LOS ANGELES – To a Colorado Rockies team that for a half-decade has tended toward the dramatic, it's happening again.
Hell if they know the cause or the solution – what gets them into these things and what gets them out, why in a game that honors consistency they're hardly ever the same team twice.
This is their burden or enlightenment, month to month, week to week, sometimes hour to hour, this existence that can't ever get worse, unless it can't ever get better.
It is the best of teams, it is the worst of teams, all in the same clubhouse, all in the same season, over and again. Delight follows despair, only to be chased off by despair again.
As June breaks, the Rockies are again conflicted.
They are the club that came out 11-2, the early season playing on the bat barrels of Troy Tulowitzki(notes) and Todd Helton, surely with Carlos Gonzalez(notes) to follow, and on the arms of Jorge de la Rosa(notes) and Jhoulys Chacin(notes), surely with Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) to follow, and the club that immediately and forcefully buried the memory of its disastrous final two weeks of 2010, which killed the exhilaration of the two weeks before that.
In six weeks of baseball, spread from one side of an offseason to another, the variable Rockies were 13-2, then 1-13, then 11-2. In the National League West, over 42 games, they'd gone from 7½ games back to one game back, then from the brink of first to just ahead of fourth, to first again, to – today – tied for third and, seemingly, still falling.
"It would be exhausting," Helton says, "if we knew we didn't have the talent to overcome the situation we're in."
Depending, of course, on what the current situation may be.
A month ago they bore the gait of a team with the skill and balance to wire-to-wire the West. They've won a single series – at home against the San Francisco Giants – since. A month ago, they possessed the strength of game and character to push past the disappointment of late September. They've become the team of late September since, losing 21 of 29 in a particularly cruel May.
"I wish I could explain it to you," manager Jim Tracy says.
To be fair, Tracy wasn't around for the birth of the careening Rockies.
In 2006, under then-manager Clint Hurdle, the Rockies held a game-and-a-half lead in the NL West on May 8, were seven back on June 5, were back in first place on July 5, and three weeks later – after losing 13 of 16 – were 6½ back and, ultimately, done.
A year later, the all-but-forgotten Rockies won 13 of their last 14 regular-season games, beat the San Diego Padres in a one-game playoff, and swept the Philadelphia Phillies in the division series and the Arizona Diamondbacks in the league championship series for a remarkable 21 wins in 22 games leading to the World Series. Where they were swept by the Boston Red Sox.
They were streaky again in '08, and won a wild card berth with an 18-9 September in '09, Tracy's first season, which began so poorly Hurdle was fired and replaced by Tracy.
And so they live on the edge of disaster, on the brink of rebirth, a team seemingly built around a plutonium core, to be used for baseball life or hardball Armageddon. Really, it depends on the day.
Players wander in and out, seasons pass, and yet the personality remains the same. The schedule leans, and the Rockies win for two weeks. It leans back, and, well, May 2011 happens. On June 1, Tulowitzki is batting .250, Gonzalez only slightly better, Jimenez hasn't won a decision yet and de la Rosa will have Tommy John surgery. The players condemn bad at-bats and wasted innings, lost leads and missed opportunities. And, still, the losses won't stop, and even seem to gain momentum, just as all those wins once had.
"I wish I could put my finger on it," says Helton, who, at 37, appears to have rebounded from a dreadful 2010. "I know we go through serious swings. For a while we're showing up at the ballpark knowing we're going to win. Then we have a bad streak, where one thing goes wrong in a game and it's like, 'Oh no, here it goes again.' "
For a reasonable time, they'd hit with authority, the starting pitching was good enough and the bullpen was nearly perfect.
"The last month," Helton says, "all three of those have been sporadic."
As a result, the Rockies lost nine one-run games in May. A year ago, in the month from Aug. 13 to Sept. 11, when they dragged themselves from 11 games back to one back, they won 10 one-run games.
He thinks he knows what's happening here.
"When our streaks go good," he says, "it seems every guy in here is doing something to help us win. When they go bad, every guy in here is doing something to help us lose."
That's all he had.
"It's baseball," he says.
Their baseball, anyway.
- Todd Helton
- Ubaldo Jimenez