Ryan McMahon, Brendan Rodgers, Yency Almonte on Rockies’ hot seat in second half
If we play the fantasy baseball game “could have, would have, should have,” the Rockies are a wild-card playoff contender.
Consider: When they opened the so-called “second half” of the season Friday night against the Dodgers at Coors Field, the Rockies’ record was 40-51. They were 31-17 at Coors Field but 9-34 away from home.
Now consider: The Rockies had the same overall record as Detroit. If the Rockies had the same road-winning percentage as the Tigers (.396), the Rockies would own a 17-26 mark on the road and an overall record of 48-43.
But as that famous NFL philosopher Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.”
And the Rockies’ record says they are a longshot wild card hopeful — at best.
That means that the franchise faces a lot of critical questions in the second half.
Will they trade shortstop Trevor Story, right-hander Jon Gray, righty reliever Mychal Givens or first baseman C.J. Cron? Can they figure out how to play competitive baseball on the road? Who can be counted on to pitch consistently well out of the bullpen? Can the starting rotation maintain its excellence? Which players truly are building blocks for the future?
Rockies trade possibilities
Story, the two-time all-star, and Gray, a Coors Field warrior, are the most coveted trade chips. Both are free agents at the end of the season and Story will bid Colorado adieu. Gray is likely to depart as well.
The Rockies need to replenish their farm system, ideally with players who are close to being big-league ready. Interim general manager Bill Schmidt, however, won’t pull the trigger on a trade unless Colorado gets reasonable value in return.
Story has been linked to the Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox, but Schmidt said no deals are imminent. The rumor mill has Gray going to the Yankees or Dodgers, but those are just rumors at this point.
“Yes, we do have decisions to make, but we don’t have to move players for financial reasons,” Schmidt told The Denver Post on Thursday. “At the end of the day, it will be about what we can get back. We are not a farm system for other people.”
If the Rockies do trade Story, Gray or both, their record in August and September could get ugly, but the long-term gain will likely be worth the short-term pain.
The numbers tell the story. Away from Coors Field, Colorado ranks last in the majors in wins (nine), batting average (.204), on-base percentage (.279), OPS (.584) and home runs (25). The meager home run total is alarming. Even the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates have hit 41 road homers.
The best quote about Colorado’s impotent road offense came from manager Bud Black, who said, “We bang our heads against the wall trying to figure that out. We really do.”
It would help the Rockies considerably if they could find — or develop — a slugger capable of hitting a game-changing homer on the road. At least once in a while. Of the Rockies’ 34 road losses this season, 16 have been by two runs or less.
Veteran right fielder Charlie Blackmon said the Rockies face a distinct disadvantage because they must adjust to pitching that’s different on the road than it is at Coors Field.
“The ball does things differently (on the road) once it leaves the pitcher’s hand, before it gets to the plate,” said Blackmon, who’s hit a solid .286 on the road but has hit only four home runs this season — none away from Coors Field.
“At a big-league level, playing against the best in the world, to have to make those adjustments in competition from one day to the next while almost no one else in the game has to do that, it’s going to have an effect,” Blackmon added.
Fair point, but in all of their history, the Rockies have never hit this poorly on the road.
Inconsistency has been the most consistent thing about the relievers. Closer Daniel Bard and set-up men Tyler Kinley and Carlos Estevez have ridden a roller coaster all season. Givens, who could be sought after by a number of other teams, has been the exception, posting a 2.92 ERA.
The result is a 5.29 bullpen ERA that is the second-highest in the National League to the Diamondbacks’ 5.46. Rockies relievers have allowed 43% of inherited runners to score, third-highest in the NL (Phillies and Giants, 44%).
Black has inserted young relievers such as right-hander Justin Lawrence (4.61) and lefty Lucas Gilbreath (7.98) in some high-leverage situations, partly out of necessity, and partly to test their moxie.
Right-hander Yency Almonte pitched well during last year’s shortened season when he led Colorado relievers with 27 2/3 innings while posting a 2.93 ERA with just two homers surrendered. But he stumbled badly in the first half this season (10.67 ERA, seven homers in 27 innings). He’s out of options, but the Rockies still believe in his talent. That said, he needs a strong second half.
The performance of the starters has been the best thing about the season. They have a 4.22 ERA and are trending toward the lowest ERA in franchise history (4.10 in 2009). Rockies starters own a remarkable 3.32 ERA at Coors.
“I’m very proud of this rotation,” left-hander Kyle Freeland said. “I said back in the spring that this team was going to win or lose on the backs of starting pitching, and it’s kind of held to be true.”
The trick now is to sustain that excellence for a full season. Lefty Austin Gomber, the one big-league-ready piece obtained in the trade with St. Louis for Nolan Arenado, was rolling until left-forearm tightness landed him on the injured list June 20. In 15 starts, Gomber was 6-5 with a 3.68 ERA. Over his last eight starts, he was 4-1 with a 1.61 ERA. He’s scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment soon, but it remains to be seen how much action he will see in the second half of the season.
“Probably it’s a blessing here that maybe he had this little window of being shut down,” Black said when Gomber went on the IL. “We were probably going to do that at some point with him, just based on where he was last year and the year before as far as innings and pitches thrown.”
If Gray is traded, that could open the door for lefty Ryan Rolison, 23, to make his big-league debut. He’s had a tough-luck summer. After having his appendix removed and recovering from that, Rolison was hit in the hand by a fly ball while shagging batting practice with Triple-A Albuquerque. The ball broke a knuckle on his left middle finger, so he’s a little behind, but the Rockies still might make him a September call-up.
If Black has said it once, he probably said it 91 times in the first half: “This is a learning experience for these guys.”
The lessons will continue over the final 71 games and questions will be pondered, especially for the following key players:
— Third baseman Ryan McMahon was on an all-star path until he slumped in late June. He leads the team in home runs (16), but he’s hitting .221 on the road and just .227 with runners in scoring position. He needs to prove that he’s the middle-of-the-order slugger Colorado needs.
— Infielder Brendan Rodgers could be the heir apparent to Story at shortstop. He’s shown flashes of his power with five homers in 41 games, and he’s hitting .261. He’ll be under the microscope in the second half.
— Left fielder Raimel Tapia is now a proven big-leaguer, and although he can be streaky, he’s a dynamic player. In June, he hit .345 with 26 runs, 15 doubles and 12 RBIs. He’s not due to become a free agent until after the 2023 season, so he projects as the leadoff hitter Colorado needs, at least for now.
— For years, the Rockies have desperately needed a solid defensive catcher with pop in his bat. For most of the first half, neither Dom Nunez nor Elias Diaz looked like the answer. But then Diaz got hot right before the break. From June 28 to July 11, he slashed .400/.477/.886 with a 1.333 OPS, five homers, two doubles and nine RBIs in 10 games. Was it an aberration or a sign of things to come?
“We knew that this was going to be a year for a lot of guys to hopefully make strides in performance, and solidify themselves as big-league players, ” Black said. “We are still looking for that growth. Our expectations are to get better as a team and as individuals.”
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