The Rockies have to sweep Arizona if they have any hope of passing the Diamondbacks (and the Phillies, and the Dodgers, and now the Braves too) for the National League wild card. It's a long shot, and even if everything went right for Colorado this weekend at Chase Field, they'd still have to play out of their minds the rest of the way to make it pay off. When we look back on the year this won't be the series that makes or breaks the season (I expect that will turn out being the series at home last week where the Rockies deep-snoozed their way through losing three of four to the Pirates), but it could have tremendous implications for 2008.
The goal this year, set by the organization itself, was to be playing meaningful games in September. Today is August 31st. If the Rockies win tonight, they will have accomplished their goal for the season, and when was the last time under O'Dowd that the franchise even met its own modest target for annual improvement? This will be a first, and it will set the Rockies on their way to winning the most games in franchise history, even though they'll probably miss the postseason. If the Rockies win tonight, I promise I will go into next spring training positive and upbeat. I'll buy and wear a Willy Taveras T-shirt, even.
However, the last few times the Rockies have faced an absolute, gotta-win, no-fooling around-this-time situation they have crumbled like stale toast. In the first game in San Francisco, the entire Colorado dugout was shown up in enthusiasm first by a hippie Giants fan who caught a homer and then by home plate umpire Greg Gibson, who was doing that obnoxious thing that umpires do sometimes where they randomly start calling balls five inches off the outside of the plate strikes and picking fights with any batter who dares to complain. If the Rockies have the lineup, the defense, and the beginnings of the rotation and bullpen needed to contend, they sorely lack the leadership. Whenever Todd Helton tries to call out his team, as he did a few weeks back, it has no effect because everybody in the clubhouse loves and respects Todd so much that they don't believe he's really mad at them. They just think he's doing what he thinks he needs to do as the leader of the team because that's the kind of guy he is.
Clint Hurdle, on the other hand, as we've discussed many times, simply has no authority at all. What has he won? When did he prove himself? The only thing Clint has shown persistence in is finding ways to guarantee his influence completes Rockies losses. When given the opportunity to run or bunt the team out of an inning, he can't wait to give the signal. Then there's the way that when the Rockies are safely 10 games out, he uses the bullpen like a guy with nothing to lose, breaking established roles and riding the hot hand. As soon as Colorado creeps up on the margins of the pennant race, he becomes Dusty Baker and starts leaning on guys like Jorge Julio and LaTroy Hawkins when it's late and close because they're Veteran Guys Who Have Proven Their Mettle.
I want Clint, and Todd, and Willy and Matt and Garrett and Tulo and Kaz to show me I'm wrong about them tonight. I have never asked the Rockies to win one game for me. I mostly assume they won't, then I complain about it, but there's never any real threat that I'm going to give up on them because, well, they're the only team in town. Tonight, I don't know. If they come out flat as they did in the Pittsburgh and San Francisco Game Ones, I might have to throw in the towel and start blogging Liverpool football.
No, not really. But it is past time for the Rockies to show us something. It's easy to play yourself back into the margins of the race when no one is paying any attention to you. It's much, much harder to stay in it and make it so no one overlooks you again. Will there be meaningful games in September? One result answers that question, and everyone involved with the Rockies franchise has to know that. It's been quite some time indeed since could have been said to be the case, so we'll learn a lot about a team that still has questions galore hanging over it tonight. I really, really want these lessons to be positive, joyful ones.
Ubaldo Jimenez is starting for the Rockies tonight, and I think that gives them an excellent chance. It's possible that Ubaldo's career would have been better off had he stayed in AAA all year for additional seasoning, learning to use the movement on his fastball to get guys to get themselves out the way Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook do. But against Arizona he's going to be facing an almost all-AAA lineup anyway, so it's not like the other team has a huge veteran advantage. They do have a huge veteran -- Livan Hernandez -- starting for them this evening, but the literal kind of huge, not huge in the clutch sense.