It’s hard to think about it now but the Colorado Rockies aren’t too far off from being serious contenders on the level of the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers. Before you shake your head in frustration and close your laptop, remember how bad 2012 was for the Rockies? Well the Astros won 55 games that season. Possibly the lowest year in franchise history. While the Dodgers are perennially a playoff caliber team, it’s important to note between 1989 – 2016, the Rockies have been to the World Series more times than the Dodgers.
The point is, these teams aren’t immortal. Will the Rockies be able to emulate both of them in every way? Not even close. But there is a way forward for the Rockies to compete with the best in baseball. Similarly to the strategy that the Astros and Dodgers have built. There is no reason for intimidation.
The best example of this was in Game 5 of the World Series when Alex Bregman, a 23-year-old rookie who hit a game winning single off the best closer in baseball in possibly the most dramatic game in World Series history. Bregman has been playing great defensively in the postseason. The Rockies have the best third baseman in the game. Bregman happens to be a standout middle infielder from LSU. Something he’d have in common with DJ LeMahieu. But a more ample comparison for Bregman and the Rockies is that there are a lot of rookies in Denver that have filled large roles for this team.
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The Astros formula is one that the Rockies have closely emulated. They have committed to building their core through the draft. The Astros have a perennial MVP candidate in Jose Altuve that is home grown. Very similar to Nolan Arenado. They have a shortstop in Carlos Correa that is truly a superstar. Trevor Story seemed on that projection his rookie season and while he may not be on Correa’s level, the Rockies have a history of drafting well at short starting with Tulowitzki and now with Brendan Rodgers.
Then there comes the veterans. The Rockies need to bring back Jonathan Lucroy to have a veteran presence with this pitching staff the way Brian McCann did with the Astros this year. That’s reason enough to pay Carlos Gonzalez to come back. He’s the heart and soul of this team. Even though Josh Reddick hasn’t been playing well in these playoffs, he made a critical throw to save a run in Game 5. He’s been here before. Same for Carlos Beltran. He might not be playing much but that doesn’t mean he isn’t relaying his vast experience. Having guys like Gerardo Parra and Ian Desmond provide that veteran foundation that can help the rookies get better.
Then there is pitching. This is where the Rockies argument for contention falls out of the bottom right? Wrong. This team is never going to have the brilliant staff or even the bullpen of the Dodgers. They are never going to be able to recruit a pitcher like Justin Verlander at the last second before the trade deadline. And that is okay. When the Rockies made their deepest playoff run in 2007, they won with good enough pitching to ride their hot streak. Not All-Star names. If last night was any proof, it is a whole different atmosphere in the playoffs. A World Series game started by Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel, ended in a 13-12 Astros win. It is possible to win in a hitter’s ballpark that is seemingly as unpredictable as Coors Field.
Is this to say the Rockies are prepared to go all the way next season? Probably not. But regardless of what happens, they are going to make incredible strides in gaining more experience. The Astros weren’t ready for the spot their in right now after losing a 2-0 lead in the 2015 ALDS against the eventual champion Royals. The Rockies rotation largely comprised of rookies will have much more experience and will be led by Jon Gray. Even though he’d like his Wild Card start back, it was invaluable experience for Gray that will only make him better. He’s been there now. By the time this team is ready to perennially contend in 2019 and beyond, they will hopefully have their first round pick Riley Pint to help solidify a rotation that can get by.
Well the Rockies can’t be anything like the Dodgers right? They just spend and the Rockies can’t keep up with their payroll. That’s only partly true. Ever since Andrew Friedman came over from the Rays, they have someone who is experienced in developing home grown talent. While the Dodgers have the payroll luxury, the core of their team is home grown. The Dodgers wouldn’t have won more than 100 games without Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger stepping in seamlessly for Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig. Justin Turner wasn’t a big name before he got to Los Angeles. The Dodgers and Astros have proved that spending money is great but you’re nothing without a strong home grown core. The Rockies have no problem in that category.
Once the Rockies pitching staff gets more innings under their belt, this core will be more than ample to help this team contend with the best in baseball. They are emulating the Astros and Dodgers in many ways. This team is a contender. Just give it time.