A Slight Easing of the Schedule: Phillies vs. Rockies Series Preview

The Phillies will take on the sub-.500 Colorado Rockies in a three-game series

After a run of extremely tough opponents, the Phillies’ schedule eases (slightly) this week as they take on the Rockies. Considering how unimpressive the Phillies have looked recently, they certainly can’t take any opponent for granted. But at the very least, the Rockies seem far more beatable than the Cubs and Brewers did.

The Phillies would be wise to take advantage of a relatively weaker opponent when they have the chance. After the Rockies leave town, the schedule somehow becomes even tougher.

Phillies vs. Rockies: A Brief History

The Rockies joined the National League in 1993, and historically, the Phillies have fared well against them, putting up a 106-80 record. In the very first game played between the teams, the Phillies scored 15 runs, a total that they managed to top two games later.

The teams traded playoff series wins in the late 2000’s. The Rockies swept the Phillies in the 2007 NLDS en route to a World Series appearance. Two years later, the Phillies got some revenge, as they beat the Rockies three games to one. Here’s a clip of how that series ended:

Brad Lidge was really kind of soft-tossing the ball up there, but hey, it worked (that time at least).

The 2018 Rockies: A June Swoon of Their Own

Much like the Phillies, the Rockies were in feeling pretty good about themselves when June began. And much like the Phillies, they’ve struggled mightily throughout the month. They’ve lost seven of their last ten games, and were just swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Thanks to that rough stretch, they’ve gone from first place in the National League West to fourth, sitting 3.5 games out.

Rockies Pitching vs. Phillies Offense

The biggest reason for the Rockies’ struggles has been their pitching staff. Pitching in Colorado has never been beneficial for pitchers’ statistics, but their 7.58 ERA this month is particularly bad. That’s more than a run higher than any other team in baseball during that span.

Tuesday’s starter is Jon Gray, and he epitomizes the struggles of the pitching staff. Gray had an excellent three-start run in late April/early May where he only gave up one earned run over 20 innings. Since then, he’s gotten hammered with regularity, and his ERA has shot up to 5.66.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Cincinnati Reds
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Gray has not been good in June

Rising slightly above that very low bar is Wednesday’s starter Tyler Anderson. He actually pitched well in his last start which allowed him to get his ERA under the 5.00 mark. On the other hand, Thursday’s starter German Marquez did not fare well his last time out. The Diamondbacks touched him up for five runs in four innings, making it the fourth time this season he allowed five or more runs in a start.

Despite those awful numbers by the starters, the Rockies’ relievers have somehow been even worse. Part of the problem with the bullpen is that frequent early exits by the starters has forced them to pitch far more innings than they can capably handle.

Closer Wade Davis has been fine, but the process of getting to him has not been smooth. Brian Shaw is leading the majors in appearances, much like he did in three of the previous four seasons. The only difference is that he was actually good in those seasons, and based on his 7.03 ERA, he has been decidedly not good in 2018.

That said, the Phillies have faced other not-so-special pitchers in recent weeks, and the results haven’t been great. Just about everyone is slumping, and the worst offender is Odubel Herrera who is apparently contractually obligated to go through an agonizing month-long slump every season.

The good news is that Rhys Hoskins is back, and if his three-run home run on Saturday is any indication, he might be on his way to putting his own slump behind him.

Phillies Pitching vs. Rockies Offense

Considering they play half of their games at high altitude, and have a few superstars anchoring the lineup, the Rockies’ run production is not all that special. Sure, Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon are two of the best hitters in baseball, but after them, the lineup becomes significantly less imposing.

You may wonder how I could call Trevor Story unimposing considering he has 14 home runs and a .855 OPS. If the games were being played in Coors Field, I’d be very concerned about him. But once you get him out of the thin Colorado air, his numbers are much less impressive. He has only two home runs and a .538 OPS on the road. This is not an aberration for 2018 either. His career OPS is over .300 higher at home.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Story has not been good away from Colorado

As for the rest of the lineup, there are some familiar names like Ian Desmond and Carlos Gonzalez, but the days of making the All-Star team appear to be firmly in the rear view window for those two.

Aaron Nola gets the first crack at this top-heavy lineup. He had a somewhat disappointing performance in his last start (keep in mind that a disappointing start for Nola is a good start for most pitchers), which means he isn’t due for another one until maybe September. He’s faced the Rockies once before and limited them to two runs over seven innings.

This will also be Nick Pivetta’s second career start against the Rockies, and the first one didn’t go quite so well. Coors Field didn’t agree with him, as he allowed eight runs in just 2.2 innings. This time around, the Rockies won’t have the thin air on their side, so there’s a good chance he’ll fare better. (Honestly, it would hard to do much worse.)

Vince Velasquez is coming off a poor start against the Brewers. The good news is that so far in 2018, those awful Velasquez starts have been much more sporadic than in previous seasons. In other words, we’re likely due for a few good outings in a row. He probably won’t make it past the sixth inning, because that’s not really Vince’s thing, but he should at least keep them in the game.

As for the bullpen, I’d like to say some good things about anyone besides Seranthony Dominguez, but it’s been really tough to do that. So instead, let’s watch some Dominguez highlights!

Boo this Man

I know I said that Carlos Gonzalez’s best days were behind him, but I have a sinking feeling he might look like an All-Star over the next three days. For whatever reason, the man has always feasted on Phillies pitching. His career OPS against the Phillies is .979 and even in a relatively down 2017 season, he had a gaudy .467 batting average against them.

Here’s a “fun” memory from last year:

At least he doesn’t have Jeremy Hellickson to pick on anymore.

Phillies vs. Rockies Trivia

Since the Rockies came into existence, three Phillies pitchers have managed to pitch complete game shutouts against them? Can you name those three pitchers?

Prediction

Matched against a mediocre team with a weak pitching staff, the Phillies need to get their bats going. If they can’t win games against the Rockies, it may get really ugly when they face powerhouse teams like the Yankees and Nationals.

In terms of predictions, my series previews over the past few weeks have been about as successful as the Phillies. (In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Phillies have not been playing especially well.) Lesser men might be swayed by such failure and stop predicting the Phillies will win these series. But that’s not how I roll. The Phillies will take two out of the three games.

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