CHICAGO, Ill. – Though they set a new franchise record with their 99th loss of the season on Sunday and were officially eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago on Sept. 6, the Colorado Rockies are getting a second-hand experience of what a postseason race is all about.
With the toughest strength of schedule in the second half, including series against five of the six National League teams in place for October baseball as well as five of six in the American League on the calendar, the youth was going to feel all the intensity and grind baked into the 162-game slate.
And that’s not a bad plan.
The Rockies finished their last homestand 5-2, taking a series from two NL Wild Card contenders in the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. While this week brought zero wins on the road and extended their losing streak to seven games, manager Bud Black is optimistic about what these contests could mean for the future of the franchise.
“Ultimately the goal is to win, no matter who you play,” Black said following the 4-3 loss to the Cubs on Sunday. “But like I’ve told a lot of our players that, you know, these experiences in games like this when the rest of the National League is watching — and these games mean something throughout baseball — it’s good for our players.”
Take Saturday’s 6-3 loss for example. Justin Lawrence and Brenton Doyle each had a learning moment, an opportunity to experience an high-intensity spot.
Lawrence came into a bases loaded situation after Nick Mears walked three consecutive hitters to open the bottom of the seventh. “I was running out, I heard how loud it was and honestly the first thing that came to mind was like, ‘Wow, this is fun. Like this is gonna be an exciting outing,'” Lawrence said before adding, “And I think that kind of helps me out in the sense of not letting the situation get bigger than it is, right, because you can be outside looking in — seventh inning, bases loaded, no outs, tie game. By going there with that mindset, I’m kind of putting my back against the wall.”
A sacrifice fly, strikeout and line out almost improbably kept the damage to only one run. “J-Law really picked us up. It looked really dire,” Black said.
On the board pic.twitter.com/SpYocupl3k
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) September 23, 2023
Doyle did not have the same success as Lawrence after a double and a bunt single earlier in the game made him 14-for-49 (.286) over a 14-game stretch. Bases loaded, down a run to Chicago in the eighth, and the rookie center fielder struck out during the six-pitch at-bat.
Could Colorado have asked for another bunt from the speedster in that situation, a squeeze play to tie the game? Sure, but that would be losing sight of the bigger picture, according to Black.
“I think you look on the road to get a base hit there, to grab the lead or at the very least to put the ball in play and see what happens from there,” Black said. “That’s the thing that a lot of our young hitters are going to have to learn to do is cut back on the strikeout, cut back on the chase and put the ball in play and that comes with experience against Major League pitching.”
The result may be viewed as a failure, but the process was not, as was trust from the coaching staff to let the 25-year-old test his abilities, especially given his recent uptick in production at the plate.
“Definitely a learning experience,” Doyle said. “I’ve been swinging the bat pretty well. Getting the okay to swing there is definitely a little confidence booster. Lately, I’ve been getting the green light to swing rather than do some situational stuff like that. So it’s definitely helping the confidence.”
Doyle finished the weekend with a .198 batting average, tied for third-lowest amongst all of MLB for hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. Considering he entered 2023 with less than 100 plate appearances above Double-A, those struggles are reasonable and the room for growth is undoubtable.
“We’ve talked about it often. There’s quite an upgrade in pitching from the minor leagues to the big leagues,” Black shared. “And we have five, six, seven guys who are experiencing that as we go through this. And like I’ve said many times, they’ll be better off for it.”
On Sunday, it was Gavin Hollowell and Brendan Rodgers as the bright spots, not to mention Nolan Jones and his 18th home run of the year that gives him 10 on the road and seven against left-handed pitchers.
Hollowell, entering in the sixth after Patrick Wisdom’s go-ahead two-run home run against starter Ty Blach, allowed a pinch-hit double to Mike Tauchman before 37,060 fans on hand for the Cubs final home game of the year reached the apex of their excitement. The 25-year-old quickly settled to strike out Christopher Morel looking and induced a fly ball to Nico Hoerner to complete his scoreless outing.
Brendan Rodgers homered for the second time during the road trip as the second baseman tries to salvage a season that cost him 105 games on the injury list due to right shoulder surgery. “Missing so much time, it’s definitely in the back of your mind playing, especially getting to about 100 at bats and not having one (home run), so yeah, it definitely feels good to start to see some good ball flight.”
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) September 24, 2023
The 99th loss of the season makes for an odd footnote in the career of Charlie Blackmon. One of the key figures in the club’s only back-to-back postseason appearances in 2017-18, he is now the lone player on the two worst teams in franchise history. A second-year player who would not establish himself as a star for another two years and appearing in only 42 games during the 98-loss campaign in 2012, Blackmon is on the other end of his career at 37 years old with this 99-loss club.
“We’re trying to win every game so I don’t treat it any differently. You don’t want to lose. I don’t care how many losses it is. I still don’t want to lose,” the 13-year veteran said Sunday.
Seven games remain for Colorado. Four against the Los Angeles Dodgers and three against the Minnesota Twins. Both clubs have secured a place in the playoffs.
Whether they reach 100 games for the first time in franchise history or go out with several more than that, the objective is opportunity. And the mission is hope that the next contending team for the Rockies is learning all the right moves this season, even if it is via the hard way.