Series Recap: August 5-7, 2014
Chicago Cubs at Colorado Rockies (Series Preview)
Hope: it is pretty much the defining characteristic of baseball. Every spring training the promise of a new season leads fans to dream big dreams, some realistic (“Maybe this year we can top .500 and challenge for a playoff spot!”) others, not so much (“SAN DIEGO PADRES, WORLD SERIES CHAMPS”).
Hope is what the Chicago Cubs are more or less known for. “Wait ’til Next Year” might as well be the official team slogan, and has been since at least their last World Series appearance in World War II. Even through the dreaded “Billy Goat Curse,” the timelessness of the Great Cubs Hope is paralleled only by that of Wrigley Field itself. This year, though they are mired in yet another 5th place season in the NL Central in which everything that isn’t bolted down seems to be on the move, hope continues.
Hope is what has been absent from the Colorado Rockies for a couple of months now. The season began full of hope, with the Rockies winning 22 of their first 36 games. Unfortunately it would take the team 76 games to win another 22, and hope slowly but surely began to fade. As they continue their downward spiral, battling the Texas Rangers for the worst record in all of baseball, Rockies fans are pointing to the failings on the field (and gaffs in the PR department) as evidence for the need for change at 20th and Blake (a sentiment star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki seems to hold as well).
Hope, as Hayden Kane of Rox Pile points out, is what currently defines the Chicago Cubs, though not in the average, everyday, Wait-til-Next-Year sense. This year the Cubs have made a number of shrewd deals at and around the trade deadline that not only built up the talent in an already highly-ranked minor league system, but opened up space on the major league roster to call up some of that talent that is ready for The Show. One of those talents was on full display this week at Coors Field: Javier Baez. Baez swings with the violence and authority of a right-handed Bryce Harper and he managed to hurt the Rockies as much as the baseballs he hit (I recommend you mute the Cubs announcers, unless you’re already over this series loss):
In any case, this development has Cubs fans excited, hoping a different kind of hope than we normally expect from Cubs fans.
Hope is all but absent from the Rockies fan base. Every piece of bad news leads to folks (myself included) calling attention to the inevitability of all Rockies failures because they are the Rockies. Those who try to speak up for the case of “maybe things aren’t so bad,” knowingly do so at their own risk. (By the way, if you didn’t click that link, I encourage you to do so and read the excellent piece from Drew Creasman of Purple Row about the current state of the Rockies). Even the people who have hope seem to be shamed into not having hope, even if they kindle that fire like a secret flashlight reading Bill James Historical Abstracts after bedtime.
Two last places teams with a track record of struggles. So what is with the difference between the attitudes of the two fan bases?
The Difference: Hope and Trust
Both teams boast farm systems ranked in the top-10 in all of baseball (and this is before big trades for the Cubs and a solid draft for the Rockies). Now that the Cubs have traded away most of their proven pitching talent, both teams have clear holes on that side of the ball (though the Rockies also have some clear pitching talent climbing up the ranks that the Cubs can’t match). And while both teams have all kinds of potential hitting talent, the Rockies have proven Major League talent locked up long term in the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Nolan Arenado, something the Cubs do not have (Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro notwithstanding). And, lest anyone forget, the Rockies were in first place in their division a significant amount of time into the season, something the Cubs cannot even remotely claim. In short, it wouldn’t be difficult to build a case for either team to have this kind of hopeful optimism we now see with Cubs fans (at least to an outside observer). And yet there is a palpable difference between the attitudes of these two franchises. Why? It’s not hope so much as trust.
What many of the articles written about the Rockies (by the way, this Jonah Keri piece is an absolute must-read)–and the reaction to the hope-tinged articles like those written by Drew Creasman–reveal within the Rockies fan base is an extreme lack of trust in those at the top of the organization. Whether that lack of trust is well-earned is a different discussion (though I will say I think Drew is on to something over there), but it is clear that trust is quickly eroding. Conversely, the Cubs, who have a run of failure both in the short and long-term that exceeds that of the Rockies, is seeing trust grow. This is surely due in large part to the credibility built up by the tandem of Theo Epstien and Jed Hoyer in the Cubs front office, something that is objectively lacking for the Rockies.
