Way back in February, on the eve of spring training, I wrote: “There is a chance — a chance, mind you — that the Rockies will put their best starting rotation in franchise history on the mound this season.”
I was convinced then, as I am now, that Colorado’s pitching plan was the correct one. Raise homegrown starters, and without flinching — and with no excuses — bring them face-to-face with the challenge of pitching at Coors Field. While a lot of fans hollered about the need to sign a veteran, free agent starter, I didn’t see the wisdom in giving up a lot of high-end prospects to do so.
Subsequent events made me look like an idiot, at least for the short term.
Opening-day starter Jon Gray pitched so poorly in the first half that he was demoted to Triple-A for a tune-up. Young right-handers German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela had more growing up to do than I expected. Chad Bettis, sidelined because a nagging blister on his finger, was terrible at home, to the tune of an 8.75 ERA. Only left-handers Kyle Freeland and Tyler Anderson matched expectations.
But my how things have changed.
Entering the weekend series vs. Oakland, Colorado’s rotation has a 3.08 ERA since June 28, with the club going 16-5 over that stretch. It’s one of the primary reasons why the Rockies are in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Here’s some more evidence: Since June 19, Rockies starters have a 3.61 ERA, the fourth-lowest in the National League, and have surrendered only 14 home runs during that span, the fewest in the NL.
Wednesday night at Coors Field, Gray held the Astros to one hit over seven innings, striking out six. Gray’s excellent outing followed Anderson’s 7 ⅓-inning, two-run performance on Tuesday. Gray and Anderson combined to allow a total of two runs on four hits against the defending World Series champions, posting a combined 1.25 ERA over the two games.
Now, four days before the trade deadline, some fans are hollering, once again, for the Rockies to make a bold move and trade for an ace. The fan favorites are usually Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom or Tampa Bay right-hander Chris Archer. Barring a miracle eclipsing Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series, that’s not happening.
Friday, I asked general manager Jeff Bridich about the Rockies’ homegrown philosophy regarding developing starting pitching.
“That’s certainly part of the plan, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have discussions about (trading for) starting pitching,” Bridich said. “I think that there are all sorts of different situations when you are talking about the ilk you are talking about. The (Justin) Verlander from last year, or deGrom this year. Those guys aren’t often available.”
When aces are available, Bridich noted, there are often extenuating circumstances, such as competition from other teams, no-trade clauses, length of contracts, injury concerns and money, all of which can preclude teams from getting in the mix for the rare ace on the trade market.
I don’t buy the theory that the Rockies are still spooked by the disastrous free-agent signings of Mike Hampton (eight years, $121 million) and Denny Neagle (five years, $51 million) before the 2001 season. I just think Bridich and Company have developed a starting pitching philosophy that is working and has put the Rockies in position to win their first National League West title in franchise history.