When I left the proceedings this afternoon, the Rockies were down 7-3 and had been spectacularly failing for the whole game. Seth Smith had paid back the favour of getting a start by grounding into a pair of painful double plays, and just to make sure he wouldn’t be alone in his misery, Tulo and Brad had done the same thing and confined their bombs to solo shots. Needless to say, the opening of this Review had a far more pessimistic tone, as I expected that they were going to complete what had been a generally underwhelming homestand. Coming back to find that Bradley finally acted like an All-Star after a generally underwhelming July was a very nice surprise (my reaction was to say, "What? Holy crap!" about ten times in a row) but as we close the first half at 47-41 (a remarkable figure considering previous efforts) there are still a number of matters that need to be addressed.
Remember those days when we were all carping that the schedule-makers were conspiring against us to keep us on the road? Well, it turns out that they may have been on to something, as the close of this ten-game homestand didn’t exactly leave us with the feeling that we can resoundingly defend our turf. The Braves were playing hot baseball coming into the series and we were frankly lucky to salvage a split, but losing two of three to the cellar-dwelling Diamondbacks and having to squeak out a sweep over the comically inept Nationals wasn’t grounds for self-confidence. The offense, apparently insulted that I counted them a secondary problem in last week’s Review, decided to check in for work only if they felt like it. Missing opportunities became endemic. A small village was left on the basepaths. And, like the first half of today’s game, backwards K's and first-pitch swinging reared their ugly heads. Maybe everyone was just eager to get to Disneyland.
There’s also still the fact that Jason Hammel needs to figure out how to pitch at Coors Field, effective a few months ago, and that we need to decide how long is too long to let Carlos Gonzalez unlock his considerable tool-kit while we’re trying to compete. His defense is impressive, but his offense isn’t anywhere near the world-beating levels he displayed at the Springs. To put it politely, he’s been a bit of a drag. As it turns out, Huston Street is the most valuable return (at least for this season) from the Holliday trade. It’s far, far too early to write Gonzalez off, but he struggled last year in his look-see with Oakland, and he hasn’t inspired confidence at the plate thus far. (CarGo offensive strategy: If in doubt, swing). He’s going to have to do something with that tantalizing potential if he wants to keep earning starts.
We’ve got a tight race and at least for the short term, Seth Smith (redeeming himself nicely with a two-run homer and the single to set up Brad’s game-winning double) may offer more offensive firepower. In my humble opinion, valuing defensive potential more, while valid, tends to work out like the "prevent defense" in the NFL. AKA, it usually backfires. In our current situation, in the race we’re in, and with our pitching staff, we may require a better hitter at the expense of a slight drop-off in defense. (And hey, Smith saved Jason Marquis’ bacon in a major way last night with a running, against-the-wall catch to rob Ryan Church of either a bases-clearing double or a grand salami. Not that it ultimately did much good in terms of winning the game. But there it is).
There’s plenty to grouse about, of course. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that we are 47-41, two games out of a Wild Card spot, and performing frankly miles ahead of what everyone would have thought after the first quarter of the season. The bullpen, a serious Achilles heel last week, chipped in with six innings of mostly competent work today, the only blemish being a two-run homer allowed by Jorge de la Rosa. Matt Daley contributed two scoreless innings, Juan Rincon had a scoreless frame with two K’s, and Huston Street whipped through a 1-2-3 ninth to set up Hawpe’s last-minute heroics. Not to say that I’m necessarily trusting them any more, especially since Matt Belisle has rejoined the proceedings after Alan Embree’s possibly career-ending injury, and I still think that they should make a trade before the deadline to add a middle-relief arm. (Odds of that? Low).
But in the end, they had an exhilarating win to close out a roller-coaster first-half, and there are three days of All-Star proceedings to alleviate some of the stress before we embark on the likely-to-be-more-stressful second half. We’ll even have two representatives, one of whom will be starting. We’ll have a chance to not think about the daily heart attack that is Rockies baseball. We’ll watch Albert Pujols and company launch a few moonshots in the Derby and wonder if this is the year that the NL will finally win. And then it will be time for the real stretch run. Are the Rockies going to be ready? Who knows. This team isn't exactly synonymous with either consistency or reliability. But for now, they can feel reasonably proud of what they’ve done to get there.