The Challenge for the Rockies – Learning to Win

**** Note this article was written last Friday but was unable to post due to technical issues. Nice to see some of this backed up****
Hi all. Sorry for the lack of new stories. Funny thing, the internet in Western Europe, especially in rural places is…well, hard to write about what you can’t see or follow. But back in Colorado and enjoying my favorite game and team again. By the way, I have been living in the UK off and on for the last 13 years. I have watched a good deal of cricket. And confession…it is BORING! And I am an educated man who likes to learn new things but…I still don’t get the rules. I mean, how can a game (sorry, test) go on for more than a day? Silly game. Like so much…democracy (other than this year of course), rugby, music, and food, we Americans took something that was…okay…and made it better! Yikes if my friends there read this I will lose my traveling rights.

Okay, to the team. This Rockies team is…well…puzzling.

Or not. At the beginning of the year I said if all goes right, health-wise of course, they might win 78 games. That still could happen. I thought Parra would aid them on the road with his defense and good situational hitting (boy was I wrong…worst FA signing by the team ever, and this is a team that gave a man who likes prostitutes and can’t pitch at altitude millions). I thought we would see a decent pairing at SS that would produce an OPS around .650 but solid D. I thought Blackmon would be around .275 and see a decline in his D. I thought that Gray might have a fall-back like Butler. I thought the starting pitching would perhaps be a lot of patch-work but okay. I thought their pen would be the strongest part of the team save for defense. Oops on that one. So…I clearly know nothing. Baseball is a hard game to figure out.

But the fact is, as was said last night on the telecast, this is a good team potentially. They just…aren’t good in the standings. We have seen Tyler Chatwood, at least on the road, be a solid #2 with the best road ERA before his back went ouch. Still think he is not right and there is something about his game at Coors that is…well, they need to figure it out. Jon Gray has taken that next step and you can see that there is another step to his game. I always thought he might be a version of Garret Cole, and I think that is increasingly possible. Remember, he is still just a rookie. Jorge De La Rosa after flat being a batting practice pitcher in April has been excellent…until this week. Tyler Anderson, who I always believed if he could be healthy could be a plus #3 in a rotation even at Coors has been…even better. To be blunt, he has pitched like a #2 and if this is sustainable (injuries or loss of feel), he could end up being for the spot he was picked, the best Rockies pitching draft pick ever. Chad Bettis lost his way but has been excellent since he was almost banished to AAA. He has the stuff and the tenacity to be a good #2/#3. We saw progress with Eddie Butler (his showing in AAA yesterday…read the 6th inning plays at milb for a look-see) shows he has stuff but there is just something missing. I think he has the potential to be a great reliever in the future. They have even gotten solid performance from Chris Russin, one of the most valuable pick-ups in recent years (total cost…$50,000 and no prospects). This is a rotation that can and should be solid middle of the league (and are in road ERA and other peripherals).

Their bullpen has good material. Jake McGee was a pitcher a lot of clubs tried to get from Tampa. Jason Motte has great stuff. They overpaid for Chad Qualls (they have to really…Coors Field at play), but he should be a good 7th inning guy. Add in Carlos Estevez (when he learns to pitch…watch out!), a resurgent Boone Logan, finding Jordan Lyles a place to use his gifts (one-time through the order please), and the return of Zero. This should be a good to great bullpen. Better than anyone other than the Dodgers in the NL West. But it isn’t.

And an offense of Arenado, CarGo, Reynolds, DJ, Blackmon, and Parra should be great. And who knew that Story would do what he has done (even though he Ks a lot, he is in the top tier of pitches seen, which is valuable during a game). Of course Parra stunk, but…it should be a powerful offense. But it isn’t. As for defense…well, there they have been great. Blackmon still is in the top 10 in route efficiency, CarGo looks like Gold Glove CarGo, Story is solid, DJ great, Reynolds surprising, Wolters amazing, and that kid at 3rd…well, Brooks Robinson goes to bed at night and dream of being Nolan Arenado. This lineup should be above-average to good…But it isn’t.

