Rockies Starting Starters in Bid for World Championship

When the NL Division Series between the Rockies and Brewers unfolds at Miller Park on Thursday, Antonio Senzatela, who emerged as the Rockies third starter in recent weeks, will get the start against the Brewers and Brandon Woodruff, the first piece in the bullpen plan the Brewers have turned to for the opening game of the best-of-five series.

Old School vs. New School?

Not really.

More than a philosophy, what the matchup represents is two teams, both looking at what presents their best chance to advance to the NLCS, and staying as close as possible to the approach each followed during the season.

“I think it is more talent,” Rockies manager Bud Black replied when asked if the approach is talent or –old school philosophy. “I think if you have those types of pitchers, who have the talent to work their way through six, seven innings, three times through a lineup, and you feel good about where they are stamina-wise, stuff-wise, still having the ability to make pitches, when you get to pitch 90 or pitch 110, I think over the long haul of the regular season, that still works.”

Truth of the matter is the way a team handles a pitching staff is more about the pitchers on that staff than computer readouts.

What catches outsiders off guard is that the Rockies rotation led the National League with 932 innings pitched, and ranked second with 59 wins for the starters, who had a .587 winning percentage, also second in the NL. And they used only seven pitchers to start a game in the regular season.

In the dugout along the first base line at Miller Park, the Brewers rotation ranked 12th in the NL in innings pitched, tied for ninth with 54 wins and seventh among NL rotations with a .540 winning percentage. And they used 11 starting pitchers.

Both teams, however, got the post-season, even if they followed a different path.

Hey, the Astros are the poster children of analytics, ranked ahead of the Rockies and behind only the Indians, with a rotation that worked 955 1/3 innings.

Now, the planets are not aligned perfectly for the Rockies. With German Marquez starting Monday’s Game 163 against the Dodgers, and Kyle Freeland on the mound for the start of Tuesday’s Wild-Card Game, Black’s top two starters won’t be ready to pitch again until the NLDS heads to Colorado for Games 3 and a possible Game 4 on Sunday and Monday.

So he will go with Senzatela in Game 1 and Tyler Anderson in Game 2, skipping over Jon Gray, who was left off the rotation, from a rotation that featured four members originally signed by the organization. Marquez was a prospect acquired from Tampa Bay who spent a year in the Rockies system, and Senzatela was signed by the Rockies out of Venezuela at the age of 16.

The Rockies also used Jeff Hoffman in the rotation briefly, and became the first team since the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays to exclusively used starting pitchers who had never pitched at the big-league level with another organization, according to Elias News Bureau.

It also is the only rotation in MLB in which three of the primary starting pitchers in 2018 were first-round draft picks – Anderson, 20th overall, in 2011; Gray, third overall in 2013, and Freeland, eighth overall in 2014.

The Brewers, meanwhile, featured only one home-grown out of the five players who started at least 15 games for them during the regular season – Brent Suter.

And the Rockies are young. Chad Bettis, 29, who was moved into the bullpen early in August, is the oldest pitcher to start a game for the Rockies this year. Anderson is 28, and Gray 26. Freeland and Jeff Hoffman, who made two starts and spent the rest of the year at Triple-A Albuquerque, are 25. Marquez and Senzatela are 23.

Now, Black isn’t looking at a post-season like the one he pitched in for the Royals when the franchise won its first World Championship in 1985. He was the fourth of the four starters used by manager Dick Howser.  The Royals rotation worked 55 1/3 of the 62 innings pitched in that World Series. While Black worked only six in his one start, Bret Saberhagen threw two complete games. Charlie Leibrandt worked 16 1/3 innings, and Danny Jackson worked 16 innings.

That Royals’ team used its bullpen for fewer innings than any team that won a world championship in seven or more games. The only teams that played seven  or more World Series games and had lower bullpen workloads lost – the 1912 Giants (4 innings), 1931 A’s (5 innings), 1925 Senators 5 2/3 innings), and 1958 Braves (6 innings).

“In the current game the bullpen plays a huge part of successful post-seasons,” said Black. “Going back to my playing days, it was a different era when starting pitchers threw complete games. … It’s a different ballgame now. The specialization has taken over, and the bullpen usage is way different.

“Now, some of these playoff teams have certain types of pitchers who can really be dominating, the Verlanders and Sales, and we feel like on a given night, some of our guys might, too.”

The Brewers, meanwhile, have more of a patchwork rotation, relying on an offense that can score runs in a hurry, and bullpen depth. The Brewers not only used 11 different pitchers as a starter during the regular season, but seven of them made 13 or more starts.

“We’re trying to get away from what the words starter and reliever mean,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “We really think every one of the guys (on the post-season pitching staff) is going to pitch significant innings.

“Jhoulys Chacin is going to pitch Game 2, so we’re going to go back to a starter in Game 2, but we’re not going to probably ask as much as we’d ask a starter in the regular season to do.”

It is all about maximizing the impact of the assets. For starters, the Rockies have an edge. Time will tell if it gives them an edge in the series.

Tracy RingolsbyComment