Tag Archives: Nolan Arenado

Dick Monfort just proved all his critics right

[T]hese Rockies, they don’t do self-reflection. Nor do they do reality.

— Marc Carig, The Athletic

If you’ve followed the Rockies lo these 28 years, Lord knows you’ve seen some bad press conferences.

But Tuesday’s attempt to justify the Nolan Arenado trade was the worst I can remember. Owner Dick Monfort looked like a minor-league ballplayer trying to play major-league ball. GM Jeff Bridich, as usual, looked like the subject of a hostage video.

“This brings closure to something we have been dealing with for over a year,” said Monfort, establishing the tone of Rockies-as-victims that would permeate the following hour.

“In 2019, we signed Nolan to what I would call a career contract, something we were committed to. Nine months later, Nolan asked us to look for a trade.”

Huh. Skip anything between those two events, Dick? What would cause a player who had just signed an eight-year, $260 million “career contract” to ask out nine months later?

Rockies brass offered no explanation. Bridich archly informed the assembled peasants that he never tries to speak for players.

What we have on the record is pretty thin. In January 2020, 11 months into the contract and two months after Monfort says Arenado asked for a trade, Bridich told the Denver Post: “We have listened to teams regarding Nolan and really nothing has come of it. We are going to move forward pretty much as we expected — with Nolan in the purple and black as our third baseman. So we can put this to bed . . . .”

Thomas Harding of mlb.com reached out to Arenado by text for a reaction.

“There’s a lot of disrespect from people there that I don’t want to be a part of,” Arenado replied. “You can quote me on that.”

Asked to elaborate, he repeated his message: “You asked what I thought of Jeff’s quotes and I say I don’t care what people say around there. There is a lot of disrespect.”

Arenado declined to be specific, but added: “I’m not mad at the trade rumors. There’s more to it.”

In 2017 and 2018, the two years before Arenado signed the deal, the Rockies had winning records and reached the playoffs. They didn’t go far, but there was a sense following seasons of 87 and 91 wins that if they continued to add talent, they had a window, behind a young, homegrown pitching staff and the powerful bats of Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon, to be a serious contender.

In that context, the club declined to re-sign second baseman DJ LeMahieu and signed veteran free agent Daniel Murphy instead, a decision that turned out to be disastrous. Even Monfort admitted it was a mistake. LeMahieu signed with the Yankees, won a batting title and finished in the top four in American League Most Valuable Player voting in both 2019 and 2020. Murphy had two forgettable seasons for the Rockies and retired.

Prior to the 2018 season, Bridich spent over $100 million on contracts for three free agent relief pitchers — Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw. All three struggled mightily in Colorado, as free agent pitchers often do. By the time Arenado was traded, they had all been released.

Prior to the 2017 season, Bridich signed free agent Ian Desmond, a longtime shortstop in Washington who would play first base and the outfield in Denver, to a six-year, $70 million contract. Like the relievers, Desmond failed to live up to the big contract.

In 2019, the first season of Arenado’s new deal, the Rocks were 44-40 at the end of June, then collapsed, staggering to the finish line 71-91, 35 games out of first place in the National League West. Arenado finished strong, but the pitching fell apart. More than half the starting rotation went down with injuries, and it hadn’t been very good to start with.

“It feels like a rebuild,” Arenado said in September, surveying the wreckage. As I might have mentioned before, pitching collapsing has been an endemic problem playing at elevation, but physics are not to blame for Bridich’s repeated failures in the free agent market.

“[T]he hope for Arenado and company is going to be that the Rockies add reinforcements this coming offseason and try to contend in 2020,” one national reporter wrote.

This set the stage for the conflict that broke into the open that offseason. After Bridich’s succession of failed offseason moves, the team made no major additions following the disappointing 2019 campaign, expressing a belief, as Monfort did again Tuesday, that the roster was extremely talented and poor performance was an inexplicable anomaly. The pandemic-shortened 2020 season brought another losing record — 26-34 — with the club again starting fast and then collapsing.

We are left to fill in the blanks around the thin public record. At his introductory press conference in St. Louis, Arenado declined to detail the reasons for his unhappiness in Colorado, choosing to look forward.

Based on his comments to Harding, it’s clear that Bridich pissed him off. We don’t know exactly how. Maybe by going public with the fact he had entertained trade talks. Maybe by saying nothing had come of them, making the talks public and shutting them down at the same time. Maybe something else entirely that Arenado considered contrary to private assurances, which we can infer from his comment, “There’s more to it.”

