Pitcher Chris Rusin #52 of the Colorado Rockies throws in the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Coors Field on July 6, 2017 in Denver.
The benefit of runaway late-season victories put the Rockies in a favorable position heading toward the playoffs. A bullpen that has carried them so often is rested and ready to extend its reach.
Colorado’s relief corps has been the second-best unit in the National League this season, measured by WAR (wins above replacement), according to Fangraphs. Their 6.4 mark is sixth-best in the majors and trails only the Dodgers, at 7.1, in the NL.
And if the Rockies have an Andrew Miller, lefty long man Chris Rusin is it. Miller last season set playoff records for both strikeouts and scoreless innings as a reliever. Cleveland rode him through multiple-inning outings all the way to the World Series.
Rusin is a Rockies key. His 191 ERA-plus (a park-adjusted earned-run average that sands down Coors Field‘s effects) is the best among all Rockies pitchers. He can pitch in high-leverage single-batter outings or throw over multiple innings.
“Adrenaline takes over at that point,” Rusin said Saturday. “It doesn’t matter what your body feels like because you’re numb anyway. It’s what you work all season for. Just lay it all on the line.”
And in the postseason, Colorado’s bullpen will be charged with handling smaller battles.
“You shorten the game, within the game,” Rockies lefty Jake McGee said. “That’s how bullpens are run a lot in the playoffs.”
While Colorado manager Bud Black is forced to consider his bullpen management not only during a game in, say, June, but also two or three weeks later. He can’t burn out all his arms on one win at the expense of seven other games, for example.
But in the postseason, the stakes are raised, and the best pitchers get leaned on even more. For the Rockies, that means Rusin, McGee, closer Greg Holland, Pat Neshek and matchup lefty Mike Dunn. Scott Oberg and Carlos Estevez set up as a hard-throwing strikeout specialists. Antonio Senzatela may get a long-relief role. A starter or two, also, might end up in the pen. Zac Rosscup could also be used, as a left-on-left matchup.
Pitchers will see their roles expand. High-leverage situations might occur as early as the fifth inning for a reliever, even those arms more accustomed to late innings.
How Black manages his bullpen will fall to a simple precept.
“When called upon, get outs,” he said. “The magnitude of one game changes things. It goes back to Rule No. 1: Be ready for anything.”
Dodgers dealing. Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts assigned right-hander Yu Darvish a bullpen session on the mound at Coors Field. Darvish moved from the Rangers to the Dodgers as the highest-profile trade deadline acquisition in July. He was meant to be a No. 2 behind Clayton Kershaw in the Dodgers’ rotation.
But Roberts has eyes on Darvish pitching at Coors Field in Game 3 of the National League division series, if it should fall that way. Darvish has never pitched a game in Denver. His bullpen session was an introduction.
Footnotes. Gerardo Parra was out of the Rockies starting lineup for a fourth consecutive game, ceding his spot to Ian Desmond in left field and Mark Reynolds at first base. Black stacked right-handers against the lefty Kershaw. But Parra is 1-for-22 over his last six games.
Dodgers TBA at Rockies LHP Tyler Anderson (6-6, 4.81 ERA), Sunday 1:10 p.m. AT&T SportsNet, 630 AM
Anderson will pitch his final regular-season outing after making a late move to secure the No. 2 spot in the Rockies rotation. He has been outstanding of late, with three scoreless outings in his past four starts. Last week, Anderson gave up just four hits in seven shutdown innings against the Miami Marlins for his sixth victory. He struck out five and, more importantly, did not walk a batter. If the Rockies can get that far, Anderson would likely start Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Los Angeles on Friday. Meanwhile, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was undecided for his Sunday starter. He said Ross Stripling (3-5, 3.86) would be in play if the right-hander did not pitch in relief Saturday. Nick Groke, The Denver Post
Wednesday NL wild card: Rockies RHP Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67) at Diamondbacks Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20), 6:08 p.m., TBS