It’s a wonder that “what makes half a season of baseball” hasn’t become an endless and unwinnable Twitter argument yet — something in the vein of “is batting around 9 or 10 batters to the plate?” and “is RBI already plural or is it RBIs?” (If it has, please kindly refrain from pointing it out.) Tradition has it that the two halves of the baseball season are determined by when the All-Star Game is played, not how many games are played before or after, so we’ll go with that.
As the Rockies begin the second half of the 2018 season after having played 96 games, it’s a ripe time to ask about surprises from the first half of the season, as well as expectations for the second half. Purple Row staffers added their thoughts below, and we invite you to let us know what you think as well.
The first half of the 2018 season has been a pleasant surprise, especially since the June 18th 2-12 loss to the Mets at home when things felt really bad. At that point, the record was so poor at home that it looked impossible that the Rockies could compete in a four-team deep division. Since then, the starting pitching, Ian Desmond, Trevor Story and some others (in addition to the Arenado Factor) have performed so well that this team finds itself in it. As we look ahead, I expect some of these over-performing players to normalize. I don’t think this is a 90-win team, but depending on what happens at the deadline, they might not need to be to make the playoffs or at least make September interesting (a month with a lot of home games). If the starting pitching continues to pitch well, anything can happen - they are the x-factor for me.
In terms of their record, the Rockies are about where I thought they’d be. How they got there, however, was not what I expected. But my thinking has been influenced by this Jordan Freemyer piece in which Chris Iannetta essentially said the Rockies just need to play .500 ball and go on a few winning streaks to stay in the race. That’s helped me rethink the game.
Who surprised me? Kyle Freeland has become a dominant pitcher much faster than I’d expected. Adam Ottavino 2.0 is a show-stopper every time he takes the mound. Noel Cuevas is learning to be an effective bench player. That said, I expected Charlie Blackmon to play better, especially after last year (and, like everyone else, I wonder if he’s not working through some injuries). I also expected Tony Wolters to become a more complete player. In the second half of the season, I think we’ll see the Rockies exploring options in the outfield as they begin to prepare for 2019. But I also think we’ll see them in the race until the very end — and hopefully in the playoffs. This is, I think, a team that the rest of MLB does not take seriously enough, and that will work in the Rockies’ favor.
The first half of the 2018 season has been all over the place. It has really felt as though only two of the three cogs (starting pitching, relief pitching, and offense) were firing at once for a while. In the midst of everything, however, there have been a few stories that stand out. The first one is Trevor Story. He always had potential, but seemed to struggle putting both sides of his game together. Now, he has seemingly combined his offensive 2016 and defensive 2017 to earn himself his first All-Star berth and maybe even his first Gold Glove if he continues at this pace. The emergence of Kyle Freeland within the rotation has made for a great storyline as well. Even though he is technically the “fifth starter” in the rotation, his numbers are reminiscent of a dominant pitcher who can anchor this pitching staff for years to come.
Luckily, July has been a good month for the Rockies so far and they have won 13 of their last 16 against some heavy competition. Their final game before the break came via the walk off from Story against a hot Seattle Mariners team. If they keep up this momentum, especially with tightening division and wild card races, they are poised to have a great second half and keep things close into September (and hopefully October).
The first half of the season was the traditional roller coaster of a ride that we’ve come to expect from the Rockies over the past decade. Thankfully, the first half of the season ended on an up-swing and the Rockies find themselves in contention after what could have been a disastrous slump in June. Assuming that the Rockies don’t lose their momentum over the break, the Rockies will start the second half of the season as the hottest team in baseball. Their current stretch of 13 wins in the last 16 games aren’t a mirage formed against weak competition either, as they’ve built that stretch playing exclusively against the other top teams in the NL West and the Seattle Mariners.
Trevor Story’s ability to drop his strikeout rate to roughly 25% this season has been a wonderful development. Considering that at the start of the season he was running near 40%, the drop is even more impressive. The idea that we might get the offense of the 2016 version of Story combined with the defense of 2017 seemed like a dream this offseason. However, now we’re getting an even better offensive version while Story simultaneously works towards what will hopefully be his first Gold Glove.
The optimist in me at the start of the season figured that Ian Desmond and Carlos González would bounce back from rough 2017 numbers, and then April and May happened and it looked like they wouldn’t. But their performance in June and July so far has given me at least a little confidence in them (and by extension, the whole offense) going forward. The pitching, on the other hand, has me worried. When the starters were going 7-plus innings every night, the bullpen only needed to be as deep as Ottavino, McGee and Davis, and things were going good. When Mike Dunn, Brooks Pounders and Chris Rusin had to get involved, things got dicey. Bryan Shaw got into a funk that Bud Black figured Shaw would pitch his way out of, which eventually turned into a DL stint and a demotion to mop-up guy. Thankfully, the starters have shouldered the load again in the past few weeks.
As weird as it is to say for a $40 million bullpen, Bridich should probably consider adding another arm. Sam Howard and Jerry Vasto might be good pitchers some day, but a team within striking distance of a very tough division is playing with fire if they have to rely on rookie relievers down the stretch. I expect that the Rockies mostly stand pat at the trade deadline, possibly adding a minor piece to the team without giving up anything notable. While the team isn’t going to continue at the 13-3 pace they went into the All-Star Break on, I believe they’re going to be competitive for the rest of the season (and then probably miss the wild card by a few games).
The first half of the season was a mixed bag for the Rockies. Among the positives were continued growth from Kyle Freeland, German Márquez, and Trevor Story along with the re-emergence of Adam Ottavino as a dominant late-inning reliever. The not-so-positives were the puzzling struggles of Jon Gray in spite of borderline elite peripheral numbers and the struggles of nearly every reliever who wasn’t Ottavino. That said, it’s tough to be upset about a first half that saw them wind up 51-45, two games out of a playoff spot.
A challenge lies ahead for the remainder of the season for the Rockies. Of their 66 remaining games, 56 come against teams currently above .500. It likely goes without saying, but that represents the most difficult remaining schedule in the National League and is a large part of the reason their playoff odds are hovering around 20% even though they are just two games out of playoff position. As we approach the trade deadline, the Rockies will likely need to make a move or two to improve the team—they especially need a reliable left-handed reliever—if they hope to reach the postseason for the second straight season.
Eric Garcia McKinley
As far as surprises go, there were a lot of pleasant ones. It’s hard to decide which was the most pleasant. Adam Ottavino is a contender because of the sheer dominance, but we’ve seen that before. And because of the nature of relief pitching, it may be all-too fleeting. Trevor Story has transcended the notion that his performance peak is the combination of the best parts of his first two seasons by becoming a better hitter and defender. But the most pleasant surprise has been the emergence of Kyle Freeland, not only as a mature and improving starting pitcher, but as a potential face of the franchise.
That most pleasant surprise has, unfortunately, been in contrast to the least pleasant one, which was Jon Gray’s demotion to Triple-A. Nobody saw that coming, and let’s hope we don’t see it again.
In the midst of it all, the Rockies are about where I thought they’d be. They’re a better than .500 team with a steep hill to climb to make the postseason. I still think that’s where they’ll end up — a respectable 84-87 wins but with couch-side seats for October baseball. I am, however, ready to be pleasantly surprised.