The twisting, turning National League Wild Card Game represented a slow descent into madness for Rockies fans. The 11-8 defeat at the hands of the rival Diamondbacks destroyed hope early, only to tease fans by giving a little bit back at a time, only to dash hopes again and again. Such devastation made immediate analysis impossible. Now that it’s been a few days, it’s time to take stock of what transpired on Wednesday night at Chase Field. Here are a few takeaways.
Jon Gray had a fantastic season (3.67 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9). After his worst outing of the year on July 19, he had a 2.64 ERA with 80 strikeouts against just 16 walks in 781⁄3 innings. He’s clearly the best pitcher on the staff and could go down as the best pitcher in franchise history. He was the natural choice to start the game and the reason why many were predicting a low-scoring affair. But these postgame comments do say a lot:
"I was just doing too much out there," a disappointed Gray said. "I could tell that I was throwing my offspeed up in the zone.
"The environment is pretty loud. You want to step up and do something good for the team. I was feeling like I needed to push my effort a little bit more. I think it hurt me. It's tough."
I’m not willing to say “Jon Gray isn’t an ace” based off of one game; three runs came off a flukey Paul Goldschmidt home run. But I do think that the moment got to him, and that’s not what you want from the guy who’s getting the ball in an elimination game. The Rockies look to be in contention for the next few years, but as long as they share a division with the Dodgers, their path to the postseason likely goes through the gauntlet of the Wild Card Game. One would hope that Wednesday’s experience will serve Jon to better handle those big moments. But experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.
Bullpens are great—until they’re not
There were plenty of Rockies who had playoff experience heading into this game, including Pat Neshek and Greg Holland. Those two were the cornerstones of a bullpen that, by some measures, was among the best in the league. So, of course, the bullpen gave up seven runs in 72⁄3 innings.
Baseball is a cruel, vindictive, chaos monster. Pat Neshek pitched 23 innings for the Rockies in the regular season; he allowed one walk, seven doubles, and one home run. He was one strike away from striking out reliever Archie Bradley, but he tripled to drive in two more runs. Greg Holland, who was great for the Rockies despite a terrible August, was also one strike away from getting out of an inning when he allowed a two-run triple. Two two-run triples off two of your best relievers in the biggest game of the season is something that just doesn’t happen. But this is baseball, so it did happen.
After the game many people were saying the Rockies need to get better pitching, especially in the bullpen. This ignores the fact that the bullpen was one of the few consistent strengths of the team throughout 2017. It also ignores the fact that baseball tends to find the most ironic, cruel ways to crush dreams.
The 2017 Rockies were nothing if not resilient
The only reason Neshek and Holland were in a position to allow such back-breaking triples was because of an offense that refused to go away. Down 6-0 after three innings, they scored four in the fourth. It was 6-5 in the seventh when Bradley did unprecedented things to Neshek. The following half inning Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story homered to make it a one-run game again. Even down four in the top of the ninth, Desmond singled and was driven in by Carlos Gonzalez. They just never let up.
The 2017 Rockies did not have a good offense. And yet, in the biggest game of the season, the players continued to battle. No, not every at bat was a good one, but the bench was 4-for-5. The fifth through eight spots were 5-for-11 with three RBI. The offense was more that up to the task on Wednesday but, again, baseball is a jerk.
★ ★ ★
There’s not a lot one can takeaway from a single baseball game, even the biggest one of the year. Ultimately, when a game is so full of twists and turns there’s little else to do than to shrug and say, “Such is baseball, and such is life.”