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Anyone who watches baseball could have seen it coming.
John Axford has been nearly perfect for the Colorado Rockies in 2015. It has been a season in which he has re-established himself as one of baseball’s elite closers. However, even the best closers are bound to blow a few games each season. It is simply the nature of baseball. Mariano Rivera did it, Trevor Hoffman did it, Lee Smith did it and John Axford is going to do it.
Heading into the 9th inning, the Rockies had clawed their way back into the game, securing a two-run lead. It should have been automatic for Axford. He saved the first 12 games that he was given the opportunity to save in 2015. Apparently the 13th is the tough one to get. Axford struggled, giving up a leadoff infield single to David Peralta, then walking Paul Goldschmidt, and giving up a bloop single to Yasmany Tomas that got Arizona within a run. Axford gave up a single to Jake Lamb to load the bases, struck out Chris Owings, then nearly struck out Jarrod Saltalamaccia before walking him to tie the game. A sacrifice fly from Aaron Hill gave the Diamondbacks the lead and suddenly Axford’s season was no longer perfect.
For the Rockies, it really is just salt on the wound. The one area that they hadn’t struggled with in 2015 was closing out games. Despite a hiccup from Rafael Betancourt when he shouldn’t have been pitching and an early flub by LaTroy Hawkins, the back-end of the Rockies pen had been solid. Even the transition from Adam Ottavino to Axford was smooth.
The problem is, where the Rockies currently sit, they cannot afford to give away games in which they have a lead. They can’t throw away a game in which the offense puts up early runs, then rallies to get the lead back after the starting pitcher gave the early lead away. When wins are few and far between, the Rockies need to seal down every win that they can get.
However, the reality is, the Rockies simply aren’t going to get a perfect season from their closer. Axford wasn’t going to go the whole season without giving up some runs and giving away a game. It just stings more when the Rockies have been struggling, sitting in the bottom of the National League West and needing any wins that they can get.
The Rockies are a team that is looking to build something. They aren’t in a position to win in 2015. They aren’t pretending to be contenders. This is a franchise that didn’t know who they were over the past five seasons, so they made excuses and didn’t assign blame where it was due when the losses piled up.
The 2015 campaign should be all about establishing an identity, deciding that losing isn’t going to be the team’s identity, and believing that they can compete with anyone on any given night. For the Rockies, that isn’t where they are currently, but they have made some strides to get to that point. They have bounced back from adversity in the past and they are going to be tasked with doing that once again on Thursday.
It isn’t going to be an overnight ransition for the Rockies. It isn’t going to be something that simply shifts. Becoming a contender is something that takes time to build. It starts with the culture of a team and the direction that the leadership points them in. For the Rockies, overcoming the culture that had been put in place is not going to be a quick-fix. It is going to take time.
For fans, it isn’t fun to hear that it is going to take time, and it isn’t fun to watch the team drop a game that they had no excuse to lose. However, fans should realize that the more adversity that the Rockies can deal with and learn from, the better they will be in the future, if they are heading in the right direction.