One-third through, Rockies need 3 changes

With their 8-7 loss to Atlanta Sunday, the Rockies not only were swept at home in a four-game series for the first time since 2019, but they also concluded the first third of the 2022 season.

They finished their first 54 games three victories better than their 20-34 record at the end of the first third last year. That’s slightly better but disappointing, to say the least. 

How disappointing? Let me count the ways. 

For starters, after a promising 16-11 start, Colorado lost 20 of its next 27.

And speaking of starters, with visions of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz—who together started an incredible 1,347 games for the Braves between 1987 and 2008—new General Manager Bill Schmidt opened the checkbook for Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland earlier this year.

Fans understandably shared his excitement that, along with the two years remaining on the deal German Marquez signed in 2019, the Rockies’ rotation would be assured that its “Big Three” was locked up through at least next season. It could be through 2027, the last year for Senza and Freeland, if Marquez signs a new deal before his 2014 “team option” year.

Strength at the top of the starting rotation—assured by those long-term deals—was, in fact, a prime reason Kris Bryant surprised the baseball world by signing with Colorado.

It could be said that those three are all having career years in 2022. But not in the usual way. So far this season, they’ve never been worse. Combined:  4-13 with a 5.53 earned run average, and in 29 starts, the team is 13-16.

Of course, they’re not alone in their lack of return on investment.

Bryant signed a seven-year, $182 million contract in April. It seemed like a good idea at the time, just as committing millions to Senzatela and Freeland did. 

But in the first third of the season, a back injury allowed Bryant to play only 17 games—that’s 31.5% of 54. He hasn’t yet hit a home run, has driven home only four runs, and is hitting .270, which is very close to his career average. The Rockies are 9-8 in those games he’s been able to play.

In case you’re wondering, this means the Rockies have paid an average of $352,941 per game for Bryant’s actual participation.

But injuries happen. On the other hand, who can explain those starters’ struggles, or this team’s defense? 

Through 54 games, the Rockies have committed 45 errors, which is next to last in the National League. Seventeen guys have made at least one.

My personal theory is that Ryan McMahon, a Gold Glove finalist last season while splitting time between second and third, hasn’t applied the same attention to detail, especially with his fielding. In general, too many errors seem to be the product of nonchalance. Or maybe everyone is trying too hard to NOT make errors. 

Whatever, no team can win consistently while playing sloppy defense.

How do the ’22 Rockies compare with the ’21 Rockies after 54 games?

Well, searching for positives, Colorado is 7-15 on the road at this point, which is better than the 4-22 of last season.  C.J. Cron has 14 homers and 40 RBI; much better than last year’s five and 17.

In Game 54 of 2021, a 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh, Brendan Rodgers was hitting .192. After Sunday’s loss—and following an abysmal April during which he didn’t hit his weight—Rodgers is at .266 with six homers and 26 RBI.

It’s not as if the Rockies aren’t trying to find a winning combination. Twenty-five of the 45 guys who appeared in Rockies games in 2021 were not on the 26-man roster Sunday, including 17 who are no longer in the organization. Anyone miss Josh Fuentes or Raimel Tapia? Chi Chi Gonzalez or Yency Almonte? Matt Adams or Rio Ruiz?

For those who lament the loss of Trevor Story, his absence is a mixed bag.  Jose Iglesias is hitting .314 with 16 RBI. For the Red Sox, Story’s at .230 but has 40 RBI.  

There’s an inexplicable similarity to the way this year’s First Third ended, compared with last season. In the last six games, the Rockies scored one run in a game with the Marlins, then were shut out through nine on Friday night and scored once in nine innings the next night. In Games 49 through 53 last year, they scored one, zero, two, zero and zero.

So, what can Rockies fans expect from the remaining two-thirds of the 2022 season?

A year ago, the Rockies turned things around, actually had a winning record (54-53). They were 50-44 before losing seven of eight near the end of the season.

But, I’m sorry to say, I don’t see that kind of resurgence with this team unless at least three things change: The “Big Three” must start performing; the defense must clean up its act; and Bryant must recover and become the every-day force he was expected to be.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.