PHOENIX — Rockies manager Bud Black says his increasingly confident team is playing its best baseball of the season.
“We can play with anybody,” he reiterated again Sunday morning before the Rockies were whipped 6-1 by Zack Greinke and the Diamondbacks. “But we all know it’s a long season, so you just have to keep moving ahead.”
But now, 99 games into their 162-game marathon, the Rockies (53-46) are approaching their Heartbreak Hill. Black and his players hate it when writers project and look into the future, but I can’t help it. The task awaiting the Rockies is daunting.
Starting with a two-game series against Houston that begins Tuesday night at Coors Field, the Rockies are facing eight consecutive series against teams with winning records.
First come the Astros, the defending World Series champions, whose 66-36 record is the second-best in the majors. Then surprising Oakland (57-40) comes to LoDo, trying to keep its American League wild-card hopes alive.
Following that brief homestand, the Rockies play four games at St. Louis (50-49) followed by three at Milwaukee (56-45). Both the Brewers and Cardinals have been playing poorly of late, but I expect that the Brewers will rebound. The Cardinals? They’re in disarray, but the Rockies usually struggle in St. Louis, having not posted a winning record there since 2009.
Then the Rockies come home for a crucial seven-game homestand featuring resurgent Pittsburgh (51-49, winner of nine straight) and the dreaded Dodgers (55-44), who just added star infielder Manny Machado and have their eyes locked on a sixth consecutive National League West title.
Then it’s back on the road again for two games at Houston, followed by four at Atlanta during the dog days of August against the talented young Braves (53-42), a team blossoming a year sooner than I expected.
The Rockies have never been to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, but they have a chance to accomplish that feat. If they can pull it off, they certainly will have earned it.
Lefties wanted. Sunday’s loss illustrated, again, Colorado’s need to pick up a left-handed reliever before the trade deadline.
Chris Rusin was so good in so many roles last season that he earned the nickname “Swiss Army knife.” But he struggled again Sunday.
Rusin replaced starter Antonio Senzatela with one out and one on in the sixth inning. Second baseman Garrett Hampson, playing in his second big-league game, couldn’t handle Jake Lamb’s hot grounder. Then Rusin proceeded to walk Daniel Descalso to load the bases. Rusin was replaced by rookie righty Yency Almonte, who walked Ahmed to force in a run, and then gave up a two-run single to Jeff Mathis.
The weight of that bad inning didn’t rest solely on Rusin’s shoulders, but it was the kind of rally he was able to defuse so well last season. He posted a 2.65 ERA over 85 innings last year, but his ERA has soared to 6.81 this season.
Rotation in motion. A quirky schedule gives Black some needed flexibility with his starting rotation. Colorado has an off day Monday and another one Thursday.
Right-hander German Marquez was placed on paternity leave Sunday to return to his native Venezuela, and it’s not certain when he will return. Righty Chad Bettis, who’s combating a blister on his right index finger, threw an injury rehab game Saturday for Triple-A Albuquerque, but he left after four innings and 70 pitches because the finger began bothering him.
“The finger bothered Chad a little bit as the outing went on, so we’re going to continue to monitor his finger and where we are, but there’s no timetable on any next start,” Black said.
The off days mean that the Rockies potentially don’t need a fifth starter until July 31 when they play the Cardinals at St. Louis.