A month ago this was not looking like a road trip as much as last rites; and taunting last rites at that.
Over nine games from June 22 until July 1, the Rockies would visit the closer they could not sign, the slugger they could not keep and the team they could not beat. It looked about as much fun as trying to eat the Rocky Mountains a spoonful at a time.
But a funny thing happened to the Rockies on the way to their June obituary: They morphed into a cross between their 2007 forerunners and the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. And in the process they transformed from one of the most obvious sellers in the trade marketplace to a club trying to figure out how to add a veteran reliever on the cheap.
"The next five weeks will determine who we really are," Colorado GM
Caution is probably the right emotion, because the Rockies have become baseball's most schizophrenic club. Consider that the Rockies won 14 of their final 15 regular-season games to close the 2007 season, vaulting from fourth place to the NL wild-card spot and eventually to their first World Series appearance.
Then from the conclusion of that postseason until May 28 of this year, Colorado went 92-116, the sixth-worst record in the majors over that span. That included a 74-88 record last year and an 18-28 start to this season. And then
Which is great for fans in Colorado, but just horrible for what already was an incredibly contracting trade market. At the time of the managerial change, interested clubs were already doing the vulture thing around
O'Dowd is paying particular attention to the current California voyage as a barometer of whether his club is simply assembling an unsustainable hot streak or it is truly a formidable wild-card contender in a watered-down National League.
This road trip appears to be constructed by a novel writer more than the schedule makers in the commissioner's office. The first stop was in Anaheim to face the Angels, who in the offseason signed the Rockies' all-time saves leader,
But all the 2009 horror against the Dodgers came under Hurdle. His managerial tenure ended with a three-game sweep at Coors Field that the Dodgers won by a combined score of 31-13.
The next game, with Tracy as the manager, the Rockies beat the Padres 3-0 and have hardly lost since. Entering Wednesday's game, they're 19-6 under Tracy. Before losing 4-3 to the Angels on Tuesday night, they had a franchise-record nine-game road winning streak and had won 17-of-18 overall.
So how did this happen? How do you decide to not make an offer to Fuentes, deal Holliday due to concern that keeping him in his walk year would be detrimental to the team's psyche and win just 18 of your first 46 games -- and not only survive, but ultimately thrive?
Well, don't ignore the obvious. Hurdle had been on the job seven years and presided over the greatest success in the organization's history, the 2007 NL title. But he was being tuned out by his players. In good times Hurdle's personality would be described as gregarious and in bad times bombastic. Word out of the Rockies' clubhouse was the players had grown disillusioned with the inconsistency of Hurdle's message; he either would threaten changes if inept/indifferent play continued and not follow up on the threat or follow up in one instance but let it slide in others. Word is the relationship between Hurdle and shortstop
O'Dowd counts Hurdle among his best friends and wanted badly not to make a change, going as far as to have his subordinates do a study that showed not much long-term positive impact in switching managers during a season. But when it became obvious that the players had moved on from Hurdle, O'Dowd was forced to pull the trigger.
"Were we the best team in the NL, maybe not," one Rockies insider said. "But we were a lot better than we had played for the last year and a half."
In Tracy, the Rockies picked a more low-key persona, so the volume was turned down from the manager's office. But because Tracy was promoted from being Hurdle's bench coach, he came with some ideas he wanted to employ.
It was very difficult for Hurdle to bench
Those moves significantly upgraded Colorado on defense at three positions, and as the Rays showed last year with their surprise run to the AL pennant, defense can go a long way. The Rockies' ace (
On offense, Tulowitzki stopped looking as tight as he was under Hurdle and returned to his 2007 Rookie of the Year form (only
And Street, another component of the Holliday trade, has a 1.52 ERA and a .167 batting average against in his past 25 appearances.
"With 90-something games left, I will say I think we are a talented club, but I do not know what that means for the rest of the season," O'Dowd said.
It sure would help if Atkins hit well enough in more limited play to get another team to take a piece of the $7.05 million he is receiving this year as the Rockies' fourth-highest paid player. That would free up some dollars for O'Dowd to attack a bullpen operating without 2008 revelation
Then there is inexperience. The Rockies start just one player older than 30 (Helton), and are relying on five youngsters in the every-day lineup: Fowler, Gonzalez, Tulowitzki, Stewart and catcher
For now, however, the Rockies will try to extend a streak as sudden and inexplicable as the one that carried them to the 2007 pennant. A month ago such a streak was inconceivable and the Rockies were front and center as probable sellers. A lot can happen in a month.