We do know that Arenado has repeatedly expressed a desire to play for a winning organization. We can suppose that, like many of us, he was encouraged by the back-to-back postseason appearances in 2017-18. We can speculate that Bridich assured him, during discussions around the new contract, that he would do what it took to keep the team competitive. We can imagine that Arenado decided Bridich was not up to the task, or had perhaps misled him, following the 2019 collapse.

In any case, when a star player and a club official have irreconcilable differences, the person running the franchise has to make a decision. When it became clear to the late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen that quarterback John Elway and coach Dan Reeves could not co-exist, Bowlen made the logical choice: He could replace his head coach with someone comparable. He could not so readily find a quarterback as good as Elway. He fired Reeves, hired Mike Shanahan, and the rest is history.

Monfort could have done the same thing here. Arenado is among the best third basemen in major league history. Bridich is far less accomplished as a GM than Reeves was as a coach. Still, if we can take Monfort at his word, he never considered dumping Bridich.

Would it have been possible to salvage the club’s relationship with Arenado by bringing in a new GM? There’s no way to know. Again, Monfort claims never to have considered it.

Because Arenado had requested a trade, Monfort says he figured he would opt out of his contract at the end of the 2021 season and leave as a free agent. That would leave the club with two choices: play out one more season with Arenado and accept a late first-round draft choice as compensation when it was over, or trade him by the deadline and try to get more in return.

This Monfort conclusion is also debatable. The economics of baseball have been dealt a body blow by the Covid pandemic. Revenues plunged in 2020 with no fans in the stands. The current free agent market makes it appear unlikely Arenado could have replicated the salaries in his Rockies deal as a free agent at the end of this year.

Some have speculated the Rocks were afraid not that he would opt out but that he wouldn’t, leaving them on the hook for annual salaries of $35 million with much less revenue to fund them. This view is supported by the Rockies’ decision to pay the Cardinals a reported $50 million over time as the price of getting them to take on the hefty contract Bridich had negotiated just two years earlier.

Paying $35 million for Arenado to play one more year for the Rockies makes a lot more sense than paying $50 million for him to play for somebody else unless you’re afraid he won’t opt out and you’ll be on the hook for another $164 million. Monfort made a thoroughly unconvincing case that the mid-tier prospects the Rocks received from the Cardinals made the $50 million payment worthwhile.

Whatever the real reason, and we may never know, Monfort decided to trade him. There is a pattern to salary dumps of top players such as this. The team doing the dumping usually tries to get a replacement or blue-chip prospect at the same position as part of the package it receives in exchange, assuming it isn’t making the deal because it prefers somebody else on its roster already.

When Cleveland traded star shortstop Francisco Lindor last month, it got back a package including two young major-league shortstops from the Mets. When Tampa Bay dumped former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, 21-year-old Luis Patino, one of San Diego’s top pitching prospects, was in the group coming back. When the Red Sox traded star outfielder Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, they received, among others, 24-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo, who finished 12th in A.L. MVP voting in his first year in Boston.

Following this pattern, the obvious ask by the Rockies when giving up their star third baseman would have been 20-year-old Nolan Gorman, a 2018 first-round draft choice and the Cardinals’ top third-base prospect. When the names of the young players the Rocks received for Arenado were revealed, Gorman’s was not among them. Neither were the three other Cardinals prospects ranked among the top 100 in baseball.

Instead, they settled for a package of one big-league pitcher and four mid-level prospects roundly mocked by analysts as inadequate compensation for one of the best players Colorado has ever produced.

The closest analog was the Cubs’ trade of Yu Darvish to San Diego, in which they accepted a major-league starting pitcher and a passel of very young players, none of whom has been around long enough to be graded among the Padres’ top prospects. But club president Jed Hoyer was transparent about why: After draining the Cubs’ minor league system to go for broke at the major league level in the late teens, a quest that ended a century-long championship drought, the club is now restocking the cupboard.

No such explanation was forthcoming from Rockies brass. In fact, they went out of their way to say the deal does not signal a rebuild. So why weren’t Gorman or any of the Cardinals’ other top prospects part of the return?

Who knows? Nobody asked.

Not that they would have gotten a straight answer, but the question should have been posed anyway.

