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The Rockies are still in a prime position for a Wild Card

Things haven’t been going very well for the Rockies during the past couple of months, but the talent is still there to make the playoffs.

Detroit Tigers v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Colorado Rockies are currently 72-64 and losers of four straight. That includes a sweep at home by the rival Arizona Diamondbacks, the team that is pretty much guaranteed to host the NL Wild Card game. The team that looked like a shoo-in to make the playoffs is now holding on to the last Wild Card slot by half a game over the Brewers.

The Rockies began the season as one of the best stories in baseball. They finished April at 16-10 despite allowing more runs than they scored. They then went 17-12 in May, but this time they scored 39 more runs than they allowed. Going into June, they were tied with the Diamondbacks for second in the NL West behind the Dodgers.

At the time, it looked like fans were going to get an exciting and suspenseful division race. Well, what we have gotten is anything but that. Once June began, the Dodgers started playing like somebody put in the cheat codes to a video game. They are currently in first place by approximately a thousand games.

The Rockies were outstanding for most of June. They were 14-4 through June 20, and were on a six-game winning streak. They had a half-game lead in the division. Things were looking pretty good. Then came the regression monster.

On June 21, the Rockies lost their first of what would become an eight-game losing streak. In fact, they lost 10 out of their next 11 games. Worse still, they were all divisional games. They got swept by the Giants, which is the team with the second-worst record in the NL. Seven of the other eight games were losses to the Diamondbacks and Dodgers.

That slide took the Rockies from a half-game division lead to third place and 6.5 games out. They ended up going into the All-Star break with no shot at winning the division. On the bright side, they had a 7.5-game lead for the final Wild Card slot, and they were just two games behind the Diamondbacks for the right to host the coin flip game.

If you look at the Rockies’ win percentage by month, you will see that it has been steadily declining. If that had any kind of predictive value, I would be terrified of September if I were a fan of the team. The good news is that the projections still likes their chances of clinching the Wild Card. FanGraphs has them at 60 percent, and Baseball Prospectus has them at 57.5 percent. Despite their tenuous grasp on that last Wild Card slot, it appears the projections see a significant gap in true talent between the Rockies and the Brewers.

One can never write about the Rockies without looking at their home/road splits. Let’s take a look at the offense first.

Rockies Splits: Offense

Home .296 .359 .498 .361 5.88
Away .248 .312 .385 .301 4.21

We all know that it is a lot easier to score runs at Coors Field than anywhere else. What this table does show is how poorly the Rockies’ offense compares to the rest of the majors. They can’t even slug .400 on the road. If their road wOBA were their wOBA for the entire season, it would be ranked as the third-worst in baseball. Their 4.21 R/G would rank as the fifth worst.

Other than Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado, the Rockies only have two other hitters who are above average: Gerardo Parra and Mark Reynolds. DJ LeMahieu can’t even crack a .100 ISO with half his games at Coors Field. After a nice rookie season, Trevor Story is hitting just .228/.307/.424, and he has one of the worst strikeout rates in baseball at 35.3 percent.

At least LeMahieu and Story provide good defense at premium positions. Carlos González does not even have that going for him. With a line of .242/.312/.363, he has been one of the worst hitters in baseball. His -1.7 bWAR for the season is second worst only to Denard Span, and that is just because DRS hates Span’s defense. At least this is the last year of CarGo’s contract.

Still, the good hitters the Rockies have are really good. Nolan Arenado remains awesome, and Charlie Blackmon has been right up there with him. He has been a much better hitter than Arenado this season, hitting .338/.402/.618 with 32 HR. His 146 wRC+ is tied with Tommy Pham (!) for ninth-best in baseball. He was very good at the plate last year, too, hitting .324/.381/.552. He simply took another step forward this year. However, at 30 years old, I would not expect that trend to continue. Still, if Blackmon performs at anything close to this level next year, he will set himself up for a nice contract in free agency following the 2018 season.

Rockies Splits: Pitching

RA9 wOBA against
RA9 wOBA against
Home 5.28 .346
Away 4.42 .319

Rockies pitchers have been quite good! By ERA- they are tied with the Cubs for eighth best in baseball. If their road RA9 were their RA9 for the entire season, it would rank ninth. Neither the starting rotation nor the bullpen are doing more than their fair share to bolster that run average, either. They have both been equally as effective. One has to begin to wonder if manager Bud Black really does have a knack for boosting his pitching staffs.

German Márquez is having a very good first full season in the majors. His strikeout and walk rates are mediocre, but he has an 83 ERA- and will likely finish the season at ~4 bWAR. Kyle Freeland can’t strike anybody out, but he does have a 78 ERA-. A 54 percent groundball rate can do wonders with that infield defense. Jon Gray’s strikeout rate has dropped since last year, and he has only started 15 games this season due to injury, but he does have an 85 ERA-.

The Rockies have also gotten some great performances out of their bullpen. Greg Holland has been a great offseason pick-up. He has some control problems, but he strikes out batters at a 29.3 percent clip, and it has resulted in a 79 ERA-. After a disappointing Rockies debut in 2016, Jake McGee has bounced back with an excellent 64 ERA- and 26.6 percent strikeout rate. Chris Rusin is having a career year with an outstanding 47 ERA-. He ranks third in bWAR among all Rockies’ pitchers, including the starters. Pat Neshek has proven to be a shrewd acquisition at the trade deadline. He has only pitched 12 23 innings, but he has 14 strikeouts and no walks.

Speaking of Neshek, the Rockies took a smart approach to the trade deadline. They appeared to accurately assess where the team was at and acted appropriately. They did a great job in acquiring Jonathan Lucroy for just a PTBNL. At the time of his acquisition, Rockies’ catchers combined to be below replacement level. They simply were not hitting. Renting Lucroy for next to nothing was a great move, because as badly as he was playing, he was a good positive regression candidate. So far he has been a league average hitter in Colorado. Even his infamously bad pitch-framing this year has leveled off to just a smidgen below average with the Rockies.

If the Rockies were in the AL, I would feel much worse about their postseason chances. In the NL, however, they can be the favorites to clinch that final Wild Card spot, even with the Brewers nipping at their heels. September should provide for an exciting race to the finish line.

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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.