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Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers @ Colorado Rockies

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The Rockies have been bad overall this year, but are 9 games over .500 at Coors Field

MLB: San Diego Padres at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the year, the Colorado Rockies were expected to be one of the worst teams in the majors after giving away Nolan Arenado for next to nothing. To this point, they haven’t disappointed, being just as disappointing as expected.

While they come into this four-game series after sweeping the San Diego Padres — a reminder weird stuff can happen at Coors Field — but the Rockies have held down last place in the NL West for much of the young season until recently, when the Arizona Diamondbacks started a 13-game losing streak. That has Colorado sitting in 4th place at 28-41. A win tonight in the first game of the series would match Colorado’s longest winning streak of the year: 4.

While they were woeful in April at 9-17 and just a little better in May at 11-17, they are 8-7 so far in June despite a -17 run differential for the month. The rest of the NL Central has (probably predictably) done well against them, with the Rockies going a combined 3-10 against the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals. They’ve put up a comical home/road record split, even by their historical standards, going 23-14 at Coors Field but just 5-27 on the road.

The Lineup

Despite playing in Coors Field, the Rockies haven’t had many offensive standouts, with only four regulars putting up an OPS+ above 100 to this point.

The weirdest thing about the Rockies’ offensive numbers so far: a relative lack of home run power, outside of their second baseman. Ryan McMahon leads the Rockies with 16 home runs in 68 games, and no one else on their roster has more than 7 longballs.

Even with his 16 home runs, McMahon only has an .832 OPS, hitting .260/.307/.525. First baseman C.J. Cron is the guy with 7 home runs and has struggled to hit for much power — a problem for a guy whose only real skill is power that plays in Denver — but he has at least gotten on base with his .250/.357/.429 line.

Trevor Story, who has killed the Brewers in just about every series he’s played against them, is off to a sluggish .251/.332/.415 start while questions continue about his future with the Rockies. One thing Story has done, though, is steal some bases. He’s 11-for-15 so far this year in that category, joining Garrett Hampson (12-for-14) as guys with double-digit steal totals who may give the Brewers some problems.

The Probable Pitchers

The Rockies, predictably, have struggled with their pitching, ranking 27th in team ERA, 28th in team batting average allowed and 29th in team WHIP.

German Marquez is still the best starter they have and a legitimate talent, but has seen his ERA balloon up to 4.60 after his last start against the Reds, where he gave up 8 runs in a death-by-papercuts type of start. He’s actually done a really good job this year avoiding hard contact — he ranks in the top 15% in the league in lowest barrel percentage — but it’s been the defense that has let him down from time to time. Before his nightmare start against the Reds, he had been on a roll, throwing four straight games of 1 run or less. He’ll go up against Brandon Woodruff tonight in the best pitching match-up of the weekend.

Antonio Senzatela will pitch in Game 2 against Corbin Burnes, and he’s actually a bit of an anomoly — he’s the rare Rockies pitcher who’s been better at home (3.83 ERA) than on the road (6.94 ERA). He’s been able to prevent home runs at Coors, but hasn’t prevented contact — his 14.8% strikeout percentage is among the worst in the league, so even if the battered Brewers’ offense continues to struggle with power, they should be able to at least make some contact. Senzatela’s key appears to be limiting baserunners, even with those contact rates — he doesn’t really walk anyone, and he’s among the better pitchers at preventing batters from barreling up pitches.

Austin Gomber, one of the players the Rockies got in return for Arenado, will start opposite Adrian Houser in Game 3. The lefty has put up a 3.54 ERA to this point this year, but has an expected ERA of 3.32. He doesn’t throw especially hard — averaging just 92 mph on the fastball he throws 40% of the time — but he’s found a way to make his breaking stuff play in Coors Field. That could be because of the high spin rate he’s managed to throw his curveball at, ranking in the top half of the league despite the higher elevation in Denver. He’s also incrase his strikeout rate from 22.7% last year to 24.4% this year while cutting down his walk rate.

Chi Chi Gonzalez and Eric Lauer will match up in the series finale as two pitchers who have occasionally been hit very hard this year. Gonzalez especially has been pummeled, getting tagged for a 5.76 ERA — but a 6.72 expected ERA based on his underlying metrics. He ranks in the bottom 1 percent in strikeout percentage and whiff percentage, as well as expected batting average, giving up an average exit velocity of 90.1 mph. In comparison, Lauer’s given up an average exit velocity of 89.6 mph.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Statcast