We are now officially over a month into the 2017 baseball season (holy shit that went fast) and the Colorado Rockies are playing extremely well. I subscribe to MLB.TV so can watch all the out of market games and I've continuously found myself watching the Rockies this year. I would rank their success as the fourth most fun storyline in baseball thus far, after these three:
1. For a few weeks there Eric Thames made the Brewers appointment MLB.TV watching. He's "cooled down" since his epic home run barrage but moving forward he's one of the players I'm most curious to see how they do.
2. Bryce Harper is back to being the GOAT again and it feels so good. You may follow me on Twitter, @toomuchtuma, and if you do you know how much I love Bryce. In addition to being all around awesome in nearly every meaningful offensive category so far, Bryce set the record for the most runs ever scored in the month of April. Not bad IMO.
3. Aaron Judge, that dude that legit looks like a video game "create a player" has been mashing baseballs left and right. Only Giancarlo Stanton can rival Judge in terms of farthest home run distance and average exit velocity. But what makes "All Rise" truly special is that he's drawing walks and making contact on pitches in the zone. He's going to be at the center of the next great Yankees team.
Anyways let's get back to the Rockies and talk about what they're doing. And by "what they're doing" I mean winning games. This may sound like an insult, but it's really a compliment. It's an insult in the sense that it's such a surprise to see them winning. The franchise has been around as long as me, since 1993, and they have only three playoff appearances to show for it. But it's a compliment in the sense that what they're now doing is really smart.
Colorado plays at Coors Field, which is the most unique stadium in baseball. It's a hitters paradise and throughout the years the Rockies have strategically built their team around offensive sluggers. This list includes Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and now Nolan Arenado. Rockies games have always been fun to watch due to the run scoring potential, but now that they have some pitching to match their offense, their games are even more enjoyable.
The Rockies don't have a great starting rotation. To their credit they're starting to develop guys that throw hard and miss bats, which is a good idea for Coors, but their off-season planned revolved around building a good (great?) bullpen. They signed Greg Holland and Mike Dunn to compliment set up man Adam Ottaviano and so far this is how each has fared:
Greg Holland: 12 innings, 11 saves, 13 strikeouts, 1.50 ERA
Adam Ottavino: 12 2/3 innings, 10 holds, 15 strikeouts, 1.42 ERA
Mike Dunn: 7 2/3 innings, 6 holds, 10 strikeouts, 1.17 ERA
Let's talk this through for a second. The Rockies have a great offense and a below average rotation, so they're going to score runs as well as give up runs early in games. This isn't a sustainable way to win. So what they did was build a bullpen that allows the offense to do its thing, and as long as the game is close in the late innings these dominant relief pitchers will either keep the game close or hold a lead.
So far it's worked great. Colorado is 16-11, which is good for the third best record in the National League. The one "worry" would be that the Rockies have a 7-0 record in one run games. Winning games by one run is thought to be fluky since luck can play a factor. But when you have a great bullpen a lot of luck is taken out of the equation. It's what the Orioles have been doing all these years. They have a track record of winning one run games and the common denominator has been a good group of relievers.
What makes a Rockies game fun to watch is not only do you get to watch their guys hit the ball all over Coors Field but you get to see visiting teams do the same. I was glued to the Nationals/Rockies series last week when Washington scored over 40 runs in three games there. And as was just mentioned Colorado is playing (and winning) a lot of close games.
The NL west has been flipped on its head through the first week of May. The Giants are seemingly out of it, the Dodgers haven't gotten going yet, and the Padres just suck. That leaves the Rockies and Diamondbacks as arguably the two biggest surprise teams in all of baseball right now. Should Colorado take advantage of this then they will be a dangerous playoff team with how good their offense and bullpen are. Starters don't pitch as deep into games in October, which essentially covers their biggest flaw. We'll see if their bullpen can pitch well long enough for Colorado to make just their fourth ever playoff appearance.