Inside the Worst Start in Colorado Rockies History

The Rockies have unfortunately picked up from where they left off last year, as they have gotten off to a rough start to the 2024 season.

DENVER, COLORADO - APRIL 05: Nolan Jones #22 of the Colorado Rockies hits a single against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning of the home opener on April 05, 2024 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

No one pegged the Colorado Rockies as a postseason contender going into the 2024 season. Even with three Wild Cards up for grabs in the National League, this wasn’t going to be the year that everything clicked following a 103-loss season and a quiet offseason.

The Opening Day loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks was a difficult watch. The team surrendered 14 runs in the same inning en route to a 16-1 drubbing. A sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs was messy, at best.

Seven games on the road to open the season is challenging task, but their 1-6 record for the first week of the season is fair. The -34 run differential in those contests is the sixth-worst start in the entire history of the Majors.

Friday’s win in the home opener at Coors Field helped rejuvenate the spirits before a 6-1 lead on Saturday vanished, resulting in a crushing defeat. Even still, the -33 run differential through nine games is one of only nine instances of being so overmatched since 1993.

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Here’s a dive into each facet of the game that has proven difficult for Colorado so far, along with the silver linings for the 2-6 club…

Struggling Starters

No team can have enough pitching. When you’re the Rockies, you’re almost never going to have enough even in a winning season. 

The rotation was once an area of strength during the early days of manager Bud Black’s tenure in Denver. Losing veterans Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela to Tommy John surgery blasted a hole through the foundation of the franchise.

Adding Cal Quantrill was a nice trade acquisition this offseason to split up left-handers Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber in the rotation. Unfortunately, neither of the three men have fared particularly well as Rockies’ starters had an earned run average north of 10.00 when they returned home. 

Freeland’s Opening Day outing was absolutely shocking: 10 runs on 10 hits and one walk in 2.1 innings pitched. Quantrill was mostly solid, but suffered a big inning both his starts, contributing to his 9.00 ERA. Gomber had been the best of the trio through two turns, at least until Ryan Feltner took the hill on Saturday.

In gusts of 44 mph, Feltner held the Tampa Bay Rays to one run over six innings. He allowed just two hits and struck out 10. Not only had no Rockies pitcher recorded double-digits since 2021, but only two others pitchers had ever managed to go at least six frames with two hits and 10 strikeouts on their record at Coors Field. The others: Márquez and Ubaldo Jiménez.

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The rotation negatively impacted the bullpen in 2023. So far, it hasn’t been nearly as detrimental with a pair of long relievers ready to eat innings during poor starts. With some momentum at home — at altitude, of all places — maybe the rotation can find some level of consistency to keep the club competitive.

Bullpen Blight

Where the rotation has improved at 20th & Blake, the bullpen has deteriorated. Colorado’s relief core has posted a 7.90 ERA through the first nine games of the season, worst in all of MLB.

A third of those earned runs came in consecutive games at home. Before that, five different relievers were either at or below a 3.60 ERA through three appearances. (That number is down to three after Jake Bird and Jalen Bird struggled against the Rays.)

The big league debut for Rule 5 pick Anthony Molina saw the 21-year-old long reliever enter a 7-1 ballgame on Opening Day in Arizona with two runners aboard and one out. He could only retire one of the eight hitters faced before Black required his second reliever of the inning. Molina’s second outing — 3.0 IP, 5 R — lowered his earned run average to 29.70 on the year.

Closer Justin Lawrence hasn’t had many save opportunities. He twirled a scoreless frame during the club’s first win and gave up five runs (four earned) in a blown save during Colorado’s second win. The 29-year-old was able to redeem himself on Saturday night with a four-out performance that wasn’t enough to inspire a comeback from the lineup.

Offensive Woes

The only way to take the lead is to score runs. Even when the Rockies have done that, it simply hasn’t been enough. 

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Colorado had finished an inning with a lead only eight times in through the first 72 innings they played, all of which came during their two victories. They ended an inning with a tie score 10 times. The remaining 54 innings, or 75% of the time, they had trailed.

A total of 16 runs in their two games in Colorado provided a boost to mid-league in many category. Strikeouts are down a touch, but so are walks. The Rockies are last in NL when it comes to walk-percentage (6.9%).

All of this despite Charlie Blackmon going 25 plate appearances to open his 14th season without striking out. His .357 batting average placed him 13th in the Senior Circuit entering Saturday. Others are following his lead at the plate.

“That was a really good thing we had,” Blackmon said of a late five-run rally against the Cubs on Wednesday. “We hit some balls hard. We had some hits off the bench. We ran the bases. It’s good to show some life there (especially) when it wasn’t great hitting conditions.”

Ryan McMahon has been ever better. McMahon has hit safely in all but one game and has multi-hit outings in four of his nine games. The 29-year-old is currently sixth in MLB with a .406 batting average (13-for-32). He ended Friday’s game with a home run and started Saturday with a long ball in his first at-bat.

While it’s still early in the season, Rockies fans have been impatient when it comes to the slow start for Kris Bryant. He went hitless until the seventh game of the season. During the home opener, he heard the boo-birds after four of his at-bats, including a three-pitch strikeout with the bases loaded in the ninth. (Ironically, he had hit a two-run home run in his penultimate plate appearance.)

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Defensive Failures

Things got so rough during the opening week that the club began to press on defense at Wrigley Field. It’s the one area of the team that’s an obvious strength as five different players have been at least finalists for the Gold Glove Award while a sixth led all of MLB in outfield assists last season.

Nolan Jones went so far as to make two errors on the same play, resulting in a race around the bases for the Cubs’ Christopher Morel on what was a simple base hit to left field. Brenton Doyle charged and dove for a fly ball the next night that he was noticeably out of reach, allowing the ball to roll past for an additional base.

The Rockies have committed at least one error in six of their first eight games and their eight miscues on the season are the most in the National League heading into the weekend. Though Saturday’s box score reveals no error, a ground ball ticketed for Michael Toglia’s mitt at first base bounced over his head to allow two go-ahead runs to score in the eighth inning.

Another error nearly cost them a game when Tampa Bay gained a ninth-inning lead on Friday. After Ryan McMahon made an excellent barehanded play on a José Caballero bunt for the second out of the inning, he backhanded a Jose Siri grounder and threw the ball to first on a hop. First baseman Kris Bryant couldn’t come up with the ball cleanly and the Rays went ahead before the Rockies had one more chance in the bottom of the ninth.

Home Sweet Home

Back in their own beds and in front of the hometown fans, Colorado’s luck turned during the 10-7 win over Tampa Bay. Fireworks, a fly over and all the pomp and circumstance you can pack into a building with 48,399 in attendance kicked off one of the wildest games in Coors Field history.

Following the disastrous top of the ninth that had Rockies fans booing their own club, Rays’ closer Pete Fairbanks struggled to find the strike zone. He walked the bases loaded to bring up McMahon.

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On the first pitch he saw, McMahon deposited a home run into the right field stands becoming only the third player in team history to hit a walk-off grand slam.

“Emotional, no doubt about it,” Black said of the win post-game. “But a good one. We needed that one. Based on how we started the season after seven games.”

It’s fitting that the warmest first pitch temperature for an April home opener — 75 degrees — comes at a time where there’s growing hope that the club is finally warming up.