The Colorado Rockies came four outs away from getting swept in Kansas City but Pat Valaika made sure that didn’t happen. Unfortunately for the Rockies, that was about the only praise-worthy moment for the offense in the series. The Rockies offense has been miserable of late (and really, all year long). The team is 5-11 in their last sixteen games and averaging just under four runs a game which includes a seventeen-run outlier on August 16 against their next opponent, the Atlanta Braves. The main culprit for the Rockies offense during this stretch has been hitting with runners in scoring position. They rank dead last in baseball in wRC+ in those situations since August 6. Traditional metrics agree with the park-adjusted metric as they rank 27th in average, 28th in slugging percentage, and 25th in strikeout rate as well.
As for the Braves, they come into this series marred in their own 5-11 slump, after losing the two series since their split in Denver. Atlanta’s main source of trouble has been their pitching. In the sixteen-game stretch, their starters and relievers have combined for a 5.46 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, and 4.3 BB/9. At home on the year, the Braves are 28-34 and they have struggled against teams over .500 on the season, where their record is 22-33.
The Braves are headlined by Freddie Freeman and his National League leading 166 wRC+. Freeman had a hit in all four games of the series at Coors Field as did Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis. As a team, the Braves have an incredibly aggressive approach, evidenced by their league high 34.1 percent swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone and their total swing rate, which is the second highest in the league at 50.3 percent. The aggressive approach would typically coincide with a high strikeout rate but the Braves are good at putting those pitches in play as the also have a top ten contact rate at 79 percent. They put a lot of balls in play but they don’t typically hit for much power as their .415 slugging percentage is good for 22nd in baseball.
Starting Pitching Notes
The Rockies will face three guys they saw just a week and a half ago in Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb, and Mike Foltynewicz. Teheran got the best of the Rockies in their first matchup, limiting them to no runs on four hits and three walks in seven innings. The Rockies ended up winning that matchup 3-0. Teheran has been terrible at home this year with a 6.98 ERA, over twice as high as his road ERA of 3.24. Newcomb pitched around some traffic in the Braves 4-3 victory over the Rockies, surrendering three runs on five hits and four walks with eight strikeouts in six innings. In 21 2⁄3 August innings, he has a 3.32 ERA, but has walked 17 guys, giving him an ugly 7.06 BB/9. Foltynewicz was the victim of the only Rockies drubbing in August, giving up eight runs on nine hits and three walks in just three and a third innings of the 17-2 blowout. After putting up a 3.77 ERA in the season’s first half, Folty has really struggled since the All-Star break, with a 7.71 second-half ERA.
The Braves bullpen is led by closer Arodys Vizcaino who has been phenomenal all season. His 2.15 ERA and 1.03 WHIP allowed him to unseat Jim Johnson as the team’s primary closer. Setup man Jose Ramirez is the other name know in the Braves bullpen as his 22 holds rank fifth in the league. He owns a sparkling 1.01 WHIP to go with his 2.41 ERA. Sam Freeman is a journeyman and another name to watch. He has been excellent in a lower-leverage role this season. As for the rest of the bullpen, the regular shuttling of guys back and forth from Gwinnett to Atlanta can only signal trouble. Right now, Jim Johnson and Jason Motte are the only other two entrenched guys, otherwise it’s a series of call-ups. Good news for the Braves bullpen however: former Rockies player Dan Winkler returned last week from a nearly two-year DL stint due to a fractured elbow.
The Braves have not been a good defensive team this season. They have just one player with better than two Defenive Runs Saved (DRS) and that’s Ender Inciarte in center field with six. Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis have combined in left and right field for -19 DRS. Freddie Freeman’s recent switch to third base has actually helped this team as his two DRS there is seven more than the other contributors combined. Their double play tandem has also gotten a big boost now that Ozzie Albies has replaced Brandon Phillips at second base.
The Rockies will send Chad Bettis, Kyle Freeland, and Jon Gray to the hill this weekend. All three pitched very well in the first series against the Braves, giving up a combined five runs in nineteen innings (2.37 ERA). Ian Desmond began a rehab assignment on Thursday, going one-for-two with a double and a walk. The Rockies offense has struggled on the road in the second half as they are hitting .231 (26th in baseball), with an on base percentage of .307 (23rd), a slugging percentage of .363 (27th), a strikeout rate of 23.9 percent (25th), a wOBA of .291 (26th), and a wRC+ of 74 (26th). No matter the metric, the Rockies road offense is one of the league’s worst.
The Rockies get a chance to close out August against two teams with nothing but pride to play for. The first is this matchup with an inferior Braves team. The Rockies starters will inevitably have to perform well, just as they did in the Coors Field series just over a week ago. The Braves hitters are aggressive and the staff can take advantage of that aggressiveness by commanding their arsenal in and out of the zone.
From an offensive perspective, the Rockies have to find a way to get the bats going. It has become clear that the lineup the Rockies run out every day isn’t working and if they want to start winning games again, something has to change. Whether it’s major lineup shake-up, benching a guy for a couple days, or replacing someone altogether, the Rockies can’t sit back and watch as their playoff hopes slowly slip away.
Probable Pitchers and Schedule
Friday, August 25 @ 5:35 pm MT (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)
Chad Bettis (0-0, 1.93 ERA) vs. Julio Teheran (7-11, 5.02 ERA)
Saturday, August 26 @ 5:10 pm MT (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)
Kyle Freeland (11-8, 3.71 ERA) vs. Sean Newcomb (2-7, 4.13 ERA)
Sunday, August 27 @ 11:35 am MT (ATT SportsNet, 850KOA/94.1)
Jon Gray (5-3, 4.54 ERA) vs. Mike Foltynewicz (10-9, 4.95 ERA)