Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Prior to the start of the baseball season, the Colorado Rockies were a plush pick to win the National League West Division.
If nothing else, the team would compete for the wild card.
As it stands now, the team is closer to enjoying fall on the couch than anything resembling baseball.
The physical reasons are unlimited. Jorge De La Rosa tore up his elbow. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales struggled at various times. Ubaldo Jimenez had pitched like a fourth starter for more than a year now.
All of that contributed. But there is something more. To find what wins in baseball, Colorado just has to look up in its division.
The San Francisco Giants — at least on paper — have no right leading the division much less winning a championship last season.
The team’s lineup features throwaway veterans on the downside of their career. The team is 29th in runs, 27th in batting average and 28th in on-base percentage. Aubrey Huff was leading the team, at least of players that qualified with enough at-bats for a hitting title, with a .244 average. As of Saturday, the team had been outscored by eight runs but was still 11 games over .500.
The team dealt with its own injuries to catcher Buster Posey and second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who are both out for the year.
Of course, their pitching staff is world class. As we’ve seen, that’s what matters in the new era of baseball. Hitting is down in the post-steroid and amphetamine era.
That’s all part of it, but the biggest difference between the Rockies and Giants isn’t the physical play.
No, the difference is the Giants are scrappy. They win close games. They do the little things well. They’re disciplined. They move runners. They pitch well. Their manager puts them in spots to win.
Mostly, however, they just hate losing. Get in a close game with the Giants, and they most likely will win. That’s the biggest sign of a successful baseball team.
It’s not like the Rockies like losing, but anytime something goes wrong, the team air mails it in.
If the game is close, Colorado tightens up. Manager Jim Tracy makes suspect moves. They don’t do the little things well.
So where do the Rockies go from here? The trade of Jimenez brought in two highly rated pitching prospects. Whether you like the trade or not, the Rockies know, baseball is now an arms race.
Colorado wasn’t going to win with Jimenez and Jhoulys Chacin and then a bunch of bottom-end starters.
But the team needs to be infused with players that know how to win, the type of player that would eat leather if it meant a victory.
The team right now doesn’t have that.
The way it looks now, the Rockies are rebuilding. They’ve got two great pieces in Tulowitzki and Gonzales.
Now it’s time to surround them with players like the Giants have.
Players that will do anything to win.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com