The Colorado Rockies are riding a wave of savvy transactions and youth to their best start to a season in franchise history.
Following a series victory against the Cincinnati Reds, the Rockies lead the National League in wins, trailing only the Houston Astros for the best team in all of baseball under new manager Bud Black. They have crossed the barrier of being 10 games over .500 for the first time since 2010 and have never had a better record at the 40-game mark in their history. They have lost only two of their fourteen series to this point, taming contenders like the Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Twins. Despite early injuries and adversity, the club has found a way to not just survive but thrive.
Going back to Spring Training in March, the Rockies lost catcher Tom Murphy, outfielder David Dahl and shiny-new utility man Ian Desmond to injuries. Starting pitcher Chad Bettis was lost to a cancer diagnosis in the same week for an extended length of time. They also lost relievers Chris Rusin and Chad Qualls before Opening Day, effectively putting more than a fifth of the Rockies roster out of commission and needing placeholders. As if that wasn’t enough, they lost ace Jon Gray to a broken toe two weeks into the season and shortstop Trevor Story for more than a week in May.
For many squads, this would be enough to sink the hopes of a new season before it started. However, third-year general manager Jeff Bridich has assembled enough talent and depth to tread water and then some. While the usual suspects like Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu have carried the weight, Mark Reynolds, a veteran first baseman who signed a minor-league deal and wasn’t expected to make the Opening Day roster, has become arguably the team’s most valuable player in the first quarter of the season. After Ian Desmond’s injury, Reynolds filled in the void and became irreplaceable, producing a batting average that hovers around .330 with an MLB-best 39 RBI and an elite-level 12 home runs. The biggest weapon in the Rockies lineup thus far has been one of their more inexpensive players, as Reynolds is earning $1.5 million this season.
Desmond was signed to play first base, a position he has no experience at in any level of the game and has been forced into a more natural position for him, left field. This dislodged Gerardo Parra from the lineup, who had rebounded well from an abysmal 2016 to carry the team through the first lengths of the season. In April, he hit .284 with 12 RBI in the absence of Desmond and Dahl, the player he was supposedly going to split time with this season. When his day-to-day injury in March turned into an extensive one with no official return date available, Parra filled in productively in his temporary full time role before beginning his slump in May and giving way to Desmond.
Where the Rockies see the most improvement and adaptability this season is on the mound. Despite the unavailability of Gray and Bettis, the starting rotation has done their part to keep the team in games, anchored by a core of four rookies. While veterans Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson have struggled with consistency, Antonio Senzatela and Denver- native Kyle Freeland have provided stability and success. Both posted sub-3.00 ERAs in April. Freeland has boasted a top-5 ground out/fly out ratio and threw five consecutive quality starts between April 23 and May 16. Fellow rookies German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman have impressed in their outings as well, despite bouncing between the big leagues and AAA. Marquez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the World Champion Chicago Cubs in Coors Field while Hoffman held his own against the Dodgers on May 11, allowing only three runs.
The youthful and competitive rotation has kept the Rockies in enough games for the new lockdown bullpen to slam the door and propel the team to the top of the standings. Greg Holland is baseball’s saves leader by a margin of seven and is proving to still be in the conversation for the most dominant closer in the game. After Tommy John surgery prevented him from competing in 2016, the Rockies were able to take a cheap gamble to the tune of $7 million that he was still elite and have reaped the benefits. He is flawless in save opportunities and has allowed only two runs all season, both coming on April 18. He has allowed only five baserunners in the 12 games since then. He tips the spear of a bullpen that has allowed the Rockies to go undefeated both in one-run games and those in which they have lead after the sixth inning. With
a solid supporting cast, the team has been able to scrap out close games that may prove pivotal in the pennant chase of September.
The Rockies have the fortunate issue of having a plethora of talent, bordering on too much at certain positions. With the returns of Gray, Dahl and Murphy imminent, there will be tough questions to be answered about who will lose their jobs. They’ve had hot starts before, but have not been tested nor succeeded at the lengths they have this season and showing signs of sustainability with their depth and talent.