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Woody Paige: Rockies are in contention thanks to pitching, no really

May 19, 2018 Updated: May 20, 2018 at 11:12 am
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Colorado Rockies starting pitcher German Marquez works against a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

On a Saturday afternoon 45 miles from Wine Country, when the Rockies could have grabbed first place in the National League West, at least for a few hours, instead they got grape-crushed by the Giants.

There was no there there for the Rox as the pitching, the defense and the offense malfunctioned.

Yet, the Rockies proceed with a better chance of winning the division than they do of being a wild-card playoff team.

After a quarter of the season, the Rockies are in the argument with eight other teams for another one-game play-in, but they certainly can finish first in the funky, flakey West. The Dodgers, the Padres and these Giants aren't world beaters.

The Rockies have 52 games remaining (of 136) against division opponents, including, on this trip, one more in San Francisco and three in Los Angeles against the dodgy Dodgers.

Why are the Rox sustainable?

Rockies Giants Baseball
Colorado Rockies' Ian Desmond (20) swings for an RBI double off San Francisco Giants' Derek Holland during the sixth inning of a baseball game Friday, May 18, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) 

In 26 seasons of Major League Baseball in Denver, here's a line you've never read: Through 46 games the Rockies have been started, served, supported and saved by Sarracenia purpurea.

The purple pitcher plant consumes its prey.

So has the Rockies pitchers. The back of the bullpen has been magnificent. Wade Davis, a postseason-proven closer, has 16 saves, most in the majors, in 18 opportunities. Otto Ottavino owns a 1.08 ERA (and a 3-0 record) and has struck out 44 of the 90 batters, and walked only nine, of the 90 he's faced. Both are All-Stars waiting to be voted on. Revitalized Jake McGee has 13 holds, and Bryan Shaw has appeared in 25 games. Only Michael Dunn has underachieved.

However, despite Jonathan "Livingston Seagull" Gray's sad start Saturday, the Rockies' rotation has been more than satisfying thus far.

The Rox are the only National League team to use only five starters through 46 games. The American League's only club to achieve that accomplishment are the defending world champion Astros. The Rockies can't match that starting quintet of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. They have a combined 23-10 record.

APTOPIX Brewers Rockies Baseball
Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado dives into third base after hitting a triple off Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Brent Suter in the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) 

The Rockies' starting five have been healthy and pushing the Rockies to the relievers. Gray, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez, Chad Bettis and Kyle Freeland - whose average age is below 26 - have 10, 9, 9, 9, 9 starts - a mark that has been duplicated this far into a season in the Rockies' history.

Their record, after Gray's latest loss, is 17-16 overall - which doesn't seem so impressive - but in 22 games, they've completed six or more innings. Quality starts. In the past, if a Rockies' pitcher could extend into the sixth inning once or twice a week, it was considered an Old Testament kind of miracle.

The feat is even more remarkable when it's considered that the Rockies' brass has a standing "secret". Starters aren't permitted more than 100 pitches. Marquez did go a season-high 113 pitches once, but the 100-pitch plateau is rarely breached.

Pitching and the road are not the Rockies' problems.

At 18-10, they have the second-best record (behind the Yankees) away from Coors Field, which hasn't been the friendly confines. They must win more than 60 percent in LoDo, but have a convenience store mark (7-11).

And the Rockies are 28th in batting average below .230.

The bottom of the order is the bottom of the barrel in baseball. (Oddly enough, only the sagging Diamondbacks and the appalling Padres are worse at the plate.)

We keep hearing the Rockies' hitters will break out sooner, but the season is becoming later.

Ian Desmond is not a .300 slugger, but, rather, a .179 slug who acts smug. Oh, he can hit a home run ... every other week. And, again on Saturday, he didn't make a play at first. He is a defensive misfit. Desi Arnaz would be an improvement, particularly at $22 mil.

Chris Iannetta and Carlos Gonzales are hitting .220 and .218, and look like Ted Williams compared to Desmond, Pat Valaika (.186), Tony Wolters (.134) and Daniel Castro (.158).

That bunch can't even see the Mendoza Line.

So much for that advertised minor-league system.

The Rockies were in first last June 20.

Thank goodness for the worst division in the National League.

And the Purple Pitchers.

Otherwise, Colorado would be Whine Country.

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