After the Rockies were shutout by the Astros for a franchise record 14th time Tuesday, John Gray brushed the single loss off the way baseball players have to, noting “there’s only one way to go from here.” Presumably he meant forward, upward, toward better play and better fortune.
They got better Wednesday. After losing 5-0 on five hits in the opener of the two-game set in Houston, Colorado lost 5-1 on five hits in the finale.
“We had some really good at bats there in the early part of the game and just couldn't really capitalize on having some traffic out there,” Trevor Story said after Wednesday’s loss. “It’s a little frustrating for sure, but better than yesterday, no doubt.”
Obviously, it wasn’t better enough. After an uplifting homestand that ended with them winning four straight, Colorado came crashing back to Earth, losing two straight to start the road trip and getting swept out of Houston as they head for San Francisco and four games with the Giants, owners of baseball’s best record.
The Rockies sunk to a .236 winning percentage on the road, worst in baseball. They’re hitting .285 at Coors Field this season, leading all 30 clubs in home batting average, and .210 everywhere else, the worst road average in the majors. You’d have to be one heck of a happy-go-lucky player to not get frustrated by that extreme split.
“Our guys are battling like hell trying to get a hit,” manager Bud Black said on his way out of Houston. “It's not happening. We got to do better, there's no doubt about it. You look at our road average. It's real. We got to get better.”
Two days in Houston in August could give anyone battle fatigue, with or without baseball in the mix. But the Rockies look especially weary of having to share locker space with their own evil twins, carrying Mr. Hyde’s baggage with them every time they board a flight out of Denver.
Story, who is one of the team’s best spokespersons, wears the frustration on his pinstriped purple sleeve, internalizing it in a way previous team leaders like Carlos Gonzalez didn’t appear to. Story seems to absorb criticism aimed at the team, taking the weight of responsibility for righting the ship on his own shoulders. He sighs a lot when speaking from visiting clubhouses, endlessly attempting to answer for the inexplicably woeful road the Rockies are traveling as they rewrite the records for futility.
“It's obviously been a year-long thing,” Story said Wednesday, admitting there could be a growing psychological component packed in with the team’s baggage. “Last road trip (when they went 4-6 against the Dodgers, Angels and Padres) we made some headway, but I think the first couple of days out of altitude we're kind of adjusting. I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes in San Fran. I think we’ll be better.”
Only two Rockies have road averages within 50 points of their home average — rookie Brendan Rodgers, who is hitting .280 with seven homers on the road and .292 with two homers at home, and Charlie Blackmon, whose .292 clip away is 38 points better than his Coors Field pace.
Story has experienced the phenomenon all season, though he’s turned his game around of late. He’s hitting .313 (61-for-195) with eight homers at home and .195 (34-for-174) with seven homers on the road, but he’s on a tear, having hits in 16 of his last 20 games for a .319 clip (23-for-72) with eight doubles and four homers.
“He’s squaring up some pitches in the strike zone, and the chase rate is a little bit better,” Black said Wednesday. “A lot of players can be a little bit over-aggressive, a little bit over-anxious, and they'll chase pitches out of the strike zone, trying to get base hits, trying to help the team, trying to get on base. A lot of times that works against players, and Trev’s included in that, but he’s doing a much better job of controlling the strike zone.”
That anxiety and the pressure to help the team may be uniquely high for Story. In addition to taking on a leadership role alongside Blackmon in the team’s diminishing veteran ranks, he spent months dealing with what most of baseball thought would be his inevitable trade by the July 30 deadline. On Wednesday, he admitted he couldn’t tune out the chatter as much as he’d have liked.
“That was a tough time, I can't lie about that,” Story said. “It was a little bit stressful … a lot a bit stressful, actually. But it’s something I want to put behind me and just focus on being the best baseball player that I can be. I feel like maybe I can channel a little bit of that energy. Having the certainty of what's going on for the next couple months has helped a lot.”
Few players expect as much from themselves as Story does, but the young Rockies trying to make their mark and stick on the roster have their own anxieties. If Story has found a way to free himself from his baggage, maybe the rest of the team can follow his lead and dump theirs in the San Francisco Bay.