|Troy Tulowitzki will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken rib.|
For the better part of three months, Rockies fans have been thinking that something has to give. This was a team that struggled to beat the worst teams a year ago. They would routinely find new ways to lose in 2012, and they showed no signs of life.
It was baffling to Rockies fans when they made very few moves in the offseason, with the exception of having Walt Weiss fill the vacant managerial role that was left when Jim Tracy resigned, with very little persuasion from the front office to reconsider.
As good as it was early on for the Rockies, the feeling was always in the back of fans minds that the good start the team had enjoyed was a mirage. After struggling through the desert of despair for the majority of two seasons, it looked like there was a savory river to drink from, one that was oh so close. Instead, the reality that the river was a mirage set in on Thursday, and it came in the form of a swift kick to the gut.
Troy Tulowitzki, who has already gained a reputation for being fragile, came up gingerly after diving for an Ian Desmond ground ball up the middle in the 8th inning. Any time Tulo dives, stretches or exerts himself in any way, fans have become accustomed to cringing until they see that he is healthy.
The worst nightmare, that frankly has been so highly anticipated, became a reality on Thursday afternoon. The soreness Tulo felt after diving wasn't anything minor. The shortstop had broken a rib, which will land him on the disabled list, a spot he has become very familiar with.
Initial reports say that he will be out for 4-6 weeks, but that number can be adjusted depending on how his healing progresses. The injury de-rails a season that had Tulo as the early favorite in the National League to win the MVP award.
The dreams of an MVP are most likely over. However, more importantly to the Rockies, the dreams of sneaking back into the playoffs are even more likely over. The injury couldn't have come at a worse time. With three games left at Coors Field, the Rockies will then head on the road for 19 of their final 26 games before the All-Star break. The injury to Tulo, who drives the Rockies offense on the road, is one that could end the hopes of a postseason.
Even worse, normally the weight of the team would be transferred onto Carlos Gonzalez's back. Well, if things couldn't be worse, Gonzalez was removed from the game on Thursday before his first at-bat because a Jordan Pacheco foul ball caught him on the leg while he was standing in the on-deck circle in the 1st inning.
The fluke injury doesn't look to be something that is extremely serious, but the bruise on CarGo's lower leg should keep him out of the lineup for a day or two.
Ok, fine, no CarGo either. Well, the Rockies have been fortunate enough to see Dexter Fowler emerge into a very valuable member of the lineup. He could certainly take on more of the load, right? Think again. After getting hit by a pitch on the hand in the 4th inning, Fowler left the game with swelling in his fingers.
The reality is, this team is significantly different without Tulowitzki in the lineup. Take a look at June through September of 2012 and that is very evident. However, over the next few days, when CarGo and Fowler will either be unavailable or less than 100 percent, the Rockies are in trouble.
Instead of attack mode, the injury to Tulowitzki in particular changes the mindset of the team. Instead of going out and trying to gain ground in a National League West race that is up for grabs, the Rockies instantly shift into hold-on mode. For the next month, at least, the Rockies are going to have to figure out how to scratch and claw as many wins as they can. Instead of depending on Tulowitzki, who was hitting a robust .347 with 51 RBIs before the injury, the Rockies are going to have to lean heavily on Michael Cuddyer and Wilin Rosario. Both of those guys are capable, but they are a significant downgrade to who Tulowitzki has been over the course of his career, but specifically who he has been in 2013.
Is the dream over for the Rockies? That question remains to be seen. Crazy things happen in baseball. There easily could be someone who comes up from the minor leagues who is determined to prove that it is about time they got their chance and that they belong in the big leagues. Josh Rutledge, the likely call-up to replace Tulowitzki, certainly must feel like he has something to prove. If his bat is ready to go, the Rockies could stick around in the race.
The only problem is that the reason the Rockies have been in the race as long as they have been is because their starting pitching has so far outperformed expectations that it has to be wondered if they can sustain their pace. With the offense mostly pulling their weight, it gave the pitchers some flexibility. If the offense doesn't have the same firepower, the pressure goes back onto the starting pitchers, and the house of cards could quickly collapse.
The Rockies still have hope, but it is currently a flickering Christmas light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Tulowitzki is one of the best five players in the game. Losing him for an extended period of time does not bode well for the team as a whole. Only three games over .500, the Rockies don't have any margin for error. They need to play better than they have been all season long, and without Tulo in the lineup, that is a scary proposition.
Crazier things have happened in baseball, but at this point, Rockies nation is in a state of mourning. This adversity is greater than any adversity the Rockies have faced all season long. If they can overcome this and still be within striking distance in the NL West, they are officially over the hump and can be considered a good team.
If the Rockies overcome the injury to Tulo and stick around in the race, Walt Weiss should be the unanimous winner of the Manager of the Year award.
Things don't look good for Rockies fans. It turns out that the great start to the 2013 season was indeed a mirage. The river of hope that they saw faded away when Tulowitzki gripped his right ribs. Without Tulo, the Rockies stand little chance to continue the run they have been on.
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