Even though it’s early, this is a tough hole to climb out of.
Looking at the standings right now paints a weird picture of baseball. Boston is looking up at Baltimore in the AL East. The Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers are in line for a Wild Card spot. The Mariners and Padres are each leading the west. It’s early, in other words. I don’t think anyone reasonably expects each division to remain the same come seasons end. You can’t make your season in April.
You can, however, break your season in April. The Cubs and the aforementioned Red Sox have gotten off to slow starts, but a three-game winning streak puts them right where they should be. Then there’s the Rockies, who finished the weekend tied for the worst record in the majors after an eight-game losing streak that needed a Germán Márquez complete game shutout to snap it.
Last season, the Rockies clinched a postseason berth in consecutive years for the first time in the franchise’s young history. They had their work cut out for them to make it three years in a row, but of the non-Dodgers in the NL West, they had the best chance of carving themselves a spot in October. After the slow start, things are looking as grim as they can before Easter.
The Rockies began the year with a one-in-five chance of making the playoffs according to FanGraphs, but after two weeks, that that’s fallen all the way to 2.9 percent
The good news is that it’s still early. This may be the worst start in Rockies history, but we don’t know how they’re going to finish. Last season, the Rockies had a 3.3 percent chance of making the playoffs as late as June 27, and they still made it in.
Looking at FanGraphs’ rest of season projections, the Rockies would need to win 87 games to tie for a Wild Card spot. After a 4-12 start, they’d have to have to play to a .585 winning percentage the rest of the way. That’s not unheard of. It’s possible to pull themselves out of this hole. They’ll need six other teams not to over-perform, but it’s possible.
The bad news is that this slow start has highlighted the holes in Colorado’s roster. They haven’t been losing games due to bad luck. They’ve been convincingly bad. The offense has struggled mightily in the absence of Daniel Murphy and David Dahl. The position players have compiled -3.1 fWAR so far. The next closest team, the Giants, are at -0.9. The Rockies have scored the third fewest runs per game. Only the Giants and Tigers have been worst. Their strikeout to walk ratio of 0.26 is tied for 28th in the majors.
They haven’t gotten production from their offensive core. Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story have combined for a .243/.306/.376 slash line. Those three will turn it around eventually. David Dahl shouldn’t be out for much longer and Daniel Murphy will be back sometime in May. The core will start clicking eventually.
The larger concern is who surrounds the core. In Dahl and Murphy’s absence, Raimel Tapia and Garrett Hampson have been getting their starts. So far, it doesn’t look like 2019 will be the year Tapia will finally break out. He’s struck out 12 times in 33 plate appearances, bringing his career wRC+ to 66. Garrett Hampson has gotten off to a similarly poor start.
Tapia and Hampson aren’t supposed to be starters, but it’s also not great to have bench players look so hopeless at the plate. That issue pales to the problem of Ian Desmond. The center fielder has shown no signs of a resurgence. In the first two and a half weeks, he’s already fallen past his 2018 mark of -0.7 fWAR despite not looking bad in center. Desmond’s .193 slugging was lower than Chris Davis’s after Davis homered on Monday.
If the Rockies are going to make it to the postseason, they’ll need to go on a tear. It’s hard to imagine them doing so when they’re still committed to giving Ian Desmond 600 plate appearances and their entire bench looks overmatched.
It’s way too early to announce a time of death for the Rockies season. So much can change between now and October. Something could click for Tapia or Hampson or both. David Dahl could stay healthy. Kyle Freeland, Germán Márquez, and Jon Gray could make up for an anemic offense. There are several ways for this team to bounce back. There just might be more for them to stay where they are.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.