Two last place teams, two very different attitudes in the fan bases right now. Both franchises have legitimate reasons to despair in the present that is last place baseball as well as to hope for the future. But the primary difference between the Cubs and the Rockies lies not so much in the “objective,” like records and organizational rankings, but in the purely subjective attitudes of the fan base towards those in charge. As anyone who has struggled through a tough friendship or relationship–which is, more often than not, an apt analogy for sports fandom–could tell you, when there is a lack of trust, the relationship struggles mightily. And once that trust is lost, there is no easy way or “quick fix” to earn that trust back. It is done slowly, over time.
The Rockies have decisions to make between now and next March. There will not be any single decision that wins back the trust of this jaded fan base, and it would be impossible to keep everyone happy. But, given enough time and enough right decisions, perhaps this group can begin to earn back that trust. And as they do, Rockies fans will be able to truly hope again.
Tuesday night our souls continued to pay for our choice to watch two last-place teams duke it out, while the Rockies and Cubs, once again, proved that two teams so evenly matched (in all the worst ways) couldn’t possibly be asked to sort things out in a mere 9 innings. Things started well enough, as Rockies starting pitcher Brett Anderson cruised through the early innings before back spasms forced him to leave the game in the top of the 4th (we would find out later that we probably won’t see him pitch again for a while). The Cubs clawed their way out of a 3-0 deficit and made it a 4-3 lead in the seventh. The Rockies came back to tie it on a Nolan Arenado home run in the 7th, sending yet another Rockies-Cubs game into extra innings. The seesaw of less-than-mediocre baseball, which included both teams scoring in the 11th inning, finally halted on the Cubs side thanks to Javier Baez’s first career hit and home run in the top of the 12th inning off Boone Logan. The Cubs would win by the final score of 6-5.
Wednesday the Rockies shook off the rust and tiredness from the night before to produce their most prodigious offensive output of the season. This time it was the Rockies who were playing catch up for most of the game. When they tied it in the bottom of the 4th inning, Jordan Lyles gave the lead right back in the 5th. It seemed like it was going to be another one of those nights–until the 6th inning happened:
At the end of the night 4 Rockies had at least three hits, with Corey Dickerson, who finished a home run short of the cycle, leading the way, going 4-for-4 with 3 runs, 3 RBI, a double and a triple. The Rockies put up a total of 16 hits leading to a season high 13 runs in what was probably the most fun game for Rockies fans to watch since (/checks calendar) May. The final result: Rockies win 13-4.
The Thursday afternoon rubber-match seemed like it was set to be yet another back-and-forth affair. Yohan Flande, still looking for his first win of the season, gave up a run each in the 2nd and 3rd, but, just like the previous two games, the Rockies showed so fight and kept battling. Unfortunately, Javier Baez stole the show. After he and Starlin Castro went back-to-back in the top of the 6th, the Rockies worked to make it 4-2 in the bottom half. Juan Nicasio, recently promoted from Triple-A, came into the game in the 8th inning. And, just for old times’ sake (he’s second in baseball in HR/9, minimum 50 innings pitched), gave up a 2-run home run to the aforementioned Javier Baez, who might actually be pretty good, to put this out of reach for the Rockies. The Cubs took the series finale by a final of 6-2.
Colorado Rockies Record: 45-69
Games Behind, NL West: 19.5 (First Place: Los Angeles Dodgers)
Games Behind, NL Wild Card: 16.5 (Leaders: St Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants)
Run Differential: -62
ESPN Playoff Odds: 0.1% (<—rounding error?)
Games Remaining: 48
Next Series: 3 games at Arizona Diamondbacks (45-65, 4th in NL West, 15.5 games behind Los Angeles Dodgers)
If you were tired of so many games against bottom-of-the-barrell quality baseball teams and you were hoping for a change, you’re going to have to wait a little while longer. Perhaps the Rockies are catching the Diamondbacks at a good time–or perhaps this will be a weekend of everyone pointing at the gaffs and controversies surrounding each team and trying to decide which is worse! YAY BASEBALL!