Woody Paige of the Gazette asked a pertinent question — whether Monfort had considered firing Bridich as GM or himself as Bridich’s supervisor, given the deeply disappointing outcome of the saga.

Monfort said he did not consider firing Bridich but did consider firing himself. He did not explain why he decided not to.

Monfort described himself as a fan and said he tries not to interfere in baseball decisions. On the other hand, it was he, not Bridich, who led off the press conference with a prepared statement attempting to justify the trade. This mixed message is emblematic of the Rockies’ organizational problem.

Monfort’s meandering commentary made it obvious he is unqualified to have any role on the baseball side of the business. And that’s OK. Most owners are. That’s why they hire experts to run the baseball operation and let them explain themselves at press conferences when necessary. This is a problem when Bridich is your expert, given his lack of credibility and disdain for the press.

Monfort’s inability or unwillingness to see the inadequacies of the front office he leads is just another disheartening revelation of the Arenado saga. Veteran baseball reporter Mark Saxon recently tweeted that he’d heard a player agent describe Bridich as “the worst communicator in MLB.” If you’ve watched him in press conferences, you would be hard-pressed to argue.

Bridich’s sullen affect is easier to understand in the context of a quote he gave Rockies broadcaster Drew Goodman for his book, “If These Walls Could Talk”: “I think I’m personally blessed with a capacity to not really care what is said about me all that much. The reality is — and this is going to sound petty and bad — if you just objectively look at the people who are evaluating us every day, you know they’ve never come close to doing this job and all the work that goes into it.”

As a longtime sportswriter, I can tell you this view is shared by many people in professional sports. And they certainly have a point. Not counting former players turned analysts, media critics by and large have not played the games they cover at a high level, nor run organizations.

But that’s the way the world works. Political reporters have seldom been elected officials. Art critics are not generally great artists.

So the smartest players and executives understand everybody in the ecosystem has a job to do. Bridich wouldn’t make the large salary general managers command if baseball weren’t supported by millions of fans, who crave information. The media are an important conduit of that information. The executives get paid a lot, the reporters get paid relatively little, which should make Bridich happy. So dealing with the press becomes a test of humility and the willingness to be accountable. Some executives are gracious about this interaction and some are not.

It’s also worth noting that one of the analysts who ripped the Arenado trade was Jim Bowden, who has indeed done Bridich’s job, and done it better than Bridich has. Bowden was a general manager in Cincinnati and Washington, won two division titles, and was named MLB executive of the year by Baseball America in 1999 before becoming an analyst.

When your performance is lousy — the Rockies are 350-453 in the six seasons since Bridich was named GM, with zero division titles and a 1-4 record in the playoffs — and you also resent anyone questioning or criticizing you, you’re going to become an object of scorn by your fan base, which is what Bridich has accomplished.

And when there’s a dispute over who caused a divorce as messy as this one, Bridich’s sour public affect and Arenado’s cheerful one — to say nothing of their relative contributions to the team’s success — are going to make it easy for fans to pick a villain.

From an executive standpoint, the Rocks are currently one of the worst organizations in baseball, with an unqualified top dog in Monfort and a GM who just alienated the team’s best player and resents questions about it.

There are frequent calls for Monfort to sell the team, but he has little incentive to do it. The Rocks are a cash cow in non-pandemic times, with fans pouring into Coors Field because it’s a gorgeous place to watch a game whether or not the team is any good. Now that he and other investors are building a massive commercial real estate project next door, it’s even less likely.

So the next best thing would be Monfort finally acknowledging he needs a more robust front office on the baseball side. If he’s unwilling to fire Bridich, that would entail hiring an experienced executive as club president over Bridich, someone with a track record as a general manager or club president elsewhere who has the ability to bring an objectivity to the Rockies’ operation that Monfort does not. If that doesn’t suit Bridich, well, he can make the same decision Arenado made.

Unfortunately, if Monfort’s public pronouncements are to be believed, he is utterly oblivious to the incompetent leadership this episode revealed. Two of the most minor-league moments in Tuesday’s press conference came when Monfort admitted he pays no attention to the annual rankings of baseball’s top prospects because a couple of Rockies who turned out well weren’t listed years ago, and when he turned a question about letting LeMahieu go into a weird personal tangent about how much he liked him.

