That's the only word for the weekend, really. The Rockies got swept by the Mets, the alleged only good team in the National League, in three games that were at no point close. Every year we hope vainly that this will be the season the Yankees miss the playoffs, and they creamed the Red Sox in five straight. The Neifi Perez era came to an end in Chicago. What a bummer, man.
I don't know if other Rockies fans share this impression, but it seemed to me listening to the radio and TV broadcast teams during the Mets series that this was the point where they gave up on the playoffs for this season. Colorado fell back into last place, six games under .500, but it was less a numerical thing than a spiritual thing. They just don't have the feel of a playoff team, as it seems I have been saying for weeks. But a late charge could get them to 80 wins, which would be an accomplishment of sorts. Granted, they have to play the Mets again, but the rest of the schedule down the stretch is pretty light, mostly games in the division plus the Cubs, Braves, and Nationals. Yes, the NL West has really ravaged the Rockies this year...perhaps the familiarity with the Rockies' serviceable but not dominant rotation breeds offensive success. More likely, other pitchers in the division have figured out how to shut down Colorado's utterly ineffective offense.
Here's another thing to look for as another unremarkable season of Rockies baseball putters to a close: the team has a fairly good chance to finish with the best overall ERA in the majors. That's pretty incredible. At the moment they're #1 in ERA for starters by a fairly significant margin (4.11 to the Dodgers' 4.25) and they trail the leaders in overall ERA, those very Mets, by a mere 4.09 to 4.05. Forthcoming series against the Cubs, Padres, and Giants will offer excellent opportunities to rocket into the lead. Wouldn't that be something? The Rockies, leading the league in ERA? The Colorado Rockies? There would be an offseason trivia question for the ages. It does remind us all of how much of a shame it is that this team has no hitting at all. Brad Hawpe and Matt Holliday failed to consolidate on good first halves. Todd Helton hasn't been himself all summer -- I suspect we may learn in the winter that like last year, Todd hasn't been fully healthy for much of the season. Clint Barmes hasn't done much. Really, the one guy who has exceeded all expectations is a fellow I suspected would have lost his job to a minor leaguer by now, Garrett Atkins. Atkins, who had brutal home-road splits last year, has proved the team's most consistent run producer this season. What's more, he's hit better away from Coors: .310/.384/.544 vs. .301/.377/.502. The Rockies suddenly have an embarrassment of riches in the system at third base, something they hopefully will be able to convert into more swag than they got while resolving their logjam at first base. Not that I am dissing Jeremy Affeldt, who has been quite good and throws a curveball that might be the second-most-fun-to-watch pitch thrown by a Colorado hurler after Brian Fuentes' slider.
The Rockies need another middle-of-the-order hitter if they wish to contend next year. The obvious spot that calls out for improvement is right field, since the price associated with a real-deal power-hitting center fielder is higher than this decade's Colorado franchise can traditionally afford. There are basically no outfield prospects in the system, so it's up to Dan O'Dowd to find his guy and get him. The bullpen and the rotation should continue to be strengths next year. Upgrades at fourth and fifth starter would be nice, but every team could be saying that, and Josh Fogg and Byung-Hyun Kim have really been all you could have asked of them in '06. A full healthy season from Yorvit Torrealba might improve the catcher situation. Barmes probably won't be as bad next year as he was the whole first half this season. Probably. Todd Helton has had two down years in a row, but he's hardly a relic. Holliday is reasonably priced for one more season. If O'Dowd really wanted to go for the gusto he could bring in a good-hitting second baseman and play Jamey Carroll at short, but this is Team Incremental Improvement nowadays. Anyways, there is no evidence to suggest that Carroll's unbelievable 2006 performance is repeatable. There is also no evidence to suggest that it isn't. Before this season, he never got to play, so who knows? After this year, though, it is certain that if the Rockies let him go Clint Hurdle would have an even bigger conniption fit than Frank Robinson had when the Nationals dealt him to Colorado.
So, to summarize, pitching good, offense bad. It's a new feeling for Rockies fans, but it beats the pitching bad, offense bad paradigm of the last several seasons. Can we get some hitters? We ought to be able to do so. Huge, prime-of-their-career free agents are certainly out of the question given the team's budget and the quantity of talent that's a year or less away from being ready in the farm system, but slugging corner outfield types are not too difficult to come across. A really smart GM ought to be able to find a platoon combination that could do quite nicely. Anything is better than the current group of Rockies "platoon" outfielders like Choo Freeman and Cory Sullivan who can't hit righties or lefties.