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The Colorado Rockies starting pitcher didn’t get through the 6th inning. Now fill in the next sentence yourself. Typically, the next sentence would be: Rockies bullpen gives up several runs in the loss.
Instead, the next sentence comes as a surprise to Rockies fans. It read as follows: The Rockies bullpen records four shutout innings, completing a scoreless series in Atlanta.
It has been a rough road, with the Rockies recording just their 51st win of the 2015 season. The bullpen has been brutal. The starting rotation has made that brutal bullpen pitch even more innings than is healthy for any team. However, when the talent is lacking from the relief corp, any additional innings make for a bad situation.
On Wednesday night it took a team effort from the relievers. Newly brought up Simon Castro pitched a scoreless inning despite walking two batters in the frame. That 6th inning was the turning point for the Rockies, as they scored three runs in the top of the 7th inning to take the lead.
Castro came to the mound after starter Yohan Flande gave up back-to-back home runs, then a ground rule double to Jace Peterson to put the Rockies in a hole that, with Shelby Miller on the mound for the Braves, seemed insurmountable. With the job to limit the damage and keep the Rockies within striking distance, Castro did just that.
The bridge that Castro built allowed the offense to get to Miller, then the rest of the pen did their job to help fans believe that there actually might be some talent that is dependable. Pitching for the third consecutive day, Christian Friedrich matched up against Freddie Freeman and got him to strike out. After giving up a base hit to Michael Bourn it was Jairo Diaz’s turn to help the Rockies maintain their small lead. Diaz gave up a hit and a walk, but kept the Braves from scoring. Scott Oberg pitched a clean 8th inning, and John Axford, despite dealing with traffic, also pitched a clean inning.
Of all of the story lines that could come out of the Rockies trip to Atlanta, no one would have guessed that the success of the bullpen would be on the top of the list.
The Rockies are stuck playing out the remaining string of games before the month of August is over. Frankly, they have been in that position since before the All-Star break. It is a tough position for the Rockies to be in. Getting motivated to play every single day for a team that not only has no chance at the playoffs, but frankly, has little chance to finish anywhere but dead last in the National League West is not easy. Human nature makes it tough to get motivated for a game that is essentially meaningless. Sixty games in a row is nearly impossible to maintain a championship caliber attitude on a team as bad as the Rockies.
However, the Rockies must take advantage of the situation. With the results of games not holding the amount of weight that they used to, the Rockies have to start evaluating who should be a part of this team moving forward. The front office needs to give these players a chance to show off what they can do. They should put them in high leverage situations and find out what kind of intensity they can bring. It is a great time to evaluate.
Even more important, the Rockies must take advantage of the time where games don’t matter anymore to start building a new identity. Deeply ingrained in the Rockies culture is excuses and playing from an underdog role. The Rockies, partially because they have been beat up for so long, and partially because they have given into the losing, have a culture that accepts losing. The way they play, it seems clear that they don’t view themselves on the same level as teams that are going to be contending for a playoff position.
The Rockies must take advantage of the time that they have to start finding out who they want to be. They need to start playing like pests. They need to be pesky and relentless. They need to look at themselves as a spoiler, not in a traditional role, but more in a way for themselves to grow and head into the 2016 season with a different mindset.
This team might go down as the worst team in franchise history, but this could also be the year in which the Rockies shake their losing mindset and decide that they have had enough. It could be the year in which the Rockies decide that they are good enough to compete with anyone.
If the Rockies can change the mindset in the final month of the season, the record won’t matter, the results will pay off in the future.