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Players need to play; Rockies front office needs to figure out how to win

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, September 17, 2021

Remember how it felt to be in 2017 and 2018 when the Rockies were in the playoff hunt in September?

It seems like a very long time ago and it was. By the end of this September, the Rockies will have completed three straight losing seasons, making those fun runs more and more of a distant memory.

Three years ago, on Sept. 17, the Rockies had 82 wins and were out the outer edge of the Wild Card race. Over the rest of September, the Rockies went 9-4 to finish 91-71 before losing game 163 for the NL West crown, but then defeating the Cubs in the Wild Card to make it into the NL Division Series. The Brewers swept, but it was still a fun September and playoff season.

On Sept. 17 four years ago, the Rockies were 82-68, which put them in third in the NL West and second in the NL Wild Card race. They finished the season with 87 wins and hung onto the second WC spot before falling to Arizona in the Wild Card Game. It was a short playoff run, but still an enjoyable one.

While the Rockies recent road successes have been very fun to witness, it’s not the same as a September playoff run. Equally hard to watch has been the Cardinals rise in the Wild Card ranks, which former Rockie Nolan Arenado has had a big impact on (as has the Padres problems). While I love Nolan and do want him to succeed, which means winnings games and contending for the World Series, it’s hard to watch the one who got away vie for the postseason while your team lingers in mediocrity.

On the season, admittedly a down season for Arenado, he’s hitting .256, but he’s hit 32 homers, driven in 99 runs, scored 72 runs, and has a 4.1 rWAR. Since Aug. 13, Arenado has hit 10 homers and registered 30 RBI. Five of those homers gave the Cardinals the lead or tied the game at the time. In a down year, Arenado still has more RBIs and homers than any Rockie. C.J. Cron is closest at 27 homers and 82 RBI with Ryan McMahon and Trevor Story the only other Rockies with homers in the 20s. McMahon has 22 homers and 72 RBI and Story has 22 homers with 69 RBI. McMahon and Germán Márquez are the Colorado team leaders in rWar at 3.8.

It’s preaching to the choir to say we miss Arenado. But what’s done is done and the Rockies have to move forward and figure out a way to make Septembers fun again. Arenado might have some insight into that too. In an article published Thursday, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson interviewed the third baseman to talk about being in St. Louis, his season, and reflections on his time with Colorado. Instead of paraphrasing or risking taking things out of context, here is a two-question exchange from the interview:

“MLB.com: If you had to do it all over again with the Rockies, what would that be?

“Arenado: That’s a good question. If I had to do it over again, I guess I would have been more oblivious or I wouldn’t be paying attention and I wouldn’t have asked to be included in meetings about the team and how we could get better. I wish I would have been just more of a player, just leave me alone. I’ll go play baseball. Everyone else take care of everything else. Just focus on playing the game and that’s it.

“MLB.com: But doesn’t it show how much you care?

“Arenado: Yeah, for sure. With that comes a little baggage, which I could handle. I can handle the criticism I deserve and I deserved that. I do care. That’s why I did it. I wish I cared a little bit less.”

There’s a lot to unpack there. Only hearing Nolan’s point of view, it’s hard to know if this was too much of dealing with Jeff Bridich, too much Dick Monfort, or a mix of both. Since the Rockies front office doesn’t operate in a mode of even the faintest transparency or belief that fans deserve to know anything at all, we’ll probably never know the front office side.

The takeaway for me is that the Colorado front office’s problem is not wanting to or not knowing how to build the infrastructure — with a president, GM, and full analytics team that never has to do laundry — to produce a winning organization. When Arenado said he wanted to win and was told the front office would put pieces around him to do that, they either lied or couldn’t figure out to do it. In the end, Arenado felt like he was supposed to do it. Even for a six-time All-Star and one of the best Rockies ever, that was too much. That’s not his job. That’s what the front office is for.

The Rockies are at a crossroads. They have to decide if they will stay the course, likely leading to more losing seasons, or pick a new path. On the bright side, the Rockies have hired a director of research and development in Scott Van Lenten, a former Nationals senior analyst. Earlier this month, Thomas Harding reported that the Rockies had posted three positions that Van Lenten will oversee in a web developer, data engineer, and data architect.

Harding also paraphrased assistant GM Zack Rosenthal as saying that the research and development team is likely to expand even more under a belief that “technological tools” are good. Additionally, Harding reported that interim GM Bill Schmidt expressed interest in “expansions in the mental skills/sports psychology area” as part of a plan to combat the altitude challenges the Rockies face.

