Rockies Season to Celebarate Ends on Sour Note, But Future is Sweet
Retired football coach Joe Glenn had a favorite saying he would use in explaining the challenges of building a champion – which he did in multiple seasons at Northern Colorado and Montana.
“How do you eat an elephant?” he would ask. “One bite at a time.”
In other words, there is no quick fix to long-term success.
There is disappointment for the folks who work at 20th and Blake, and the fans of the Rockies in the aftermath of the team being swept in the NL Division Series by the Brewers, the Rockies highly-regarded offense having betrayed a pitching staff that is forcing the national media to recognize its accomplishments.
But, as manager Bud Black explained, there are going to be 29 front offices and fan bases with disappointment by the time the world champion is crowned in the final days of October.
“A the end of all this one team is going to be happy,” said Black. “We got into the dance. We fought. We might not have played our best, but part of that is our opponent and how (the Brewers) played. Our guys came to play every day. They played hard in this series. They got outplayed.”
Look at this way.
The Rockies took the first bite out of the elephant a year ago, claiming a wild-card berth in the post-season.
They took the second bite this year, advancing to the NL Division Series.
Next? A step three that the franchise can envision being a step forward – how far forward only time will tell – instead of a step backward.
“The fans should be proud of this team and how it played,” said Black. “They came to play every night and played hard, the way you are supposed to play.”
They did wind up with 91 wins, one shy of the franchise record, and did advance to the post-season for the first time in back-to-back seasons. Those are bright spots, overshadowed right now by the disappointment of the season not continuing farther into October.
The Rockies were the consensus fourth-place pick in the NL West. It was a team that faced challenges along the way, and answered them each time, until they ran into the Brewers at the end of a whirlwind week that could have been avoided had they won one more regular-season game.
Think about it, at the end of 162 games, the Rockies and Dodgers were tied for first place in the NL West.
So instead of being a division champion, and being able to take a few days to regroup before being the host team in the first two games of the NL Division Series against Atlanta on Thursday and Friday, the Rockies got on a plane after Game 162 on Oct. 7, and flew to Los Angeles for a Game 163 against the Dodgers.
They came up short in that game, which meant they climbed on a plane the night of Oct. 8, and flew to Chicago for the Wild-Card game against the Cubs, which they won – the hard way, 2-1 in 13 innings.
After that, they rode the bus to Milwaukee, had last Wednesday off, and then opened the NL Division Series against the Brewers, losing back-to-back games at Miller Park before returning home for what turned into the final game of their season on Sunday.
Here’s the kicker.
The Rockies were betrayed not by their pitching, which was a solid foundation for their success this season, but rather the offense, which fell short of expectations during the regular season, and then hit bottom in the final five games – Game 163, the Wild-Card game and the NL Division Series.
The rotation, meanwhile, opened eyes, and did it without one start made by a pitcher who had in the three years of big-league experience to have been arbitration eligible. With six pitchers combining to start 162 of the 163 games, the Rockies rotation had the second-best winning percentage among rotations in the NL, and the second lowest ERA in franchise history.
Left-hander Kyle Freeland set a franchise record for ERA by a starting pitcher both for the season – finishing with the fifth-lowest in the NL (2.85) – and at Coors Field (2.40). Freeland and German Marquez made 33 starts apiece, tied for the second most in the NL, on a staff that led the NL in innings pitched by the starting rotation.
By contrast, the Rockies offense was challenged. The club scored 780 runs, 15th in franchise history, 15 fewer runs in 163 games than the 1995 team scored in 144 games. They had the lowest batting average (.256) in franchise history, second lowest on-base percentage (.322) and 10th worst slugging percentage (.433),
The bottom line?
There is a foundation to build on, although there are some challenging decisions facing the front office in the off-season.
There are decisions to be made, and they begin with do the Rockies feel that between prospects Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers they can afford to lose second baseman DJ LeMahieu to free agency?
The other potential free agents include outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra (who does have an option for 2019).
And there is the elephant in the room – the potential free agency of Nolan Arenado after the 2019 season, which they could attempt to deal with this off-season to give them a better idea of their long-range financial commitments and needs.
It was an approach they took last off-season in signing Charlie Blackmon to a multi-year deal, avoiding his free agency this fall.