DENVER -- Though their season came to an end on Sunday at Coors Field, the Rockies took a step forward in 2018. As the final out was recorded in a 6-0 loss to the Brewers that completed a National League Division Series sweep, there was a sense of optimism in the Colorado clubhouse behind the immediate and poignant disappointment.
The Rockies reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history, losing in the 2017 NL Wild Card Game against the D-backs, then falling to Milwaukee in this year's NLDS. But what they showed in the process is that there is a strong core to build around, and their window for winning is wide open.
:: NLDS schedule and results ::
"You look forward to next year knowing that you can build around a starting staff that is going to have success," said left-hander Kyle Freeland, who didn't pitch in the NLDS. "And you know this lineup is going to have success. I know it didn't show too much against the Brewers this series, but we all know what they're capable of. Knowing we have both hitting and pitching on both sides, it makes the future very exciting."
A franchise that has historically been known for its hitting, particularly in the thin mountain air of Denver, demonstrated on a national stage this October that one of its greatest strengths lies in its pitching staff.
Freeland put together the finest campaign by a Rockies starting pitcher in the franchise's 26-season history, with a 2.85 ERA over 33 starts in his second Major League season. That included a 2.40 ERA at Coors Field, the lowest by any Rockies starter in club history. And German Marquez, in his third big league season, posted a 2.61 ERA in the second half, striking out 124 batters while walking 20.
Though the bullpen, which the club fortified last offseason by adding Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw, as well as re-signing Jake McGee, struggled for much of the season, it had its moments, particularly in September, when Rockies relievers compiled a 2.97 ERA as the club went 19-9 to force an NL West tiebreaker with the Dodgers.
It was the offense that vanished in the NLDS, as it did during many stretches of the regular season. Despite having names like Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story in the lineup, Colorado's hitters had a streaky year, sputtering during some stretches and erupting during others.
"It didn't turn out to be on [the pitching staff] like most every other year of Rockies history," Arenado said. "This year, it really feels like the offense was the problem. It's disappointing, as an offensive player, but I guess it shows you that we can get better."
The Rockies finished 25th in the Majors with an 87 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), which is park-adjusted to account for the hitter-friendly environment at Coors Field. One of the questions now that Colorado begins its offseason is whether another bat will be added to the lineup.
"I think we have a good, solid core group," Arenado said. "I think you're always willing to add pieces to help you get better. I think it was a good sign that offensively, we need to get better. I don't know if that's with [outside] help, or we just need to change our approaches and get better at the plate. I know that individually, I need to get better."
Arenado is scheduled to be a free agent following next season, and as 2019 approaches, so might talks of a contract extension.
"Obviously arbitration is going to come around, and that topic will come up, but I expect to be in Spring Training with the Rockies next year," Arenado said. "I love it here. This is a business, though, and things can get a little iffy because of the business side of it. But that being said, I expect to be in Spring Training next year."
Other key players are free agents after the World Series, including DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez and Adam Ottavino. The Rockies have a team option for Gerardo Parra.
LeMahieu said after Sunday's game that the day was emotional for him, as he has been with the club for seven of his eight Major League seasons, winning a batting average title in 2017.
Gonzalez has been a franchise icon, having spent a decade with Colorado and re-signing with the team on a one-year deal last offseason.
"This is a franchise that has been good to me and my family," Gonzalez said. "The city and the fans, I've enjoyed every single opportunity I've had with this organization. I know I'm going to be a free agent after the World Series is over. I would love to come back."
After struggling in 2017, Gonzalez had a better year at the plate this season, hitting .276/.329/.467 with 16 home runs in a part-time role.
Ottavino also struggled in 2017, but he bounced back to become one of the best relievers in the Majors this year. He posted a 2.43 ERA over 75 appearances, striking out 112 of the 309 batters he faced (36 percent).
Parra hit .284/.342/.372 in 401 plate appearances, taking a step back from his 2017 performance at the plate, but he came through with key hits down the stretch and played a solid outfield.
Then there are the young players who got their first real taste of the Majors, including Ryan McMahon, who had several clutch hits for Colorado. His walk-off home run against the Dodgers on Aug. 11 came in the thick of a pennant race. David Dahl, who could be a key outfielder moving forward, had a big month of September, hitting .287 and launching nine of his 16 homers on the season. Infielder Garrett Hampson also showed promise when he got playing time, particularly when Story was injured late in the regular season.
Several questions surround the Rockies as they transition to 2019, but one thing has become clear: The future is promising for a franchise entering its 27th season after back-to-back postseason appearances.
"We're a really good team," Story said. "We're young, but we have a lot of experience now. This is just another year of experience that everybody can add under their belt."