Colorado Rockies Can Look at Washington For Hope

Aug 15, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder David Dahl (26) hits a two run double in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 15, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder David Dahl (26) hits a two run double in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Rockies are in a tough spot right now. They’re fighting to stay alive in the Wild Card race, but they’re struggling to do so and now they’re up against one of the National League’s best teams, the Washington Nationals. But for Colorado, hope for the near future can be found in the opposite dugout.

Let’s go back in time a bit. It’s the summer of 2010, and the Nationals are the talk of baseball. Not because of what they’re doing on the field (they would go on to finish in last place for the third straight season), but because of what they’re stockpiling in the minor leagues.

The Nationals previously the Montreal Expos, have been a franchise since 1969, and in that time, they’ve only lost 100+ games in consecutive seasons once: 2008 and 2009. Consequently, Washington had the first selection in the 2009 and 2010 MLB Drafts.

Having the first overall pick two years in a row is a huge opportunity under any circumstances. For the Nationals, it was a once-in-a-lifetime jackpot of amateur talent. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were two of the most highly-regarded amateur prospects in draft history, and because Washington bottomed out at the perfect time, they got both of them in consecutive years.

Two years after taking Harper in the draft, and three years after finishing 59-103, the Nationals won 98 games and the National League East. The emergence of Strasburg and Harper weren’t the only reason for Washington’s turnaround, but they, along with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, were cornerstones of a successful rebuilding project.

Between the lean years and Washington’s eventual resurgence, there was a season where the franchise was improved, but still not ready for contention. In 2011, the Nationals finished 80-81 (they had a game cancelled). While they didn’t seriously threaten for a playoff spot, they showed a clear upward trajectory that carried into a fantastic 2012.

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The 2016 Rockies look a lot like the 2011 Nationals. They’re not yet good enough to contend for playoff spots, but they have promising pieces already in place and more coming soon. Nolan Arenado is a better player than Zimmerman ever was even before injuries wore him down. Squint your eyes and it’s not too hard to see some of Strasburg in Jon Gray.

Even with their recent rough stretch, Colorado is on pace for 76 wins this season. No one is going to throw a parade for a team that finishes five games under .500, but the Rockies growth from the last two seasons is undeniable.

This should go without saying, but every team grows at a different pace. Just because the Nationals went from bad to great in two years doesn’t make the Rockies failures if they don’t win 98 games next year.

The most important part of the Nationals trajectory isn’t that were good in 2012, it’s that they’ve stayed good since then. Washington has had a bit more drama than most, but they’ve been one of the best teams in the National League over the last five seasons.

After a period of extending losing, the Nationals escaped irrelevancy by using the one resource available to every bad team: premium draft picks. There were other smart decisions along the way, and at least a little bit of luck, but the original failures for 2008 and 2009 paved the way for what Washington has become.

Colorado is now in a very similar position. The Rockies recent history has been mostly forgettable, but it has led to unprecedented growth for the franchise’s farm system. This year’s team is not fully grown, and when you’re struggling to get a win, it can feel like you’ll never win again.

Next: Colorado Makes Roster Moves as Rotation is Shaken Up

The way MLB is set up though, losers can and do become winners if they take advantage of their opportunities. If the Colorado Rockies need a reminder of that tonight, all they need to do is look at the team they’re playing against.