So I went down to Coors Field for the Rockies’ last Saturday night game of the season because it’s usually a good time, a little wistful, a little nostalgic, mostly for summer, but sometimes for the boys who played through it, depending on how they did and what they showed you.
Of course, those aren’t the guys the Rockies are trotting out there. The sentiment and nostalgia around Todd Helton’s final homestand is covering for the absence of all the Rocks’ current stars. Saturday night, there was no Troy Tulowitzki, no Carlos Gonzalez, no Michael Cuddyer and no Dexter Fowler except for a sad pinch-hitting appearance in which he looked like a player twice his age. They’re all injured or sore or tired, to one extent or another.
Before the game, nobody even bothered to ask manager Walt Weiss why Tulowitzki wasn’t in the lineup. He hit his first home run in a month on Thursday, then another, No. 24, on Friday. He’s finally getting hot. Maybe he could help the Rocks get out of last place. It’s a modest goal, but it’s what’s left.
After Saturday night’s lay-down, in which the Rocks fielded a minor-league team playing behind a pitcher with an earned-run average of 8.59, the club has six games remaining, with two days off among them. Yet Tulo apparently needed a day off.
CarGo has not homered since July 20. He has not batted since Aug. 4. He has a finger problem.
Dex had 10 home runs on June 2. Today he has 12.
If you’ve followed this team, you are already painfully aware of all this. With the exception of Cuddyer, the Rockies’ big stars were all big starters and small finishers this season. Every one of them got hurt again. This is really the worst kind of team to be — a tease that looks good early, when everybody is strong and fresh, and then surrenders to the grind faster than anybody.
In the first half of the season, Fowler hit 10 home runs and batted .284, with an on-base percentage of .381. He stole 13 bases and was thrown out stealing three times.
In the second half, Fowler hit two home runs and batted .223, with an on-base percentage of .349. He stole six bases and was thrown out six times.
CarGo hit 25 home runs and drove in 64 runs before the All-Star break, leading the National League in the former category and putting up an OPS of .980. He stole 16 bases and was caught stealing one time.
In the second half, he hit one home run and drove in six runs. His OPS dropped to .747. He stole five bases and was caught twice.
Tulo hit 16 homers and drove in 52 runs before the All-Star break. He’s hit eight and driven in 28 since.
Tulo’s splits are actually the most remarkable because Fowler’s and CarGo’s are explained mostly by the vast difference in games played. Fowler played in 74 games before the break, 44 after. For CarGo, those numbers are 91 and 19. For Tulo, the games played are closer because his absence due to a broken rib came in the middle of the season. He played 64 before the break and 56 after, yet his power numbers have been cut in half.
So I got to thinking about a simple stat: How many games is a gamer likely to play these days? Who’s the leader in games played for each team in the Rockies’ division this season, and how many did he play? Keep in mind the season isn’t over (except, of course, for the Rockies), so these numbers are still changing daily. As of this moment (9:53 p.m. mountain on Saturday), here are the answers, according to ESPN:
- 155 (Hunter Pence, Giants)
- 152 (Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks)
- 150 (Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers)
- 145 (Will Venable, Padres)
- 127 (Nolan Arenado, Rockies)
If you are tempted to blame the elevation, consider this: Arenado wasn’t even on the big league roster when the Rockies came north back in April. He was called up in time to play in their 25th game. So Arenado has appeared in 127 of a possible 132 games. If he’d been with the Rocks all year, his total would likely be up there with the leaders of the other NL West teams.
So here’s the question, and I don’t know a delicate way to phrase it: Are the Rockies’ stars wimpier than their rivals’ stars?
Tulo hasn’t played in 150 games since 2009, the last time the Rocks made the playoffs. He’s played as many as 140 once in the four intervening seasons. And he’s in his prime, weeks from his 29th birthday. One would have to assume he gets more fragile, not less, from here.
CarGo has never played 150 games in a season. He played 145 once and 135 once in a six-year career. In five big-league seasons, Fowler’s high is 143.
You evaluate this team on paper as if it had all these guys on the field and it looks good. Then you join 36,005 other hopeful souls on the final Saturday night of the season at the ballpark and the outfield is Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson and Charlie Culberson. The infield is D.J. LeMahieu, Jonathan Herrera, Josh Rutledge and Helton. The catcher is Jordan Pacheco.
I know, I know. It doesn’t matter anymore. They’re playing out the string. But you know what? They’re still charging for tickets and beer and parking as if they were fielding a major league product.
Can the Rockies build a contender around Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Fowler? Or do they need one of them to be more like Hunter Pence — someone who crashes into walls, shakes it off and stays in the game . . . and plays the next day . . . and the next . . . and the next. Are the last few years too small a sample size upon which to judge the Rockies’ core, or do they have too many high-strung thoroughbreds and not enough plow horses?
The starting position players around the big three have improved and solidified this year. Wilin Rosario is the best offensive catcher the Rocks have ever had. Arenado looks like the third baseman for the next decade or more. LeMahieu has earned the first shot at the second-base job next year. Add them to Cuddyer and a healthy big three and you have a heck of an offensive team. But only for half a season, which is a really soul-sucking way to do it.
Pitching is another subject, which we’ll get to, but there’s no disputing that the rotation took a step forward this year, from zero effective starters last year to two, and sometimes three. Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa were two of the best starters in the league. Combined with the promise of the lineup, this team should not be in last place again.
Much as I like the big three as players when they’re healthy, I’m coming around to the idea that the Rocks need to get tougher, and that one of the big three may have to go to make it happen.