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Rockies prepare for key early road trip against Nationals, Pirates

It’s a tough early trip, especially for an offense that is struggling.

The Colorado Rockies are headed out on one of those road trips—one of those east coast road trips where offense goes to die and a 1-6 record looms. The games start earlier, which is nice for those of us in Central or Eastern time, but otherwise these road trips can be dreadful.

The Rockies will play four games at the Washington Nationals starting Thursday night followed by a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates next week. Lest you think that series against the tanking, er, rebuilding Pirates would be a break, Clint Hurdle’s bunch has jumped out to an 8-3 record so far.

Here are some other things to consider about the upcoming road trip.

Pressure on the starting pitching

Barring a breakout from the offense, which seems unlikely unless the team gets in another fight or is otherwise willing to shake things up, these will probably be close games. The Rockies have the bullpen to win those games, especially now that Adam Ottavino looks like his old self in addition to the big free agent signings.

This team can win close games, but they need their starting pitching to last and keep the games close if they’re going to have a chance to get a lead for their bullpen to hold. They are certainly not built to come from behind or win high-scoring games at this point.

As with another factor on the trip, this will be especially important for the first couple games of the trip. Chad Bettis could do an awful lot to set a good tone with a solid start on Thursday night. Same goes for Kyle Freeland on Friday, who will have to avoid the home run trouble he has dealt with so far against a tough offense.

Yes, pressure on the offense too

Don’t worry, they’re not off the hook. On the bright side, they’re in line to face three right-handed starters this weekend. Hopefully that means Ryan McMahon in the lineup and a generally more effective effort from this left-handed heavy group, but they sure will face some tough match-ups.

Win Thursday and/or Friday against the Nationals

Max Scherzer pitches Saturday and Stephen Strasburg pitches Sunday. The Rockies will be staring a four-game sweep right in the face if they drop the first couple games of this series prior to those match-ups. They definitely need to take at least one of those first two games if they’re going to have a successful road trip.

This would be true even if the offense was humming along, by the way. Scherzer is arguably the best pitcher in baseball and Strasburg is always a tough test. So yea, Ryan McMahon will finally get to start (maybe), but against those guys. Have fun!

Don’t overlook the Pirates

As I mentioned, this team was supposed to be awful. Maybe they’ll still be awful. Right now they aren’t, however, and the Rockies will need to be ready. Besides seeing old friend Clint Hurdle, the Rockies will see old friend Corey Dickerson who is still doing his “roll out of bed and hit” thing in the middle of Pittsburgh’s lineup.

Go 3-4 on the trip

Let’s call this what it is—the Rockies are not in a good spot right now. Charlie Blackmon is hurt and Nolan Arenado is awaiting word on a potential suspension. The rest of the offense is kind of a mess and the starting pitching has been unsteady to say the least.

Let’s be realistic and put this trip in the context of the rest of the season. Keeping the road record close to .500 will be good enough for now, especially with the tough match-ups this weekend. Win at least one game against the Nationals and then win the series against the Pirates, or jump the Nationals for a couple wins before the weekend and make sure you get another win on the trip.

There will eventually be higher expectations for this team on tough road trips if they are going to reach the expectations we have for them. Just not now and not this trip. Right now they just need to avoid disaster.