SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — How's this for a mile-high milestone: The Colorado Rockies have one of baseball's best young starting rotations.
According to ace Kyle Freeland, at least.
"I think our rotation can stack up against anybody," Freeland said Wednesday when pitchers and catchers had their first workout.
He has a strong case. The Rockies have made the postseason as a wild card each of the past two seasons — a first for the franchise — and the evolutions of young starters like Freeman, German Marquez and Tyler Anderson are a big reason why.
The rotation had a 4.17 ERA last season, the second-lowest mark ever for the franchise. Of course, because of the hitter-friendly conditions at Coors Field, the Rockies are unlikely to ever challenge for a team ERA title.
Other indicators show them right there with the National League's best. The group made 87 quality starts — only the Dodgers (95) and Milwaukee Brewers (91) had more — while working a league-high 932 innings. Ranked by Fangraphs' wins above replacement metric — which attempts to cancel out park effects — Colorado's starters ranked fourth in the NL, behind the Mets, Dodgers and Phillies.
The chief goal right now: catching the six-time reigning NL West champion Dodgers.
"The Dodgers have a very good rotation. These are different rotations because these are different pitchers," Colorado manager Bud Black said. "We feel like on any given night, any given start, that we can match up with anybody. The Dodgers have pitched extremely well the last number of years. You look at team pitching. You look at any team that has made the playoffs, they are always at the top of team pitching. Statistically, the Dodgers are right there.
"That is our goal, when you look at team pitching, to be up the ladder there. We have a little different environment, but there are some markers there that show we are a good pitching team."
Homegrown starters Freeland and Marquez had breakout years in 2018, the second full season for each. The 25-year-old Freeland was 17-7 with 2.85 ERA, which was fifth in the league, and Marquez, 23, was 14-11 with a 3.77 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 196 innings.
Jon Gray, another product from the farm, is a three-time double-digit winner who won 12 games with a 5.12 ERA last year. After an inconsistent few years, the 27-year-old reported to camp having putting on some muscle and "is in a good spot," Black said.
"From when I got here a couple of years ago, I sensed that there was some talent, and I think we are building on that, too," said Black, in his third season in Colorado. "The depth is starting to emerge from our system. Overall, we feel good about the group. I know that organizationally, it is something we have to stay on top of. All teams do.
"Because you have to pitch."
Freeland pitched six shutout innings on three days' rest when the Rockies beat Chicago in the NL wild-card game, and Marquez gave up two runs in five innings in his NLDS start against Milwaukee, which swept the three-game series.
Now, Freeland said, it's time to get even better.
"We are all getting older, we are all getting wiser and learning this game, and learning it all the highest capacity," Freeland said.
"We are in the playoffs and we are playing extremely meaningful games that are do-or-die. We are learning how to play in that, and I think that is only going to help us in the long run."
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