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Saunders: Next 16 games will determine Rockies' path

July 17,2016 01:42

Typically, managers and players talk about “taking it one game at a time … yada, yada yada.” On occasion, they'll go out on the limb and talk about the importance of winning a series. But it's different right now. There is a real sense of urgency to ...and more »

ATLANTA — The major-league season is a marathon, and the Rockies have reached their Heartbreak Hill. And they know it.
Typically, managers and players talk about “taking it one game at a time … yada, yada yada.” On occasion, they’ll go out on the limb and talk about the importance of winning a series. But it’s different right now. There is a real sense of urgency to this July stretch.
The Rockies must put together a hot streak right now to have any chance of turning from perennial pretenders into possible contenders. Moreover, the next 16 games (counting Saturday) could well determine if the Rockies stand pat at the trade deadline or become sellers.
The idea that they’ll become buyers to enhance their chances at a playoff run is far-fetched. It’s simply not in the Rockies’ DNA.
“Every game from now on is important, even more important than the ones we played in the first half,” Carlos Gonzalez said late Friday night after getting three hits in the Rockies’ 11-2 victory over the woeful Braves. “We have a shot. We have a good group. We said that in spring training. We’ve been through tough times. Hopefully, we’re staying positive, and I think great things are ahead of us.”
Whether or not CarGo truly believes that is difficult to determine. He continues to be at the center of trade rumors, and it’s my opinion that his agent, the powerful Scott Boras, is behind the national media whispers that Gonzalez wants out of Colorado.
Gonzalez isn’t the only player whose Rockies future could hang in the balance. Veteran left-hander Jorge De La Rosa, who’s 4-2 with a 2.43 ERA in his last six starts, is drawing interest from other teams. He’s in the final months of his contract and could provide a big boost for a contender. So could left-handed reliever Boone Logan, who’s been Colorado’s most consistent reliever this season and is also in the final year of his three-year, $16.5 million contract.
Last winter, teams talked to the Rockies about center fielder Charlie Blackmon, who’s emerged as one of the best leadoff men in the National League. Blackmon’s name is bound to resurface over the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, nine very winnable games sit on the Rockies’ platter. After this weekend’s series in Atlanta, the Rockies host Tampa Bay for three games at Coors Field. The Rays entered Saturday at 21 games under .500 (34-55), having lost nine of their last 10 games.
Then the Braves come to Denver for four games. Entering Saturday’s game, the Rockies had defeated Atlanta nine times in the last 10 meetings.
The Rockies need to go 7-2 over this nine-game stretch. A 6-3 record represents the bare minimum success rate. Because then comes a seven-game East Coast road trip through Baltimore (three games) and New York (four games against the Mets). It will be put-up or shut-up time for the Rockies.
Friday, manager Walt Weiss reiterated his faith in the current starting rotation.
“I feel like we have a good chance to win every night, with the starters we are running out there,” Weiss said.
I’m not sure he’s right about that, but even if he is, there are a number of things the Rockies must accomplish to climb Heartbreak Hill. The bullpen must improve dramatically. The on-again, off-again offense needs to be more consistent.
“We hit the reset button, but it’s only one game,” third baseman Nolan Arenado said Friday night. “We have a chance to win the series tomorrow, but we have a long way to go. But tonight was definitely a good start.”
Spotlight on…
Corey Dickerson, left fielder-designated hitter, Rays
What’s up: Dickerson, the natural-born slugger, returns to Denver on Monday when Tampa Bay opens a series at Coors Field. As Rockies manager Walt Weiss said on more than one occasion, “Dickey could roll out of bed on Christmas morning and get a hit.” But Dickerson has not performed like the player Rockies fans fondly remember. He was hitting only .230 entering Friday, though he had 13 home runs and 35 RBIs.
Background: Dickerson was traded to Tampa in January, with third base prospect Kevin Padlo, for left-handed reliever Jake McGee and minor-league right-hander German Marquez. Dickerson, who was hampered by a jammed thumb, is starting to come on. He had a three-hit game against the Angels on July 5 and a two-hit game against the Red Sox on July 8. But for most of June he hovered around the Mendoza line and looked nothing like the hitter who batted .312 with 24 homers for the Rockies in 2014.
Saunders’ take: Two questions linger. First, who won the trade? Second, can Dickerson bounce back? As to the first question, it’s still a wash. Dickerson has been a huge disappointment, but so has McGee, who no longer is closing for the Rockies and has a 6.12 ERA. The key to the trade, from the Rockies’ point of view, could end up being Marquez. He has dominated hitters at Double-A, posting an 8-5 record and 2.63 ERA for the Hartford Yard Goats. As for Dickerson’s resurgence, I believe it will happen. He has hit at every level and is extremely determined. I don’t think Dickerson is a Coors Field creation, though his homer totals were inflated during his time in Denver. Given some more time, I think he will become a more consistent hitter. And one final thought: I had always thought it would have been a smart move to give Dickerson, a marginal outfielder, a shot at playing first base for the Rockies. I was told it was never seriously considered, but I was intrigued by the idea.
3 Up, 3 Down
SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 12: Drew Pomeranz #13 of the San Diego Padres throws a pitch during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)UP1. Red Sox: Clearly in win-now mode, Dave Dombrowski added veteran infielder Aaron Hill, utility man Michael Martinez, reliever Brad Ziegler and lefty Drew Pomeranz to roster.
2. Astros: Houston putting bad start in rear-view mirror and now has slumping Rangers in its sights.
3. Nationals: Stephen Strasburg is 13-0 this season and 16-0 over his last 20 starts dating back to last season.
1. White Sox: A 7-0 loss to Angels on Friday night stretched Chicago’s scoreless streak to 23 innings.
2. Diamondbacks: Shelby Miller trade is shaping up as one of worst in club history. After posting a 7.14 ERA in 14 starts, the right-hander was sent down to Triple-A.
3. Rays: Lost seven straight and 23 of 26 entering Saturday’s play, the worst stretch in franchise history and worst by any team in baseball this season.

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