The storyline of the Colorado Rockies pitching costing the team wins is growing redundant but rang true again in Tuesday’s 9-8 loss to the Al-West leading Houston Astros.
Rockies starting pitcher German Marquez had a mixed night on the bag. The 24-year-old gave up four earned runs, one home run, one walk and struck out seven in six innings of play. Aside from the home run, many of the Astros hits against Marquez came off relatively weak contact. They often trickled past the infield or found a gap in the Rockies defense.
That’s not to say that the Astros hitting success against arguably the Rockies best pitcher was purely luck. It is no secret that the Astros boast one of the best lineups in the MLB and are just one year removed from a World Series Championship.
“There's nothing you can really do about it,” said Marquez via a translator. “They played some good hits and found some holes. You just kind of tip your cap and move on from there, but it’s definitely frustrating.”
Against the explosive Astros offense Marquez held his own and improved as the game progressed. He didn’t allow a run in his final three innings of play after surrendering five (four earned) during the first three innings.
“Even though German gave up some hits not all of them were hard contact,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.
Playing in close games, and against the top teams the MLB has to offer is very difficult. For Black, the bullpen is the key to winning those games.
“Obviously the bullpen plays a big part,” Black said. “Putting zeros on the board is critical late in the game. If you give up big runs late that makes it tough. The biggest key is you’ve got to pitch well late in the game."
On Tuesday, this is where the Rockies fell short.
The Rockies held an 8-5 lead when Marquez was replaced by reliever Brian Shaw for seventh inning. Shaw threw only eight pitches to the three batters he faced. All three batters: George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman delivered doubles.
Shaw ended the night with no outs and charged with three earned runs. He didn’t believe he was necessarily pitching poorly and credited the Astros lineup for swinging the bat well. To be fair the three Astros that he faced have a combined 11 all-star appearances between them.
“(It was) three good pitches and they put good swings on them,” Shaw said.
Houston had leveled the score at this point, and Black pulled the plug on Shaw’s evening.
Jake Mcgee was next on the mound and gave up a two-run homer to Yuli Gurriel. It was the first home run that Gurriel had hit against a left-handed pitcher this season. Entering the game he had a .235 batting average against lefties.
“I think Jake tried to go in and elevate it, he just didn't get inside,” Black said.
Scott Oberg pitched the final two innings and proved once again that he has been the best player in the Rockies bullpen.
Oberg surrendered one hit and one walk in two innings of play. He struck out two and did a great job of forcing soft contact that made ground balls and pop-ups manageable for his infielders. His performance ensured that the Rockies would have a fighting chance going into the bottom of the ninth inning.
“When I take the ball, I try not to read too much into what's already happened in the game,” Oberg said. “I just try to go out there, throw my game and execute pitches. Hopefully, my misses are in good spots where they can't do too much damage. I felt like I did that tonight.”
Within the bullpen, the players overall ability hasn’t been the problem. At times this season, players like Jake Mcgee, Wade Davis and Brian Shaw have all performed well. Each of them has an extensive veteran pedigree that is impressive.
Younger players like Carlos Estevez and Jesus Tinoco are less proven but have flashed talent within a limited sample size.
The problem has been inconsistency. Black and his players have been up-front about this.
The Rockies bullpen has been considered a strong suit for the team at times this season. The starting pitching other than Marquez and Gray has been equally if not more inconsistent than the bullpen. The same problem can be found within both units.
Bud Black has reiterated almost every single day that the team's pitching in the rotation and in the bullpen needs to be better if the team is to contend at the level to which they aspire.
It isn’t like the Rockies are the only team struggling with this. Consistent pitching has and always will plague baseball teams. If it were easy everyone would be able to do it.
All pitchers go through slumps. It is a part of baseball and aspect of major league pitching that is near impossible to escape.
However, consistency and slumping pitchers are a frustrating problem for a team that has the offensive firepower to match any contender in the MLB. The eight runs they scored on Tuesday are proof of that.
Near the halfway point of the season, the Rockies are right in the midst of the NL playoff race.
The second half of the season following next week's all-star break will be a chance for the Rockies pitchers to hit reset and attempt to turn it around. If they are able to do so, the Rockies have a legitimate shot to make a run come October.