The Colorado Rockies had a chance at a signature win Thursday night against the division-leading Dodgers. Instead they got a signature loss, or at least lost in the same way they’ve lost all year. At home versus their division rivals in a crucial series, Chris Iannetta smacked a go-ahead three-run homer off Pedro Baez in the seventh inning—the kind of dramatic dinger that can change a season.
All those good Colorado feelings wouldn’t even last a full inning. In the top of the eighth, Cody Bellinger went yard off the recently acquired Seunghwan Oh to tie the game back up at five, and then in the ninth, Chris Taylor and Brian Dozier each tagged Wade Davis for dongs, leading the Dodgers to an 8-5 victory. The Rockies, currently 3.5 games back of both the Wild Card and the division lead, are now on a three-game losing streak, and have lost eight of their last 11. This graphic might have something to do with those struggles:
That’s some disgustingly bad pitching, even for Coors Field. But when you think about the fact that those three players are making a combined $30.5 million this season, it somehow gets even worse. And if you look past this season, you will see that all of the aforementioned highly flammable relievers, who are all over 30, are owed increasingly large payouts into the next decade. Davis is already the third highest-paid Rock Man of 2018, and is owed at least $35 million more on his current contract. Of the Rockies’ crazily expensive attempt at a “super bullpen,” only Adam Ottavino—2.34 FIP and 13.17 K/9 in 52 appearances—has shined, and that’s after a 2017 in which his ERA topped 5.00 for the season. All that is to say, why the hell would any team invest all that money in something as fickle as relief pitching?
Bad bullpens are a pretty common problem in the Majors, even for good teams. But for the Rockies, this weakness is the difference between a postseason shot and another autumn spent doing nothing. At the plate, 27-year-old third baseman Nolan Arenado (144 wRC+) is on pace for his best season yet, and so is slugging shortstop Trevor Story, who is hitting for more power than ever with a batting average 50 points higher than it was last year. Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon, while not putting up the kinds of first-class seasons that we’ve seen from them before, are solid hitters at the end of their primes. A starting rotation led by Jon Gray has been consistently competitive and intermittently quite good, even if the altitude isn’t always kind to their ERAs.
It might be a weird thought for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2009, but the Rockies are in the beginning stages of what might just be a championship window. And with free agency for Arenado looming in 2020, it might not stay open very long. In a wide open National League, the Rockies have as good a shot as anyone at a playoff run. But before we can even think too seriously about any of that, the rich dudes in the bullpen really need to get a hold of themselves.