In November 2016, the Chicago Cubs did the impossible and won the World Series, breaking a 108-year drought. With the Cubs’ streak now history, it may seem that baseball doesn’t have another historically tortured franchise which seems incapable of winning the World Series. It may seem that baseball doesn’t have a team that the everyday American can root for. It may seem that we don’t have another great American sports story. But that assumption would be wrong, because with the Cubs’ curse banished, America has a new underdog to pull for- the Colorado Rockies.
The Colorado Rockies baseball club was founded in 1993, almost 100 years after the Cubs, and are tied for the third-youngest baseball club in the majors. Since then, the Rockies have reached the playoffs three times and won a grand total of zero World Series games. Their last playoff appearance was in 2009, nearly a decade ago, and they’ve never won their division title. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Rox the worst franchise in the National League.
Why would a team that is only as old as Jurassic Park (the movie) be in the same boat as the Cubs in terms of postseason futility? After all, the team that the Cubs beat in the Fall Classic, the Cleveland Indians, have gone almost 70 years without a World Series. The Washington Nationals (previously the Montreal Expos) of the National League and the Texas Rangers (previously the Washington Senators) of the American League have never won titles despite each playing for over 48 seasons. Same for the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres. The Seattle Mariners haven’t even made the playoffs since 2001. And the New York Yankees haven’t won a title since 2009, which seems like eons ago for them.
But make no doubt about it- the Colorado Rockies are the next Chicago Cubs. They have it all- historic futility, managerial turmoil, and, of course, a World Series drought. On top of that, they have an opponent that the Cubs never dealt with, or any other major league club for that matter- science.
The Colorado Rockies are based in Denver, which is the “Mile High City” based on its abnormally high altitude. Altitude has a profound impact on the city’s four sports teams, but baseball is warped the most. Due to the thin air, baseballs hit at Coors Field in Denver go further than at altitudes closer to sea level, causing more balls in play and home runs.
As a result, the Rockies often boast absurdly high home run and batting totals and have shocking win totals at their home field. The offensive boost has big drawbacks, however. Colorado’s pitching staff is among the worst in the majors every year and the ERA of the Rockies’ all-time leader, Brian Fuentes (3.36 ERA), would rank 23rd in all of the MLB last year.
Not only are the Rockies defensively challenged, but they don’t travel well. Since 2002, Colorado has never won more home games than away games. In 2014, the Rockies lost 61 of their 81 away games but only 36 of 81 home games, a 25-game difference. In 2003 it was a 24-game difference. Considering that baseball is the same in Denver as anywhere else, that’s insane.
The Rockies have been especially awful as of late. Colorado hasn’t won more than 75 games (6 games under .500) since 2010 and hasn’t finished higher than 3rd in their five-team NL West division since 2009. On top of that, the Rockies are in rebuild-mode after trading the face of the franchise, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, to Toronto and firing manager Walt Weiss.
With the Rockies taking so many L’s, is it possible that the Rockies could someday lift up a World Series trophy? The idea seems like a fantasy, but Colorado could do it. And the turnaround could come sooner than expected.
On paper, Colorado rivals the Cubs for the best lineup in the National League. Third baseman Nolan Arenado is an MVP candidate after he ranked 2nd in the NL in wins above replacement last year. With Tulo out, Arenado is the new face of the franchise. But Arenado is just one of the threats at the plate. Three of the top 14 batters in the NL in terms of batting average were Rockies, including leader D.J. LeMahieu. In total, the Rox ranked second in the majors in runs last season, behind Boston.
While the pitching staff ranked third-worst in the majors in both runs allowed and batting average allowed last year, the Rockies have the potential to field a MLB-caliber pitching staff. Prospect Jon Gray could be the ace that Colorado has never had and is the number one starter going into Spring Training. The bullpen acquired former Kansas City Royal Greg Holland during the offseason, which should help immensely.
The Rockies also made other changes this offseason that should reap dividends. New manager Bud Black is a two-time World Series champion and a former Manager of the Year winner from division rival San Diego. Aesthetically, Colorado will look sleeker on the field after introducing a lighter, purpler shade of purple on their jerseys and designating their interlocking “CR” logo as their primary. Suddenly, the Rockies are looking more and more like winners.
With the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers still the class of the NL West and Cubs and Nationals the favorites to win the National League, the Rockies’ turnaround may not be immediate. But Colorado has the pieces in place to at least be competitive, and in baseball any team that gets in the playoffs is a serious threat.
For those who are still not convinced that the Rockies could bring Denver a World Series, here’s a number for you- 2007. That was the year that Colorado shocked the baseball world and made the World Series, though they were swept by the Boston Red Sox. What does that prove? The Rockies were four games from a baseball title. A title is possible in the Mile High City.
I’m a Cubs fan at heart, but the Rockies are the team to watch. Imagine if the Rockies went on a playoff run for the ages, like they did in 2007. A team that shatters a decades-long title drought. A team that proves that hitting and slugging and not much else can win it all. A team that literally defies gravity. A team that is the next great American sports story.