Colorado Rockies closer John Axford allowed a pair of runs in the ninth inning of the Rockies 10-8 loss to the Rangers Wednesday, and it marked the first time in 31 games this season that he allowed runs in back-to-back appearances.
Axford gave up two hits and walked three (one intentionally) en route to giving up the two runs Wednesday, a performance that followed an outing Monday in which Axford allowed a run on a hit with two walks in a game the Rockies rallied to win in the bottom of the ninth.
Going back to his appearance against the Angels on July 8, Axford has allowed four runs, all earned, on six hits with six walks and five strikeouts in 4⅔ innings in his last five games. This coming after he allowed just six earned runs in 23⅔ innings in his first 26 appearances this season.
The Rockies have lost two of the last five games Axford has appeared in, with him allowing the winning run in a tie game in the ninth inning both times, which is frustrating, but not the biggest issue with Axford's struggles. The issue with his struggles is timing.
Axford's slump comes as the trade deadline approaches, which is not what you want to happen with a player that may be attractive to buyers. Like it or not, his recent performance could factor into a team's decision on whether to acquire him, especially with a relief pitcher where small sample sizes are really all you have to work with.
Even looking at more than a rough five-game stretch, Axford's struggles could mean a return to the guy that had an ERA over 4.00 and who bounced around the league in 2013 and 2014.
The Rockies signed Axford to a minor-league deal just two weeks before Spring Training in February, and thanks to his performance combined with the struggles of LaTroy Hawkins and the injury to Adam Ottavino, he became the team's closer by the end of April.
As valuable as Axford has been to the Rockies closing games, he could provide more value as a trade asset, as he could be one of the most sought-after relievers as the deadline approaches. With trade talks deteriorating around the top reliever on the market, Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, Axford could be even more attractive to deadline buyers, especially with a contract that pays him just $2.6 million.
Unfortunately, with the team sitting at 40-53, Axford has much more value as a trade chip than as a closer, especially because there are other closer options, Hawkins, Rafael Betancourt and perhaps even Tommy Kahnle among them, in the Rockies' bullpen.
Names of other Rockies players, Jorge De La Rosa, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and DJ LeMahieu among them, have come up as trade targets for contenders, but Axford remains the most likely player to leave Colorado by the end of July. Him snapping out of his current funk could help the team both move him and get more in return if and when he does head for the exit door.