Despite the injuries to their biggest offensive weapon, the greater concern in Denver is their bullpen; a bullpen that has seen extensive work this season. So much work that manager Walt Weiss has admitted that his bullpen is in “protection mode,” whatever that means. With 683.1 innings pitched this season, the Rockies have thrown the fourth most innings in baseball. Walt Weiss, who has received criticism for pulling his starters around the 100 pitch mark in the now en vogue practice of saving your starters has shifted added pressure to his bullpen. His starters have too consistently been giving five innings of work this season, leaving the bullpen to shoulder a lot of innings early and often.
A lot of teams have struggled with their bullpen thanks to a historical season of extra inning baseball, but the Rockies do not have the pitching depth to be in “protection mode” this early in the season. They must get deeper starts into ball games from their starting rotation, and they’ve got to start getting them now. Jon Garland has been a disappointment (4-6, 5.82) and Jeff Francis has struggled to find a decent quality start all season which has finally led to his demotion (2-5, 6.58). The addition of an experienced Roy Oswalt provides some much needed relief to the starting rotation, if he can return to a shell of his former self. As of now Colorado plans to rely on Jorge De La Rosa (7-4, 3.21) and Jhoulys Chacin (5-3, 4.26) as the foundation of their rotation, and those aren’t sturdy pillars.
With the All-Star Break on July 15-18, the Rockies will be looking to maintain their hunt for the NL West while limping to a much need rest for their bullpen. More importantly, it will give Walt Weiss and pitching coach Jim Wright a week to help right the leaking ship that is their starting rotation. One thing is for certain, Roy Oswalt is stepping into a pressure cooker, and questions surrounding his aging arm have Rockies fans anxious; and for very good reason. Oswalt’s debut included 11 strikeouts, but holding true to the Rockies starting rotation mantra for 2013, he only lasted five innings. It will take a few more starts to really see what Oswalt will bring to the Rockies, but he can’t carry the rotation on his own. De La Rosa and Chacin need to become more reliable. If Colorado can find a way to get these three to toss quality starts on a consistent basis, it might be enough to relieve the stressed bullpen, take some pressure off the offense, and keep the playoffs in Colorado’s sights this season.
Despite less than stellar pitching, Colorado’s offense continues to be one of the league’s best, boasting the second most hits, the third best slugging percentage, and the third most home-runs in baseball. It is no secret the offense is the reason they find themselves 4 games out of first. However, San Francisco is finding their stride, San Diego has gone 7-3 in their last ten, and Arizona shows no signs of falling out the division lead. The only way Colorado will keep in the hunt is starting pitching. Everyone knows you can’t contend for October on offense alone. Winning in baseball still comes down to solid starting pitching and that is something the Rockies are not getting enough of. If they wish to remain in a position to contend for a division title, or at the very least a Wild Card spot, they had better find a way to get more quality innings out of their rotation. Bullpens can handle this load early on, but when late August and September arrive, an over-worked bullpen will be the death of any playoff hopes.