The Detroit Tigers take on the Colorado Rockies on the road starting Monday night. To help familiarize you with Detroit’s opponent, Adam Peterson of SB Nation’s Rockies blog Purple Row agreed to answer a few questions.
BYB: When you look at the National League West standings and see that the Rockies are over 20 games out of first place it would be easy to assume they're playing bad baseball. But with a record of 71-59 and currently holding on to the second wild card spot, the Rockies are having a good year. How does their performance measure up to the expectations people had for the team at the start of the season?
AP: It's been a tale of two seasons, really. Coming into the season I think if you averaged most fans' predictions you'd have us as a .500 team, give or take, with a puncher's chance at wild card spot. There were a lot of reasons to be encouraged, but no one was sure how the pitching would hold up. Through Father's Day they were one of the best teams in baseball, peaking at 21 games over .500 and, contrary to what a lot of people might have expected, it was the strength of the pitching staff that took us there. Rookies Kyle Freeland and German Marquez were great and Antonio Senzatela was more than capable. Not only that, but Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon emerged as legitimate MVP candidates.
Since then it's been a completely different story. The team is nine games below .500 and the offense is straight-up bad. As such, there's a lot of Doom and Gloom among Rockies fans right now, wondering if this team even deserves a playoff spot. It's only because all the other wild card contenders have been similarly struggling that the Rockies are still where they are. In all honesty, they're probably somewhere between those two extremes, so I think overall their record is a close to accurate reflection (plus a little luck) of who they actually are. The only difference is that now the expectations have changed and if they miss out on a playoff spot, there will be lots of disappointment among Rockies fans.
What would you give to have the Dodgers in a different division for the immediate future?
I think it would be easier if I said what I wouldn't give: Nolan Arenado, John Gray, my first-born son, a kidney, Coors Field, all Colorado breweries except for Coors, and the memories of our game 163 in 2007. Pretty much everything else is on the table.
Carlos Gonzalez is in the last year of his contract and currently mired in a slump on the way to what is arguably his worst season in Colorado. What happens with him in the offseason? Do you think he will re-sign with the Rockies?
I don't think that there's any question that this is his worst season. The only thing that's arguable is if his consistent presence in the lineup is the thing that has been tanking this offense, which sucks because there are few things in this game more beautiful than a Carlos Gonzalez home run swing and bat drop. He has been a consistently streaky Force for this team for nearly a decade, and it's really difficult to watch this happen in the season that the Rockies seem to be opening their contention window.
Fortunately for the Rockies there are plenty of outfield options coming up through the farm system (including last year's breakout player David Dahl, who has been mired with injuries since February and the top prospect Raimel Tapia), so CarGo isn't necessarily someone the Rockies need for the future. I think he will end up signing some sort of pillow contract with a rebuilding team in hopes that he can rediscover the bat speed and swing that made him a perennial All-Star. Even if he comes out with a great month of September I'd be shocked (and a little insulted) if the Rockies brought him back.
Colorado closer Greg Holland also seems to have hit a bit of a rough patch, and it looks like that position is up in the air a bit. What are Holland's issues, and who would be the best fit for the closer role if he is officially removed?
The short and obvious answer is nobody knows what the problems are. For those of us who have been watching him blow lead after lead this month, it doesn't seem like he has the same command of his fastball or the same movement on his slider that he had earlier in the season. He cut his hand in a cooking accident at the beginning of this month and really it's been downhill since then, so our hope is that's what the problem has been, if only because it just means he needs a break. If it's something else — fatigue in his first year back from Tommy John, some sort of mental or mechanical block, whatever — then it gets a little trickier.
Fortunately, despite some ups and downs, the bullpen has been otherwise pretty good this season, especially since acquiring Pat Neshek at the deadline. The most obvious candidate would be Jake McGee, who rose to prominence as Tampa Bay's closer a few years ago and has closed out each of the last two wins. But it could be anyone. I just hope we don't see Holland in the ninth inning in a close game this week.
The Tigers are sending their two best starting pitchers to the mound in two of these games. The other starter this series is Jordan Zimmermann. Which of those guys are you least excited about having to face (that's between Verlander and Fulmer. I imagine you're doing cartwheels when you find out Zimmermann is pitching), and how many games do you think the Rockies will win in the series?
Personally, I want a sweep because that's the only way the Rockies avoid having their first below .500 month of the season. Realistically, the way this offense is going, I don't expect good things and could really see the Tigers winning the series. Given the choice, though, I think I'd rather face Fulmer, since his lack of strikeouts could mean the Rockies could #Coors him to death by putting the ball in play a lot and finding holes. Verlander's strikeouts likely mean that, against this lineup (especially since he'll get the day-game-after-a-night-game B-lineup with Tony Wolters instead of Jonathan Lucroy catching), we could see a 10-15 strikeout performance. That will really ruin a beautiful day-baseball game in Denver.