If a team is five games out at the All-Star break it’s no big deal. Not only does the team have a couple of weeks to improve its team via trade, but it also has 70-some-odd games to help close that gap. It can can pick up a game every two weeks and cover the deficit before season’s end. But by the time we reach late August and September and those gaps remain at five games, a comeback becomes a bit less reasonable. Yet we’ve seen a few late-season comebacks in recent years. They don’t happen every year, but when they do makes for quite a memorable September.
At 74-64, 4.5 games back in both the NL West and the Wild Card, the Rockies appear out of contention. Even if they do go on a tear they have a few teams standing in the way. The Giants or the Padres would have to collapse, and even then the Rockies might need help from another Wild Card contender to come even close to a playoff spot. Their chances are so remote that it’s easy to write them off and concentrate on the closer races. But considering the number of times we’ve seen big comebacks in recent years, and further considering that only three years ago these Rockies accomplished the feat, it’s a bit tougher, at least for me, to completely forget about them.
The 2010 season has been rough on the Rockies. They finished April 11-12 despite a +26 run differential, which put them in a bit of a hole. May was a bit more kind, but the team plodded through June and July just one game over .500. By the end of July, sitting in fourth place in the West, the Rockies even thought about becoming sellers. That never came to fruition, but the Rockies also made no big attempts to improve. They decided instead to go with what they had and let the season play out. The players, I’m sure, didn’t give up, but I doubt anyone in or near the organization thought they had any realistic chance.
In August the team did catch a break. Despite a -4 run differential they went 15-12, which helped balance out the poor April. Still, at month’s end they were seven games back in the West and 4.5 back in the Wild Card and were also coming off a loss to the Giants. They opened September with another loss to the Giants, followed by a loss to the Wild Card (and NL East) contending Phillies. That seemed to obliterate any remaining chance they had. By this time 7.5 games separated them and the Padres, and 6.5 games stood between them and a playoff spot.
On Friday the Rockies opened a series at Petco Park against the Padres, who had lost their previous six games. Much to everyone’s surprise the Rockies turned that into nine straight losses. A wins against the Reds on Monday and Tuesday made it five straight for Colorado, moving them to their current position. Again, it’s not a great position, but it’s a manageable one. It’s only a half game worse than their standing at the 138-game mark in 2007 — only then they had three teams ahead of them in both the division and Wild Card races, rather than the two they have today.
The Rockies share an important similarity with the 2007 team. When mounting a comeback every little detail counts. In September this includes the schedule. In 2007 the Rockies played 14 of their final 24 games at home, where they had a 41-26 record as of Game 138. This year the Rockies play 14 of their final 24 games at home, only they’re even better this year, 45-22 at Coors Field. Six of those 14 home games come against the Padres and the Giants, the two teams that stand in Colorado’s way. On the road they’ll play Los Angelez, Arizona, and St. Louis. The Rockies have a better record than each of them. That would seem to give them an advantage at this point in the season.
Even with the schedule advantage the Rockies still have a long way to go and they’re dependent on a lot of lucky breaks. Jhoulys Chacin will have to make a few more starts like his six-inning, two-run performance last night. Aaron Cook needs to finish strong after a generally poor season. Carlos Gonzalez will have to continue his mashing taters. Essentially, multiple players will have to get hot at the same time and sustain that production for a few weeks. It’s not something on which to place an even modest wager. But it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. In September, with most of the playoff races all but settled, we could go for some comeback dramatics.
Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.