Don't be deceived by the 11-3 final score on Sunday. The Colorado Rockies swept the Atlanta Braves in a four-game series to head into the All-Star break. The wins were fun, and Sunday's game came with an offensive explosion, but the sweep wasn't because of the offense.
Plain and simple, the Rockies took all four games from the Braves due to great pitching. The starters were good, and the bullpen answered the call, pitching more innings than the team would have liked them to pitch due to the rain delay on Thursday and the injury to David Hale.
On Sunday, even with the big number from the Rockies hitters, the reason why the game went the way it did was because Chad Bettis returned to form after getting shelled by the Angels and got the Rockies through six innings, the first five of which were shutout frames. He faltered in the 6th inning, but was able to limit the damage. The Braves scored three runs in the top half of the 6th to tie the game, but Bettis had given the offense enough time to build a 3-0 advantage, so they were never forced to play catch-up.
If it wasn't Bettis on Sunday it was Jorge De La Rosa on Saturday. The lefty ace kept blowing the ball past the Braves and keeping them off the board. The two runs he gave up in six innings was easily surmountable by the Rockies offense and Colorado came away with the victory.
Friday night was the most surprising victory of all. Recently acquired Gonzalez German and Aaron Laffey, called up from Triple-A just for this occasion, combined to out-duel All-Star and budding superstar Shelby Miller. This is the same Miller who nearly no-hit the Rockies in St. Louis two years ago.
The Rockies have a very strong offense, as evidenced by roll players like Charlie Blackmon driving in four runs on Sunday, all of which came with two outs while Blackmon was facing a lefty on the mound. However, even the strongest of offenses is going to struggle when a pitching staff continuously starts their team off in the hole.
When things started going really bad for the Rockies, when they went to Miami for a four-game set then played two in Houston, the Rockies starters consistently had the team behind in the game early. One thought might be that an early deficit is a better deficit than a late one. However, when a starter doesn't look like he's got his best stuff, it can get in the heads of the offense.
If the starter gives up early runs, the pressure quickly falls on the offense to get those runs back, full-well knowing that scratching and clawing isn't going to work. If the starter got beat up in the early innings, the damage is likely not done yet, meaning the offense is going to have to score in the neighborhood of seven or eight runs to pull out a victory.
It might sound ridiculous, but even an offense with the firepower that the Rockies possess relies on at least decent starting pitching. The four-game set against the Braves is proof of that. If a team knows that scoring five runs might be enough to win the game, suddenly the weight comes off of the batters shoulder's. The aren't pressing as much and they are able to score runs.
When a pitcher keeps the opposition at bay for as long as Bettis did on Sunday, even then things are a little bit easier for an offense. While Bettis gave up the three run lead the offense had built for him, the Rockies bats came right back and scored two runs in the bottom of the inning to get the lead right back.
Four games isn't enough to build a strong case for what good pitching does. However, if there is an example, it is what the Rockies showed over the weekend.
It is easier said than done, yet, for so many years the Rockies have struggled to figure out how to get it accomplished. A team can have all the offense that they can imagine, but if they don't have good pitching, they are likely not going anywhere. A team simply cannot slug it's way to the playoffs. It has to pitch it's way their.
With that in mind, the Rockies need to hope that pitchers like Chad Bettis continue looking strong, and that Jon Gray and Eddie Butler hit their potential. The farm system has enough names, but whether or not the talent is there to get where they need to be remains a big question mark. If the Rockies can find a way to develop some really good starting pitchers, then fill in the gaps through trades, they may be able to turn things around quicker than continuing down the same path they have been on for so many years.
The Rockies hit the All-Star break in an unfortunate position in the standings, but one that they have become used to over the years. They are dead last in the NL West and nowhere close to climbing back into the race. The time is now to figure out what the model needs to be to become a winner. Certainly the framework was laid out over the weekend. Consistent starting pitching and solid, clutch efforts from guys in the bullpen will win more games than even the strongest of offenses.