It's Memorial Day weekend and sadly I find myself at home rather than on a beach, tropical beverage in hand. But if I can't enjoy a Coco Loco in the sun, I can still do the next best thing--write about the Rockies! Following yet another series win, we have some hot interleague action in store this week against the team known to some as the "Rockies of the American League". Below is my attempt at a "Know Your Foe" style preview.
As part of a four-game split series, the Rockies (33-19--not a typo) and Coors Field will host the Seattle Mariners (22-29) tomorrow for the first time since August 5, 2015. In that last meeting in Denver, Chris Rusin took the mound as starting pitcher for the home team; Kyle Parker and Ben Paulsen led a Rockies rally in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game 5-5 and send it to extras; and Michael "Fort" McHenry hit a walk-off homer in the eleventh to send the M's on their way back to the Emerald City. Which Rockies pitcher earned the "W" that fateful afternoon? None other than the Flan Man himself, Yohan Flande.
Less than two years later, the Rockies look a little different. The heroes of that August 5 showdown are long gone, with the exception of Rusin who has since put down roots in the bullpen. This is not particularly surprising. The 2015 Rockies were not good, winning only 68 games that year and finishing last in the N.L. West. The Mariners weren't great in 2015 either, but both teams improved in 2016 and both hoped to build on that improvement heading into 2017.
So far, only the Rockies have met expectations. While Colorado is riding high with the best record in the National League, Seattle has struggled to recover from the loss of some key players to injury and currently finds itself seven games below .500. Coming off a series against the Red Sox at Fenway, where the Mariners failed to score in either of the first two games, the Mariners are 9-20 on the road and reside in the cellar of the A.L. West.
The Mariners offense has been decidedly average this season with a 100 wRC+ heading into Monday. They've been missing outfielder Mitch Haniger, who was batting .342/.447/.608 until suffering an oblique strain last month. Still, tthe Rockies will need to deal with shortstop Jean Segura, who came over to Seattle along with Haniger in a trade this past offseason with the Diamondbacks. Segura is currently sporting an .850 OPS and a 138 wRC+. His season BABIP is sitting at .393 though, so there may be some room for regression. Other Seattle offensive threats include Robinson Cano, who has 32 RBI this season with a 136 wRC+, and the 36-year-old Nelson Cruz. Cruz, who has hit 12 home runs this year and owns a 147 wRC+, has been used almost exclusively as a DH this season. If Seattle wants to keep Cruz's bat in the lineup, they'll have to put him in Coors Field's spacious outfield. We'll see how that goes.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you're a fan of watching legendary pitchers do their thing), the Rockies will avoid Felix Hernandez, who has been on the disabled list since April 25--the same day Haniger went down. Ouch. Instead, the Rockies are scheduled to see Sam Gaviglio (0-1) and Ariel Miranda (4-2) before the series moves to Seattle where James Paxton (3-0) and Yovani Gallardo (2-5) are set to take the mound. Seattle fans are no doubt excited about Paxton's return to action. Paxton, a lefty, started the season with a 1.43 ERA and a 10.75 K/9 in six starts before being placed on the DL with a left forearm injury on May 2. How well Paxton pitches after the injury to his throwing arm may be the deciding factor in that game.
There are plenty of question marks around the other Mariners starters as well. Gaviglio, a 27-year-old, soft-tossing righty will be making just his third major league start on Monday. Miranda has been ok so far this year, with a 4.22 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 8.6 K/9. In his last game, Miranda held a potent Nationals offense to three hits and two runs over five innings. Gallardo has been struggling this season, particularly with giving away free passes. In his last start against the Red Sox Gallardo walked six batters and gave up seven hits in 5.1 innings of work. He has a 4.1 BB/9 on the year. One hopes the Rockies will have the patience to exploit Gallardo's apparent command issues.
The next four games should be a fun series against a team the Rockies don't get to see very often. Given the Mariners' injuries and road woes, the Rockies will look to take at least the two games at Coors and hopefully continue their away-game dominance at Safeco Field. Anyway, thanks for reading folks. Happy Memorial Day!