Owners get to be willfully ignorant, sentimental and incoherent — it’s a privilege of being rich and writing the checks. Successful baseball executives do not.

Regrettably, there is no sign that Monfort is self-aware enough or cares enough about winning to make the necessary changes. So the Rocks will roll on as they are, wasting the talents of  some very good players because the people running the baseball operation are not up to the task.

-30-


Rockies still believe in Nolan Arenado

A funny thing happened on Nolan Arenado’s express trip to the big leagues. The train suddenly turned into a local.

A second-round draft pick out of California’s El Toro High School in 2009 and the Rockies’ much-hyped third baseman-to-be, Arenado watched as Double-A Tulsa teammate Josh Rutledge, a third-round pick out of the University of Alabama a year later, roared past him.

Arenado finished 2012 with a respectable .285 batting average, but his 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in were a serious comedown from his 20 and 122 in the same number of games at high Class A Modesto the year before.

Rutledge was hitting .306 with 13 homers and 35 RBI from the shortstop position when the Rocks called him up to fill in for the injured Troy Tulowitzki. Rutledge hit .274 with 8 homers and 37 RBI for the parent club. Even with Tulo healthy again, Rutledge is expected to make the Rockies again, this time as a second baseman.

Arenado will also be in big league camp by the time position players are required to report on Saturday. Of Baseball America’s top 10 Rockies prospects, four are non-roster invitees to the major league camp — Arenado, outfielder Kyle Parker and pitchers Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis.

“I personally still think he definitely is that candidate,” Jeff Bridich, the Rockies’ senior director of player development, said on KOA when I asked him about Arenado.

“I think he’s talented enough and deep-down inside confident enough, athletic enough and skilled enough, to be our everyday third baseman in the future. He holds that decision inside of him, and I think that’s a lesson that he learned (last) year. That Double-A level is tough. It’s where the cream starts to separate itself. I think he was expecting big things out of himself — I know he was — and when faced with some adversity, just was unsure and didn’t know how to handle it.

“The crime would be if he doesn’t learn from that and apply it this year. Really, I think he’s just got to get back to being himself on that baseball diamond, being himself every day in terms of how he prepares and playing the game for the love of the game, which is really how he came into this organization out of high school. He was a very energetic, excitable, talented young man. He put a lot of pressure and stress on himself last year, and I’m very, very confident that he learned from that experience and will apply it well this year.”

The decision to invite Arenado to big league camp despite his disappointing 2012 season indicates the Rocks believe he might be ready to join the parent club sometime this season. For such players, the organization tries to get the “wow factor” of being around big leaguers out of the way in the spring.

“You usually make the decisions guy to guy,” Bridich said. “There’s a method to the madness. I would say that when certain players have done certain things that make you think that they could impact the big league club at some point during the season, you want to get them acclimated to not only the other big league players that might factor into that team that year, but the coaching staff as well. Kind of get that wow factor of being around the big league environment, get that kind of over and done with in spring training as best you can.”

This is also the case with Bettis, a second-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2010 who was expected to be on a fast track to the majors last season after an impressive 2011 campaign at Modesto, when he went 12-5 with a 3.34 earned-run average. But Bettis suffered a shoulder injury last spring and ended up sitting out the season.

“We were hopeful that Chad would be pitching for us, at least starting for us last year in Tulsa, and where he ended up, who knows, but he was beset by injury at the end of the spring training,” Bridich said.

“So his situation is really health first. I think he’s past it. He pitched for us in instructional league the first, second week in October, towards the end of our camp. I know he feels like he’s past the injury and is feeling strong. So first things first with him — getting back on the mound, getting his arm strength and body strength and muscle memory and all that kind of stuff back, and we’ll see what happens.”

The big league invite to Anderson, the Rockies’ first-round pick in 2011 out of the University of Oregon, suggests the Rocks think the left-hander could rise through the ranks rapidly.

“Tyler Anderson is obviously a talented kid who has also battled some injury stuff. Fortunately for him, it hasn’t been his arm. But (we’re) looking forward for him to put in a good full season of professional baseball. When I talked about that wow factor and kind of getting that out of the way, I think Tyler definitely fits into that type of category with this spring training invite.”

After last season’s disastrous decision to bring in veteran Jeremy Guthrie, who freaked out trying to pitch at Coors Field, Rockies management has been reminded that it requires a certain mindset to pitch here. So I asked Bridich how the organization goes about diagnosing that intangible quality in pitchers.

