If there was a team in the league that you would least expect to have a no-hitter thrown against them, it would be the Colorado Rockies. As a team they lead the majors in batting average and slugging percentage and they rank third in on-base percentage behind the Athletics and Pirates. They’re second in homers, second in runs scored and they lead the league in BABIP, which means they’ve been so good when putting the ball in play that they’re bound to regress at some point.
And yet, there was Clayton Kershaw making them look silly on Wednesday night, striking them out 15 times en route to his first career no-hitter, which would have been a perfect game were it not for an error by Hanley Ramirez. Of course, Kershaw makes almost everybody look silly, but Colorado’s rare sputtering on offense was indicative of a team that has been derailed by injuries and of a ballclub that just can’t seem to strike a proper balance between a dominant offense and a dormant pitching staff.
Colorado has gotten off to an exciting start offensively thanks to the MVP-caliber play from Troy Tulowitzki, more consistent brilliance from second year third baseman Nolan Arenado, a surprisingly great start from Charlie Blackmon and and strong mixed and match contributions from outfielders Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Michael Cuddyer and Brandon Barnes.
Franchise cornerstone Carlos Gonzalez has had the worst start of any Rockie offensively – batting just .255 with a .307 on-base percentage in about 200 at-bats before going on the DL – and it hasn’t mattered because just about everybody that Walt Weiss has put in the line-up has been able to hit around or better than .300 and get on base at a solid clip.
But even with their stellar collective efforts offensively, the Rockies sit nine games back of the first place Giants and, at four games under .500, they will also have to contend with the Dodgers should they ever put things together to make a run towards the top of the division. And that’s because Colorado is totally lacking effective and consistent options on the mound.
Jordan Lyles, a talented 23-year old whom the Rockies acquired from the Astros along with Barnes in the Dexter Fowler deal, has been their best arm. He’s got a solid 3.87 FIP and he’s got the second lowest flyball rate in the league at 21.2%, which is vital for a pitcher that calls Coors Field home. But, as a symbol of the Rockies luck this season, Lyles broke his hand two weeks ago and is currently on the disabled list.
Lyles’ injury, as well as the putrid performance of Franklin Morales, led to the promotion of top prospect Eddie Butler from Double-A. Not only did Butler’s major league career get off to a rocky start on the hill – giving up 10 hits and six earned runs to the Dodgers in his big league debut – he also experienced some shoulder inflammation and has since landed on the DL.
Colorado had little production from any of their starters before Lyles went down and things have only gotten worse since. After a strong 2013 campaign, Jorge de la Rosa has had his walk and homerun rates rise significantly and his FIP has gone from above average a season ago to a horrid 4.80 mark this season. Just about all that is left for the Rockies on the mound is rookie Tyler Matzek, who has looked good in his first two big league starts.
Lyles great start gave the Rockies’ pitching staff hope, but his injury combined with De La Rosa’s surprising struggles has led Weiss to search for any kind of fix for his rotation, and the answers don’t seem to be presenting themselves. It would appear as if this is destined to be a down year for Colorado meant for their young arms to gain some experience going forward.
But their offense is so good that calling this a rebuilding year at this point would be premature. It’s quite clear that Colorado’s pitching staff can’t continue to put up what has been the league’s worst FIP by a wide margin over Baltimore, but if they can manage to trend upward ever so slightly, there’s hope for this team to make some noise, because Troy Tulowitzki is in the midst of what may end up being the banner season of his tremendous career.
It’s somewhat ironic that Tulo, who has had a troubling history of injuries, is having his best year ever during a season in which the rest of his teammates are dropping like flies, but the Rockies are still hanging around in the NL West by virtue of his glorious bat. Through 69 games, Tulowitzki has an ungodly .356/.445/.653 slashline, he’s hit 18 homers, putting him on pace to smash his career high of 32 homers set back in 2009, he’s driven in 45 runs and he’s got some of the best defensive numbers of his career.
Across the board, just about the only guys that keep company with Tulowitzki numbers wise are Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig, and he tops them in most categories. Tulowitzki currently leads the league in all three slash categories (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage), he has the top weighted on-base average in the league – and if he keeps up the pace, his wOBA of .467 will be the best the league has seen since Barry Bonds’ cartoonish .537 mark in 2004 – and Tulo also leads the league in weight runs created.
Even with Arenando and Cuddyer on the DL, the Rockies have been able to sustain at the plate, Kershaw’s near perfect game notwithstanding, because Tulowitzki spearheads a group of exceptional contact hitters.
Blackmon’s awesome season, which started with that ridiculous 6-for-6, five RBI, four run, four extra-base hit (three doubles and a homer) way back in the first week of the season, has given the Rockies another .300 hitter with pop. He’s sitting at 12 homers and 44 RBIs right now, second on the team in both categories, on top of a team high 12 steals. And guys like Dickerson, Stubbs and Barnes sprinkle the ball across the field whenever they’re called into action.
The Rockies have always been a fun offensive team to follow because of their home ballpark, but this season they’ve actually compiled a pretty complete set of hitters that hit well for contact and power and get on base efficiently. Unfortunately, their poor pitching staff has put them in a hole in what has been a competitive division over the years. It’s tough to see a miracle emerging from the mound, but if the Rockies can get any sort of improvement from their starting rotation, Tulowitzki seems poised to carry his team to the post-season.