The start of the second half may have produced a series win over the New York Yankees thanks to an improbable loss handed to the historic franchise on Sunday, but questions still linger about what the rest of 2023 holds for the Colorado Rockies.
Winning 8-7 in 11 innings for the longest game of the season at three hours and 38 minutes, Colorado handed the 120-year-old club their first loss when having multiple leads of two runs or more in the eighth inning or later. Considering the Rockies got home runs from Michael Toglia, Nolan Jones and Alan Trejo, the victory provided a sliver of hope after a challenging first half.
Colorado went into the All-Star Break 18.0 games behind the National League West leaders Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks on July 9 and an equally staggering 15.5 games of the third and final Wild Card. Barring a miracle, it will be a fifth-consecutive campaign for the franchise without reaching the postseason.
It’s for that reason the date that should be of most importance to fans than Game 162 against the Minnesota Twins — yes, that’s how the balanced schedule arranged it — is August 2, the MLB trade deadline. After that, Colorado will no longer be able to cash in their expiring assets and boost a farm system they hope can bring the organization back to relevance in a few years.
With that here’s the best and worst of the first half for the Rockies, plus what needs to happen in the second half of 2023:
The One-Armed Bandits
When Kyle Freeland exited final game of the first half in San Francisco on July 9, it felt like the final gasp of air was taken out of Colorado’s starting rotation.
The loss of the most consistent starting pitcher in the Rockies rotation this season only furthers the frustration for manager Bud Black who has seen 19 of his players on the injured list at some point this season, including eight — six of whom are pitchers — who have missed significant time on the 60-day IL.
Freeland becomes the sixth different starter on the injured list joining Germán Márquez (right elbow inflammation), Antonio Senzatela (right elbow strain), Ryan Feltner (skull fracture and concussion), Noah Davis (right elbow inflammation) and 40-man roster minor leaguer Ryan Rolison (recurring left shoulder strain).
Though the damage doesn’t mean Freeland is done for the season, there is zero timetable as to when he’ll return. As for Senzatela, it was announced on Friday that the 28-year-old will require Tommy John surgery and will not be back until the middle of 2024, at the earliest.
The buzz surrounding Tovar as a National League Rookie of the Year Award candidate entering the year was arguably louder than any prospect in franchise history since Jason Jennings in 2002. (Jennings is still the only player in purple to have won the honors.)
Big league rosters are being populated more and more by youngsters making immediate impacts. In the Senior Circuit, there is no shortage of rookie stars this season: Corbin Carroll of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Kodai Senga and Francisco Álvarez of the New York Mets, Eury Pérez of the Miami Marlins and the inimitable Elly De La Cruz of the Cincinnati Reds.
Ezequiel Tovar three-run shot for the lead! pic.twitter.com/selyZyuHLj
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) July 8, 2023
The 21-year-old has posted solid offensive numbers, recording the most doubles (21) by a rookie in the NL and third-most in RBI (45). Even among all NL shortstops, that RBI total places him third.
Tovar still needs to make up some ground on those gaining national headlines and if his last 30 games going into the break was any indicator — .291 (34-for-117), 5 home runs and 21 runs batted in — he very well could make his way into the top three in voting, something that hasn’t happened since Troy Tulowitzki finished second in 2007.
Elias Díaz & Ryan McMahon
This duo was 1a and 1b to make the NL squad for the Midsummer Classic before Díaz got the nod and eventually won the Ted Williams’ All-Star Game MVP. The two have similar profiles: gifted defenders who probably deserve more attention for their abilities in the field and run-producing hitters who can be streaky, but have contributed at the plate more times than they’ve completely disappeared.
More fun facts from the 93rd All-Star Game, a 3-2 win for the National League:
🏆First NL win since 2012
🇻🇪Elias Díaz becomes second Venezuelan born MVP of the All-Star Game (Dave Concepcion, CIN)
⚾️Díaz is the first catcher to win the award since 2010 (Brian McCann, ATL) pic.twitter.com/OcrupKuHN6
— Patrick Lyons (@PatrickDLyons) July 12, 2023
When Brendan Rodgers returns this season, hopefully sooner than later as he’ll head out to High-A Spokane this week for a rehab assignment, the 2022 NL Gold Glove Award winner at second base will need to rely upon Díaz and McMahon as lineup protection, especially as long as Kris Bryant continues to search for his power stroke.
He made it through the first 56 games of the season before missing 27 straight with a left heel bruise that cost him the month of June. Then there was a back-to-back two-hit performance and hits in seven of his first nine games since returning from the IL. But it’s been the lack of extra-base hits that is causing concern. He does have two home runs and a double this month, but that’s kept his slugging percentage at about the same mark.
HERE COMES THE KBOOM 💣 pic.twitter.com/ZAHmIcZ1zK
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) July 15, 2023
Through his first 103 games with Colorado these past two seasons, Bryant has hit 12 home runs and has posted a .416 slugging percentage, a far cry from what the club expected when they signed him to a seven-year, $182 million pact.
Bird & Lawrence, NoJo & Doyle
There’s more good news from the first half. It may relate to a pair of bullpen arms and not a dynamic duo of future aces, but it’s a start for a club still rebuilding despite not using that very word to describe such rebuilding.
And that's the ballgame! pic.twitter.com/dwHbAvrJhj
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) July 15, 2023
Bird is among the leaders in innings pitched and strikeouts for NL relievers while Lawrence is 5-for-5 in save opportunities since taking over as the closer from Pierce Johnson. Under club control for five more seasons, the two could be a force for the next half-decade or great trade chips for a postseason contender. Brenton Doyle and Nolan Jones, equally as inspiring for the lineup, are surely safe from such speculation.
Where To Go From Here?
Losing 100 games for the first time is very plausible for Colorado. If their winning percentage sustains, it’ll happen. They’ve got the same amount of games at Coors Field as on the road, so home field advantage won’t be a factor for increasing the odds at reaching 63 wins. And according to Baseball Reference’s Simple Rating System for determining strength of schedule, the Rockies have the toughest schedule in the entire NL.
This surely means GM Bill Schmidt will be busy making deals ahead of the August 2 trade deadline, right? Probably.
There’s a problem and it’s a relatively big one: their most tradable assets are either injured or will be free agents at the end of the season. In other words, the return for Colorado may not even be big enough to bring in noticeable talent for 2024 or beyond.
Nearly half the starting rotation is already set to miss the start of next year due to TJ surgery. Charlie Blackmon is in the final year of his deal and five others will be free agents in a little more than two months. And the best prospects in the farm system may not totally impact the roster until 2025. When it rains, it pours.
In Colorado, it hails. And that can be even more painful and challenging.