1st Half Struggle Blurs Rockies' Post-Season Vision, But Goal Still Visible

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A year ago, at this point in the season, the Rockies still had visions of a division title, a goal they retained until a loss to the Dodgers in a Game 163, forced because the Dodgers and Rockies shared the same record at the end of the 162-game schedule.

They wound up, however, as a wild-card, beat the Cubs in the Wild-Card Game, but then were swept by the Brewers in the NL Division Series.

This season opened with the Rockies looking to take a step up in their post-season status. They had visions of the first division title in franchise history.

The Rockies, however, reached the All-Star Break just looking to survive in the post-season battle. A team that a year ago saw itself in third place in the NL West, but just 3 1/2 games back of the then-division-leading D-backs, is in fourth place this time around, 14 1/2 games back of a Dodgers team that is off to the best start of any big-league team. Oh, and the wild-card? Well, the Rockies are 2 1/2 games back of the No. 2 slot, same as last year.

A rotation that finished 16 games above .500 a year ago (59-43) with a 4.17 ERA finds itself three games below .500 this year (29-32) with a 5.57 ERA. Now, there's still time to rebound, but there's not a lot of time to waste.

The Rockies reached the All-Star Break with a rotation that has a 5.57 ERA -- 2.51 runs per nine innings higher than the MLB-leading Dodgers. Heck, the Giants, at 4.99, possess the second-highest ERA among NL rotations. And the Rockies rotation has allowed a .283 average, also the highest in the NL, and 57 points higher than the average the Dodger starters have allowed.

During the entire 2017 season, the Rockies used only seven starting pitchers, and that included Jeff Hoffman making one start. They had four pitchers making 31 or more starts with Antonio Senzatela (13) and Chad Bettis (20) combining to make 33 starts out of the fifth spot in the rotation.

This year? Well, the Rockies already have used nine starting pitchers, and it's been a challenge, including Kyle Freeland, who finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting but this year went into the All-Star Break in the rotation at Triple-A Albuquerque. Tyler Anderson, who made 32 starts a year ago, one less than Freeland and German Marquez, made five starts this year before succumbing to season-ending (and career-threatening) left knee surgery.

​The rotation struggles have led to speculation of the Rockies being active in pursuit of help in advance of the July 31 trading deadline. There are some interesting candidates to be dealt.

And it starts with Zack Greinke, but how serious can a team afford to be in light of the fact he has roughly half of this year's salary ($31.5 million) attached to his availability, as well as the $64 million that is will be guaranteed on the two years remaining on his deal in Arizona.

He is off to an excellent start, but does turn 36 at season's end, and what that 5-1 lifetime record at Coors Field covers up is that he has eight no-decision, and a 4.01 ERA at the corner of 20th and Blake.

But that isn't the real solution.

The real solution is for the Rockies rotation to get back in order.

It's for Freeland to return to the big leagues after a time for adjusment at Triple-A, and put on a strong finish.

It's not out of the question. Freeland showed what he was capable of last year. The Rockies don't need him to repeat, but they need him to step into the rotation and provide some stability, giving them a strong front three by combining him with Jon Gray, who has emerged this year as the rock of the rotation, and German Marquez.

Understand that history is not encouraging for the Rockies to acquire an experienced big-league starting pitcher, who can handle the adjustment to pitching at altitude. Over the years, they have acquired 22 starting pitchers who made 15 or more starts for the Rockies.

And that has included some high-profile arms, like Mike Hampton, who finished his days in Colorado with a 21-28 record, 5.75 ERA and six years remaining on an eight-year, $121 million deal that at the time was the richest in MLB history.

He was one of 17 of the 22 established starting pitchers the Rockies acquired who had an ERA above 5.00. Jason Marquis had the lowest ERA (4.04) among the 22 established starters the Rockies either traded for or signed as a free agent.

Hampton became the face of the failures of the proven starters the Rockies added.

He won seven of his first eight decisions -- all in his first two months with the team. By the time he finished the second year of the deal, however, he was more than willing to waive his no-trade.