Second-half schedule favors Rockies

Second-half schedule favors Rockies

DENVER -- Used to be that this time of the regular season was like the last day of school for the Rockies, the day people went their separate ways. But last season, the club stayed together all the way to the World Series.


But unlike last season, when the squad was young and low-salaried, the Rockies face financial considerations with the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching.

Left-handed closer Brian Fuentes is a free agent at season's end. Left fielder Matt Holliday and third baseman Garrett Atkins are under club control beyond this year, but they declined to sign for the long term. Starting center fielder Willy Taveras also doesn't have a multiyear deal and has prized prospects behind him in the Minors.

Those names and those of two experienced backups -- catcher Yorvit Torrealba and outfielder Scott Podsednik -- come up most when it's speculated that the Rockies may fly the white flag and concentrate on future glory.

But the idea of cashing in the season doesn't compute for many of the players who spearheaded the Rockies winning 14 of their final 15 regular-season games, and -- counting the playoffs -- 21-of-22 before being buzzed by the Red Sox in the World Series. Players are hoping the Rockies keep the mix the same, or at least add rather than jettison.

"You'd think so," said veteran first baseman Todd Helton, currently out with back problems, but very much in tune with his teammates. "I think it would be a different question if Arizona was 20 games ahead. I don't know. But we do have to start winning more games. The time just to hope that we hang in there is over with."

In fairness, general manager Dan O'Dowd has held off on thoughts of selling off expensive parts. He didn't throw in the towel early in the season, and the Rockies went on a couple of encouraging runs. But poor early play has made some decisions tough.

"That's obviously their decision -- management's going to do what they think is best," said Holliday, a three-time All-Star who could be in for a bounty if he allows bidding for his services after the 2009 season. "As players, we have confidence in ourselves that we can play well and have a good second half and make a run at whoever is in first place."

ROCKIES TOP PERFORMANCES
4/17, COL 2, SD 1 -- Tulo ends an epic
Troy Tulowitzki's RBI double in the 22nd inning ended the club's longest game in franchise history.
Highlights: Watch
5/23, COL 6, NYM 5 -- Holliday hammers Mets
Matt Holliday homers to tie it in the ninth, then singled home the winning run in the 13th.
Highlights: Watch
6/6, COL 6, MIL 4 -- Hawpe back with bang
Brad Hawpe keys a comeback win with a home run in his first game back off the DL.
Highlights: Watch
6/21, COL 7, NYM 1 -- Jimenez, power lift Rockies
The Rockies tag Pedro Martinez to back a terrific Ubaldo Jimenez.
Highlights: Watch
7/1, COL 4, SD 0 -- Cook delivers
Aaron Cook throws his first-career shutout, a 79-pitch gem that ends the Rockies' eight-game losing streak.
Highlights: Watch

Some signs point to a run being a distinct possibility. The schedule is favorable, with 35 of 66 games remaining at Coors Field. Also, the three clubs the Rockies have not faced -- the Reds, Pirates and Nationals -- are on the south side of .500. And after the Diamondbacks won nine of the first 10 meetings with the Rockies, Arizona began playing the same substandard baseball as the rest of the NL West.

Of the high-priced guys, Fuentes is the one that the Rockies can deal without sending a negative message about their ability to contend. Manuel Corpas, the closer the second half of last year, has improved on the issues that caused him to lose his job to Fuentes early this season, and right-hander Taylor Buchholz has been dependable in a setup role.

And the Rockies aren't up against the wall with Holliday and Atkins. During the winter, Holliday signed away his two arbitration years for $23 million, and Atkins has two more years of arbitration.

In the Rockies' clubhouse, the decision of whether to trust either of the players is easy.

"The bottom line is we're only a few games out and the reality is we've played some pretty good teams," Atkins said. "Come the second half, the schedule looks a little bit more in our favor. We get to play some teams that are in the bottoms of their divisions that we haven't even seen.

"It's premature to give up on the season, especially the way we've been playing lately. We feel good about the season going forward."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.