The word of the day is "smoke." It applies to what the Rockies' playoff chances have gone up in, what the Brewers and Mets did to Colorado on this road trip, and what this week has made me deeply wish I hadn't quit. The Mets and Brewers are teams known for their powerhouse lineups, not their deep pitching staffs. The Rockies' bats were invisible until the game this afternoon, when the pitching finally gave out. It's been brutal. If you're a Rockies fan, you know, and I really don't think we need to dwell on it.
So if current trends hold, the Rockies are going to finish in last place in the National League West. Again. By a narrower margin than last year, but who really remembers things like that? I have been considering for the past few days as the Colorado hitting attack serially flopped in every imaginable run-creating situation whether I am angry at the Rockies organization for not seizing the season. The National League is terrible in 2006. Every bad thing that was written about Colorado's division in 2005 could easily be applied to the entire league this season. The Mets, who are the going-away favorites to claim the NL pennant, are a deeply flawed team that would scratch to be a wild-card contender in this year's AL or indeed most leagues most years. None of the other teams in the National League, with the exception of the schizoid Dodgers, really even deserve to be make the playoffs. St. Louis and Cincinnati scare no one. Philadelphia tried to raise the white flag and the league sank to its level. The defending champion Astros are a nonentity. The Diamondbacks, Padres, and Brewers are profoundly mediocre teams elevated to fringe contender status by the utter lack of anything resembling a real upper class. It's been a weird year.
The weirdest thing, of course, is that Rockies pitching has arrived. Fourteen years as an MLB franchise was all it took. The Rockies lead the circuit in starters' ERA, still. Our research department finally managed to get a pro analyst to acknowledge this in a BP chat earlier today. Well, "acknowledge" in the sense that Nate Silver posted the question. His answer, actually, wasn't: "We analysts are going to have to do a lot of long and hard thinking about how to handle Coors park effects this year. Having not done that thinking yet, I'm really uncomfortable providing any definitive answers about Rockies performance." Which is kind of a lazy dodge given that Colorado is still near the top of the table in road ERA, starters' and overall. It's nice having pitching. It's nicer still having pitching and hitting, but this is where I'm getting to my point. I don't blame Dan O'Dowd for not spending big money on free agent hitting last offseason.
There was no way of knowing that a) the Rockies' pitching staff would be both effective and almost completely healthy and b) the National League would be watered-down to an almost unheard-of degree. I rag on teams for spending lots of money to win 75 games all of the time. The Rockies didn't spend any money and will win that many or in the neighborhood, and retain the flexibility to re-sign any number of players who are still on the growth half of their career curve. What free agents would they have signed anyway? A return engagement of Preston Wilson? He sure panned out well in Houston. Jacque Jones? Bleah. It was a bad market, teams were wildly overpaying for platoon hitters and middle relievers, and as I wrote at the time, Colorado did well to not get sucked into it. Jose Mesa, Josh Fogg, and Byung-Hyun Kim were all worthwhile signings. The Jamey Carroll purchase was highway robbery. The Yorvit Torrealba trade, in the long run, I think will work out well for the team. I let O'Dowd have it for swapping Shawn Chacon for Yankee chaff last year, a deal that looked even worse when Chac was lights-out for New York down the stretch, but reassess the deal now. Chacon predictably washed out in his second Yankee season and Ramon Ramirez has become one of the young stars of Colorado's mongrel bullpen. The only major trade the Rockies made during this season, back when they still looked like they sort of had a shot, is one with smart middle-term benefits as well. Jeremy Affeldt: Colorado reliever is a much more enticing proposition than Affeldt: Kansas City starter, and Ryan Shealy was going nowhere in this organization and deserved richly to go to one where he would have ample chances to become a regular. If Denny Bautista ever does anything in a Colorado uniform, bonus.
I can't speak for every Rockies fan, but I feel OK about this season, even at this its darkest juncture. The team is better than it was, and the franchise is healthier than perhaps it's ever been. It would have helped the team immensely if they'd fulfilled their long-held goal of "playing meaningful games in September," since most casual-fan Denverites have still yet to learn the charms of this core of Rockies players, but in a way, I am a little pleased that the Rockies are still kind of a private thing for me and a handful of other headcases. Next spring, we won't sound so crazy talking about winning records and wild cards and Cy Young Jeff Francis...assuming O'Dowd performs the same shoestring budget repair job on the offense as he did so adroitly on the rotation and bullpen between April '05 and today '06.