The last three baseball games could not have felt much worse for the Colorado Rockies.
But they absolutely could have been worse.
Losing three in a row to the team with the best record in baseball in their house is frustrating but to lose all three in walk-off fashion is a downright gutpunch.
Throw in that each game featured a fantastic performance from the Rockies’ starting pitcher, something that has been an issue all season, and that the offense battled through tough matchups and without one of their best players to take a lead in each game.
If you’re looking for more fuel for this frustration fire, add in that the first game swung on a controversial call making that the fourth of the last 11 straight losses to the Dodgers to contain such a moment.
There is also the fact that neither Nolan Arenado or Charlie Blackmon, in addition to the previously alluded to and injured Trevor Story, played in the final game of the set and somehow Colorado still managed to almost win.
Games won on the very last pitch are statistically coin flips, even if they land the same way three times in a row. Furthermore, needing dramatic moments in a game where you sent the presumed starter for the National League All-Stars to the hill and your opponent countered with a 22-year-old in his fourth start ever in MLB, isn’t exactly an indication that you are far and away the superior team.
But since “almost” counts solely in horseshoes and hand grenades, it’s time to take a step back as ask what, if anything, the Rockies can learn from feeling so close yet so far away from the class of the division.
It is first worth asking whether or not it matters that each contest came down to a pitch or two.
In the standings, it certainly does not. But with over half the season to play, it did give the Rockies some solid info to work with.
One thing they know now beyond a shadow of a doubt is that their offense can hang with anybody.
Putting up eye-popping numbers against the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Padres is impressive and entertaining but consistently scratching out three runs a game against the likes of Walker Buehler and Hyung-Jin Ryu, plus pitchers like Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray in the series before shows much more promise for the future.
These are the kinds of arms that they will see in the important games down the stretch and the kind they tended to disappear against the last two years.
Offense was the Rockies biggest issue during the postseason runs of 2017 and 2018, and while it may not be the first thing on the minds of the fans, the last three days are the best indication we have that they have turned a corner in this regard.
And if they are going to produce at the plate, continually grind and keep themselves in every game regardless of the competition, that allows the focus of the front office to turn to the mound.
With five straight losses coming after Colorado held a lead, the first place to look is clearly the bullpen.
They’ve been solid for most of the season but currently look overworked and overmatched.
Its both good and bad news that the implosions haven’t been centered on one person, though the recent designation of Mike Dunn for assignment does show the Rockies willingness to be active in solving the problem even if it means they have to eat a big contract.
Wade Davis has been the other main culprit but his resume suggests he can get back on track. The Rockies have a lot of options available if he doesn’t, but these close losses should give them added incentive to be proactive rather than reactive here.
Recent history suggests Jeff Bridich has an eye for adding effective relievers via mid-season trade, so we could see something in this realm soon.
Of course, despite this being one of their better sets of the season, the question remains about whether the Rockies could or should go get another starting pitcher.
With Jeff Hoffman optioned back to Triple-A on Sunday, it is unclear who the fifth man in the rotation will be moving forward.
But could solidifying that spot and getting a healthy Story back really be all the Rockies need?
It might have helped swing this last series but it will probably take more than that. It remains true, though, that had the Rockies not been competitive in this set, it would have been a strong sign that they can’t keep up. So it’s only fair to recognize the opposite when the margins for error were so razor thin.
Make no mistake, there will be no catching the Dodgers for the division. It’s not an impossible outcome to think that they could be toppled in the regular season but they will need to have some sort of catastrophe occur to keep them from collecting their seventh straight crown.
So the question isn’t “how can Colorado catch them?” but “what must the Rockies do to better their chances of winning a series should they meet in the postseason?”
Despite the sweep, the Rockies wake up on Monday morning in control of a Wild Card spot. They are still very much a contender for the postseason and for a game they should be intimately familiar with by now.
Should they get there, and playing the best team in baseball as close as they just did suggests they have as good a chance as anyone, all the records go back to 0-0.
Then it’s not about catching the Dodgers, it’s about finding a way to get that key pitch or play to go your way so you can beat them.
There has been a lot of debate over the last few days about whether the Rockies, or anyone for that matter, are in the Dodgers class or league.
Without getting too caught up in the definitions of those words, neither club can afford to be passive about their current state.
The Rockies cannot move forward thinking they are just fine when they’ve been shown some clear avenues to make themselves better.
But similarly, the Dodgers would be wise to avoid simply resting on the laurels of the last 11 games or the name on the front of their jerseys.
None of that matters when the next game starts. And the Dodgers know as well as anyone that dominating the regular season doesn’t guarantee a thing come October.
The Big Bad Boys in Blue were four key pitches and a silly basepath call from the sweep going the other way in their own house.
They, and anyone else out there, can choose to believe that the Rockies are firmly in the rear-view mirror, but objects are often closer than they appear.