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Rockies reaching Wild Card game is not ‘fool’s gold’

A playoff appearance of any stripe would be huge to this team and fanbase

In their weekly “Kizla vs. Groke” article, Mark Kizla and Nick Groke debated whether the Rockies can make the playoffs without making moves at the trade deadline. Kiz says, "Get in the playoffs, and anything can happen," pointing to the 2006 World Series winning Cardinals, who snuck into the playoffs after finishing 83-79 on the season. This is, of course, correct; one of the things that makes the MLB playoffs so enjoyable is how unpredictable they tend to be.

Of course, this is now an academic debate after the bombshell dropped last night as the Rockies acquired Pat Neshek from the Phillies during another Jordan Lyles meltdown. But otherwise I think the debate turns on a false premise:

Groke: Agreed. Earning entry into a one-game playoff is fool’s gold. It’s nothing in the grand scheme. Winning in the playoffs is the goal.

Groke and Kiz make the case that the reason the team needs to make a push is because they need to push beyond the one-game Wild Card playoff, which isn’t “real” playoffs. However, with the Nationals looking like they’ll have the last third of the season to set their playoff lineup and Dodgers intent on breaking the regular season wins record, getting past the Division Series will be a tall order for this year’s Rockies. You can call it “loser’s mentality” (as Kiz does) but I call it realistic. The real question isn’t whether or not the Rockies should try to win in the playoffs, but whether earning a wild card is “real enough” playoffs.

Which brings us to the Wild Card Game. Debate all you like about the relative merits of the new system (so long as you agree that it is better than the old system, which is better than the older system, which is better than the system before that), it is the Rockies’ only viable path to the playoffs. By making the Wild Card Game, the 2017 Rockies will forever be labeled "Playoff Team.”

Ask Pittsburgh Pirates fans what “Playoff Team” has meant to them after 20 years in the wilderness. Sure, they got knocked out (at home) by Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta in back to back years, but they also had that moment with Johnny Cueto. Ask Nolan Arenado what it would mean to have the chance to come through with a big hit in October.

Simply earning that label means that fans who have endured six straight losing seasons will finally have at least a modicum of satisfaction for all the frustration, justification for slogging through injuries, ineffectiveness, and bad baseball for half a decade. And this team is not a group of flash-in-the-pan overperformers, but a team built around two unusually strong rookie classes (with more talent on the way) and the aforementioned All-World third baseman Nolan Arenado. The window of contention is only just now opening; getting into the Wild Card game, even on the road, would be a way for the Rockies to announce their presence with authority to the baseball world. And it may have a side benefit of convincing a certain young third baseman that he should stick with this team for the long haul.

Yes, the team should (continue to) make some trades, because there are (still) some weaknesses in the roster. But the odds are against more than one NL Central team making the postseason, meaning the Rockies are already in good position.

Don't underestimate the impact of simply making the playoffs. The Wild Card game is not “fool’s gold,” as Groke claims, but the first sprinklings of gold dust after years of panning the river in vain.