Rockies’ starting pitching beats the cold en route to sweep

Apr 21, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Austin Gomber (26) pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Freezing temperatures and snow played into the strength of Colorado Rockies pitchers while simultaneously not doing much to slow down the team’s offense in a two-game sweep of the visiting Houston Astros.

Starters Jon Gray and Austin Gomber combined to allow just three runs in 12 2/3 innings of work on Tuesday and Wednesday, setting the tone for some late-game offense that enabled the Rockies to pull away in both games. Gray in the series opener navigated around four walks by inducing 11 ground-ball outs and limiting the Astros to just three hits. In four starts this season, the 29-year-old right-hander owns a 2.42 ERA while striking out nearly a batter per inning. Gomber followed up Gray’s stellar outing with one of his own, giving up just two hits while striking out six. Since his opening weekend calamity in which he walked seven of the 16 batters he faced, Gomber has struck out 18 and walked only six in 18 1/3 innings spanning three starts.

While the Astros had a hard time making quality contact in the cold weather, the Rockies’ offense clicked—especially after the sixth inning of Game 1. C.J. Cron doubled, homered, and knocked in five runs over his final two plate appearances of that game, and Colorado continued its parade of scoring by plating four during the first couple innings of Game 2.

What (else) went right

The Rockies’ bullpen picked up where the aforementioned starters left off and held the line well during the final innings of each game. Robert Stephenson tossed a scoreless inning with a strikeout in both wins, while Colorado’s relief corps as a whole allowed just one earned run in 5 1/3 total innings in the series.

Dom Nuñez certainly did his part to ensure the Rockies picked up their first sweep of the season, too. The power-hitting catcher added his fourth homer of the season in Game 1 before a two-hit, two-RBI performance in the finale. Nuñez isn’t hitting for much average and he’s sporting a sub-.300 on-base percentage, but his .676 slugging percentage ranks second among all major league catchers with at least 30 plate appearances.

Yonathan Daza has been a breath of fresh air for the Rockies, as well. The 27-year-old outfielder hit his first career major league homer on Wednesday as part of a two-hit day, bringing his 2021 batting line up to .357/.345/.536. Daza, like many other players on the roster, will need to take some walks in order for his production to have any shot as sustainability. But after running out of minor league options and narrowly making the team, the first month of the season has resulted in quite a story for Daza.

What went wrong

The struggles of stalwarts Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon largely continued through the short two-game set against the Astros. Story did for 2-for-7 in the series, the big hit being a two-run double in the first inning of Game 2. But he struck out three times in the opener and is still slugging just .379.

Blackmon drew some walks in the series but went hitless and now owns a .176/.311/.314 line. While several peripheral categories including average exit velocity and expected slugging percentage point to a rebound for Story, that really isn’t the case with Blackmon. He’s still contributing by drawking walks and avoiding strikeouts at a well above-average pace, but he’s not doing a whole lot of damage when he makes contact. It’s early, but the 34-year-old Blackmon also isn’t getting any younger.

What’s next

The 6-12 Rockies, who still have the worst record in the majors despite the two-game sweep of the Astros, remain home for the weekend to play host to the 9-9 Philadelphia Phillies.

Temperatures should be back to normal by the weekend, so the Rockies’ pitchers won’t have that advantage. However, here’s something to watch: the Phillies have hit grounders at a higher rate than every other National League team. Which rotation has induced the most grounders in the NL (and, for that matter, all of baseball)? You guessed it. Getting outs on the ground has worked out well for Rockies starters, who have been able to work around a high amount of walks en route to a 3.46 ERA that ranks in the top 10 in the majors.