All signs point to Schmidt getting the GM gig. While that might not bring the outside perspective many Rockies fans had hoped for, if he believes in changing things, maybe there is hope for better Septembers to come. Regardless if it’s Schmidt or someone else, part of that change has to be better player relations and communication. As we saw with Story’s “confusion” with the front office and Arenado’s frustration, the Rockies have to stop alienating the team’s best players.

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Rockies’ bullpen slowly improving but offseason could bring relief | Denver Post ($)

As Rockies fans have noticed, the bullpen has been better lately, as evident in the success on this road trip. As Patrick Saunders points out, on the season, the Rockies have the fourth-worst ERA (5.08), WHIP (1.45), and hard-hit rate (34.5). But things got better in August when the bullpen’s 4.11 ERA was ranked 19th in the MLB. That’s due in part to Carlos Estévez, Tyler Kinley, and Lucas Gilbreath. The improvement is good, but significant changes are needed to the entire bullpen this offseason.

The best player in baseball every year since 1969 | MLB.com

Building off the idea of a baseball writer Joe Sheehan’s idea of a Best Player In Baseball belt, which Sheehan believes Fernando Tatis Jr. has claimed because of Mike Trout’s injury, MLB.com’s Will Leitch decided to go back in time and award the fictional belt to the best player in the league since 1969. In the 50-plus years, he only named 20 players, including Trout’s possession of the belt from 2012 to the present.

Leitch only listed 10 players since 1992, covering the entire lifespan of the Rockies. While no Rockies earned the belt, two did merit honorable mentions. The first is Hall of Famer Larry Walker, who was listed as a runner-up during Ken Griffey Jr.’s belt ownership in 1996-97. Walker is in good company with Juan Gonzalez and Barry Bonds. Walker had Griffey beat in the 5-tool player aspect, but Griffey’s homers and swagger dominated the game at that time. The second is Todd Helton in 2000 as an honorable mention to Pedro Martinez. Helton was joined by Chipper Jones and Barry Bonds. Since 1993, Leitch’s list only includes 25 total players as holders of the belt or honorable mentions. Everyone on the list is either in the Hall of Fame or should be. Right Baseball Writers’ Association of America?

On the farm

Triple-A: Sugar Land Skeeters 6, Albuquerque Isotopes 4

So far, so good for Peter Lambert. In his first rehab start at the Triple-A level, he pitched 2 23 scoreless innings with three strikeouts and one walk, only giving up two groundball singles. When he left the game, the Isotopes were up 1-0, but Bernando Flores Jr. gave up all six runs on five hits, including a three-run homer, over the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. Jesus Tinoco, Ben Bowden, and Antonio Santos combined for 2 23 scoreless and hitless innings to close out the game and totaled four strikeouts.

Three runs by Albuquerque in the seventh helped make it close, but it wasn’t enough. The Isotopes hit three home runs in the game with Ryan Vilade hitting a two-run homer, while Greg Bird and Elehuris Montero each adding solo shots.

Double-A: Portland Sea Dogs 14, Hartford Yard Goats 3

The Sea Dogs scored 11 runs in the second inning on their way to a win on a long night for Hartford. Eight of those runs came with two outs and Portland finished the game with 17 hits. Michael Toglia recorded three hits, including an RBI double, and scored a run and Coco Montes hit a two-run single to sum up the offense for the Yard Goats.

High-A: Spokane Indians 11, Everett AquaSox 4

Fresh off of a playoff-clinching win on Wednesday night, Spokane just kept rolling on Thursday night thanks to a seven-run fifth inning highlighted by a Kyle Datres grand slam. Daniel Cope added a solo homer, Jack Blomgren and Hunter Stoval each had two hits, scored one run, and one RBI, and Aaron Schunk, Brenton Doyle, and Nick Decolati all chipped in RBI singles.

Mitchell Kilkenny pitched five solid innings to get the win, giving up only two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and two walks.

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 7, San Jose Giants 6

In the bottom of the 10th inning, Mateo Gil hit a walk-off single to score Bladimir Restituyo and give the playoff-bound Grizzlies another big win.

A five-run, two-out rally in the fourth inning helped the Grizzlies get out to a 5-1 lead, but the Giants rallied back with a four-run eighth to tie the game at 6-6. With two outs, Colin Simpson doubled to start the action for Fresno in the fourth. Gil, Joe Aeilts, Bryant Quijada, Eddy Diaz, and Zac Veen followed with five consecutive singles and were also helped by a throwing error, to put up the five spot.

Tony Locey had a solid start, giving up only one run on five hits with 10 strikeouts in five innings. Blake Goldsberry (5-1) got the win by throwing scoreless ninth and 10th innings.

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