Fast-forward with me three years into the future. It is now September 8, 2018. You, shockingly, are still a Colorado Rockies fan. After surviving a long and painful rebuild, the Rockies are actually good this year! So good, in fact, that they're battling the Los Angeles Dodgers and their $400 million payroll for the division lead. The rest of the division is hovering either at or below .500 as the Rockies head out on a west coast road trip starting in San Diego against the Padres. Tonight, the staff ace is taking the hill or, as it's come to be known by Rockies fans, it's Gray Day.
With Gray on the hill and the game being played at Petco Park, runs were naturally hard to come by. The Rockies were able to scratch a run across early when starting left fielder Raimel Tapia singled home DJ LeMahieu in the second inning, but that was all for the time being. Meanwhile, Gray looked outstanding just as he had all season and after cruising through the first five innings in 75 pitches ... he came back out and tossed two more scoreless frames in the sixth and seventh. It was a typical, low scoring affair in San Diego, but the Rockies were in a good spot.
Unfortunately, the Padres had luck on their side in the eighth inning as they scratched home the tying run on a couple of bloop singles and a perfect swinging bunt. No matter. In the top of the ninth, leading MVP candidate Nolan Arenado strode to the plate and launched a solo home run into the left field seats, putting the Rockies back on top, 2-1. In the bottom of the inning, shutdown closer Adam Ottavino came on and retired the Padres in order, picking up his 43rd save of the season as the Rockies improved to 81-57 on the season.
That was a lot of fun, wasn't it? September 8, 2015 wasn't quite as fun as the game that is 100 percent guaranteed to take place on September 8, 2018, but it did provide us with a glimpse of what could be for the Rockies down the line, provided things go according to plan.
For starters, Jon Gray was on top of his game in this one. Hoo-boy was he on top of his game. His final line on the night read 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 SO, but even something that impressive doesn't really do his performance justice. After making an adjustment to his delivery that made his first step out of the windup less pronounced and added deception in addition to helping Gray to stay balanced and on plane while having a more repeatable delivery (this was broken down beautifully by Ryan Spilborghs on ROOT Sports, by the way), he had everything working. His fastball had velocity -- he was working at 94-95 for most of the game -- late life, and command on both sides of the plate, his slider had great depth and was thrown both in the strike zone and as an effective chase pitch, and he threw at least one beautiful changeup that fell off the table and induced a swinging strikeout of Cory Spangenberg. Put all of that together, and it led to some tweets like these:
Jon Gray tonight. pic.twitter.com/zxdqQ7o1z5— Adam Peterson (@playerTBNL) September 9, 2015
Jon Gray's got it tonight. Painting the corners, getting swings and misses, a boatload of swagger... brb gotta go take a cold shower.— Purple Row (@PurpleRow) September 9, 2015
You can debate the pitch count of 75 that he's on until the cows come home if you'd like. Personally, I don't think it's an issue and I'm not going to get my feathers ruffled over it. The point here is that he looked outstanding and provided a glimpse of what we'll all (hopefully) get to see consistently from him over the next several years. I don't know about you, but I'm excited.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't give some props to third baseman extraordinaire Nolan Arenado. He hit a huge home run with two outs in the ninth off of one of the toughest closers in the game, Craig Kimbrel, to tie things up and give the Rockies a chance to win. The blast put him on pace for 43 home runs and 125 RBI paired with 23 defensive runs saved that would be the best among Major League third basemen. This sums it up pretty accurately:
Nolan Arenado is a superstar.— David Martin (@RockiesReview) September 9, 2015
Will Arenado still be around for the 2018 season? To be honest, I don't know. For the time being, he sure seems like someone the Rockies would want to hang on to. Even if you don't believe he'll sign a long-term extension in Colorado, the man is still under contract until 2020 which, coincidentally, is smack dab in the middle of what appears to be the club's contention window. A player with his level of ability who will be in his prime years right when the club's contention window hits, in my opinion, is someone you keep around if at all possible. I have no doubt that he could bring back massive value in a trade, but at some point you have to remember to measure the amount of value you're giving up as well. This is a 24-year-old who has already won two Gold Gloves (and been deserving both times), is a virtual lock to take home a third this season, and is beginning to put up elite offensive numbers after showing marked improvement at the plate in each of his three big league seasons. That's a keeper.
Obviously, a lot more than just Gray and Arenado has to go right for the Rockies to become a contender. For instance, Raimel Tapia getting to the big leagues and driving in runs would be helpful, as would several other things. There's a lot that goes into building a house and the Rockies have just gotten underway in building theirs. The groundwork, however, has been laid. It was on display Tuesday night and it was great.