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September could be a good indicator of the Rockies future

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, September 4, 2021

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Since the All-Star break, the Rockies have gone 21-22. They have even posted winning records in the months of June and August at 14-13 in each. With the astonishing .652 winning percentage at home (43-23), Colorado has had moments that seem to suggest this team is better than we thought. Perhaps, even with a few more pieces and positive additions to the front office with the GM search and filling vacancies, this team could contend.

When the Rockies won that series in L.A. over the weekend and with an 11-8 record against the Padres, I definitely have felt that spark of optimism. I want to believe it, even if it’s not the most logical belief. I catch myself thinking, if the Rockies just won 10 more games on the road, which would still put them at 28-40 away from Coors Field, the Rockies could be 71-63; that’s a similar record to the Padres and Mariners, which would put the Rockies in the hunt for a Wild Card.

Better yet, what if the Rockies went .500 on the road? Their record would be 77-57, which puts the Rockies on par with the Astros, White Sox, the Yankees, and the Red Sox, but still eight games behind the Giants and Dodgers. Then I come back to Earth and realize how much it would take to compete in the NL West. The Rockies division is brutal. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also not going to change in being one of the most competitive divisions in baseball with the high-spending Dodgers and Padres and the magic of the Giants.

In the month of September, the Rockies have the fifth hardest schedule in the MLB, according to Power Rankings Guru. In the first five months of the season, the Rockies have played the seventh hardest schedule in the league. That’s the problem right there. The Rockies can’t just be a .500 or slightly above team and make the playoffs. That’s never been true in the past and it could be even less true in the future.

In the five Rockies postseason appearances, they notched at least 87 wins (like in 2017) to get into the playoffs (including the 77-67 mark in the strike-delayed 1995 season where the .535 winning percentage would equate to 87 wins), but more often took at least 90 (like in 2007) more (92 in 2009 and 91 in 2018). Going into Thursday’s game with Atlanta, FanGraphs projects that the Rockies will win 73 games, while the Dodgers are at 102, the Giants are at 99, and the Padres and Reds, the two teams most likely to battle for the final Wild Card spot, are at 86.

In other words, the Rockies need to build a team that can approximately win at least 15 more games in 2022 than they are likely to win in 2021. Does that mean the Rockies need to “rebuild” or does this current rotation and core of players just need a few more pieces? It’s a hard question to answer, but clues may lie in this September schedule. If the Rockies have the core and just need the pieces, then they need to be competitive with good teams – like the Braves (who the Rockies play seven times), the Giants (six times), the Phillies (four times), the Dodgers (three times). At the same time, they need to beat inferior teams like Nationals, who the Rockies play six times.

Including Wednesday’s game against the Rangers, 15 of September’s games are at Coors Field, while 11 are on the road. If the Rockies can post a winning record in September, then maybe they are closer to contending than we thought. It won’t be easy, especially with the injuries to Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland. But all teams are facing injuries and a team’s depth is an important part of their ability to contend. Can the Rockies finish better than 13-13? It will be interesting to see. After Thursday night’s loss to Atlanta, they are 1-1.

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Gammons: Relievers are bearing the brunt of baseball’s pandemic issues, and the bill may come due | The Athletic ($)

Peter Gammons has some very interesting points in this article and they could be key issues in the offseason negotiations between the MLB and the MLB Players Association. Outside of expressing worry for relievers who are going from a 60-game season to a 162-game season and the repercussions that could have on their bodies, he is also advocating for more tracking of bullpen activities, specifically how many times bullpen relievers are asked to warm up and how many pitches they throw. He argues that relief pitchers are being asked to do a lot more, but still being treated as volatile. He says,

“Relief pitchers are considered fungible, as disposable and interchangeable as fast food workers are to their corporate overlords. Get one hot, ride him on a high-risk wire on a low-risk contract, and when the slider doesn’t bite the following June, the letters following his name are DFA, not Ph.D.”

Gammons also spends a lot of time looking at how much pitching depth teams require to succeed right now, especially those that are making a playoff push. He quotes an unnamed former manager who says, “In the game today, starting pitchers are often called openers, are expected to get four to nine outs, and they’re the lead dog in a chain of situational pitching changes. The fact is that it wears out relievers and creates inconsistencies, dead arms and, eventually, injuries. Why shouldn’t managers be accountable for that?”

