I certainly know why I'm not following the Rockies as closely as I was this time last year. It has to do with another sport, one that's (apparently) too wimpy for red-blooded American men. What is up with Chicago sportswriters this week? Did a memo going around offering a $10,000 bounty to whichever columnist could make the biggest ass out of himself?
But I'm going to the game today for the first time in ages (section 106, purple jersey, red beard, come say hi) and so it's a good time to take a step or two back and see where we stand. You know what? This is an all right baseball team. They're not great, but they're in the National League, which has exactly one team (the Mets) that qualifies as scary right now. With a very easy win over Texas yesterday, the Rockies are right at .500 again, 37-37. Since the first few weeks of the season, Colorado has had trouble getting much over the break-even point. But looking at it another way, they haven't fallen very far beneath it at any juncture, either. My hope for this year was 75 wins. If my math serves, the Rockies are presently on pace for an 81-81 record. That's more than 75, so if they stay the course, I'll be a happy blogger.
But then again...is Colorado maximizing its talent at the moment? Clint Barmes has played pretty poorly, but that's balanced out by the entirely unexpected excellence of Jamey Carroll. Todd Helton has never really looked like himself, but the leaps Brad Hawpe and Matt Holliday have taken are perhaps greater than we could have realistically hoped for. I expected Brian Fuentes to establish himself as one of the best closers in the National League in 2006, and so he has, but the rest of the bullpen has been downright fabulous. Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis aren't quite where I think they can be, but Jason Jennings is having one of his better years, and I never dreamed Josh Fogg would stay in the rotation this long on merit. If Helton has a second half like he did last year, and no one gets hurt, and Carroll stays at least a plus player if not the superhuman he seems now...well, the division is winnable. I don't think the Rockies should deal away any prospects in an attempt to win the NL West this year, but they can get there with the players they have now if everything breaks right. That would be very nice, but a brief playoff cameo and another decade of irrelevance should not be the franchise's long-term goal.
At the moment, first and fifth in the NL West are separated by a total of three and a half games. And that's the widest the gap has been in several days. The Dodgers resemble last year's Braves in that every young guy they bring up seems to make the team better. The Padres have turned over a lot of players since last year but still look like the same wishy-washy squad that was handed the division title last year. The Diamondbacks, like I believe I wrote before the season began, have a critical lack of pitching that could make their vaunted minor league hitting talent irrelevant. The Giants are standing on the edge of the abyss, with only Omar Vizquel and Jason Schmidt keeping them around this year. The rest of this decade, assuming Ned Colletti and Dan O'Dowd don't screw up, should belong to either the Dodgers or the Rockies. They're richer, but we're younger. Their minor league pitching is scary good, but our major league pitching should not be overlooked. Who wins the battle for supremacy will be determined by fills holes better while giving less away. A rumored Ryan Shealy trade will be a litmus test for whether O'Dowd's current personality understands that a) just because the Rockies have no use for a guy doesn't he mean he doesn't have value and b) the crucial year for the Rockies is 2008, when Matt Holliday and Brian Fuentes are going to get seriously expensive. O'Dowd has to balance short-term goals against long-term goals. At the moment, it's worth maybe losing a couple of extra games this year to see if Barmes can get it going and J.D. Closser can slug his way back into the big picture. This Rockies team might make the playoffs, sure, but I'm certain it's not going to win the World Series, and ultimately that's got to be the dream.
Today, with me in attendance, the Rockies wrap up their series with another team to whom the World Series is still a dream, the Texas Rangers. It's Byung-Hyun Kim versus Vicente Padilla. Look for me on TV! My seats aren't far from where I caught a home run last year.