Early offense will be key against the Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies come to Pittsburgh today looking to hand the Pirates their first series loss of the season. The Rockies are the Bucs third opponent this year that qualified for the 2017 postseason.

That said, Colorado projects as a below .500 team the rest of the way per FanGraphs. Their 9-8 record seems fine, but it doesn’t take much digging before you see a team with a -10 run differential and an anemic offense that is second worst in baseball by wRC+. This is a winnable series for Pittsburgh. Let’s take a look at how Colorado’s starting pitching and bullpen could fair against Pittsburgh’s hot offense.

Starting Pitching

The Pirates line up to draw German Marquez, Chad Bettis, and Kyle Freeland. They will avoid Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson, the Rockies’ top two starters.

Bettis has had the best results so far, owning a 2.04 ERA. However, in 17.2 innings he has walked 8 and struck out 12 leading to one of the biggest gaps between ERA and FIP in baseball.

Freeland’s walk numbers are a tick better and he has struck out 15 batters in his 16 innings of work. He has surrendered 4 long balls, tied for the third highest mark in the majors. Meanwhile, Marquez has walked as many guys as he has struck out (10) in 12.2 innings.

Bullpen

The Pirates would be well served to get what they can against Colorado’s starters because the back of their bullpen could be hard to crack.

The Rockies have done well to build strong bullpens the past couple of years, adding a $52 million crown jewel this offseason in Wade Davis. Though he isn’t quite what he was three years ago, he is still a guy that leaves little hope for comeback when he enters the game for a save. His early season numbers are in line with career norms.

Before Wade Davis, you get Adam Ottavino, owners of the more aesthetically pleasing sliders in baseball.

He also flaunts a ridiculous strikeout rate so far this season. If his command is on, he is the perfect reliever to have enter in a high leverage situation and exit unscathed. Jake McGee is also a quality set up man with a career FIP under 3. He could easily serve as a closer on many teams.

To round things out, the Rockies have Chris Rusin and Scott Oberg. Both are in the top 25 in GB% among relievers since the start of 2016 (min 70 IP).

Recipe for success

The key for the Pirates is to get an early lead against the Rockies’ suspect starting pitching to avoid an uphill battle against a strong bullpen later in the game.

The Pirates are off to a good start at least in part due to the great offense they have produced early in games. In innings 1-5, the Pirates rank fourth in OBP and second in SLG. This has led to early leads that allow Pirates’ starters and middle relief some breathing room.

It has also led to avoiding opponents’ ace relievers. So far this season, we have not seen the Pirates against many great relievers. By my count they have seen two total, Addison Reed and Raisel Iglesias. The Pirates did not score a run on either.

With Colorado coming to town, they are in a good position to push back that challenge for at least another series.

Joe Hoffman

Joe Hoffman is a lifelong baseball fan living and working in Pittsburgh. His favorite baseball things are fringe prospects, Negro Leagues history, and opening a fresh pack of baseball cards. When he is not consuming baseball content, he enjoys having a beer with friends, warm weather, and Tom Petty.