Rockies get excellent starting pitching, timely home runs in series win over Padres

Colorado Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon (19) celebrates with designated hitter Matt Kemp (25) after being driven in on an RBI in the seventh inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field. Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies are all alone atop the National League West following a 9-6 win over the San Diego Padres at Coors Field on Sunday. The win clinched a third consecutive series victory to start 2020 for the 6-2 Rockies, who saw some bats come alive in addition to getting incredible starting pitching over the weekend.

Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, and Antonio Senzatela combined to allow just three earned runs in 17 2/3 innings against a Padres lineup that entered the series averaging more than seven runs per game. San Diego eventually scored its fair share during the series, but those runs didn’t come against the best the Rockies have to offer. Wade Davis and James Pazos combined to surrender eight of the 15 runs the Padres plated across three games; in the case of Davis, the performance resulted in a loss in the home opener. But Freeland gave the Rockies exactly what they needed in Game 2 of the series. The Denver native, who struggled mightily in 2019 but started this season with a strong outing in Texas, allowed just two hits in six scoreless innings, striking out four batters and walking just one while utilizing a full mix of pitches—something he scuffled with at times last year.

Senzatela nearly matched Freeland in terms of quality, lasting six innings himself while giving up just one run on four hits while racking up six strikeouts. Senzatela was guilty of nibbling and losing his aggressiveness at times during his start in Oakland, but that wasn’t the case against the Padres. He threw 57 of 86 pitches for strikes and complemented his well-commanded fastball with a curveball that made Padres hitters look silly on multiple occasions.

The Rockies’ offense stepped up, as well. At the end of the last series, no Colorado hitter had a .300 or better batting average, and the likes of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan McMahon all had an OPS of under .600. But Blackmon and Murphy, in particular, came alive during the club’s first home series of the season. Blackmon went 2-for-4 on Sunday to increase his average to .353, while Murphy one-upped him by finishing 4-for-4 with a homer and is now hitting .364. Trevor Story and Matt Kemp starred for the Rockies, as well; Story added a pair of homers to his team-leading total of four, and Kemp homered in each of his starts, continuing his well-documented destruction of Coors Field.

Outside of the aforementioned Davis and Pazos, Colorado’s bullpen was fine, though not quite as lights out as the unit was over the course of the season’s first two series. Carlos Estévez allowed a bases-clearing triple in the eighth inning of the finale to Wil Myers, a known Rockies killer who was relatively quiet entering that at-bat. But Estévez was charged with only one run of his own, while Yency Almonte, Daniel Bard, and Tyler Kinley all pitched relatively well.

There will be some changes in the Rockies’ bullpen going forward, though. Joe Harvey joined the team on Sunday when it was announced that Davis was being placed on the 10-day injured list following his Friday meltdown, which included two walks, a pair of home runs, and, ultimately, a blown save. But the bigger blow was the transferring of Scott Oberg to the 45-day IL with blood clots in his throwing arm. Oberg, one of the team’s best relievers over the last couple of seasons, has dealt with blood clots on two previous occasions, including near the end of 2019. Colorado will have to find another dependable arm among its collection of relievers, though to this point, the club hasn’t necessarily needed that as evidenced by the lack of necessity to dip into the backend of the bullpen, which contains the likes of Phillip Diehl and Jeff Hoffman.

Another issue facing the Rockies is the continued struggles of Nolan Arenado, who still doesn’t have an extra-base hit and owns a paltry .226/.286/.226 line in 35 plate appearances. Though he’s struck out just twice this season, Arenado has only a handful of hard-hit balls. A big reason for that is because pitchers have been starting him off with offspeed pitches and throwing them for strikes, which has resulted in a lot of pitcher’s counts for the perennial All-Star. Arenado tried to make an adjustment throughout the series by taking hacks at those offspeed offerings, but they haven’t been very good pitches to hit, and his quality of contact has suffered as a result. The good news is that Arenado had a couple of good swings that resulted in deep fly balls on Sunday, so it could be a matter of just getting his timing right.

Arenado will have a chance to get on track starting on Monday when the Rockies kick off a four-game set against the 5-5 San Francisco Giants, whose staff has posted a 5.26 ERA through the team’s first 10 games.