Rockies at Dodgers Series Preview

Rockies at Dodgers Series Preview
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The Rockies were supposed to provide the Dodgers with a compelling opponent amid a nearly month-long run of relative weaklings in the middle of this two-month-long season. From August 14 through September 10, the Dodgers’ opponents include the Angels, Mariners, Giants, Rangers, and Diamondbacks (twice). Other than the Giants, who are two games below .500, all of those teams enter this weekend with a winning percentage of .405 or worse. The only other team the Dodgers have or will have a series against during that span is the Rockies (also twice). Unfortunately, it seems Colorado may not be up to the task of keeping things interesting.

Since opening the season 11-3, the Rockies have gone 7-16, sinking from first place in the National League West to 9 1/2 games behind L.A. and struggling to fend off the Giants, whom Colorado leads by a mere half game for the eighth and final NL playoff spot in this year’s expanded playoffs. One needn’t dig deep to find what changed.

On Tuesday, the Giants beat the Rockies 23-5. That loss, while certainly fluky, was also emblematic of the Rockies’ struggles over the last four weeks. Over their first 14 games, the Rockies held their opponents to just 3.1 runs per game. In the 23 games since, they have allowed a whopping 7.7 runs per game. Take out that 23-run outburst by the Giants, and Colorado has still allowed 6.8 runs per game in its other 22 contests since August 9. In the full 23 games, the Rockies have allowed double-digit run totals eight times. That’s more than a third of those games.

As you might suspect, the Rockies’ opponents compiled seven of those eight double-digit run totals in Colorado. The exception was the 11 runs the Dodgers dropped on the Rox at Dodger Stadium in the finale of their last head-to-head series, a Dodgers sweep two weekends ago.

The Dodgers are now 16-3 since August 14, including that sweep of the Rockies and an active five-game winning streak, and 18-3 if you go back two more games into their last series against a genuinely good team, the San Diego Padres. The Padres are the only team in the majors averaging more runs per game than the Dodgers’ 5.6, and only Cleveland has allowed fewer runs per game than L.A.’s 3.1 or has a better team ERA+ than the Dodgers’ 163. This weekend’s series against Colorado was supposed to be compelling. Instead, it looks like yet another mismatch for a Dodgers’ team that enters the weekend on what would be a 120-win pace over 162 games.

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Here are the game times and pitching matchups:

Fri. 9/4, 6:40 p.m. PT: RHP Antonio Senzatela (164 ERA+, 43 1/3 IP) vs. RHP Dustin May (154 ERA+, 35 IP)

Sat. 9/5: 6:10 p.m. PT: RHP German Márquez (112 ERA+, 48 IP) vs. RHP Tony Gonsolin (886 ERA+, 17 2/3 IP)

Sun. 9/6: 7:10 p.m. PT:TBA vs. LHP Julio Urías (134 ERA+, 33 IP)

Senzatela has had the best results of any Rockies starter this year. A 25-year-old groundballer in his fourth major-league season, he throws in the mid-to upper-90s with a slider, curve, and changeup, largely pitching to contact (just 28 strikeouts and seven walks in 43 1/3 innings). So far this season, that has worked out reasonably well, but his .263 batting average in balls in play, a good 40 points below his career mark and 30 below the league average, suggests that correction is coming. It may have already started. Over his last four starts, he has alternated two scoreless outings totaling 15 innings with two ugly outings totaling 11 runs in 11 1/3 innings. The most recent of the latter was his one outing against the Dodgers this year, also in Dodger Stadium, which saw Senzatela allow six runs in 5 1/3 innings and four of the six home runs he has allowed on the season (by Corey Seager, Mookie Betts, Kiké Hernández, and Cody Bellinger). Seager is 4-for-9 career against Senzatela with two homers and a walk. Hernández is 3-for-5 with that home run and two doubles. AJ Pollock is 6-for-11 with a home run and three doubles. If the pattern holds, Senzatela is due for another stinker Friday night.

German Márquez is the Rockies’ best pitcher. Another 25-year-old, he can hit 99 on the gun, misses bats with his slider and curve, and gets ground balls with his sinker and changeup. However, this year, his strikeout rate is down, and he has had some bad luck on balls in play to the tune of a .326 BABIP. Thus, his results trail his performance. Márquez’s season jumped the rails three turns ago when he allowed 10 runs in five innings to the Astros. His last time out, he allowed five runs in six innings to the Padres. The last time he faced the Dodgers, he struck out 10 in six scoreless innings in Denver while allowing just two hits and walking no one, but that was more than a year ago, on July 31, 2019. Márquez is certainly capable of that kind of performance on Saturday, but he’ll have his work cut out trying to snap out of a slump against the L.A. offense. Incidentally, AJ Pollock owns Márquez, as well, going 9-for-19 with a double, two triples, and a walk against him in his career, though the two haven’t faced off since 2018.

As I type this, the Rockies haven’t announced their Sunday night starter. Jon Gray would be on normal rest, but the “TBA” listing suggests the Rockies may prefer to give him an extra day after he allowed seven runs in 2 2/3 innings to kick off that absurdly lopsided loss to the Giants on Tuesday. Rookie Ryan Castellani hasn’t started since last Sunday, but he threw 26 pitches in relief on Wednesday, which would make him a bad fit for the start. Chi Chi González threw 46 pitches on Wednesday, and Jeff Hoffman was lit up on Tuesday, so Gray seems like the most likely candidate, but the Rockies may have another plan.

Despite their pitching struggles, the Rockies added just one arm before Monday’s deadline, acquiring righty reliever Mychal Givens from the Orioles for a pair of minor leaguers. Givens is a solid set-up man who could swap into the closer role if Daniel Bard’s comeback falters. Givens pitched a clean inning against the Giants in his Rockies debut on Wednesday, but he’s unlikely to alter Colorado’s run-prevention problem dramatically.

On the other side of the ball, the lineup has been relatively consistent, scoring 5.5 runs per game in those first 14 contests and 5.0 runs per game since. Here’s how they’re likely to lineup against the rookie righties Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin on Friday and Saturday nights:

L – Raimel Tapia (LF)

R – Trevor Story (SS)

L – Charlie Blackmon (RF)

R – Nolan Arenado (3B)

L – Daniel Murphy (1B)

R – Matt Kemp (DH)

L – Ryan McMahon (2B)

R – Kevin Pillar (CF)

L – Tony Wolters (C)

Pillar, the Rockies’ other deadline addition, is likely to move up to leadoff against the lefty Urías on Sunday. The Rockies’ lineup against lefties is also likely to switch Blackmon and Arenado, put rookie righty Josh Fuentes in for Murphy and drop him behind Kemp, and fill out the bottom third of the order with righty Garrett Hampson at second, lefty Sam Hillard in left field, and righty Drew Butera behind the plate.

Howard Cole has been writing about baseball on the internet since Y2K. Follow him on Twitter.