If not for one bad half-inning on Opening Day, where the Dodgers scored five runs thanks to a hit batsmen, some two-strike hits, and a misplayed ball in right, the Colorado Rockies would be undefeated at 5-0 and off to a blistering start to the 2022 season.
As it is, they took that loss in game one and sit at an intriguing 4-1.
It is still far too early to be reaching any conclusions about anything we have seen so far but there are some interesting early indicators that explain why Colorado has played quality baseball so far.
Oddly enough, we cannot yet point to the strength of the starting pitching, the team’s best unit by the advanced metrics.
Thanks to a truncated Spring Training and some tough lineups, only German Marquez has managed to complete even five innings of work, going seven strong in the second game of the season.
Other than that, the first time through, each starter has hit a wall and had to be removed in the fourth if not earlier. That has meant a heavy workload for the surprise heroes of the first five games: the bullpen.
Despite having to pick up so many innings (24.2 so far) the ‘pen has been fantastic, posting an ERA of 0.78, currently tops in MLB.
Daniel Bard did blow a save in Texas but not the game, getting the third out in the bottom of the ninth and giving his team a chance to win in extras. Alex Colome did something similar in the second game against LA, allowing a run but getting help from Carlos Estevez who has started the year sharp.
Ty Blach picking up a four-inning save in the rubber match on opening weekend was huge as was the ability for Ashton Goudeau to grab a save in extras in Texas, the first of his career.
Justin Lawrence has looked promising in his first few appearances and hasn’t even reached his top velocity, something he plans to build toward. And Jhoulys Chacin has been the glue that has held it all together, being tasked with multi-inning days in order to bridge to the backend.
Of course, it is fair to wonder if this heavy use will mean that the ‘pen is set up for mid-to-late-season failure. The Rockies will need to get more length out of their starters and the club can’t rely on this bullpen to be this good all year but the fact remains that this isn’t the disaster of a relief corp that Colorado was stuck with for the first four months last year.
With the bats, Colorado has started well, but it’s what they haven’t done that should be most exciting to fans.
For the past several seasons, if one or two players weren’t hot, neither was the offense.
So far in 2022, no one person is carrying the lineup and everyone has contributed.
Veteran Charlie Blackmon has been the quietest of the bunch with only three hits and six strikeouts on the season. But two of those hits led directly to important runs. Brendan Rodgers has also started slow with only a pair of hits and one RBI.
In other words, the Rockies two worst hitters have contributed to three runs in five games.
The rest of the group has been anywhere from good to fantastic.
Connor Joe, Elias Diaz, and C.J. Cron have been the standouts with 18 hits, eight extra-base hits, between them. All currently have an OPS over 1.000.
Kris Bryant is still looking for his first home run in purple but leads the club with seven hits, taking consistently professional at-bats but by no means standing out as the only “star” on the team.
He would pace the team in batting average if not for fellow-newcomer Jose Iglesias who isn’t expected to slug but has already shown the value of his extraordinary contact skill, producing a .357 average in his first 16 plate appearances.
Randal Grichuk has made himself known right away as well, putting up an OPS of .769, driving in a pair and scoring a pair of runs already but more important taking three off the board Tuesday against Texas with an early candidate for catch of the year.
Even Ryan McMahon, who has struggled with the strikeout early, has scored three runs, driven one in, and has an above league average OPS+ of 109.
Again, it is far too early to be reaching conclusions based on any of this. A week from now, all these stats could be useless or turned completely around.
But we also have to analyze the team based on what has actually been done. And what has been done is a winning record produced by playing winning baseball against two teams who expect to be playing in October.
They haven’t been carried by any one player or even any one aspect of the team. Each starter has plenty of room for improvement as do multiple hitters in the lineup. We should expect some regression from the bullpen, to be sure, but so far there simply isn’t any player or part of the team you can point to as a major area of concern.
First time through the pitching order, the Rockies look like a team that came to compete in 2022.