With the Colorado Rockies looking to make the playoffs in the second half, many believe the script for the National League is set in stone. The Rockies’ volatility still might result in a surge or a plunge.
Fortune-tellers and sports gamblers wield the power of prediction. As we head into the second half of the baseball season, these two groups agree: the National League playoff teams will face only minor changes from the current status.
The Colorado Rockies will likely slide right into one of the two Wild Card spots. Fellow NL West and spring training partner, the Arizona Diamondbacks, will grab the other. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who lead the NL West by 9.5 games, are an unstoppable train. Most people think the NL Central will only compete within their own division—the Milwaukee Brewers lead, but the Chicago Cubs will probably win it. The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates have a fighting chance. However, none of these teams will rise to challenge the Diamondbacks and Rockies for a Wild Card spot. The Washington Nationals will run away with the NL East title and the only other item of interest in that division is “The Freeze”.
Based on these ‘predictions’, National League baseball fans can turn off the TV until late September. Then we can gear up for the playoffs after the start of the Denver Broncos season. The second half of the season for the National League means less than NFL training camp. There’s nothing to see here.
What’s that thing that they say on investment commercials? Past performance is not indicative of future results.
The best sports gamblers are right about 60% of the time. Assuming that everything will play out as predicted after the first half might be foolish. Yes, talent and on-field play are predictors, but the number of factors that go into a season stretch beyond those two variables.
Teams that win need to stay healthy or only lose guys to injuries at depth positions. They need favorable schedules and matchups. Contenders need the entire organization to stay cohesive. There cannot be damaging infighting between the front office, coaching staff and players. The clubs need to make the right moves. Players have to stay confident when faced with adversity.
They need luck.
So don’t tell me how you know how this story is going to end.
There’s more drama left in the second half.
* * * * *
The Rockies’ inconsistency makes them the most volatile NL team in a playoff position other than the Milwaukee Brewers. After a strong, consistent start, they were abysmal for the last three weeks prior to the All Star game. While the young pitching was circumspect, the team could not hit. The Rockies can’t have only half of their lineup hitting. Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon only come up to the plate two out of every nine at bats.
It now seems unlikely that Carlos Gonzalez starts hitting well again this season. As a huge Cargo fan, it’s painful to watch this from the most natural hitter I’ve even seen. The Rockies also need Ian Desmond and Trevor Story to wake up.
There are options for contributing hitters to join Arenado, Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu and Mark Reynolds. Gerardo Parra sparks the Rockies when healthy. The outfielder was a disappointment last year, but the Rockies have played better with him in the lineup this year.
David Dahl is playing games in the minors and his return to the outfield could be huge for the Rockies. If Dahl regains his form from last season, the Rockies best outfield lineup might consist of Parra, Blackmon and Dahl, with veterans Cargo and Desmond out of the lineup.
As for Story, his extremely high strikeout totals may lead to a minor league call-up of prospect Ryan McMahon, hitting .390 over his last 32 games.
The Rockies starting rotation could have eight options: Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Jeff Hoffman, Tyler Chatwood, Antonio Senzatela, Tyler Anderson and the return of Chad Bettis. The number of arms also gives the team options in the bullpen, which faltered during the last month.
That depth alone could steady the ship for the Rockies. If they don’t completely fall apart in the second half, they should capture a Wild Card game spot. Again, this assumes the predictions above play out.
The question becomes, should the Rockies make a trade to compete this year?
We know from 2007 that if the Rockies can get past the Wild Card game, they’ll have a chance in the playoffs. They need to figure out how to win that play-in game, probably against the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks will roll out Zach Greinke to pitch that game. If it’s a home game for Arizona, the Rockies are in trouble.
It’s more of an unknown who would start that game for the Rockies. Currently, a case could be made to start Gray, Hoffman or Chatwood (for a road game). Also, if Freeland’s 8.1-inning no-hit bid is the start of something, he might get the nod.
If the Rockies can trade for a starter with the potential to pitch in that Wild Card game, they should make that move. With a stable of young promising prospects in the minor leagues, the Rockies could afford to trade one or two of the mid-level prospects for a mid-level veteran starting picture. They could also try to go after bullpen arms or a veteran position player with playoff experience.
In the back of their minds, the Rockies also need to watch the Dodgers closely. For the reasons I outlined before, the Dodgers team might have cracks. I am skeptical that the juggling the Dodgers do with their lineup is beneficial. Every bit of adversity is met with shuffling of players between the Disabled List and active roster. How do the Dodgers learn resilience?
The Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts, loses his temper frequently. That act tires over a long season. The Dodgers look amazing right now, but people thought the Cubs would look just as good. Look at the problems the Cubs are having. The Dodgers and Rockies were tied in the standings less than a month ago. Although unlikely, their fortunes could reverse.
If the Dodgers do falter early in the second half, the Rockies should put all of their energy into this year including making trades to compete for the division title now.
We know from the 2007 and 2009 playoff runs, nothing is guaranteed for the future. While it seems like the Rockies are built for a number of years, what happens if the young pitchers lose their confidence like Ubaldo Jimenez did? What happens if there are more Ian Stewart’s on this team who was unable to sustain early-career success? What if Arenado leaves in two years?
So if the Rockies see daylight in the division race, this becomes their year. Again, I understand how unlikely it is given how unstoppable the Dodgers look. I’ve just watched enough sports in the last few years to know what happens when something looks like a sure thing.
In April, my dream scenario had the Rockies in a position to compete for a playoff spot. The first half changed my perception. Now, I’m expecting them to not only make the playoffs, but also threaten to make a run. Based on past performance, future results could land the Rockies back in Rocktober.