DENVER — With their boys in first place, their pitching staff on a zesty pace, their sure-fire closer leading the National League in saves, their property values rising, are Rockies fans getting greedy?
They recognize the mild, mild West is there to be had. They want something they’ve never had – a division title – and know this is the time to have it. The Diamondbacks keep slithering back. The Giants have .500 written all over them. The Dodgers return starters Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill in June and, per usual, figure to be factors till the end.
The Rockies? They just keep on keepin’ on. They entered Saturday's game against the Reds with red flags draped up and down their lineup — and atop the division after 50 games for only the third time in club history.
Is it greedy to want more?
Friday afternoon, as the Mile High City tied a record high of 91 degrees, Ian Desmond tied his slump to his work ethic. He worked up a sweat all by his lonesome in the indoor batting cage at Coors.
Desmond is working, but it isn’t working for the Rockies. The handy thing about baseball is there’s no hiding from the truth: “You’ve got to be patient and watch every game. Then at the end of 162 we’ll talk about it,” manager Buddy Black said Friday in the home team’s dugout.
After Desmond’s first 143 games in a Rox uniform, it’s time to talk about first base. Desmond’s batting .177 with career lows in OPS and slugging percentage and the Coors Field record in whispered boos. This must be terribly frustrating for Rox management, who must pay him $52 million over the next 2 2/3 seasons, and the manager, who must play Desmond because of it. But look at me, focusing on the bad, with the Rox in first place. Who is truly confident this unique model of winning is sustainable?
“We’ve got to swing the bats a little better,” Black said after Friday’s 5-4 win against the Reds.
It must be mentioned the Rockies are the team most traveled. Of the 29 others, not one has played more road games (32) than Colorado. They got a day off Thursday. Most guys napped. It’s a clubhouse of dreamers and believers that was 9-4 in one-run games. Wade Davis has put his foot down with 18 saves. (Ex-closer Greg Holland has zero; smart move, Jeff Bridich.) When they outhit their opponent, the Rox are almost unbeatable — 21-3 — a testament to Black's decision-making and a pitching staff that's growing up. When the bats are good enough, the Rockies are tough to beat.
The bats aren’t good enough for the long haul.
This nine-game homestand will tell a tale. Coors Field is get-right central, a place hitters go to cure their ills. By the end of this homestand one of two things will be true: either the Rox are swinging the bats a little better, in the skipper’s words, or it’s time to go find help. If it’s more of the same at the plate, the Rockies should boldly go where they’ve never gone and put their top prospects (with the exception of infielder Brendan Rodgers) on the table in a trade for White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.
While that kind of move would be atypical for the Rockies, it's my belief the team may be more inclined to go all-in for 2018 and 2019 since their TV rights deal with AT&T SportsNet is up after the 2020 season. The next deal would be significantly more valuable for a perennial postseason contender than an also-ran.
In normal years I wouldn’t suggest mortgaging the future for the now. This is no normal year. This year the NL West is there to be had.