Since everyone, including myself, is not particularly anxious to re-live the gory details of the past week in all their Technicolour detail, Rockies Review (dramatic drumroll) will be taking a slightly different tack. Let's just say that after a 3-1 start that had all the crocuses perking up and the universe playing beautiful sonatas, somebody promptly hit the thunderstorm button and it's been rough sailing in Rockiesland ever since.
So, what's a Rockies fan to take from this past week of tough baseball? Not a whole lot, really, except for yet another caveat, as if it was needed, that Spring Training is worth exactly a fart in the wind -- if it wasn't, Todd Helton, for example, would be looking a whole lot better right now. But no matter how tough it's been, and the fact that we're yet again 4-7 and crossing our fingers that the Good Ship Rockie recovers from its capsize before we take on too much water, there are still 150 games to play. Cold consolation if the games don't start being played better, of course, as no one wants to drag through another painful summer. But , reacting in disappointment to what we were hoping would be a different April than our previously established norm, there are two sides breaking apart between Rowbots. If we don't take care, it's gonna turn into a Catholic-Protestant, Crips-Bloods, Yankees-Red Sox thing here.+
+ Bad word. I said a BAD WORD.
First, there are the Negative Nancys, who are raising some legitimate concerns about the fact that, well, for all the changes we were promised and the new approaches we heard about all through Spring Training, this (at the moment) just doesn't look like a team that's ready to play at the starting gun. You might not win divisions in April, but 30 games (or 15, with the number of off-days we've had) is going to be a stiff hill to climb in September if you waste a whole month getting the team in gear. For whatever reason, the team has chronically underachieved for April and May during Hurdle's tenure, and needing a hot start to lay the demons of 2008 to rest after the mixed blessing (in retrospect) that 2007 has become, they have (thus far) failed to hold up their end of the bargain.
Luck is a good commodity to have on your side, but at some point, digging up obscure stats and pinning your money on an eventual regression to the mean isn't going to cut ice if you keep losing games against the teams you need to win against. Poor performance against top clubs is used as an excuse to justify early losses, but if you can't beat 'em, that doesn't say much about your own ranking. But maybe it's just not realistic to expect the Rockies to be a top-caliber club, mainly because that, for better or worse, isn't the way they approach putting it together.
They look for a good club, try to sign steady guys (whether their steadiness works out can be debatable) and in general, put affordable talent on the field. They're just not constructed to be a Yankees/Red Sox/Cubs super-dynasty, with deep pockets and elite expectations -- if they were, it might be more applicable to criticise them for failing to reach that level. This manifests as a lot of heartache for the fans, who always expect the stars and nothing less for the guys that they pour so much energy and emotion into. We feel that since we loyally stick by the team through all their (admittedly numerous) stumbles and false starts, we "deserve" a winner. And we do, trust me. They gonna-a turn-a the hair on your head grey, oy vey...
But the thing is, the Rockies, as a rule, don't shoot for that. They get praised (and critiqued) for their frugality, but they're designed to be a steady, decent team that at the end of the day, if all breaks right, can win 80-89 games. Which, in the West, might be enough to win it, might not. We're the divisional crapshooters, you might say. But the problem with walking that line is obvious: early haemorrhages and slow adjustment to the regular season can cost you several wins off that, and suddenly you're staring another mediocre, .500 or sub-.500 season in the face. In essence, they're not giving themselves much room to manoeuvre.
Conversely, if everything breaks right, then you're up stakes and fair fortune forward, to the magic of Rocktober and hopefully no evil Red Sox at the end of it. But with either incompetence or bad luck, we haven't struck that spark. In general, that's what I see the NNs trying to illuminate -- that due to our philosophy and the way we've set ourselves up, we just can't afford to play at this level for too much longer, and that our failure to engage raises legitimate questions about this team on several levels -- front office, preparation, player mentality, etc. etc.
The second main group is the Positive Pollys, who raise equally legitimate points about this being, you know, only 11 games into the season, and they don't award pennants for division winners in April. The 2008 Arizona Diamondbacks, for example, might be able to tell you a little something about that. After their torrid rip out the gate, they were looking unstoppable (mainly thanks to our efforts to help them along) and were early-season picks for 100 victories and World Series appearances. What happened? Yep, that's right, they missed the playoffs and finished only two games north of .500. Therefore, the Pollys raise the valuable life-lesson that it is better to start slow and finish strong rather than empty your tank when there's still plenty of baseball left to play, it's a long season and we gotta play 'em one day at a time, etc etc. Tortoise and the Hare, amirite? The cliches which Crash Davis does his best to impress upon
Ubaldo Jimenez Nuke LaLoosh are cliches for a reason, after all.
Secondly, the Pollys point out something also worth remembering: yes, frickin' everybody looks like crap right now (and that's strange, seeing as the Rockies seem to all hit together or all slump together) but no, they didn't suddenly all forget how to play baseball overnight. While it's valid to have concerns about Helton (not getting any younger) or Spilly (career backup now counted on in an everyday role, might get exposed) or Tulo (slowly coming back into form, but still needing to prove he's not Angel Berroa or Bobby Crosby) or, well, all of them, we've seen that they have a pretty darn impressive ability when they're on. That is, after all, why they're in the major leagues. (Although I have absolutely no excuses for Matt Belisle. I think there was a clerical error).
It's always an adjustment coming from the lazy days of Spring Training into the days where it's no longer AAA hopefuls and 40-man fill-ins chucking lazy fastballs and/or has-beens and never-wases fanning on your B stuff, and no, they didn't all go blind. They have their weaknesses, since if there was such thing as a super player, the Yankees would have already signed him and lost in the ALDS. We all know that Clint Barmes can't hit a slider, Garrett Atkins is Failure McFacepalm when it comes to hitting with RISP (although he has been doing better at that.... sometimes) and other such vaguely disturbing things that make us realise that the objects of our adoration are not, in fact, universally perfect at their jobs, and it's unfair to expect that. No one has a .1000 batting average, after all. But what the PPs are reacting against is the idea that they've all gone AWOL, they'll continue to look this inept because their ability has magically evaporated, and that because they're struggling early, clearly this is how they'll look all season. What's that I hear? Yep, it's Crash. "Of course it's boring. Write it down."
Losing is never fun. It is not the best way to breed recurring customers in a fanbase, and it's the surest recipe to expose schisms in the ranks -- tonight in particular, the game thread was getting a bit shirty, with NNs carping and PPs overcompensating. And while philosophy and rationalising it isn't going to taste very good while we're still mired in a muddy slide, maybe there is a dash of wisdom required. We overreact by nature. We're sports fans. At the end of the day, we still will damn well expect, and want them to win, DAMMIT. Because, no matter how many times we pull out our hair, yell, curse, throw items at the television, cancel our season tickets, and mumble gently in the corner, we must love them.
At least, I think we do. Kind of a sick and twisted affection, isn't it? But something must go deep. And it'll stay deep, which will make the brighter days ahead all that much sweeter.
And look at it this way: Hey, at least we aren't Cubs fans.