Rockies bounce back with 3 straight wins over D-backs

Colorado Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon (19) celebrates with Colorado teammate Nolan Arenado (28) after hitting a grand slam against Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Riley Smith during the ... Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

Both the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks entered their series this week in the midst of big losing streaks, giving their matchup somewhat of a “very much stoppable force vs. completely movable object” dynamic. It appeared, going into the four-game set, that perhaps home field advantage would provide the biggest boost in determining who would have the edge between the Rockies, losers of seven straight, and the D-backs, who had dropped five in a row.

Fortunately for the Rockies, things didn’t play out that way. Colorado broke its losing streak by defeating Arizona in each of the first three games of the series before the postponement of the finale on Thursday.

The Rockies’ starting pitching getting back on track was a big reason why the team is now back above .500. Ryan Castellani earned his first big league victory on Monday by tossing six innings of two-run ball in his home town. The rookie right-hander has definitely been sharper, in terms of throwing strikes and getting swings and misses, than he was in the series opener. But after a rough first few innings during which he gave up a couple of homers and issued some walks, Castellani got into a groove before getting the hook at 82 pitches.

Germán Marquez struggled a bit with efficiency on Tuesday, issuing three walks and serving up a pair of homers. But He was picked up nicely by the bullpen following his exit after five innings. Márquez has hit a bit of a wall; over his last three starts, the Rockies’ ace has allowed opposing hitters to post a .362/.416/.594 line while surrendering 16 runs on 25 hits in 16 innings. Those numbers were heavily skewed by his start against the Astros in which he allowed 10 runs, but his overall sharpness has declined from where it was earlier in the season.

Jon Gray had the best and most efficient of the Rockies’ starts in the team’s victory on Wednesday, a day that started with Matt Kemp making the decision to sit out the game in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. The rest of the team elected to play as scheduled, and Gray made the most of it, allowing just a run on three hits in six innings. Gray threw 63 of 96 pitches for strikes and tallied five punch outs, but he also yielded seven hard-hit balls perhaps indicating that the command in the zone still isn’t quite where he needs it to be. Still, it’s worth noting that Gray’s average fastball velocity was up to 95 mph, about a tick higher than it has been all season up to this point.

The Rockies’ bullpen did a superb job of maintaining and protecting the lead during the first two games of the series, combining for seven innings of one-run ball. However, Colorado’s relief corps nearly squandered an 8-1 lead on Wednesday, needing Jeff Hoffman to enter the game and get the final out with the bases loaded for his first career save. Yency Almonte, Tyler Kinley, and Jairo Diáz allowed two runs apiece, and the D-backs’ Christian Walker hit a ball off of Diáz that came less than a foot from ending the game in a walk-off grand slam.

As it sits, though, the D-backs’ rally wasn’t enough largely because Charlie Blackmon did clear the bases with a grand slam in the top of the eighth inning. Blackmon, whose batting average has dipped below .400 for the first time since Aug. 7, had just one hit in the series, but it couldn’t have been a bigger one in terms of impact. Raimel Tapia and Tony Wolters had three hits apiece to lead the Rockies to victory on Monday, and Nolan Arenado’s pair of doubles—in addition to two-hit efforts from Kemp, Trevor Story, and Josh Fuentes—helped the Rockies to their one-run win the following day.

Story, who also homered and walked five times in the series, did his best work off of the field. The fifth-year shortstop, who appears to be emerging as the spokesperson for the Rockies’ clubhouse, played a big part in Colorado’s decision as a team to stand behind Kemp and sit out—as he wishes they would have done on Wednesday—the series finale instead of going for the four-game sweep.

“We had a chance to stand up with our guy last night and we didn’t do it,” Story told the media on Thursday. Rockies manager Bud Black said that the team gathered for a “pretty profound” meeting before deciding to protest, according to Nick Groke of The Athletic, who added that the team had some “heavy conversations” the night prior.

The Rockies, at 16-15 and now in sole possession of the No. 7 “seed” in the National League postseason race, are scheduled to resume play on Friday in the first of a four-game set against the second-place San Diego Padres at Coors Field. Major League Baseball will be celebrating Jackie Robinson Day, and Kyle Freeland—wearing No. 42 along with the rest of the players on both sides—will take the hill while looking to extend his tremendous start to 2020.