DENVER -- Before Sunday’s 8-3, sweep-completing victory over the Padres, Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt was truthful about the club’s early struggles but also bullish on its immediate future.
Schmidt’s best vision for the Rockies became blurry as soon as six-year, $182 million signee Kris Bryant became unavailable because of a back injury. But Schmidt knew all along that depth was something the Rockies were “working on,” and seasons don’t wait when a player gets hurt.
That makes sense, as do the ebbs and flows of this Rockies campaign. The solid starting pitching they expected has only begun showing up with any consistency. Bullpen depth had to be built on the run. Offensive players with expectations for power have seemed to press without their lineup linchpin.
Soggy fundamentals, with a grating streak of 13 home games with at least one error and a Majors-leading 35 errors from May 8 through Thursday, puzzle Schmidt. But they don’t dampen him.
The homers returned over the weekend. Sunday, Randal Grichuk smacked a three-run shot to back up his three-run shot on Friday -- which ended the longest homer drought of his career at 26 games. Catcher Elias Díaz, with well-documented struggles this year, went deep for the first time in 28 games. C.J. Cron homered twice Friday and once Saturday, then went 3-for-4 Sunday as the Rockies completed knocking the Padres out of first place in the NL West.
The Rockies let three close home games against the Guardians slip away earlier in the week, but bracketed that struggle by going 7-3 against division foes San Francisco and San Diego. And Bryant is looking at next weekend’s series at Minnesota for his return.
The lengthy poor stretch has made the Rockies (30-37) easy to write off. But Schmidt is giving the team a chance to put the season back into proper focus.
“My belief is we’ve got to get back to .500,” Schmidt said in the home dugout at Coors Field before the series finale. “We’ve just got to get back to playing sound baseball. I think we’re OK if we do that and keep winning series.
“We’re in the third week of June. In , Dan [O’Dowd, then the GM] makes the change [at manager from Clint Hurdle to Jim Tracy] in late May. I remember the road trip, Houston [when Colorado went 1-3], St. Louis and Milwaukee [7-0]. Then it was, ‘Katy, bar the door.’”
By June 19 of 2009, Katy had enthusiastically flipped the latch. That was the day the Rockies, who would make the postseason, climbed over .500.
This season, even with an expanded field of six NL teams, Baseball-Reference gives the Rockies a 0.1 percent chance at making the postseason, and their World Series chances are an even smaller percentage.
Schmidt has emphasized to Bryant since the day he signed to “just do your 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. Even though Bryant hadn’t homered, his presence made a difference. The Rockies count on him joining Charlie Blackmon, who is surging in June, and Cron in reigniting the offense, while quality starts are coming from the rotation more often than not.
“We have the talent to do so, and what it comes down to is taking care of the baseball, playing fundamental baseball,” Grichuk said. “We showed this series we can do it. If we continue that, good things can happen.”
Rockies manager Bud Black said, “We played well on the last road trip. We played well against Cleveland; we didn’t really hit in clutch situations. We played well this series. So now we’ve got to keep doing it. I feel good about it.”
However, even if the Rockies surge, they face the same depth questions.
Losing primary setup man Tyler Kinley for the season to a right elbow injury stressed a bullpen that is trying to settle
Carlos Estévez, Robert Stephenson and Lucas Gilbreath into heightened roles, while also taking a flyer on Jake Bird, who began the year off the 40-man roster. The Rockies even delayed sending down struggling outfielder Sam Hilliard because Minor League help wasn’t available until Sean Bouchard, who debuted Sunday (0-for-3 with a walk), was deemed ready.
Schmidt said improving the roster has proven difficult. However, he has seen a team that’s frustrated and at times confused over what has gone wrong still approach games with the right attitude. He also pointed out “players respect Buddy and play hard.”
If the switch isn’t flipped, the Rockies will be faced with how to improve the upper part of the farm system, which could mean parting with mainstays to add Major League-ready (or close) talent to shorten a rebuild.
But if the Rockies beat odds and become a contender, the onus is on Schmidt to use some of the quality that is building in the low Minors to acquire talent and enhance the club.
“You owe it to the guys here,” Schmidt said. “You owe it to Charlie Blackmon, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, Alex Colomé, Daniel Bard. They’re doing the best they can. Don’t forget the [eventual World Series champion] Braves last year. What was their record in August? They made trades.
“Let’s get back to .500. That’s what we’re shooting for. But forget the record. Let’s get back to solid baseball. Once we do that, then we’ll see where we’re at.”