When the Rockies set out on their road trip Thursday, the conventional wisdom was that the team needed to pick up at least three wins during their time away from home. Expectations are usually modest for Rockies road trips, but particularly when they’re travelling to Los Angeles, Phoenix, or San Francisco. Historically, the Rockies have fared very, very poorly in those cities. And yet, the Rockies skipped LA on Sunday night with a four-game sweep of the Dodgers in their back pocket. What? To say this was unexpected would be a severe understatement. Yes, the Dodgers haven’t looked right lately, but most honest Rockies fans would tell you that they expected LA to get right against Colorado in this series. Such a belief would be well founded.
The Rockies, simply put, haven’t ever played well against the Dodgers. Entering the series, Colorado had a .366 winning percentage in LA, one of their lowest against any competitor. But it’s even worse than that. During the team’s first seven seasons, they went 22-19 in Los Angeles, a respectable showing to be sure. In those seven years, they swept the Dodgers in LA three times, and weren’t swept once. Since 2000, it’s been quite a different story. In the 18 seasons since, up to the start of this series, Colorado had a 52-109 record in LA, good for a .323 winning percentage. Since 2000, LA has swept the Rockies 16 times in LA (including in 2017, the last time Colorado had been in town from June 23-25) and the Rockies had only swept them once. That one time was in 2007, during the magical Rocktober run.
Historical records from over a decade ago obviously don’t possess much (or even any) predictive value for the present. It’s the identities of the players on each roster — not their uniforms — which ultimately dictate the course of play. It makes the recent result no less surprising or rare, however.
And more relevant to the present moment is the fact that the Rockies haven’t exactly been lighting the world on fire lately. They entered Thursday with a 2-4 record in September. Their 12-15 August was their worst month of the season. All in all, the notion of a Rockies sweep was improbable.
To render that improbability slightly less improbable, you’d have to assume that one pitcher whom the team wouldn’t face is Clayton Kershaw. And yet, he was the one who got things started off. It wasn’t just Kershaw the Rockies had to overcome, though; they also ran through Yu Darvish, Alex Wood and Rich Hill. That quartet arguably represents LA’s best four starting pitchers.
The Rockies didn’t just beat these four starters, they destroyed them. Let’s take a look at the cumulative starting pitcher line this weekend.
That’s a pretty stark picture. The Rockies’ starting pitchers — Jon Gray, German Marquez, Chad Bettis, and Tyler Chatwood — did what they mainly do, which is be competitive enough to keep their team in the game. Cumulatively, the four pitchers have 18.0 WAR. Kershaw and Darvish both have more career WAR than that on their own. Cumulatively, the four Dodgers starters have 99.9 WAR. They are not the group you’d expect to get dumped on.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened. And in three of the four games, the Rockies jumped out to an early lead.
When you put the four games together, you find that the Dodgers only had the win expectancy line clearly on their side of the graph for four of the 36 innings.
Unsurprisingly, the player driving the bus for the Rockies was Nolan Arenado. The third baseman reached in 12 of his 19 plate appearances and racked up a team-high 0.48 WPA. Two of his eight hits during the series were home runs, which gives him four at Dodger Stadium this season. The only other ballpark at which he’s hit more homers this season is Coors Field. Charlie Blackmon reached in 10 of his 20 PA. Carlos Gonzalez reached in seven of his 17 PA. Like Arenado, Gonzalez and Trevor Story each hit two homers. Mark Reynolds capped the weekend with a grand slam.
Meanwhile, on the Dodgers’ side, Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson, and Chase Utley all failed to record a hit all series. Justin Turner managed four hits. No one else had more than three. Nine different players saw time in the outfield, somehow.
The sweep wasn’t just notable for being a historical anomaly, it also helped the Rockies out in their playoff quest. Following the team’s 11-3 loss at the hands of the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday, the Rockies were just two games ahead of St. Louis and 2.5 games ahead of Milwaukee for the final Wild Card spot. They’re now three games ahead of both. That might not seem like much, but given that both the Brewers and Cardinals have won three straight, it was needed. Without this run, the Rockies would have lost their grip on their spot.
Let’s look at it another way:
|Team||Sept. 6||Sept. 10||Difference|
That 59.9% odds for the Rockies on Sept. 6 was one of their lowest totals since the beginning of June. It had crept up from their low mark in the second half — 48.5% on Sept. 3 — and now it’s at it’s highest point since Aug. 18. Does any of that guarantee that the Rockies are smooth sailing now? Of course not. Ten of the team’s remaining 19 games are on the road. And where the final three games of the season against the Dodgers looked like gimmes, LA may now actually need to compete in them. Perhaps the division won’t be in play, but if they can’t get right, they could be in danger of losing home-field advantage.
A lackluster second half has imperiled the Rockies’ playoff status. The absolute last thing you would expect is for the team to get healthy on the road against the Dodgers, but that’s exactly what they did. They swept the Dodgers in LA for the first time in over a decade and did so in commanding fashion. And should the Rockies reach the postseason — which is now more probable than before — this series figures to be mentioned prominently in the MVP narratives for both Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. To live and die in LA, indeed.