Some readers might have been irritated or puzzled by my decidedly pessimistic early-season column regarding the Rockies.
Baseball experts, both locally and nationally, were going out of their way to label our own Colorado Rockies as pre-season favorites to challenge or topple the Dodgers in the National League West, and to roll deep into the postseason as legitimate World Series contenders.
Admittedly, all the hubbub caused me to look twice, and then a third time, at the projected Rockies depth chart at the beginning of the season. What’s the big deal? Were there some off-season acquisitions that might have slipped past me while I was lost in the Broncos, Avalanche or Nuggets? Maybe there is a slew of new talent coming up from the minors that I’m not aware of.
After my third time through the roster, I closed my eyes and tried with all my might to imagine the current cast of Rockies beating up on the Dodgers en route to a National League title and an eventual World Series run. I tried but couldn’t get there, even in my most optimistic state.
Since I couldn’t imagine this year’s version of the Rockies being viable contenders for a World Series appearance, I said so, in no uncertain terms, on these same pages. No sugar coating and no punches pulled. When we are plain speaking on sports, we say what we mean, even if it hurts a little.
Fast forward to May 25. The Rockies are sitting at next to last in the National League West standings at 23-27. They are below .500 both at home and on the road. They were already 10 games back of the first-place Dodgers when Memorial Day arrived. Yikes.
The pitching staff is sporting an earned run average of 5.11, about one run higher than last year and pushing for worst in the major leagues at 26th. The Rockies are allowing 5.36 runs against them per game, which also ranks 26th in the majors.
Pitchers Kyle Freeland (6.71), Antonio Senzatela (6.21), Chad Bettis (5.16), Tyler Anderson (11.76) and Jon Gray (4.62) are each allowing more earned runs this season than last - in most cases, significantly more. These pitchers have combined to throw 207 innings, and their poor performances have resulted in truckloads of runs for opponents.
Rockies hitters, who have actually not been bad and rank 12th in team batting average at .255, know going into each game that they probably need six or more runs to win. Six runs per game against MLB pitching? On most days, especially away from the hitting-friendly confines of Coors Field, that’s just too much to ask.
Is there still any chance for our Rockies? It is only May, after all.
Since it’s a free country, let’s knock back some purple Kool-aid for a moment and try to imagine how the season could still be miraculously salvaged. Perhaps we should slip into some purple and black colors and throw on our luckiest Rockies caps. There. That’s better.
So have teams ever come back from 10 games down to win a division? You bet. It has happened more than once.
Are Freeland, Bettis, Anderson and other high-priced arms at manager Bud Black’s disposal capable of returning to last year’s form? Absolutely. We have seen this staff perform at a high level before; very recently, in fact. That magic could theoretically be recaptured.
As warmer temperatures mix with high altitude, could the Rockies’ bats catch fire into the summer months? Heck yes. They usually do, and probably will again at some point this summer.
Couldn’t the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and others falter down the stretch in the National League West - thereby handing the division to the Rockies on a silver platter? Darn right. They could all choke at once. It could be remembered as the “Great National League West Choke-Fest of 2019.”
OK, well, that was fun. I almost had myself believing for a minute. It’s starting to feel journalistically dishonest, though, so I should stop. I’ll leave my Rockies hat on, but I’m crossing back over into reality now. Here I come.
The reality is that other teams, within our own division no less, are simply better right now at the parts of the game that matter most. The Dodgers allow only 3.40 earned runs per game, while the Padres (3.83) and Diamondbacks (4.15) are also formidable on the mound. Those numbers are in a different stratosphere than what Rockies pitchers are posting these days.
Even if the Rockies pick it up another notch or two with the bats, we have seen in recent seasons that pitching travels exceptionally well to the playoffs, while offense is generally hit and miss. Regular season hitting can certainly propel a team to the postseason, but stellar pitching is absolutely required to advance once the postseason begins.
Remember what happened to the Rockies last season when they met the Brewers in the playoffs? The bats went completely quiet, and the pitching wasn’t good enough to overcome the lack of run production. The result was three quick losses and an unceremonious elimination from the playoffs.
Even if Colorado’s bats come alive as they typically do during the mid- to late-summer months, this pitching staff would still require a transformation of epic proportions in order to make up the 10-game deficit Colorado currently faces.
The resuscitation of this pitching staff – this season – is better suited for the talents of Dr. Henry Frankenstein than Bud Black. Nothing against Bud, but this staff, collectively, isn’t jumping off the operating table any time soon.
Playoff aspirations and World Series contention might well be a part of the Rockies’ future, but it will have to be farther into the future than 2019.
It looked that way to me in March, and looks that way to me today.