Gammons’ advice is that “bullpen abuse” needs to be tracked by a union subcommittee of the MLBPA and he wants Sean Doolittle, Andrew Miller, and former Rockie Adam Ottavino to be on the committee. This could help provide data and insight into a 2022 season that Gammons fears could feature injured pitchers and teams unable to fill their rosters with quality arms. This could be especially interesting for the Rockies, who like many teams have their fair share of bullpen problems, and face an unknown future in terms of veteran arms like Daniel Bard and Jhoulys Chacín and younger developing relievers who have pitched more this season than they ever have at the MLB careers like Yency Almonte (40 2/3 innings vs. previous career high of 34 in 2019), Tyler Kinley (56 2/3 innings vs. previous career high of 49 1/3 in 2019), and starter/reliever Chi Chi González (98 1/3 innings vs. previous career high of 67 in 2015).

That doesn’t even include pitchers who are coming from no MiLB season in 2020 to their first MLB seasons this year like Ben Bowden (32 2/3 innings in 2021), Lucas Gilbreath (31 innings in 2021), Justin Lawrence (16 2/3 innings).

C.J. Cron named NL Player of the Month for August | Purple Row

C.J. Cron joined elite company on Thursday after he was named NL Player of the Month after hitting 11 homers and eight doubles with a .387 average and 1.297 OPS. He became the 11th Rockie to earn the honor and his award marks the 21st time a Colorado Rockie has won the award. Todd Helton leads the all-time list for Colorado with four NL Player of the Year awards.

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On the Farm:

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 7, Oklahoma City Dodgers 6

Greg Bird hit a three-run homer, Ryan Vilade added an RBI single, and LJ Hatch chipped in an RBI sacrifice fly to lift the Isotopes over the Dodgers. Joshua Fuentes went 2-for-4 with a run scored and a walk, Elehuris Montero went 2-for-4 and scored a run, and Yonathan Daza added a hit and a run. The big offense helped Albuquerque overcome a rough night from Ryan Rolison, who gave up four runs on four hits and four walks with four strikeouts. Former Rockie Tony Wolters went 3-for-4 including an RBI double in the ninth for the Dodgers, but the Isotopes were able to hold off the Oklahoma City comeback attempt.

Double-A: Reading Fightin’ Phils 2, Hartford Yard Goats 0;

Reading Fightin’ Phils 2, Hartford Yard Goats 1

In game one, Willie MacIver recorded the only hit of the night for the Yard Goats against Fightin’ Phils starter Adam Leverett, who pitched 6 13 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and three walks to outduel Karl Kauffmann in a 2-0 win. Kauffmann (1-10) put up a solid start with two runs on six hits with no walks and four strikeouts in six innings, but he didn’t get any run support. The Yard Goats totaled 10 strikeouts in the game.

In game two, Willie Abreu hit an RBI single to put Hartford up 1-0 after four innings, but Nate Harris threw a wild pitch that allowed Reading to tie it up in the fifth and Fightin’ Phil Colby Fitch hit an RBI double in the sixth that ended up being the game winner. Hartford actually outhit Reading 7-6 with Casey Golden leading the way with two singles and Michael Toglia adding a double.

High-A: Spokane Indians 7, Tri-City Dust Devils 5

Niko Decolati stole home as part of a 3-for-5 night with an RBI double and Hunter Stovall went 2-for-3 with three runs, two walks, and an RBI double to lead Spokane. Will Etheridge held the Dust Devils to three runs on six hits with three strikeouts and two walks in 5 13 innings to get the win. Daniel Montano went 2-for-5 with two RBI and Ezequiel Tovar hit a double and scored two runs.

Low-A: Stockton Ports 9, Fresno Grizzlies 3

Stockton sealed the win with a six-run fifth inning. Fresno’s Case Williams (1-2) had a rough start, giving up five runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 4 13 innings, but Will Tribucher didn’t fare any better in relief in the fifth, giving up four runs on three hits as the Ports took a 9-2 lead. Mateo Gil went 3-for-4 with an RBI double and a run scored, Julio Carreras posted two hits and scored a run, Drew Romo added two hits, and Robby Martin, Jr. chipped in a hit, a run, and an RBI in the loss.

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