The Rockies failed to make that late-season run at the playoffs in 2010, but in 2011 the team needs to pace itself for that final stretch.
The 2010 season for the Colorado Rockies was exhilarating, full of ups and downs, incredible comebacks, exciting hot streaks, and amazing personal achievements. And I couldn't wait for it to end.
You can forgive me, considering the Rockies themselves seemed to feel the exact same way. The Rox took the field in Los Angeles on September 19th one game back in the tightening NL West race, and I'm sure I wasn't alone among the faithful in being utterly convinced the Rockies were going to win the division. But the Rockies gagged a five-run second inning lead, lost the game in extra innings and then proceeded to lose a billion more games in a row without scoring a run in any of them. At least, that's what it felt like. The team lost 12 of their next 13 after their choke at Chavez Ravine, culminating with a desultory four-game sweep in St. Louis that saw the Rockies score just one run in the series.
It was a sinking feeling. And even though four of those losses were by one run, it felt like once elimination loomed large, the Rockies packed it in. They were a marathoner who had hit the proverbial wall at 25 and a half miles and now were on hands and knees crawling towards the finish. When they finally came across, it was with an 83-79 record, a third place finish and a bitter taste lingering all winter long.
What made it worse was that the finish came at the end of a season where expectations were arguably higher for the Rockies entering the campaign than any season in their franchise's history. In 2008, after winning the NL pennant in stunning fashion, the Rockies launched a defense more in hope than in expectation. After a 74-win season, the spotlight shifted away prior to the 2009 season, but the Rockies shook off a slow start and rode an electrifying four-month run back to the postseason. Twenty ten was the first spring where I'd ever seen major national baseball writers pick the Rockies to win a pennant without including 'LOL JK' immediately afterward. And two weeks from the end, it still would have been a reasonable prediction. Alas.
With a new spring comes new promise, and new expectations. With last year's dismal finish the freshest image of the purple pinstripes in the baseball consciousness, don't expect any World Series predictions this year. (In fact, most pundits will surely lack the imagination to pick anything other than Red Sox-Phillies as their Fall Classic matchup.) And maybe that suits the Rockies best. Maybe the mentality of the team is such that the soft bigotry of low expectations inspires them. Maybe they're more prone to greatness when their backs are close to being pinned against a wall.
I hope that's not the case for a variety of reasons, the main one being this: I want to see a Rockies team on a mission in 2011. I want to see a Rockies team with swagger in 2011. I want to see a team that aspires to be the favorites, plays consistent baseball from game 1 to 162 and carries itself like a winning organization from the very start. Rolling over and dying for series at a time, like the Rockies have done in Aprils past, and like they did on two crippling occasions last season (the post-All Star Break road trip in July and the final two weeks), can't happen if the Rockies want to be the kind of team that their talent level dictates they should be.
It's spring. Everyone's healthy and optimistic. Everyone's primed for a career year. The sun is shining, the gloves are oiled, and the practice balls are a gleaming white. The National League West is there for the taking. The Giants still can't hit, the Dodgers are a dysfunctional mess, and the Padres lost their best player. The talent that had lent to the heightened hopes of 2010 is still intact. Predictions be damned. Let's play ball, and this time, let's save a little something for the 26th mile.