Rockies Know What to Do With A Late-Inning Lead

The Rockies focus in the off-season was creating a bullpen that could work late-inning magic. They made a major investment to re-sign lefty Jake McGee (three years, $27 million), a right-handed set-up man to compliment him in Bryan Shaw (three years, $27 million), and a proven closer to replace Greg Holland in Wade Davis (three years, $52 million).

Take those three and mix in a revived Adam Ottavino, who after a battle with Tommy John surgery and a season to forget in 2017, is back and more dominating than ever, plus lefties Mike Dunn and Chris Rusin, and right-handers Scott Oberg and Antonio Senzatela, and the Rockies know they are in good hands.

The payoffs are moments like the final three innings of a 5-2 victory against the Chicago Cubs at Coors Field on Saturday night.

Tyler Anderson regrouped from giving up a two-out, two-run double to Wilson Contreras in the first to shutout the Cubs the next five innings, and also drew a critical two-out walk from Yu Darvish in the fifth that the Rockies turned into the five-run, two-out, game-deciding rally.

"That is big situation with two outs where a lot of times, personally, I make that out and the inning is over," said Anderson. "Instead we extended it and get DJ back to the plate and get our offense going."

That did get the inning going. In the end, though, what made it all worthwhile was the three-headed bullpen brigade that followed the script envisioned in the off-season approach to the roster.

After Anderson recorded six outs against the final five batters he faced -- thanks to a Nolan Arenado-seeing-is-believing instigation of a fifth-inning double play -- McGee, Ottavino and Davis each supplied a 1-2-3 inning.

"That is our strength," said manager Bud Black. "A big part of what happens to our season is how the bullpen guys are battled tested."

It starts at the end -- with Davis. Davis moved into a closer's role in Kansas CIty in 2015 when Holland, then the Royals closer, was headed to Tommy John surgery. In three years on the job -- two with the Royals and one with the Cubs -- he converted 76 of 81 save opportunities and compiled a 1.65 ERA.

He hasn't missed a beat since joining the Rockies.

He leads the major leagues with nine saves. The Rockies have won all 10 games in which he has pitched. And he has a 1.95 ERA.

While Davis has been critical to provide that late-inning closer, the revitalization of Ottavino has been a blessing. He was a solid reliever before the two-year battle with Tommy John surgery, but after his bullpen struggles a year ago, an off-season spent getting his approach back in order has made him dominant. 

The bullpen has never been a dominate factor for the Rockies, but it was a key part of their advancing to the post-season last year and has the promise of being even better this time around. Only six times in history has a Rockies reliever had an ERA below 3.30. This currently have four relievers with an ERA below 3.00.

In the early going this season, this bullpen had stepped up in two critical areas. It has limited baserunners, allowing what would be a franchise record 12.39 per nine innings, and it has struck out hitters at a potential club-record rate of 8.07 per nine innings. Strikeouts are critical for a bullpen, which often is asked to come in with critical runs in scoring position.

 

Now, if the Rockies can get the starters to step up. Anderson has a team-best four quality starters. Chad Bettis, with two, is the only other starter with more than one.

Tracy RingolsbyComment