The Colorado Rockies finished-out their 2014 season with a listless 1-5 week in California, coming-off a 6-game winning streak at home that followed a 7-game losing streak on the road that followed a 4-game winning streak at home.
In other parts of the world the Tigers held-on to win the American League Central, the A’s held-on to secure the AL’s 2nd Wild Card, and the Cardinals held-on to win the National League Central. Oakland will take on the Kansas City Royals in the AL Wild Card Playoff tomorrow evening at 6:00 MDT at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Wednesday the Pittsburgh Pirates host the San Francisco Giants in the NL play-in contest, also starting at 6:00 MDT. TBS will have the AL telecast; the NL show is on ESPN.
The Rockies season, meanwhile, turned-out to be another stroll through hell. I, at least, had absolutely no expectations coming into the year. I was completely out-of-touch; my lame, antiquated Blackberry couldn’t handle the Hot Stove thread, and the Denver Post finally caught-up with those of us who were reading the paper for free on the phone. The new business had taken-off and I was buried in work, but when Jaredean called to ask “are you in” I said “you bet.” And when he asked “what day,” I said “how ’bout Monday?” because I thought it would be cool for the site to have a weekly summary/outlook piece, and that’s what you got.
Out of the gate, after the usual bumbling around that occurs in exotic locations such as south Florida, things seemed too good to be true. Charlie Blackmon was a revelation. Who was this guy Lyles? From Houston in the deal for Dex? Cool! And this guy Barnes, too? The guy with the tattoos? He’s pretty good! Troy Tulowitzki was healthy, and all of a sudden the transcendent player he represents was fully apparent. He was leading the league in hitting and seemingly vacuuming-up everything within 30 yards of the shortstop position.
And talk about vacuums, the 2nd year 3rd-baseman Nolan Arenado was back, just like before, but this time he was working a 28 game hitting streak and looking every bit like Brooks Robinson and Graig Nettles combined. There was a new 1st-baseman, and he wasn’t the washed-up former MVP everybody feared. He was right there behind Tulo and Chuck Nazty in the batting race, and scooping-up those lasers from the shortstop and Arenado same as that other guy we used to have over there.
But fingers were continuing to mysteriously break, and the new left-hander Brett Anderson had a bizarre one early, busting it in an at-bat on April 12. But it didn’t seem to matter, because Jhoulys Chacin was on the horizon to come-off the DL, so what of it? Then Tyler Chatwood’s elbow came-up lame. Well, we’d be OK; we had Frankie Morales back as a fill-in, and all those promising arms down on the farm waiting for a chance. Then Big Money Michael Cuddyer strained a hammy. But you know, geez, all those outfielders— we’ll make it through— get that bad boy healed up good and come right back at ’em.
And they were just ripping people-up. They were so hot it would make you laugh out-loud, and all was well in the Mile High City after three long years of despair.
Yet the road was looming, and Agbayani was warning us this was unprecedented; it wasn’t going to last. They blew into May, had a weird home and home series with the Rangers, blew them out at Coors and blew them out for one in Arlington, and then got cooled-off a bit in Cincinnati, and curiously (or so it seemed at the time), in KC. A middling home stand followed, and a daunting trip was on the horizon, starting in Atlanta, Georgia, where many bad things have been know to happen. And the Rockies were just starting to cool off.
Following a Friday night loss, on Saturday Arenado broke his finger sliding into 2nd. About 10 days later Lyles busted his wrist. And Carlos Gonzalez had something going on with his hand that had to shut him down. As Kerouac would have said, Things Were Starting to Fall Apart. It was time to get off the bus.
Then on June 9, Big Money Mike, trying to cover for Arenado at 3rd, took a hard dive chasing a left-side tweener and broke his shoulder. Just like that, it was over. Almost as soon as it had started.
You wanted them to at least play hard. You wanted them to be tough on defense, to grind-out tough at-bats, to relinquish each run reluctantly, but it just wouldn’t happen. You kept hoping the next milestone would mark a new beginning— a new home stand, the All Star Break, anything. But it just wouldn’t happen.
You wondered about the on-field leadership— no one seemed to step-up and say This Shall Not Stand, but everyone with credentials to lead was hurt. And then every time they would work themselves into the 7th inning with a smidgen of a lead, on would come Rex Brothers, and that would be that.
What was up with Rex, or better stated, what was up with Walt Weiss, or whoever was pulling his strings “in an office just off the clubhouse?” Brothers was not himself from the start, whether he was hurt, or simply had lost his velocity and the mojo that went with it in the off-season, but Weiss just kept running him out there to blow it night after night after night after night. It had to absolutely destroy his confidence— why wasn’t he down in the Springs working it out and getting it back, rather than wreaking doom on his devastated, decimated teammates time after time?
There were positives. Corey Dickerson emerged as a bona-fide major leaguer and potential future All Star. Tommy Kahnle made the team as a Rule 5 draftee and held his own admirably— at times it seemed like he was the only guy in the bullpen you could rely on. Michael McKenry won a share of the catching job by out-playing Wilin Rosario, who came-up sick early and had a horrible third year. The new 1st baseman, Justin Morneau, won the batting championship, and wasn’t it a breath of fresh air to be free of all those rally-killing, life-sucking, bases-clogging 14-pitch walks?
It’s not a lost cause. As Dr Christopher’s excellent Sunday piece pointed-out, there’s a foundation there; the Rockies aren’t operating in an alternate universe, as Buster Olney or some other genius postulated. But think about it: Chacin. Chatwood. Nicasio. All expected to contribute, all effectively vanished from the face of the earth. Tulowitzki: Out. Gonzalez: Out. Arenado: Out. You expect to compete? Look no further than the year and line Morales turned-in. Not suited to start, you couldn’t keep him out of the rotation.
Colorado has three of the game’s finest position players. The five guys surrounding them are not slouches either, not one of them. The rotation will be re-built, there’s potential on the horizon, and the same can be said for the ‘pen.
We’ll debate all the moves over the winter, get away from it all, and be back for more of the best game ever invented come April, and back for a contender. But the fundamental dark cloud remains, and was out in plain-sight for all to see this September. The Rockies will not succeed if they cannot find a way to win on the road, and they will not win on the road if they cannot figure out a way to hit out there.