The phrase “must win” has become one of the most overused cliches in all of sports. Game 7 of the World Series is “must win.” The wild card play-in game is “must win.” Games 49-58 of the MLB regular season are not “must wins.”
That doesn’t mean they weren’t important, however. In a span of just 10 games, the Rockies turned their entire season around.
This time last week they sat at 25-27, four games out of the second NL wild card spot with their season teetering in the balance. Now, they’re on an eight-game winning streak, just a half game behind the Cubs and Braves for the wild card lead, and awaiting the imminent return of two key contributors from the injured list.
All things considered, the Rockies couldn’t be in much better shape in early June.
Still, the biggest response I’ve seen from the fanbase isn’t a positive one. Yesterday, I watched as the 104.3 The Fan text line and Twitter notifications blew up with a fairly consistent complaint. “The Rockies played three bad teams. Why are we celebrating wins that were supposed to happen?”
Look, I get it. The Orioles are the worst organization in baseball right now. The Diamondbacks probably aren’t going to compete for a playoff spot this year. And the Blue Jays fielded a glorified triple-A squad this past weekend. All three opponents had to come to Denver and play at Coors Field. Of course, you’re supposed to win those series. Except, up until this point in the year, we haven’t seen the Rockies do that.
Furthermore, the Rockies didn’t just win three series. They swept two of the three matchups, one of those against Arizona, a division opponent. Any time that happens, it’s a massive accomplishment.
Let’s also take into account where we stand in the schedule. A bad Seattle Mariners team has already decided to start a fire sale. Now that the seal has been broken on this year’s trade market, it won’t be long before other struggling teams decide they’re ready to move on from their trade-able assets. Before the home stand started, the Rockies weren’t too far away from being one of those early sellers. The problem is they don’t really have pieces to sell.
Nolan Arenado just signed an eight-year mega-deal. He’s not going anywhere.
Trevor Story could net you a massive return, but he’s only 26 and still has two years of arbitration left. You’re probably not letting him go either.
It’s the same story for guys like Jon Gray, German Marquez and a handful of others. All of those names you’ll want to build around when you look to the future.
That leaves us with a collection of role players, some bullpen arms and Charlie Blackmon. Blackmon would likely be the talent most coveted by a contender, but he’s a 32-year-old center fielder making $21 million per year. That doesn’t bode well for a high value trade return.
Long story short, the Rockies just aren’t in position to sell right now. Being forced to do so would have been disastrous in both the short and the long term. That’s why taking nine of the last 10 was so important. Those nine wins took the option of selling off the table, for now, and put the team back in position to compete for a playoff berth. That’s exactly what they’re built to do and right where they belong.
Of course, if the Rockies don’t keep winning home series’ and at least holding their own on the road, beating the Orioles, D-Backs and Blue Jays during the past week won’t mean anything at all.
For now, though, those nine wins saved the season. That’s something we shouldn’t take for granted.
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