I remember reading somewhere, years ago, maybe Sport Illustrated (remember waiting for the latest issue to come, checking the mailbox, or running out to 7-11 to get one…my kids have no idea), that Bobby Cox said in 1990 or such that the Braves were becoming a team to challenge for the pennant, but they had to learn how to win. Now, they had young pitching and some good young talent in the lineup, but also a mix of veterans (Terry Pendleton was the MVP in 1991, Sid Bream was in his 30s, Charlie Liebrant was over the hill when he pitched his duel with Jack Morris in 1991 Game 7). The trouble is, if I recall his words, when a team has gotten used to losing, they struggle to break the habit. And he mentioned that you can tell a team that hasn’t learned to win because they lose to bad teams, but are competitive with good ones, they can win big, but lose in close games. Sound familiar?

Here is the Rockies record against the dregs of baseball society:

Cinc – 2-5
SDP 5-7
TBR 1-2
PHI 2-2

Now yes, they are 3-1 against the Braves but…they still have 2 games to blow that. If the Rox played .600 ball against those teams instead of that (rounding up),

Cin 5-2
SDP 8-4
TBR 2-1
PHI 3-1

That is 18-8, not 10-16. That would make their record 52-43. Think the season would look a lot different? They have done a great job (mostly) of playing the good teams well. The beat the Cubs 2-1 in Chicago, swept the Mets here, went 3-1 against the Yankees. Yes, they struggled with the Dodgers, Pirates (that rain delay changed that series big time), and Miami (road), but good teams are hard to beat. You should be .500 against teams over .500. And indeed they are 8 below .500 but…that has to do with the next category.

We all saw the stat regarding the record when trailing after 7. Until the Braves game they were 0 – 10,000. Think back to the best Rockies teams – 1995-1998, 2007, 2009-2010. Those teams were dangerous late. You stayed watching til the end, and the managers on the other side kept the pressure up, stealing bases and changing relievers because they knew that the Rox could still come back. Those teams had solid situational hitters (Jon Vander Wal, Seth “Mr. Late Night” Smith, Jason Giambi) and good to great relief that was deep (Bruce Ruffin, Curtis Leskanic, Jeremy Affeldt, LaTroy Hawkins (07 version), Brian Fuentes, Manny Corpas (07 version), Matt Belisle, Rafael Betencourt). Oh and starters that got them at least 6 innings without getting blown out.

This team seems to have all the parts. And at times they perform. But often, when to be blunt, it doesn’t matter. Ryan Rayburn did have a big pinch-hit homer against the Mets, but more often its like his Grand Slam against Atlanta – nice but…not needed. The team expected great at-bats when it mattered from guys like Rayburn, Reynolds, Parra, and even regulars like DJ, Arenado and Blackmon (CarGo is still CarGo…his homers do seem to matter. The fact is, this team has failed far too often in the clutch. Why? Have they just believed too long in failure? Are there not enough examples in recent years to give them that “it will happen” feeling like the 04 Red Sox or ’10 Cardinals? And the bullpen. A team that has as much hard throwers like Motte, Estevez, Castro, and McGee seem to do fine in big lead situations, but too often fail when it matters. Like the game against the Giants when they had a huge comeback after getting MadBum out of the game, took the lead, and promptly lost in the next inning (I think some of this is due to Weiss’s weird bullpen usage but…still, players have to do their job).

We can see this born out when looking at results:

Extra Innings – 0-2
One Run – 6-12
Blowout – 14-20
Walkoff Wins 1
Walkoff Losses 5

These are all signs of a team that is on the cusp of becoming a real contender. Of their 95 games, only 34 have been blow-outs. My standard rule of thumb that every team wins 50, every team loses 50, it’s the other 62 games that matter is playing out (though they need to work on the ledger for their “every team wins 50” side as well). Those 62 games that matter are made up 1-run games, ties in the 7th, comebacks from 3 or more runs. Those are the games that separate a team like this from a Giants in 2015 or that 04 Red Sox group. Every team runs into a bad situation from time to time. The Rox have been shut out 5 times. But sometimes you are that team – as judged by the 5 shutouts the Rox have thrown. But can you win those games that are in the balance. Those often are games against weak opponents (this year they have had that attitude against the Dbacks and thus far the Braves), but also are what help you to maintain at .500 against the .500 or better teams. The Giants game I mentioned, one in Boston, one or two in LA. You can think of the games that they should have won against good teams this year that would level their record against .500 teams.

This team is close…but can they take their next step? That will be the discussion in the next post.

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