Rockies seek turnaround on West Coast swing
SAN FRANCISCO -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki understands as well as anyone that there are many ways to read the standings a month before the All-Star break. They were four games under .500 with losses in 15 of 20 going into Friday night, but also just 3 1/2 games out of the National League Wild Card going into the game against the Giants.
But the Rockies have a chance to bring clarity to their season by the break. Perform well, with this three-game weekend series against the NL West-leading Giants and the two series totaling seven games with the second-place Dodgers, and the Rockies can call themselves contenders.
"The pitching the last two games really helped; if they can give us some good starts, we'll be fine," Tulowitzki said. "The key, obviously, is holding our own on the road. If we can do that and get back to the home dominance, we'll be fine."
But if the Rockies continue to struggle, questions about Tulowitzki's future will come, despite his contract running through 2020.
"No doubt," Tulowitzki said. "Anytime you're on a team you want to focus on, 'Come to the park every day and win games,' it makes your job easier. I've dealt with both sides.
"Obviously, when we're in it and talking about playoffs, it's a lot easier than when you're talking about, 'Are they going to trade certain guys?' Those thoughts make it more difficult to come to the park."
There is no indication that Rockies ownership and management is considering becoming a seller before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. But to not have to deal with the question, the Rockies need a turnaround, with the likelihood that left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, right fielder Michael Cuddyer and pitchers Brett Anderson and Tyler Chatwood won't return from their long-absence injuries before the break. Third baseman Nolan Arenado and pitching prospect Eddie Butler should return before the break, but some of these key games will be played without them.
Can they save their season with so many players missing?
There may be a better question: Do they even need to be thinking about the big picture?
"I don't think we have to prove to anything but ourselves," said center fielder Drew Stubbs, who has spent his career with contending teams, having played for the Reds and Indians. "Going into this stretch, and when you start heading toward the Trade Deadline, a lot of teams are trying to decide, 'Are we a contender or are we going to build for next year?' This time between now and then is going to determine a lot for us.
"But I think it's imperative for us as players not to worry about any of that stuff. We just need to be productive on the field and try to win games. The other peripheral stuff will be decided by the staff and the front office."
It's not as if the schedule will give the Rockies many breaks. Including Friday, the schedule calls for 29 games in the next 31 days.
"I don't want to say we need to tread water because we still have enough talent here to win baseball games," veteran first baseman Justin Morneau said. "If we do well between now and the All-Star break, we'll start getting guys back and it'll be like making moves at the deadline."
For those returns to matter, the Rockies need frontline production from players forced into action now -- such as pitching callups Christian Bergman and Tyler Matzek, who had impressive debuts; infielders Josh Rutledge, Charlie Culberson and Ryan Wheeler; and outfielder Corey Dickerson.
"Everybody in this locker room deserves to be here and we've got a good group of veterans," Dickerson said. "We're behind two teams, but we play those guys many times and other teams can go into droughts, also. We've got to keep battling."
If the Rockies succeed at the battle, they can finish with the same team they brought into the season, or an improved one rather than one broken down to build for the future.
"You have to ask some of the other guys, but hopefully they are aware -- because if you are, you understand how important each and every day is," Tulowitzki said.