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Why .500 matters for the Colorado Rockies

Even if they never reach .500 again this season, the Rockies have already accomplished something significant.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies
July 5, 2006: The latest date the Rockies have been in first place since 1996.
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

On Saturday, the Rockies won their fifth consecutive road game and ninth game out of 10 overall. With the win, they improved their record to 52-52, and became one of 18 Major League teams at or above .500. By definition, they have been an average baseball team through 104 games this season. That is absolutely incredible.

No one in their right mind thought this team was going to contend this year. It was supposed to be all about developing talent and preparing for the future. Hardly anyone thought this team was going to be anywhere near contention on Aug. 1.

Earlier this season, I made a chart of the last day the Rockies spent at .500 in each of their 23 previous seasons in the league. I also included any “near-misses”, when the team got close to .500 later in the season but didn’t get there. This is what it looks like.

★ ★ ★

1993: April 10 (4 games)

1994: May 3 (24 games)

  • (46-48 on July 17)

1995: End of season

1996: End of season

1997: End of season

  • Under .500 from July 5 to September 2
  • Most games under .500: 10 on July 21

1998: April 7 (8 games)

  • (15-17 on May 5, 72-78 on September 12)

1999: June 24 (68 games)

2000: End of season

2001: June 21 (72 games)

2002: June 24 (76 games)

  • (48-51 on July 21)

2003: August 12 (122 games)

2004: April 14 (8 games)

  • (17-21 on May 18)

2005: April 6 (2 games)

2006: July 13 (88 games)

  • (54-55 on August 5)

2007: End of season

  • Under .500 from April 14 to June 14
  • Most games under .500: 9 on May 21

2008: April 20 (18 games)

2009: End of season

  • Under .500 from April 17 to June 17
  • Most games under .500: 12 on June 3

2010: End of season

2011: June 25 (76 games)

  • (41-42 on July 2)

2012: May 2 (24 games)

2013: June 29 (82 games)

  • (51-55 on July 28)

2014: May 31 (56 games)

  • (34-36 on June 15)

2015: May 1 (22 games)

  • (27-30 on June 9)

★ ★ ★

Let’s dig into this a bit. As any fan could probably tell you, the Rockies have had seven winning seasons in their history. But how late did they stay in it in those sixteen other years?

The breakdown of the last day at .500 goes like this:

April: 1993, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2008

May: 1994, 2012, 2014, 2015

June: 1999, 2001, 2002, 2011, 2013

July: 2006

August: 2003

September: Never

End of season: 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2007, 2009, 2010

★ ★ ★

This shows you a few things. Mostly it shows you that the Rockies have never had a “near-miss” season when it comes to having a winning record. The team has never been .500 with fewer than 50 games remaining in the season and not finished above .500.

In fact, they have woken up on July 1 with a winning record and finished the season under .500 just twice: in 2003 and 2006. In 14 of the team’s first 23 seasons, they were out of contention for good by the end of June and spent the rest of the season playing out the string.

What this means is that, by simply reaching .500 on Saturday, the 2016 Rockies are one of the nine most competitive teams in the history of the franchise, and one of the five most successful since 2000.

Again, this is a season where many people expected the team to lose 90 games or more and some thought the first 100-loss season in franchise history was in play. Those feats technically aren’t impossible at this point, but it would take a monumental collapse for them to happen.

Even if the Rockies fail to finish at .500, a 78-80 win season would represent a huge step for the team. There really haven’t been any seasons like that in the history of the franchise. In a 162-game season, the Rockies have won between 75 and 82 games just twice: in 1998 and 2006, and they have never won between 78 and 82 games.

1998 was a year that was almost entirely spent well below .500 but the team finished strong. 2006 might be the best analogy to the current team. Those 76-86 ’06 Rockies were a fun team to watch that featured many of the stars of the 2007 World Series team, and they were in contention in the weak NL West all the way into August. After 109 games, they were 54-55. A decade later, it’s hard not to get sucked in to the parallels from the last few seasons:

2003: 74-88

2013: 74-88

2004: 68-94

2014: 66-96

2005: 67-95

2015: 68-94

2006: 76-86

2016: 52-53*

2007: 90-73

2017: ?????

Now, I don’t want to get too carried away here. Being .500 at this point in the season isn’t always a guarantee of good things to come. In 2003, the Rockies were a very competitive team for the first two-thirds of the season and stayed above .500 for the longest of any team that ultimately failed to have a winning season. They collapsed down the stretch and led the franchise into the darkest period in its history.

However, there are far more similarities between this year and 2006 than there are with 2003 in terms of the types of players making contributions. The amount of young impact players on those ‘03 Rockies were far fewer than in 2006 or today. I highly doubt there will be a complete rebuild one year from now like there was in 2004.

★ ★ ★

Have I made my case yet? Are you not swayed by my argument that this team is something special? I can see how this entire exercise can seem like damning with faint praise. When failure is the norm, mediocrity can seem like success. But there’s one finding from my research that demonstrates that there is something truly special about the 2016 Rockies.

Of all the Colorado teams that have gone under .500 at any point in the season, none have ever stayed below .500 for longer before making it back to even. What does that mean? It means that whenever a Rockies team dips below .500 for more than a few games, they usually end up staying there for the rest of the season. Anyone who has followed this franchise for any length of time probably felt that these Rockies were destined for the same fate once their late-May losing streak put them at 24-31 on June 4. Rockies teams just don’t usually come back from that kind of deficit. I even went so far as to enter “May 21” in my spreadsheet as the last day the 2016 Rockies were .500, with 32-33 on June 15 an agonizing near miss.

On Sunday I did something I never thought I would do: I selected that sentence and hit delete. After 70 days below .500, the Rockies climbed all the way back. There are only three other seasons where anything close to that has happened.

The first is 1997, when the Rockies were a winning team until July, when a brutal losing stretch put them 10 games below .500 on July 21. On Sept. 2, they finally got back to even for the first time since July 5 en route to an 83-79 finish.

The other two might ring more of a bell. In both 2007 and 2009 the Rockies were under .500 for exactly two months from mid-April to mid-June, bottoming out at nine and 12 games under .500 respectively. These, of course, ended up being the only two 90-win seasons in franchise history.

Am I saying this team is definitely going to win 90 games and steal a playoff spot? No. But I am saying that there is no precedent for a Rockies team making this kind of comeback and not finishing the season strong.

As of today, the Rockies are once again below .500 at 52-53, with a very challenging August schedule looming. I have no idea if they will finish with a winning record, or if they’ll even get above .500 for as much as one game again this season. I do know that they have already shown me far more than I was expecting to see this season, and that they appear to have many of the pieces necessary to contend already in place.

There is no denying that the future is bright. The only question is whether “the future” means next year or right now.