'Purple Malaise' takes toll on contention hopes
DENVER -- The Rockies’ 6-19 July qualified as the worst month in their 27 seasons. But the Purple Malaise -- a 14-27 struggle from June 14 to Wednesday (before Friday night’s 5-4 victory over the Giants) that dropped the Rockies from prime postseason contender to Trade Deadline wallflower speaking mostly in future tense (as in next year) -- began with four strange days in June.
A June 13-16 split with the Padres saw the teams combine for a Major League four-game series-record 92 runs. The Rockies blew ninth-inning leads of six runs (a 16-12, 12-inning June 14 loss that was the official dawn of the Purple Malaise) and three runs. The teams played a combined 14 hours, 55 minutes of baseball, and sat through two delays (one for flooding from a broken main irrigation line in right-field foul ground, in-game) totaling 45 minutes.
Right fielder Charlie Blackmon, so fatigued by the craziness and the middling result that he couldn’t enjoy his modern MLB-record 15 hits in a four-game set, said, “Everything has a cost. Hopefully, that doesn’t come back and get us down the road.”
The ghost of that series, which manifests in the form of strange games and odd pains, has gripped the Rockies since.
The Rockies swept the next series, at Arizona, but lost shortstop Trevor Story for 11 games (and went 5-6). Then the Dodgers swept them with three straight walk-off homers.
Then, going into Friday night against the Giants, at least one team scored nine or more runs in 12 of the next 19 home games and Colorado’s ERA was 8.02. The Rox went 6-13 -- despite hitting .311 and averaging seven runs a game.
On the road, the Rockies hit .228 and struck out 30.8 percent of the time while losing 14 of their next 22 road games. The pitchers, even with a small number of blowouts, posted a respectable 4.48 ERA.
The Rockies looked worn during a three-game sweep at Arizona before the break. With four members of the daily lineup (Blackmon, Story, Nolan Arenado and David Dahl) going to the All-Star Game, they dragged into the second half and had to acknowledge their weariness.
“It’s fair to say that, during the streak where we’ve lost a lot of games, guys have been a little bit tired,” Arenado said. “These games have been really long, and I think it’s been a mental and physical toll. Because we haven’t had games like this since 2 1/2, three years.”
Manager Bud Black said, “Ultimately, it’s no excuse, but it’s been our lot, something that we’ve had to live with.”
Arenado, who played in pain through an unlucky period of being hit by pitches and four balls, said, “I wish I did a better job at taking a day here, maybe two days.” And Black acknowledged he could have done a better job monitoring playing time.
In fairness to the fatigued players, the Rockies have struggled record-wise when their front-liners weren’t available. Records this year with the following players on the injured list:
• Daniel Murphy, 8-12
• David Dahl, 3-5
• Charlie Blackmon, 8-2
• Trevor Story, 5-6
And the Rockies had to finish Friday night’s victory without Dahl, who left the field in distress after he twisted his right ankle awkwardly while making a catch in center.
So a team that’s praised for its grinding effort when successful, and criticized for not stepping off the pedal during struggles, stays true to its style.
“My routine is my success,” Story said. “That's my standard that I set for myself so that I can check all those boxes before I go into a game and I think a lot of guys are going to do that.”
General manager Jeff Bridich acknowledged tiredness, to a point.
“It’s been a long, long time since we played that San Diego series -- a lot of games, a lot of days, a lot of weeks since,” said Bridich, whose job description includes building depth for injuries or fatigue. “If that’s true, I would believe it. But if that’s an ongoing excuse for how we continue to play, that would be tough to stomach.”
Right-hander Jon Gray describes the Purple Malaise as a time of maddening weirdness. Look at Gray’s recent performance.
With a chance to keep the Rockies from being swept by the Giants on July 17, Gray woke up throwing up and gave up six runs in 5 1/3 innings of an 11-8 loss. Pitching well against the Nationals on July 24, he was hit by a line drive and left with a right calf bruise after four innings. But he has also beaten the Dodgers twice -- bright times during the Purple Malaise.
“It doesn’t really feel right, doesn’t feel the same,” Gray said. “I don’t know if we were missing something, like a certain event to spark something. Man, we could really use that right now.
“It just feels, I don’t know, strangely dead. Best thing we can do is never accept that this is us.”