The harsh words set off a minor firestorm on Twitter and prompted Rockies fans to send me angry emails.
“When are the Rockies going to get some national respect?” was the underlying tone of most of those emails.
The words, in case you missed them, came from Tony Kornheiser, the talented former sportswriter and columnist for The Washington Post, and now more famously known as the co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.”
That “PTI” would even discuss the Rockies was unusual, but Kornheiser’s tone was predictable.
“Ever since I saw them in the 2007 World Series, when they went down four-love to Boston, I have this prejudice against them. That they’re a fraud team — they’re a fraud team propped up by altitude.”
Kornheiser’s words came Monday, when the Rockies were 46-26, holding first place in the National League West and fresh off a four-game sweep of San Francisco. Kornheiser’s words were lazy, ill-informed and just flat wrong. At that time, the Rockies’ 25-13 road record was the best in the National League. The 2017 Rockies are not a 5,280-foot fraud.
Now, however, some of the shine is coming off the Rockies. Their 6-1 loss to the Dodgers on Friday night was their third consecutive defeat, coming on the heels of a two-game shellacking by Arizona in which they were outscored 26-8 at Coors Field.
Most disconcerting has been the performance of Colorado’s rookie starting pitchers. Jeff Hoffman, Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland were a combined 21-6 before their last three starts. But then the Diamondbacks and Dodgers beat the rookies like piñatas.
Freeland allowed five runs on 10 hits in six innings Friday night, and the trio had a combined 14.11 ERA over the ugly three-game stretch.
“They figured out how I was planning on pitching them, coming off my two previous starts against them,” said Freeland, who was 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA against Los Angeles before Friday night. “I’m a sinker pitcher, and they hit my sinkers. They hit some mistakes when I threw them, and they hit them hard.”
Therein lies a big problem, and a big challenge, for the Rockies.
Colorado’s rookie starters are talented, but they are rookies, after all. Teams are beginning to know them and are making adjustments. There are a lot more bumps in the road ahead.
And let’s face it, the Rockies have no one on their staff as good as L.A. left-handers Clayton Kershaw — scheduled to pitch Saturday night — or Alex Wood — who has struck out 17 Rockies in 12 innings against them this season. That’s a big reason why the Dodgers are going to win their fifth consecutive NL West title.
Before this season began, I was convinced the Rockies had the best day-to-day lineup in the division. But that was before Carlos Gonzalez‘s season-long slump that shows no signs of ending; before Trevor Story‘s disappointing sophomore season; and before Ian Desmond’s rather pedestrian first 50 games in a Rockies uniform.
I still believe the Rockies will make the playoffs as a wild-card team. If they play .500 baseball until the end of the season, they would win 90 games. They are capable of that.
But unless they make a bold move at the trade deadline, I don’t see them winning their first NL West title.
Bottom line: the Rockies aren’t a fraud, but they certainly are flawed.
Three up, Three down
UP1. Dodgers: Homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history, and lefty Alex Wood is 8-0 with a 1.86 ERA.
2. Rays: Former Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson hitting .330 with 16 homers, and Tampa’s making waves in AL East.
3. Diamondbacks: Powered by MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs punished the Rockies at Coors Field last week.
DOWN1. Giants: Have lost three straight, 10 of 11 and 19 of their last 24 and are challenging Phillies as worst team in baseball.
2. Tigers: Looking like sellers at the trade deadline with slugger J.D. Martinez and closer Justin Wilson possibly on the block.
3. Mets: They’re getting restless in the Big Apple and now veteran shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is demanding a trade.
Spotlight on: Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
What’s up: The Rockies head to San Francisco on Monday to face the struggling Giants, who entered the weekend with a 27-48 record, second worst in the majors. The Rockies won’t be facing Bumgarner, the ace whose season imploded when he suffered an AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder when he crashed on a dirt bike April 20 in a mountain outside of Denver. The Giants do not expect Bumgarner to return before the all-star break, but at least he’s throwing again and has begun a minor-league rehab assignment.
Background: Bumgarner symbolized the grit and competitiveness of the Giants team that won the 2014 World Series. That fall, Bumgarner delivered one of the best postseasons ever by a pitcher. He pitched 21 innings in the World Series against Kansas City. On two days’ rest in Game 7, he pitched five scoreless innings of relief in a 3-2 win. He pitched a record 52 ⅔ post-season innings that year. This season, Bumgarner began 0-3 with a 3.00 ERA in four starts, but he was throwing well. He had received only five runs of support in those starts, two on his own home runs.
Saunders’ take: “Madbum” is one of those players I love to watch compete. He attacks hitters and he’s a good hitter in his own right. His injury has come to symbolize the Giants’ fall from grace this season. Bumgarner is just 27 and all indications are that he will completely recover from his injury. He’ll be the base for a Giants team that needs a makeover. Yes, the Giants have had a run of bad luck, beginning with Bumgarner’s dirt-bike misadventure, closer Mark Melancon’s sore arm and young outfielders Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson going on the DL. But the Giants’ offense is terrible. Their team .677 OPS (on-base percentage, plus slugging) is the lowest in the National League. When Bumgarner does return, he’ll be pitching for a team hoping to dodge 100 losses.