DENVER — General manager Bill Schmidt’s best vision for the Rockies was blurred once six-year-old, $182 million Kris Bryant was unavailable with a back injury. But Schmidt knew all along that the Rockies were “working at depth,” and seasons don’t wait for a player to get injured.
That makes sense, as does the ups and downs of this Rockies campaign. The solid launch pitch they were expecting has only materialized with some consistency. Bullpen depth had to be built on the run. Offensive players with expectations of power seem to be pressing without their lineup pivot.
Wet fundamentals with a scratchy streak of 13 home games with at least one miss and 35 misses leading the majors from May 8 through Thursday baffle Schmidt. But they don’t dampen it.
Home runs returned, with three each on Friday night and Saturday night against the Padres. The Rockies missed three tight home games against the Guardians earlier in the week, but either side of that series featured Colorado on Sunday after beating division opponents San Francisco and San Diego 6-3. And Bryant is watching the series next weekend in Minnesota for his return.
The long bad stretch has made it easy for the Rockies (29-37) to write them off. But Schmidt gives the team the chance to really focus the season again.
“I’m convinced we need to get back to .500,” Schmidt said ahead of Sunday’s series finale against the Padres at home dugout at Coors Field. “We just have to play baseball properly again. I think we’re fine if we do that and keep winning series.
“We are in the third week of June. in the Dan [O’Dowd, then the GM] makes the change [at manager from Clint Hurdle to Jim Tracy] End of May. I remember the road trip, Houston [when Colorado went 1-3]St Louis and Milwaukee [7-0]. Then it was, ‘Katy, close the door.’”
By June 19, 2009, Katy had enthusiastically latched on. That was the day the Rockies, who made it into the postseason, climbed above .500.
This season, despite an expanded field of six NL teams, Baseball-Reference gives the Rockies a 0.1 percent chance of making the postseason and their World Series chances are even lower.
Schmidt has insisted to Bryant since the day he was signed to “just do his job” and not carry unnecessary weight, but Bryant’s responsibility is weighty.
The Rockies were 10-6 before Bryant’s first of two stints on the IL. Although Bryant didn’t have a homered, his presence made a difference. The Rockies are counting on him to join Charlie Blackmon (June boost) and CJ Cron (two homers on Friday, one on Saturday) to revive offense while quality starts mostly come from rotation.
Yet even as the Rockies swell, they face the same profound questions.
The loss of primary setup man Tyler Kinley for the season to a right elbow injury emphasized a bullpen needing quick contributions from Chad Smith and Jake Bird, who started the year outside of the 40-man roster. The Rockies even delayed launching struggling outfielder Sam Hilliard because minor league help was unavailable until Sean Bouchard, who debuted Sunday, was deemed ready.
Schmidt said improving the squad has proved difficult. However, he has seen that a team that is frustrated and sometimes confused by what went wrong still approaches games with the right attitude. He also pointed out that “players respect Buddy [Black, the manager] and play hard.”
If the switch doesn’t flip, the Rockies will be faced with how to improve the upper part of the farm system, which could mean shedding from the mainstays to add major league-ready (or near) talent to shorten a rebuild.
But if the Rockies beat the odds and become a contender, the responsibility rests with Schmidt to use some of the quality building in the low minors to acquire talent and improve the club.
“You owe it to the boys here,” said Schmidt. “You owe it to Charlie Blackmon, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, Alex Colomé, Daniel Bard. They do their best. Don’t forget those [eventual World Series champion] Good last year. What was your record in August? They did business.
“Let’s go back to .500. That’s why we shoot. But forget the record. Let’s get back to solid baseball. Once we do that, we’ll see where we stand.”