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Rockies have opportunity to steal NL West title

With their division foes scuffling, the Rockies could sneak in and win this thing.

Entering play on Monday, the Rockies are just a half game back of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the division lead. They are also 4.5 games ahead of the presumptive division favorite Dodgers. This means, despite an under-powered offense, the Rockies are in prime position to potentially steal their first division crown in franchise history.

The D-backs, who got off to a very impressive start, have struggled to the tune of a 1-9 record over their past 10 games and a 3-10 record over the past two weeks. They also recently lost their top performing offensive threat, AJ Pollock (156 wRC+), until the All-Star Break. Their offense currently only looks good when compared to the Rockies and the rotation is a veritable MASH unit.

The Dodgers entered 2018 as the defending National League champions and the odds on favorites to repeat. Entering Monday they are 20-26. No, those numbers weren’t mistakenly flipped, and that is with the help of a current five-game winning streak.

All-world pitcher Clayton Kershaw is suffering from biceps tendinitis and is without a timetable to return. Franchise cornerstone Corey Seager is out for the year, and star third baseman Justin Turner only just returned from the disabled list. Most other players you think of when you think of the Dodgers (Yasiel Puig, Rich Hill, Matt Kemp) have battled injuries and ineffectiveness most of the season.

In short, the Dodgers and D-backs are vulnerable, and the Rockies have an opportunity to take advantage of a situation that has changed mightily since Opening Day.

NL West 2018 Playoff Odds

Team Record GB Opening Day Odds May 17 Odds
Team Record GB Opening Day Odds May 17 Odds
Diamondbacks 25-21 -- 24.0% 30.2%
Rockies 25-22 0.5 18.8% 27.5%
Giants 24-24 2 23.9% 13.2%
Dodgers 20-26 5 94.0% 57.1%
Padres 20-28 6 2.6% 0.5%
Entering May 17 FanGraphs

How likely is a Rockies division title? There are a few things in their favor.

The first is the rotation. Entering 2018 there were worries about whether the young pitching staff that carried the Rockies to the playoffs in 2017 could continue their fantastic run. Not only have they continued, in many ways they have exceeded expectations. By ERA-, FIP-, and fWAR they rank in the top third in baseball. And unlike their divisional competitors, every game has been started by the rotation that broke camp.

Jon Gray (5.34) and German Marquez (5.15) have unsightly ERAs, but peripherals (BABIP, strand rate, HR/FB, and FIP) all indicate better things to come. And even if a starter goes down with an injury (or if Chad Bettis’ 3.27 ERA catches up with his 4.37 FIP in a hurry), they have depth in the form of Antonio Senzatela (2.57 ERA and a 18:4 K/BB ratio in three starts in Triple-ABQ) and Jeff Hoffman (fresh off 6 23 IP, 7 H, 0 R/ER, 1 BB, 10 K performance against Reno). This is a major advantage considering how much the Dodgers and D-backs have already had to dip into their pitching depth.

The next thing in the Rockies’ favor is the bullpen, but not for the reason you might think. What if I told you the Rockies bullpen has actually been below league average in 2018? As exceptional as Wade Davis and Adam Ottavino have been so far, the rest of the bullpen has been well below average by ERA-. There’s reason to believe some (like Scott Oberg, Chris Rusin, and Jake McGee) have pitched better than their results but, despite a recent run of bad form, this still profiles as one of the best bullpens in franchise history. That can be a serious advantage, especially with a rotation that seems, at the very least, competent.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things not in their favor. The Rockies have yet to play the Dodgers this season; that’s 19 match ups left against a team that is slowly getting more healthier and, one has to assume, will eventually remember they are the Dodgers. So while their remaining strength of schedule is a modest .500, that includes a Dodgers team that is six games below .500. There are few cream puffs left on the schedule with which they can boost their win total.

There’s also that little matter of the first offense in history that apparently can’t hit at Coors Field. But that’s where the opportunity lies. Were the Rockies to actually make some moves to improve their offense they could emerge as the best (healthy) 25-man roster in the division. Without help, whether in the form of a promotion or trade, the Rockies may see their first division crown slip right out of their grasp.

Of course, it is an even year so it’ll probably be the Giants (with the help of an unheralded infield prospect named Kip or something) leapfrogging all three teams on their way to another World Series title. That’s just the way things go.