“It’s no surprise to anybody that there are challenges here, pitching at altitude,” he said. “I think that we have seen in the past that a variety of different types of pitchers can pitch well here. It’s not just one specific mold. But what really is telling is what’s inside of the guy — that fearlessness and the confidence that he can pitch anywhere, it really doesn’t matter, and that if he’s pitching in Colorado, it’s no different in his mind than pitching in Dodger Stadium or out east at sea level. It’s one of the toughest things to scout, because you can’t see what’s inside that player. But oftentimes, it’s the most important.”

Another top prospect to get a non-roster invite to big league camp this year is Kyle Parker, the former Clemson quarterback. The Rocks have gone one for two on football/baseball players lately. They also drafted Russell Wilson, who went back to football after a couple of unremarkable seasons in the minor leagues and became a rookie star with the Seattle Seahawks. Parker made the opposite call.

“Kyle is a very good athlete, a very powerful athlete, and I think last year he dealt with some unfortunate and unlucky injury circumstances,” Bridich said, referring to Parker’s 2012 season in Modesto. “He got hit with a pitch first game of the season and he broke his wrist and then towards the end of the season he kind of repeated history there, so he lost some time in the playoffs. In between all of that, he put together a very impressive offensive season and defensive season as well.

“He improved in many, many phases of his game last year. He used to have kind of a split personality between football and baseball, growing up and all the way through college. Now he doesn’t have that. He’s dedicated himself fully to baseball. He is a hard worker to begin with. He’s got work ethic; that is not a question at all.

“Really, it’s about paying attention now to some of the finer points of playing baseball and having some of that baseball experience under his belt that he didn’t have previously because he was spending a lot of time on the football field.”

Of the four, only Arenado has a full season at the Double-A level, which would seem to make him the most likely to wear a Rockies uniform sometime this season. But the invites suggest the organization thinks that any of the four could surprise and earn a promotion earlier than expected.


A little early to panic: Thoughts on the Rockies’ first series

On Twitter, the modern version of Morse code, RIGHT NOW is all that really matters. Thus, from the first weekend of baseball’s new season, we get:

* Trading Jason Hammel was a huge mistake by the Rockies because he had the best start of his career in his Orioles debut, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning.

* The Red Sox stink again, just like last fall when they blew a sure playoff berth. Shows what the experts know.

* The Mets are awesome.

* The Rockies’ roster is a joke, what was Dan O’Dowd thinking, and Jim Tracy still overmanages.

Slight exaggerations, granted, but I did receive these tweets, verbatim, after the Rocks lost two out of three in Houston:

“Offense overrated.”

“So far, Rockies are who critics thought they were.”

After three games. Out of 162. So let’s take a step back and remember a few things. Last year, the Rocks came out of the gate 11-2 and finished April at 17-8. They were under .500 by the end of May (25-29) on their way to a desultory 73-win season.

This is where the level-headed writer is supposed to urge fans to wait for a statistically significant sample size, but in two of the past five seasons, there has been no such thing for the Rockies.

In 2010, they had a .554 winning percentage, on pace for 90 wins, through 148 games, which seems like a pretty good sample size. Then they lost 13 of their last 14 to finish 83-79 (.512). So a team that looked good for much of the season turned out to be mediocre.

In 2007, as you may recall, exactly the opposite happened. The Rocks had a .514 winning percentage through 148 games, barely above average, then won 13 out of 14 (14 out of 15 if you count the one-game playoff with San Diego; 21 out of 22 if you could the NLDS and NLCS), to finish the regular season 89-73. So a team that looked mediocre for much of the season turned out to be pretty good.

All of which is to say sometimes you can’t tell with the Rockies even when you’ve watched them all summer. So one weekend in April is probably not enough basis for any significant conclusions. But let’s knock down a few misconceptions anyway:

* Jamie Moyer is not the No. 2 starter, even though he pitched the second game. You might think this wouldn’t need to be explained to anyone paying even casual attention, but apparently it does. Moyer, who throws nothing but junk because he’s . . . well, because he’s 49 years old . . .  was inserted in the rotation between hard throwers Jeremy Guthrie and Juan Nicasio in hopes he would serve as a change of pace. It may have worked, although not for him. After hitting against him Saturday, the Astros were largely lost against Nicasio’s heat Sunday. Starting Moyer in Houston also gives him one less start at altitude, where one winces at the prospects.

