The Rockies have been down this road before, only to veer into a ditch.
The 2011 team started off hot (12-3) but quickly collapsed and finished 73-89 and 19 games out of first place in the National League West. The slugging 1997 Blake Street Bombers were 9-3 through their first dozen games but sputtered to a middling 83-79 record.
But the 2020 Rockies are different.
Why? Because their 9-3 record is founded, first and foremost on pitching. And in this strange 60-game season, that pitching just might hold out until Rocktober. Check out this statistic: Through one-fifth of the season, Colorado starters have a 2.78 ERA, have limited opponents to a .211 batting average and have given up only six home runs.
Yes, the Rockies needed heroic two-run homers from veterans Daniel Murphy and Charlie Blackmon in the seventh inning to beat San Francisco 6-4 on Thursday afternoon. And, yes, the venerable Blackmon is batting .396 and in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak in which he’s hit .475 with eight runs scored, two doubles, two home runs and 14 RBIs.
But as the Rockies head to Seattle to begin a three-game series Friday night, Nolan Arenado is hitting just .222 (despite three home runs) and David Dahl is sitting at .240.
“Our offense hasn’t hit its stride yet, but I’m confident it’s going to,” manager Bud Black has said more than once.
Which brings us back to pitching. For six-plus innings, Thursday’s game was a classic pitcher’s duel featuring left-hander Kyle Freeland vs. former Rockies lefty Tyler Anderson.
One misplaced pitch shook up Freeland’s afternoon. He had blanked San Francisco for six innings, inducing 14 groundball outs, including three double plays, until Mauricio Dubón hit a 414-foot, three-run homer to right, putting the Giants ahead 3-1.
But this wasn’t a throwback to the disastrous 2019 season when Freeland gave up 25 home runs in 104 1/3 innings. This was just a one-pitch mistake, not a trend.
“I had a really good pitch mix today and I got a lot of weak contact and a bunch of groundballs,” said Freeland, who’s boasting a 2.41 ERA. “There in the seventh, (Dubón) guessed right and I guessed wrong. I thought for sure he would be looking for a changeup because we had been going soft to him all day, so we decided to go up and into him with an inside fastball and he was ready for it.”
Black — speaking about German Marquez, Jon Gray, Antonio Senzatela and Freeland — has said more than once that he’s seen the quartet evolve from “throwers into pitchers.” And the manager has made it clear that he likes the makeup of his team, especially for a 60-game sprint.
“The bullpen has been very good (3.69 ERA) and our starters have been outstanding,” Black said. “To be a complete team, especially playing half our games (at Coors Field), we’ve got to pitch, defend and hit. Overall, we have done that.
“But the trick is continuing the consistent pitching. That’s going to be critical.”
All-star shortstop Trevor Story, who hit a solo home run as a designated hitter Thursday, was asked to assess the team through the first 12 games.
“We’ve got a lot going on,” said Story, who’s already launched five home runs.
The most important quality he sees from the 2020 Rockies is confidence.
“We had it coming into spring training 2.0, and we had it in the first spring (training) as well,” he said. “We believe in ourselves so much. We’re a very tight-knit group with a lot of really good friends on this team. I think that that plays a lot, especially in a season like this.”
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