DENVER -- Heading into the 2017 season, the postseason was a place many of the key Rockies had never been. Not Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu or Nolan Arenado -- the top three hitters in the lineup. Not any of their starting pitchers. Not even any of the catchers that were supposed to be leading these pitchers when the season started.
Enter manager Bud Black, who showed them the way.
Black convinced the Rox that there's a first time for everything. By leading the Colorado to its first postseason berth since 2009, Black has put up a strong case for the Baseball Writers' Association of America National League Manager of the Year Award, which will be announced Tuesday (6 p.m. ET/4 MT on MLB Network).
Black is a finalist alongside the D-backs' Torey Lovullo and the Dodgers' Dave Roberts -- last year's winner. Black won the award in 2010 while with the Padres.
The importance of starting pitching in undeniable. The thirst for big-game experience leads clubs to spend big money, deal prospects or scour for bargains. Of the 10 teams that went to the postseason, nine of them had at least one starter who had pitched beyond the regular season.
However, the Rockies banked on a talent group of 20-somethings. Black -- who won a World Series in 1985 as the elder statesmen of the Royals' rotation at 28 -- knew about relying on young starters. As early as Spring Training, Black recalled that season as a prime example of a club being able to succeed without experience.
But back in 1985, Black, Charlie Leibrandt, Danny Jackson, Mark Gubicza and Bret Saberhagen started a combined 158 games and were a model of health, in addition to quality. Black's Rockies didn't have the same good fortune regarding health.
Chad Bettis triumphantly returned from a bout with testicular cancer, but he didn't make his first Major League appearance until August. No. 1 pitcher Jon Gray, lefty Tyler Anderson and righty Tyler Chatwood all spent time on the disabled list. The Rockies entered the year hoping veteran lefty Chris Rusin, who would be a relief stalwart, could start some games, but a Spring Training oblique injury prevented him from building his pitch count to starter level.
Colorado depended on four rookies: German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman. Black signaled his confidence in a subtle but important way. He tabbed Freeland, a Denver native born about a month and a half after the Rockies' first game in 1993, as the starter of the 2017 home opener. Freeland held the Dodgers to one run in six innings to earn a 2-1 win.
Rockies starters went 63-56, a win total that was second-highest in franchise history and ranked fifth in the NL. And they were supported by a bullpen, led by Greg Holland's 41 saves, that went 24-19 and struck out 549 -- the second most in club history.
Starting pitching that young usually is paired with veteran catching. But the year started with Tony Wolters and Dustin Garneau (who later was claimed by the Athletics). Veteran Ryan Hanigan stepped in after a month, but the majority of games were caught by catchers in their first or second year (Tom Murphy also would see action), before the club acquired Jonathan Lucroy just before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.