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At the start of last week, the Mile High City was buzzing with the energy that only comes from a Rocktober run. The Rockies had earned a spot in their first playoff series in nine years—and following their thrilling Wild Card win over the Cubs, many felt there was sure to be more excitement in store. Yet, by week’s end, fans who didn’t watch the Rockies throughout the year were dumbfounded. This team made the playoffs? This team won 91 games this year?
The Rockies finished their season Sunday by mustering only four hits in a 6–0 loss, capping a disastrous National League Division Series for the team. In a three-game sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers, the Rockies scored only two runs while averaging less than five hits per game. The series was a rough way to end an exciting year of baseball, partly because it wasn’t representative of the positive progress the Rockies made in 2018. While it’s perfectly acceptable—if not expected—to mourn the season’s harsh conclusion, we also have to celebrate the successes that have us looking forward to 2019.
Season in Review
Not only did the Rockies notch the second-highest win total in their 25-year history, they did so while finishing among baseball’s top eight teams in slugging percentage, runs scored, home runs, batting average, and runs batted in. Playing in perhaps the most hitter-friendly ballpark in baseball certainly padded Colorado’s stats (as it does every year), but the offense performed well enough at Coors Field to help mask its weaknesses on the road. Trevor Story’s emergence as a legitimate offensive star provided hope for those who had concerns about his swing in previous years.
The most important step the Rockies took this year was in their pitching, including a solid end-of-year relief corps that featured the “Killer O’s”: Adam Ottavino, Seunghwan Oh and Scott Oberg. Colorado’s young starting pitchers gave fans a reason to be optimistic about 2019, as two legitimate stars emerged: Kyle Freeland and German Marquez. The pair combined for more than 400 strikeouts and 13.1 wins above replacement (a holistic measure of value that is perhaps the most important gauge of success in baseball today).
Another feather in the Rockies’ cap? Although Colorado’s hitters were awful in the playoffs, the pitching staff was stellar in the postseason. The Rockies posted a 2.35 earned run average in four playoff games, and fans won’t soon forget their clutch performance against the Cubs—without which Colorado wouldn’t have even made it to a playoff series.
Looking Ahead to the Offseason
As good as the Rockies should feel after a successful season, it won’t be easy to shake the memories of this Brewers series. A swath of ugly swings, wild pitches, mental mistakes, and questionable roster moves will keep players and fans scratching their heads during the offseason. It wasn’t exactly the type of finish that would make free agents like DJ LeMahieu and Ottavino especially eager to stick around next season.
But solid 2018 campaigns from youngsters such as Ryan McMahon, David Dahl, and Antonio Senzatela, plus the return of stars like Freeland, Story, and (hopefully) Nolan Arenado, offer hope for another great summer of baseball in 2019. (And of course, Coors Field will always be one of the best summer hangouts in town—no matter how good the 2019 squad is.)
Offensive MVP: Nolan Arenado
While Trevor Story is a close second, there’s no questioning how much value Arenado brought to the middle of Colorado’s lineup this year. In yet another season worthy of a top-three National League MVP finish, Arenado belted 38 home runs and finished with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .935—which is stellar in a new baseball landscape where it’s difficult to get on base.
Arenado is a free agent after the end of next year, and he’s made it clear that he wants to be somewhere he can contend for a World Series trophy. A playoff appearance this year is certainly a step in the right direction for Denver, but it may not be enough to keep him around for long.
Defensive/Pitching MVP: Kyle Freeland
Freeland turned in a masterful 2018 season, especially for a 25-year-old. His 2.85 ERA offers a glimpse into his success, as does the fact that opponents hit only .240 against him. The Rockies will need him to be an anchor of their starting pitching staff in 2019, especially as fellow starters Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, and Senzatela still need some time to hone their skills.
Moment of the Year: Ryan McMahon’s August 11 Walk-Off Homer
In front of a packed Friday night crowd, the Rockies trailed 2-0 for most of the evening against sharp Dodgers pitching. Then a ninth-inning rally culminated in a shocking three-run, game-ending home run by rookie Ryan McMahon.
Considering Colorado’s late-season woes against the Dodgers and how tight the playoff race ended up being, the victory was an invaluable confidence booster. It propelled the Rockies to wins in eight of their next 10 games.