LOS ANGELES – The best part about the Colorado Rockies being good and maybe better than good is the presumed perilousness of it.
What fun is a good Los Angeles Dodgers? A good New York Yankees? A good Boston Red Sox?
They’ll win (probably) enough and then stand in approximately the same spot next summer, maybe lean a little harder in one direction or the other, and even in catastrophe be just a few months from the usual. And good on them. Their owners get it, their general managers get it, they’ve got the money to be wrong once in a while, and then the heartache is temporary.
Grab a beer, tighten up those roller skates and let’s see which way the wind is blowing.
Because, man, the baseball is different there, always has been, is not going to change in the next few months, and what does change is the names of the men who – while skilled and sweetly stubborn – in the end must surrender to the elements (along with a good portion of the rest of the NL West). The place eats ballplayers, pitchers really, and then the pitchers drag the rest of them into the maw. For years like that, really.
So, when something new comes along in Colorado, when a proficient month turns into two, then three, when the Rockies are the first National League team to 40 wins, when there’s seemingly enough pitching to go around, when there’s help – Jon Gray, Chad Bettis – on the way, when arguments are being made that this is the best Rockies team ever, the veracity of it is worth considering. Right?
It seems not that long ago we – OK, I – wondered if the Texas Rangers ever would sustain enough capable baseball to regularly carry through an entire summer. It was too hot there. Pitchers burst into flames. Good teams faded to ash. Then, quite suddenly, the Rangers started winning, and playing to the end of October, and it’s hardly been a thought since. They win or lose based on the baseball, based on whether they’re good enough.
The Rockies went to a World Series once, a decade ago. They’ve never won a division title. Sometimes they’ve slugged themselves into being irritants. But then they’ve run out of pitchers, or innings, or something, and the conversation restarts in spring – maybe this is the year, these are the guys. Hell, they’ve got a puncher’s chance, though.
“The outside, looking in, I had that same impression,” Ian Desmond said Friday afternoon. “Once I got here, it’s something that never gets talked about though. There’s no secret sauce. We go out and play our game.”
They win. They lose sometimes. They’re near the end of June and find themselves riding four rookies – Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman, who’d thrown 52 combined big-league innings before – in the starting rotation, and the bats of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Mark Reynolds, and a defense that is exceptional, and it all looks pretty legit. The culture changed, too, under manager Bud Black and his bench coach, Mike Redmond.
“Hardcore energy,” Arenado said of Black. “He brings it every day. It’s just a different vibe.”
All of which is fine, and as of Friday afternoon the Rockies were a game-and-a-half out of first and 8½ games up in the wild-card standings, with, like, nothing but baseball ahead for the next three-plus months. And it just so happened Freeland, later Friday, became the third of those rookie pitchers in a row to spend his start hitting too many bat barrels. Which is just the sort of thing to get folks thinking too hard.
And maybe it does get trickier from here. The Rockies are prepared to lighten the burden on their rookies, though they’d love to have it come organically. Gray, who won 10 games last season and then broke his foot in April, is making minor-league rehabilitation starts. Bettis, who endured a recurrence of testicular cancer, is throwing bullpens again. Tyler Anderson, who had a sore knee, has returned and is likely to start again soon.
That, with Tyler Chatwood, makes eight. Maybe those aren’t the names in Los Angeles or even Arizona. But change starts somewhere, with someone, with eight someones, and within a team that begins to believe in itself.
“I think so,” Black said. “I would think that eight guys should be enough.”
The proof is out there. The Rockies are in Los Angeles for three. They’ll be in Arizona next weekend.
“It feels great, that’s for sure,” said Arenado, who’s seen plenty of the other. “Everyone’s competing. They’re taking pride in what they’re going to do. We’re staying with each other. And we’re winning. The last thing you want is to be left behind.”
The season will tell. All of the season. In the meantime, you could do worse than believe. It’s way more fun that way.
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