State of the NL West: Rockies in Position for Post-All-Star Success If . . .
Now comes the hard part.
The Rockies overcame a June that ranks as the fifth worst in franchise history, losing 16 of 27 games -- and that was with a late-month rally that saw them win a series finale San Francisco, and then two games at Dodger Stadium.
They responded by opening the month of July by winning 10 of 13 games -- a streak that expands to 13 of 16 going back into the final days of June -- which is a better winning percentage than the Rockies have ever had in July.
They head into the post-All-Star portion of their schedule with a three-game series this weekend, facing an Arizona team they beat in two of three games at Coors Field the week before the All-Star Break.
And it is a team that the Rockies, in third place in the NL West, trail by 1 1/2 games, which means if they sweep, the Rockies would move into second place, ahead of Arizona. And if the division-leading Dodgers stumble, the Rockies can whittle away at their two-game deficit to first place.
Now, the Dodgers did show a willingness to make an aggressive in-season move at the break, trading five prospects to the Orioles for free-agent-in-waiting Manny Machado in an effort to fill the shortstop void created by Corey Seager undergoing Tommy John surgery.
But the game is played on the field. Think about it. On paper, who would have ever thought that at the All-Star Break the Phillies and Braves would be the only teams with a winning record in the NL East?
For the Rockies, the key is taking care of their own business, not worrying about any moves other teams may make. The second-half of the season can be challenging for the Rockies. A year ago, when they had the best winning percentage in franchise history at the All-Star Break, the Rockies had to eek out the second NL wild-card spot with a win in game 161. They slipped below .500 after the All-Star Break, the 18th time in the franchise's first 25 years that the Rockies had a losing record after the All-Star Game.
STATE OF THE WEST
The Rockies (51-45, 3rd place, 2 GBL)
The Rockies are kicking tires, looking for bullpen help, but they have hope for a bullpen that earned rave reviews in the off-season when they re-signed Jake McGee off the free-agent market, and lured closer Wade Davis and setup man Bryan Shaw with three-year deals, too.
Davis had a hiccup but is tied for the NL lead in saves. Shaw, after five consecutive seasons of 70-or-more appearances with the Indians, went through a first-half struggle unlike anything he ever weathered. There were signs in his final appearances in the opening days of July that he was getting back in sync.
|Jorge De La Rosa||9||5||3.21|
Left-handers Kyle Freeland (8-6, 3.11) and Tyler Anderson (6-3, 3.72) give the Rockies multiple starting pitchers with ERAs below 4.00 at the All-Star Break for only the fourth time in history. And in only one of those years did the Rockies have three -- 2009, when they won a frachise-record 92 regular-seson games.
The key for them is getting a consistent effort out of Jon Gray. The ability is such that he drew the Opening Day assignment last year and this year. The results are such that he was sent to Triple-A for a refresher course that was cut short by blister problems with Chad Bettis and Antonio Senzatela. He returned last Saturday against Seattle, and allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings, equaling his second-longest effort in 76 career starts.
Can he build off that? in the eight games Gray has won this season, he has a 1.72 ERA. In his 10 other starts, Gray is 0-7 with a 9.57 ERA.
With a strong push by Ian Desmond, the Rockies offense added needed impact from a veteran. Since June 15, he has hit .327, raising his season average from .195 to .235, with six home runs and 19 RBI, putting him among the team leaders in that stretch.
|Since June 15||G||HR||RBI||AVG|
Minimum 20 plate appearances
In fact, every position, except catcher, has seen the Rockies regulars hitting .287 or better, and driving in 13 or more runs, led by Nolan Arenado, who like Desmond is hitting .327. Arenado leads the team with 11 home runs and 31 RBI, and ranks second in the NL in RBI and third in home runs during that stretch.
Key to the season: Having returned to .500 at home, the Rockies need to continue to reinforce their dominance at Coors Field, where they play 35 of their final 66 games. They have to travel to the eastern time zone for only one remaining series -- four games at Atlanta (Aug. 16-20). And they do have the opportunity to make a statement within the division. they have 33 games remaining against the four other NL West teams -- 17 at home and 16 on the road.
The Rest of the West
The Dodgers did give up four prospects who would have been in the team's top 30 in a mid-season revision of prospect rankings by MLB.com to acquire Manny Machado. It is a much-needed lift for the Orioles, whose farm system was barren. Their haul from the Dodgers brought them right-fielder Yusniel Diaz, who is now the No. 2 prospect with the Oiolres; right-hander Dean Kremer (No. 13), third baseman Rylan Brannon (No. 17), and right-hander Zach Pop (No. 29) in addition to second baseman Breyvk Valera.
Machado has not had high defensive ratings in his move back to his natural position after having previously played third base for the Orioles, but he is an elite hitter. He, however, won't find life as easy in pitching-friendly Dodger Stadium after having made his home in Baltimore, which is a very friendly hitter's park. As former big-league pitching coach Dave Duncan said, "At least you have to legitimately hit the ball to get a home run at Coors Field. In Baltimore, it's a lazy pop up and it's gone."
The Diamondbacks aren't impressed by the Dodgers addition of Machado.
"It's just another guy whose name is on the lineup card," D-Backs left-hander Robbie Ray was quoted as saying. "Just another scouting report you have to do. ... It's not like it's Babe Ruth."
Getting Ray back on track -- he starts Friday against the Rockies with a 5.23 ERA and five home runs allowed in four starts since coming off the disabled list -- and the anticipated return of outfielder A.J. Pollock from the disabled list before long are considered keys for the D-Backs. While it isn't likely will be able to swing a deal like a year ago -- when they added J.D. Martinez for the stretch run -- the front office has shown a willingness to deal.
The Giants have needs, but they don't have the depth that makes it realistic to think they can make an impact deal that will keep them in the battle for a post-season spot. They have to cross their fingers and hope that Jeff Samardzija, who has had a winning record as a starter only once (12-11 in 2016) and is 59-86 lifetime as a starter, can suddenly blossom at age 33; Hunter Pence (.212) can find a second-half surge, and that there is a reward from their off-season additions of Andrew McCutchen (.261), Evan Longoria (.246) and Austin Jackson (.242).
The Padres already began unloading, dealing closer Brad Hand to Cleveland during the All-Star Break. How bad are things in San Diego? Their major off-season investment -- Eric Hosmer -- is hitting .249 with a .317 on-base percentage. Veteran catcher A.J. Ellis has a team-high .284 average. Rookie lefthander Joey Lucchesi (4-5, 3.34) is the only member of the rotation with a sub-4.00 ERA despite the pitcher-friendly Petco Park environment.