After a perfect start to the homestand, the Colorado Rockies (56-41, 3rd in the NL West) will host one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates (48-48, 3rd in the NL Central). The Rockies are fresh off a sweep of the Padres in which they scored 36 runs to help erase the memory of a forgettable trip to New York. Everything was clicking for the Rockies in the series except maybe the bullpen which gave up six earned runs in nine and a third innings. The Rockies continue to be linked to relievers in the trade market as a result and we may see a deal in the next few days prior to the trade deadline on July 31. The offense has been the story lately however, and they’ll try to carry their momentum into a tough matchup this weekend.
The Pirates have been one of baseball’s hottest teams, going 11-3 over their last four series. Their success is almost entirely due to their pitching. As a team, they’ve posted a 3.49 FIP, third best in baseball for the month of July. However, they come into Coors Field after sweeping the Brewers in four games but scoring just 15 runs in the series. They sit only three games back of the Brewers, two back of the Cubs, and seven back in the Wild Card race.
Starting Pitching Notes
The Rockies catch a break in this one as they will avoid Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole, the big names on the Pirates staff. However, the Rockies will face the staff leader in WAR and ERA in game one in Ivan Nova. Nova has put up good numbers so far but his batted ball profile leaves a lot to be desired. His soft contact rate of 17.6 percent is the second lowest rate on the staff and his 5.19 K/9 is far and away the lowest on the team. In fact, it’s good for seventh worst league wide among pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings. All this suggests he has probably benefited from some good fortune, an assumption backed up by his mediocre 4.10 FIP. As a pitch-to-contact type, Nova may have a hard time keeping the Rockies offense in check. The Rockies will also face two young starters in rookie Trevor Williams and sophomore Chad Kuhl. Williams is a control over stuff righty who doesn’t strike out many but won’t walk many either. Kuhl has better pure stuff but struggles with control. They are the two guys you hope to see in a series against the Pirates.
The Pirates bullpen has been excellent throughout the season. They are led by their dominant closer Felipe Rivero who came over in the Mark Melancon trade with the Nationals last July. Rivero took the job from Tony Watson earlier in the year, but Watson has remained a strong setup man and the two form an excellent one-two punch. The other top options are former Rockies player Juan Nicasio and former Diamondback Daniel Hudson.
The Pirates have struggled offensively all season and have not improved much even through their hot stretch in July. The team was relieved to welcome back Starling Marte just two days ago from his 80-game banned substance suspension. He has two hits since his return and should help pick up an offense that has struggled with consistency. Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison have carried the team offensively and Josh Bell has provided valuable power to an offense sorely lacking in the department. Their .146 ISO and .391 SLG both rank in the bottom five league-wide. The struggles of Gregory Polanco are a big reason for the team’s poor offensive season, although he has slashed .390/.410/.644 in July. The combination of Marte’s return and Polanco’s return to form may boost the offense in this series.
The Pirates have a good defense and the return of Starling Marte should be a big boost. In his absence, Andrew McCutchen spent most of his time in center field and cost the team 16 runs according to DRS. No one stands out particularly on defense but there are no big holes now that McCutchen will be manning right field.
The Rockies have pulled into a tie with the Diamondbacks for the Wild Card lead, although the Rockies have played two more games than the D-Backs. The Cubs remain five and a half games back in the Wild Card race after winning their last six and finally looking like the defending champs. David Dahl was activated from the DL on Wednesday and optioned to Albuquerque to get more work after his lengthy absence. There’s no room for him in the Rockies crowded outfield anyway. On Sunday Kyle Freeland makes his first start since coming two outs shy of tossing a no-hitter on July 9.
The Rockies face a hot Pirates team but fortune smiles upon them as they get the back end of the rotation. The most important thing for the Rockies is to get to the starters early and often because runs are hard to come by against the Pittsburgh bullpen. The pitching staff will have to keep the Pirates offense from getting their shots at the Rockies bullpen who have struggled to the tune of a 5.27 FIP in July. Although the Pirates have played well of late, they are still a .500 team and the Rockies should be able to get a series win at home this weekend.
Probable Pitchers and Schedule
Friday, July 21 @ 6:40 pm MT (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)
Trevor Williams (4-4, 4.54 ERA) vs. Jeff Hoffman (6-1, 4.33 ERA)
Saturday, July 22 @ 6:10 pm MT (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)
Chad Kuhl (3-6, 4.85 ERA) vs. German Marquez (7-4, 4.34 ERA)
Sunday, July 23 @ 1:10 pm MT (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)
Ivan Nova (10-6, 3.27 ERA) vs. Kyle Freeland (9-7, 3.67 ERA)