NL West games should be priority for the Rockies

Just recruit more five-star athletes. That was the joke.

One of the first radio shows I was ever a part of was focused almost entirely on the recent decline of University of Colorado football, and the old joke between the hosts was that the average fan’s solution to the problem was to “just recruit more five-star athletes.”

Obviously, if it were as simple as that, CU would be playing in a lot more bowl games. But the truth is that there aren’t any quick panaceas for all that ills struggling teams in the sports world. Being well-run, possessing high-talent levels and typically having intelligence are the things that create successful franchises and college programs. Those things often take time to accumulate and develop into a well-oiled machine.

For that reason, even if the Colorado Rockies have turned the corner this season in terms of the people running the show, they are still probably a few years away from being rid of all the dysfunction that has plagued 20th and Blake for so many years.

Contrary to popular belief, I suspect that 150 games played for Troy Tulowitzki will not automatically catapult the club into contention. I also doubt that scheduling him for weekly days off in an attempt to string his health out all season long to the tune of 130 games will automatically put them into contention.

As Doug Ottewill pointed out yesterday, JV Sundays are not helping the franchise turn around their fortunes or their reputation. But the guess here is that rolling out the same starting eight every night would probably result in the same untimely injuries that we’ve become so accustomed to in recent years.

There are plenty of ideas for solving this riddle, some even put forward by the club themselves. And don’t get me wrong; the vast majority of them are good ideas that over time will add a few wins to the club’s record.

But just for a minute, let’s try something a little bit different.

What if the Rockies put all of these improvements into the context of division games?

It’s no secret that Colorado has always struggled within the National League West. In the last decade, there’s just as much correlation between a winning divisional record and an overall winning record for the Rockies as there is with Tulo’s 150-game rule (in that both have happened twice and both times the team found its way to a winning record).

But with 76 division games every season and the Rockies consistently falling short of winning the lion’s share of them, those games sure seem like a more effective strategizing tool than wringing our hands over the health of an inherently injury-prone player.

Stating that the club just has to “win more division games,” however, is akin to the “recruit more five-stars” mantra, in that both are fairly useless things to say.

What I’m talking about is simple: Make the teams competing with you for your division work harder for it.

The first “JV Sunday” of the season that Doug alluded to happened against the Chicago Cubs. That’s going to happen occasionally. Only 24 players in baseball last year topped 600 plate appearances, and just 65 got to the 550-plate appearances mark. I can live with that as long as I don’t see a JV Sunday against the San Francisco Giants all year long.

Tulowitzki? Whether we like it or not, he’s going to sit at times this season. But the Los Angeles Dodgers should have to face him every, single time.

Walt Weiss and Co. has already established this season that he’s not afraid to crown and everyday lineup and send them out five days in a row. That’s how it should be, but guys have to get rest. Whether he’s the only decent catcher on the roster or not, Nick Hundley can’t squat behind home plate for 150 games this season. Sending out Charlie Blackmon and Justin Morneau every day that a lefty pitches is a recipe for problems, and Wilin Rosario has got to find a path to regular at-bats.

But Colorado’s divisional opponents should be getting the club’s best shot, every time. The club needs vast improvement within their own division, and they’ll have the added advantage that their opponents, also interested in preserving their team for the playoffs, will often decline to follow suit.

It’s a simple, realistic approach in today’s analytical baseball world to steal your team a few extra wins with minimal added effort. With baseball’s minimal playoff field (and the risk associated with the wild card at an all-time high with the play-in game), the importance of division games is more paramount than ever.

The Rockies need to prioritize their division games. And going about that should be a far easier task than just recruiting five-stars.

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