with the Rockies, but the results are startling and offer little hope.

The most frustrating element of the Rockies’ struggles is their division. The Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in MLB, and no one is going to catch them in the NL West. Meanwhile, the NL Wild Card Race is wide open. In fact, the Rockies are just three and a half games out of a Wild Card seeding, but they’re in the same boat as other average-to-subpar teams. While opportunity exists, they’re not good enough to make a playoff push right now.

Let’s put the Rockies season into perspective. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who traded away/lost Paul GoldschmidtPatrick Corbin, and A.J. Pollock to free agency, are three games ahead of the Rockies in the NL West. The San Francisco Giants, who are still a viable candidate to be sellers before the MLB trade deadline, swept the Rockies in a four-game series earlier this week and surpassed them in the NL West. The San Diego Padres, who weren’t viewed as a playoff team going into this season, are a half-game ahead of the Rockies.

Yes, the Rockies are in last place in the NL West. Let that sink in.

Three teams who many thought wouldn’t even be competing for the playoffs are sporting better records than the Rockies in the least competitive division in the sport.

Can you definitively say that the Rockies are capable of running off six games in a row, or winning eight out of 10? Their starting pitching is so detrimental to the point where you can’t pencil them in to win a single game.

An average rotation has the Rockies in one of the two NL Wild Card seedings, likely the first. Their 2018 rotation could have them competing for the NL West. For a Wild Card team and an 87-plus-win team in each of the last two seasons to fall off a cliff like the Rockies have is perplexing.

Could their fortunes change down the stretch? Sure, but we’re three and a half months into the season, and their rotation has gradually worsened. There’s no godsend coming via trade. This is who the Rockies are. They’re a team who’s fun to watch swing the bats, but one whose pitching offsets it.

They came so far, but then backtracked as far. It’s back to square one for the Rockies.

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