The Rockies seem to be experiencing a sea change recently, starting right before the All-Star Break and continuing into the second half. They're still terrible -- Kip Wells gave up eight runs in the first inning yesterday. But they're not boring. After Wells' quite predictable meltdown, the Rockies' offense went on to score in the last seven straight innings, getting Joe Torre to sweat the use of his bullpen in the ninth. They still lost 16-10, but it was the most entertaining Colorado game since the insanity on the 4th of July. Troy Tulowitzki, on the disabled list since that game (he got shards of bat in his hand after slamming it), arrived back to go 5 for 5.
Garrett Atkins is playing some first base with Todd Helton unable to go. The lineup with Atkins at one corner and Ian Stewart at the other is one I once imagined would be Colorado's everyday alignment. I always figured that Helton would get traded at some point, given the huge disparity between his salary and those of everyone else on the team. But the economic landscape has changed somewhat. For a time, Helton was overpaid at $12 million a year. But nowadays guys like Eric Byrnes make eight figures. Even though Helton's deal escalates in value for its last few years he's practically a bargain these days. He's always going to be among the league leaders in OBP and he plays a marvelous first base, turning the 3-6-3 double play as well as anyone I've ever seen. His power seems to have waned, but Colorado surely would get less value back were they to trade him, and his identity as the only surefire Hall of Famer the organization has ever produced gives him an off-the-field cachet in Denver that he wouldn't have elsewhere. I was once almost certain that Todd Helton would be traded before his contract expired; now I feel pretty confident that he's going to finish it with the Rockies. If taking a massive pay cut appeals to Todd, he can play out his whole career with Colorado.
The Rockies are only seven games back in their division. Arizona and Los Angeles, whom they trail, are both under .500. Can Colorado climb back into the playoff race in the second half for the second year in a row? They certainly can, but it might be a setback for the franchise in the long term. Management does not deserve to be rewarded for the team they put together this year. It's debatable whether they should get any credit for last year's run, but clearly this is not as good of a team. Dan O'Dowd flubbed badly when he made Kip (8 runs in 1/3 inning) Wells the team's biggest free agent acquisition. Luis Vizcaino hasn't been bad but he's been impactless, and Josh Towers seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. The Rockies made the World Series last season with a shoestring pitching staff, and the organization made no improvements. In fact, by letting Josh Fogg and Jeremy Affeldt go, they've clearly gotten worse. This is not acceptable behavior and even if the Rockies finish 10 games under .500 and win the NL West, O'Dowd needs to go. Clint Hurdle and his obsession with the sacrifice bunt ought to follow.
Tulowitkzi's nightmare season represents to me a larger point about this Rockies club that O'Dowd's successor needs to absorb. Colorado has a massive leadership void. Hurdle has zero authority, Helton is the quietest superstar in the game (OK, besides Vlad Guerrero), Matt Holliday is generically pleasant, the pitching staff is anonymous (the one guy with any zing whatsoever is Taylor Buchholz, WHO OUGHT TO BE STARTING ALREADY), and the biggest personality on the team is Ryan Spilborghs, when he's not in a SkySox uniform. Tulowitzki stepped into this situation last season and gave the team exactly what they needed, a vocal leader and recognizable face. His slump at the beginning of this season and then his injuries drained him of his confidence, and the Rockies turned back into the anonymous losing team of years past.
Maybe the Rockies need to can Clint Hurdle and get themselves an Ozzie Guillen type -- the actual Ozzie Guillen, if he became available, would be terrific. They need a loudmouth lightning rod to take care of all the talking, boasting, and media firestorms none of the Rockies players want anything to do with. Coaches with big Q factors are hardly new in the Denver area, whether you're talking about pro football, college football, or basketball. The Rockies tried to follow in this tradition with some of their first few managers, but Don Baylor was incompetent and Jim Leyland was a sniveling, self-serving quitter. If the team wishes to win again with the current core, they're going to need to import some charisma along with all the pitching.