If Jeff Bridich is alarmed by the Rockies’ recent tumble from grace, he sure doesn’t show it.
The club’s third-year general manager gives measured, calculated answers when asked about the mound of trouble that’s cropped up after the best start in franchise history.
“In terms of the momentum of the season, it’s kind of been two and a half good months and then two and a half bad weeks,” Bridich said when asked to provide an assessment of the Rockies at the all-star break. “I think the way we played baseball in April and May, and half of June, was indicative of the type of talent this team has.”
Colorado spent 59 days in first place in the National League West, reaching its pinnacle on June 20 when it was 47-26. The Rockies reached 50 victories fast than any other team in franchise history, doing it in 87 games. They are an impressive 17-8-4 in series this season.
“We were able to win games in a number of different ways,” Bridich said. “That is a good trait and the trait of a winning team. I think we’ve shown the ability to pitch very effectively, and we’ve shown the ability to play very good defense for long stretches of time.
“I think our offense has probably been the most roller-coaster aspect of this team. Sometimes it looks great and sometimes it seems to completely disappear.”
During spring training, players and first-year manager Bud Black talked optimistically about the Rockies winning their first NL West title. But that goal has all but evaporated as the Rockies (52-39) dropped 13 of of the last 18 games entering their midsummer vacation. The high-flying, formidable Los Angeles Dodgers are 9½ games ahead of the Rockies. The saving grace is that the Rockies hold a 7½-game lead over the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL’s second wild-card playoff berth.
Despite left-hander Kyle Freeland’s near no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox at Coors Field on Sunday, the Rockies’ late June swoon and early July malaise featured some troubling trends. Starting pitchers have a 5.88 ERA during the 18-game stretch, and relievers have struggled, going 0-4 with two blown saves while posting a 5.06 ERA.
Some in the media have pointed to the recent struggles of the Rockies’ rookie starters — Freeland, German Marquez, Jeff Hoffman and Antonio Senzatela — as the root of the problem. The theory goes that growing pains and inexperience caught up to the rookies after their fast starts.
Bridich, however, doesn’t agree with that theory. And, of course, Freeland’s gem Sunday further debunks the concept.
“I don’t necessarily buy into this whole concept that young players have to go through some sort of roller-coaster ride during the season,” Bridich said. “I think, maybe because of what’s happened in the past, that our local media kind of ordains that it must happen. You’re waiting for it and you’re talking about it. But that doesn’t mean it has to happen.
“So I think that’s misplaced. There are plenty of veterans — and we have some — who go through periods of the season where it’s great, but then they go through large parts where they struggle. And nobody blames that on lack of age.
“If you are at this level and you are good enough to be here, then you are good enough to play well here.”
The bullpen, relative to the starting rotation, is a veteran group. But its struggles have increased as the season has moved along. All-star closer Greg Holland and late-game lefties Jake McGee and Chris Rusin have been reliable, but some others have not been. For example, right-handed setup man Adam Ottavino had a 2.84 ERA on June 17, but it’s now 5.74. Left-hander Mike Dunn, whom the Rockies signed for $19 million over three years, had a 1.17 ERA in April before he went on the disabled list because of back spams. He hasn’t been the same since, his ERA rising to 5.40.
If the Rockies remain in the postseason race as the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline nears, it seems logical that Bridich and his staff will explore trading for one or two accomplished relievers. Perhaps someone such as Pat Neshek, Philadelphia’s side-arm right-hander, or Brad Hand, San Diego’s dynamic lefty, would fit the bill.
If that is indeed the case, the GM is not tipping his hand.
“We are going to investigate everything,” Bridich said. “Our job in the front office is to do our job well, especially this time of year. Do we have a detailed plan right now? Not necessarily yet, because there is still a lot of information gathering going on and there is still a lot of baseball left to play.
“But we are in full-blown information-gathering mode and we’re talking to a lot of teams. But I’m also keeping in mind that this is the same group that was 20 games over .500 not too long ago.”
The most perplexing thing about Colorado has been its two-faced offense. It has been up and down for much of the season, and the club ranks a disappointing ninth in the NL with 104 home runs. The most disappointing player, by far, has been three-time all-star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. He is batting only .221 with just six home runs, 22 RBIs, a .299 on-base percentage and a .147 average with runners in scoring position.
Gonzalez insists there is nothing wrong with him physically, and says there are no issues in his personal life affecting his performance. He’s simply in the worst funk of his career and his timing remains a mess.
Asked if there is anything he can add to help explain Gonzalez’s slump, Bridich replied: “I don’t have anything I can share.”
Taken as a whole, Colorado’s offense has been sliding downhill since June 20. Over the past 18 games, the Rockies are batting .247, with a .264 average with runners in scoring position. Bridich does have a theory about that.
“Lately, during this three-week stretch, it looks like there are a lot of physically and mentally fatigued people who are also trying very hard,” he said. “And there are also a lot of empty at-bats. A lot of times, that means strikeouts.”
But the GM sees light after the all-star break.
“I would say that there is a better and more consistent offense coming from this group,” Bridich said. “I do believe we are going to see that in the second half.
“But In order for us to start playing better baseball overall, I think this team needs to regroup a little bit, rest up a little bit and relax. We need to start getting back to winning games by winning the situations. I believe we can get back to being a lineup that is productive, plays together and plays off each other.”