As a way to get into the most brutal Rockies loss of the season (which is no small feat), let me open with a few questions for us to consider.
1. Did it ever feel like the Rockies were going to win yesterday? Even when they were up 4-1?
2. Was this the point of no return for Jim Tracy’s haters? How much damage did he do with his
3. Should it make me happy or sad that it took a swarm of bees for the Rockies to get a sniff from Sportscenter?
4. What does it say that I’m actually not that mad at Rafael Betancourt? Sure, he gave up the deciding home run to Justin Upton in the 9th inning of yesterday’s 9-7 loss, but at least he was throwing strikes. Seriously, what does it say that I just typed that sentence?
And that’s where we find ourselves. While we might think we know better then to make a single loss into something bigger, the symptoms of a bad team were hard to overlook yesterday. Even when the team jumped out to an early lead, Juan Nicasio‘s command issues seemed ominous for a pitching staff that has been, in a word, disastrous. Once he was pulled in the 5th inning with a sky-high pitch count and 5 walks issued and the game was in the hands of the once-praised, battered, and overworked bullpen, it never felt like the Rockies would be able to win the game.
Among the (now contradictory) coaching philosophies that Jim Tracy has claimed to embrace in his time in Colorado is this one: “empty the cupboards,” or use all of the players at your disposal, to win the game in 9 innings, even if that leaves you in a somewhat precarious position in extra innings. On paper, that is a philosophy I fully support.
Let me now tell you a philosophy that I do not support: emptying the cupboards before the 9th inning. One of the memories from my childhood as a Rockies fan is the infamous playoff game against the Atlanta Braves, for which I was in attendance at Coors Field, when Lance Painter was forced to pinch hit because Don Baylor had no more position players. It made me mad back then, and it made me mad when Tracy put himself in that position yesterday. In moves that reeked like a combination of stubbornness and desperation, Tracy burned through the meat of his bench in the course of one inning. He double switched to insert Jonathan Herrera, then had Jason Giambi pinch hit for him with two men on, and then pinch ran for Giambi with the recently returned Eric Young Jr. Oy.
In a social media atmosphere where it is possible to get attention by shouting the loudest (figuratively speaking), the calls for Tracy’s managerial head are cacophonous. And perhaps rightfully so. But if your team scores 7 runs at home, you should win. When you don’t, it is not possible for all of the blame to fall on the manager. Which brings this all back to the problems with the pitching.
Yesterday the stats from the pitchers were just plain weird. Juan Nicasio gave up 1 run on 2 hits. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Then you remember the 5 free passes. The Diamondbacks did not register an extra base hit until the 9th inning. But it wasn’t because the pitching was effective up to that point; they just walked everybody instead.
As the season looks more and more like a lost cause, there will be a desire to place it in one of two tidy categories. They are either “contenders” or they are in “rebuilding mode.” Besides the fact that this binary is not nearly as useful in general as people sometimes think it is, the Rockies were never going to firmly fit under one label or the other. Good or bad, surprisingly solid or spectacularly awful, their unique blend of veteran and youth players always meant that this team was trying to win now and develop for the future at the same time.
Take Rex Brothers, who is on the short list of “biggest goats” yesterday. On the one hand he was ready to contribute right now. On the other hand the team needed him to continue to develop as they groom him for a larger role in the coming years. This is also the case for players like Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, and Jordan Pacheco.
I think it is a total misnomer that every team should declare their season as either worth pursuing or worth sacrificing in service of rebuilding for the future. Teams not named the Yankees, Red Sox, or Rangers have to do both simultaneously, and just hope that they have struck the correct balance between the two to be successful. And perhaps that brings us to the more useful and more accurate criticism of Dan O’Dowd, Jim Tracy, and everybody else who runs the Rockies. This attempted balance between veteran “clubhouse culture” and young players in development, as it is being deployed right now, does not work.
Finally, any and all problems are only made worse when the main characters get desperate and try too hard to produce an immediate turnaround. I think that’s what we saw from Clint Hurdle in his final days in Colorado, and it might be what we are seeing from Jim Tracy now. Hopefully the team can get healthy this weekend against the Seattle Mariners, and we can ask less gloomy questions about the team next week.
Oh, and the bees. There were also lots of bees at Coors Field yesterday. Whatever.