In any case, Moyer is the fifth starter, and a temporary one at that. The first four starters are Guthrie, Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz and Jhoulys Chacin. When Jorge De La Rosa is ready to return from Tommy John surgery — early June, the Rocks hope — he’ll take the fifth spot and Moyer’s grand Reminiscence Tour will be over.

Moyer made the club only because four younger candidates for the temporary fifth starter role — Guillermo Moscoso, Tyler Chatwood, Josh Outman and Alex White — failed to win the job in the spring. That’s disappointing, but if any of them starts pitching well, either in the minor leagues or from the bullpen, he can take Moyer’s spot any time.

* The fact that Pomeranz is not yet on the 25-man roster does not prove Rockies management is demented. Pomeranz, the fifth pick of the 2010 draft and the central prize of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, pitched 101 innings in the minors last year and 18.1 in the majors. That’s . . . give me a minute to warm up the calculator — 119.1 innings pitched. Crunching the numbers on young pitchers who have run into arm trouble, the Rocks conclude that one red flag is a big jump in innings pitched from one year to the next.

If Pomeranz is as good as he looks — his minor league ERA last year was 1.78 — he would pitch 200 innings or more as a regular member of the rotation. The Rocks don’t want that. In fact, they don’t want him to pitch many more than 150. How to do that?

Well, treat him like a fifth starter, even though he’ll probably be their ace in short order. Skip him the first time around, since a day off allows them to go with four starters twice through the rotation. His scheduled start at Double A Tulsa is to keep him on schedule, but it should be a short one. I’m still suggesting you get tickets for Sunday, April 15, his first scheduled start of the season at Coors Field.

* The reason Jonathan Herrera is on the roster is not that he’s friends with Carlos Gonzalez. He, Chris Nelson and Eric Young Jr. may seem like way too many of the same sort of ineffectual player, but there’s one big difference: Rockies management doesn’t want to see either Nelson or Young playing shortstop or second base if it’s not an emergency. That means Herrera is the only defensive replacement for Troy Tulowitzki or Marco Scutaro that doesn’t make the brass cringe. Rockies fans love to hate Herrera because he doesn’t hit much, but inasmuch as the Rocks have committed four errors in three games, all by infielders and one costing them Sunday’s game, they probably want more defense, not less.

* Yes, admittedly, third base is still a black hole. While studly prospect Nolan Arenado begins the season at Tulsa (batting .533 through four games with an OPS of 1.344) the Rocks hope that either Nelson or Jordan Pacheco proves capable of being a placeholder. Each made a costly throwing error in Houston, Pacheco’s arguably costing them Sunday’s game, and they were a combined 1-for-11 at the plate.

If it makes you feel any better, Ian Stewart committed one of those sleepy Ian Stewart errors — dropping a ball as he transferred it from his glove to his hand — for the Cubs, although he is 2-for-8 with a run scored and an RBI through three games in Chicago.

But, hey, that ship has sailed. Stewart hit .156 last season and after eight years in the organization, the Rocks moved on, exchanging him for outfielder Tyler Colvin, another former first-round pick in need of a fresh start. One of three things is going to happen at the hot corner:

1. Nelson or Pacheco takes hold of the position, hits enough to stay in the lineup and learns how to throw to first.

2. Neither takes hold of the position and the Rocks, desperate, call up Brandon Wood from Triple A Colorado Springs, who is 4-for-14 through four games (.286) and hasn’t made an error yet.

3. Neither takes hold of the position and the Rocks, desperate, notice Arenado is batting over .500, figure he’ll be old enough to drink legally any day (his 21st birthday is a week from today), throw caution to the wind and call him up.

Even while losing the series in Houston, the Rocks saw some encouraging signs. Guthrie and Nicasio both gave them quality starts, pitching seven innings apiece. Rookie catcher Wilin Rosario hit a towering home run in his first start, confirming the power he demonstrated in spring training. The bats haven’t heated up yet, but newcomer Michael Cuddyer had five hits in his first series in purple and black.

But the main point I want to make is it’s only three games. The Yankees are 0-3. So are the Red Sox. The Orioles are 3-0, which is the biggest tell of all. So do what the Rocks did last night. Put the Houston series in the rearview and enjoy today’s home Opening Day.