Aside from actually winning championships, few pleasures in sport are more enjoyable than a nice, long, idyllic winning streak.
It's especially true in baseball, where everyone is conditioned to live with countless ups and downs, wins and losses, over the course of 162 games.
So as the Colorado Rockies were reveling late last week in their stunning, unexpected rebirth as a contender, charging onward to 17 victories in 18 games (as of Tuesday morning) and a remarkable four sweeps out of five series, there was no reason whatsoever for anything off the field to spoil the party.
But something did.
Rumors spread across the major leagues, reaching too many sources to pass off as fiction, that the Rockies were talking to other teams about possible deals between now and the July 31 trade deadline. Among those being mentioned as Colorado's potential trade bait: closer Huston Street, who's having an excellent first half, with just one blown save through Sunday; starter Jason Marquis, making a strong case for All-Star status with a 9-4 record through last week; third baseman Garrett Atkins, who admittedly has been a disappointment so far this year but not an utter failure; and rightfielder Brad Hawpe, one of the National League's hottest hitters, solidly anchoring the lineup and pounding lefties (no longer his weakness).
It's the last thing any surging team needs to hear in late June: Nice little run, guys, but as soon as you come back to reality, we'll be unloading some of you to build for the future.
As the rumors continued, and the Rockies continued their charge into strong wild-card contention (yes, the same route they took to the National League pennant in 2007), many onlookers expected Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd to grab the nearest hose and put out the brush fire.
Finally, last weekend, O'Dowd did talk. But he hardly said the right things. He insisted the Rockies would not be trading Hawpe, but he didn't insist anything else. O'Dowd tried to say no serious negotiations were in the works ... but he followed that by saying that "we're only about six weeks from the deadline," and it's important to be in contact with teams well ahead of time.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
We'll let the Hawpe stuff go for now, since O'Dowd did dismiss that. As for Atkins, he's still the franchise's best insurance policy for first baseman Todd Helton, who might need more relief at any given time. And what in the hell is wrong with Street or Marquis, regardless of what the Rockies do the rest of this season? Both of them are battlers, already popular with the fans, and capable of being part of the team's nucleus for the foreseeable future.
O'Dowd could have taken that story and twisted it totally around to the positive side. We'll be looking at possible deals, he could have said, but only to make this team better for 2009 — not beyond. He could have talked about adding a solid starting pitcher for the stretch run, like Cleveland's Cliff Lee, Arizona's Doug Davis, Cincinnati's Aaron Harang, Pittsburgh's Ian Snell or Seattle's Jarrod Washburn. He could have mentioned looking for a power hitter to play some and come off the bench, such as Washington's Nick Johnson.
Regardless, the Rockies don't look like the kind of team that will fall apart as soon as their June momentum inevitably fades away. Not with manager Jim Tracy making smart moves, just as predecessor Clint Hurdle did two years ago. And especially not with so much depth just an hour's drive away on the Colorado Springs Sky Sox roster.
It's hard to imagine outfielder Matt Murton staying in the Springs much longer, and the Sky Sox have multiple experienced pitchers — Jason Hirsh, Adam Eaton, Franklin Morales and Matt Belisle, for starters — battling for the next opportunities that will come up. The truth is, this is the kind of year when a team like the Rockies has to go for it. Perhaps, for once, Colorado could be the team that makes big headlines for grabbing a big name.
If Dan O'Dowd makes a trade, he should do it to make the team better now, not to build for tomorrow.
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