Last weekend, the Colorado Rockies’ overpriced bullpen crumbled in a series of games versus the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field. The Rockies fought their way to the top of the mediocre National League West in May, only to have the Dodgers knock them down.
That’s a familiar narrative.
On Thursday, the Rockies climbed back into a tie at the top of the division, only to stumble again as they lost to the Reds in 13 innings. The bullpen blew a three-run lead that the Rockies carried into the eighth inning. The Rockies’ experiment of throwing money at the bullpen is costing them more on the field than it is with the checkbook.
As the Rockies once again flirt with the top of the standings heading into a weekend series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, they crave that top position in the division. No team in baseball seeks the respect a division title would bring more than the Rockies. They’re one of two teams in the MLB without a single division title — and the other one has two World Series rings.
The Rockies have failed to win the National League West in 25 straight seasons (their whole existence). The first year, they lost to the Atlanta Braves (when there were still four divisions in baseball instead of the current six divisions). Since then, they have watched the four other teams in the division sit atop of the NL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers have done it 10 times, the San Diego Padres four times, the Arizona Diamondbacks five times and the San Francisco Giants five times.
Sure, the Rockies have three Wild Card appearances, but never have they edged out those four teams in the same year. The Rockies keep looking for validation (thanks to the negative opinions in the league about Coors Field), but can’t even use one season of division dominance as part of their argument.
The Miami Marlins are the other team that’s never won a division title, but they have two World Series titles as the Florida Marlins. Even with a fish tank gimmick in their ballpark and a grim future, the Marlins have at least caught the top prize.
The Rockies have that one National League pennant from 2007 that they painted on the scoreboard. It was replaced this year, for more pixels in the remodel and the pennant sign disappeared. That’s not much of an enduring legacy for the club.
A division title, even just one, would seem like such a major victory. This is the year they can take it.
The Dodgers have won the NL West title five years in a row, but are under the weather. The starting pitching staff that took Los Angeles to the World Series last year is crowding the disabled list.
The San Francisco Giants are vulnerable. They keep delaying the inevitable rebuilding they must do to hang onto their three World Series title glory days. They’re a mediocre team that believes it can still be great. The Rockies can beat them.
The Arizona Diamondbacks aren’t making waves in Phoenix (other than with an ugly stadium battle). The Rockies can match them on the field almost anywhere right now.
And the San Diego Padres can’t believe that they’re still within five games of the division lead — they don’t have a lot going for them.
So when the Rockies’ bullpen is blowing games, when the bats aren’t hitting on all cylinders, and when surefire starters like Jon Gray are struggling, all I can think is that another division title is slipping away.
At the current pace, the Rockies need only 86 wins to capture the division. They won 87 games last year to secure the Wild Card Game.
86 wins would be the lowest number for a division champion in baseball since 2008 — when the Dodgers won just 84 games to capture the NL West. It’s clearly within reach for the Rockies.
It also seems far away. With each year the Rockies don’t win the title — and with each blown game by the bullpen, the mountain they’ll need to climb in order to win this division towers over them a little more.