Rockies show improvement on road trip

September 19th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- The season’s dying embers don’t carry the importance Rockies right fielder would prefer.

Three-game home series with the Dodgers, starting Tuesday, and the Giants, starting Friday, could play a big role in deciding the National League West. But it’s not like Blackmon has some special gear he cranks into when the Rockies are a spoiler.

“I pretty much try my hardest to do my best every game, no matter what the opponent is,” Blackmon said. “I'm not turning it up a notch. My notches are already up.”

Sunday afternoon, the Rockies didn’t take advantage of numerous scoring opportunities and fell to the Nationals, 3-0, with the biggest bright spot being Blackmon doubling twice to raise his career total to 263 -- one ahead of Nolan Arenado for fifth on the Rockies’ career doubles list. But with Colorado fourth in the NL West, September and October are all about perspective, so it was time to step back from one poor loss and appreciate a stretch that was arguably the team’s brightest of the season.

The Rockies went 7-2 on a road trip against the contending Braves and Phillies, and the also-ran Nats. It was the team’s first winning road trip of the year. After a 6-31 road start that sparked all kinds of statements that Colorado was on pace for something bad, the team has quietly gone 19-20.

The big picture is the Rockies have shown growth. One can’t extrapolate the performance over 10 days, or even the performance at Coors Field (45-27 heading into a nine-game final homestand that welcomes the Nats after the Dodgers and Giants), into a claim that, as-is, the Rockies are a playoff threat for 2022. But Blackmon looks around and sees performances that weren't there early.

Most notably, second baseman Brendan Rodgers, injured for April and much of May and rusty until early June, broke out to the tune of .343 (12-for-45) with three home runs on the trip. Over a longer period, Blackmon noted the surge of catcher Elias Díaz -- who has a .275/.344/.568 slash line since June 1, after a .125/.193/.188 beginning -- and added that backup catcher Dom Nuñez has improved during his rookie year. Blackmon also likes that rookie pitchers such as lefty Lucas Gilbreath and back-from-injury righty Jordan Sheffield are taking advantage of chances.

“I think it’s good to see our team play well, and do it for an entire road trip,” Blackmon said. “And it does go to show a little bit how good the NL West is. That’s a really tough division.

“We have the ability to continue to play well. I’m looking forward to more of that.”

So where do the next six games against playoff teams fit into the growth of the Rockies? And how much of it can carry over to next year?

A carryover to ‘22 might be a difficult ask, since the Rockies have big free agency decisions to make regarding first baseman C.J. Cron and shortstop Trevor Story -- and after making those decisions, Colorado still must add bats, and possibly bullpen experience.

But that’ll come in good time. The Dodgers and Giants are coming to town.

“When we play the Dodgers and the Giants, we get the best out of ourselves, so I’m excited to see how we do this week,” said right-hander Jon Gray, who gave up just two runs in his four innings on Sunday, but wasn’t sharp (70 pitches) and was removed in an offensive substitution.

Maybe the upcoming games are important because, well, they just are.

“That’s what I love about baseball,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “There’s such a strong integrity to win as a player, a coach, a manager for over 40 years. Other teams are watching. Other teams care greatly about what’s going on outside of their own ballpark, because it impacts them.”

But Blackmon was in no mood to view the upcoming half-dozen games as some kind of postseason pantomime.

“It's such a big deal to make it to the playoffs,” Blackmon said. “And nothing compares to the playoffs except for the playoffs.”