Rockies Need a Sudden Surge from Ian Desmond in NL West Race

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Prior to the beginning of the 2o18 season, the Colorado Rockies looked like potential World Series contenders. Coming off an appearance in the National League Wild Card Game, the Rockies seemed primed to storm right back to the postseason behind superstars like Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and the newly-signed Wade Davis.

This season, as we head into the home stretch, the Rockies are three games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks for the top spot in the NL West, and 2.5 games back of the second NL Wild Card spot. They have failed to lock down easily-winnable games with a bullpen that’s supposed to be world-class, and have not received good, consistent hitting from their depth batters.

Things have not gone as planned, bluntly enough. But it’s not on Arenado, it’s not on Blackmon, and while Davis and the rest of the Colorado bullpen has had their issues, one player’s glaring struggles rise up and over the rest. That man is first baseman Ian Desmond, a two-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger who has promptly had the two worst seasons of his career since signing a five-year contract with the Rockies before 2017.

Desmond is slashing .235/.308/.440 with a below-average 87 OPS+, striking out 110 times compared to just 37 walks, and has been of negative value defensively (-1.3 Baseball-Reference dWAR). He’s hitting the ball hard (19 home runs, 59 RBIs), but those stats cannot be taken at face value given the infamous Coors Field effect in Denver. In conclusion, Desmond is having a horrid season and has been one of the biggest reasons as to why the Rockies — a clearly talented team — sit outside a playoff spot.

The struggling @Rockies need their highest-paid player, Ian Desmond, to perform like such over the home stretch.Click To Tweet

Over the last few games, the 32-year-old has been reduced to a bench/platoon role with Ryan McMahon starting at first base and David Dahl taking over in left field, another position at which Desmond has played somewhat frequently (16 starts) this season. Desmond isn’t helping his case, hitting .162 with eight strikeouts and without a home run since August 1; the confidence Rockies management — specifically manager Bud Black — has in the veteran power-hitter is dwindling.

On the contrary, it’s Desmond who could propel the Rockies into the Major League Baseball postseason picture. After all, the righty can’t stay cold for long. Before signing his long-term deal with Colorado, Desmond showed his hitter’s pedigree in 2016 with the Texas Rangers, hitting .285 with 22 home runs, 86 RBIs, and 54 extra-base hits. He made a major difference on the basepaths as well, swiping 22 bags.

Desmond was a non-factor in the Rockies’ lineup last season as well, which does not inspire confidence in a potential resurgence, but in 2017, they really didn’t need Desmond to light the world on fire. Colorado ranked second in hits (1,510), and batting average (.273), third in runs (824), fourth in RBIs (793), and fifth in OPS (.781) last season. This year, they fall in line at 10th in hits (983), ninth in batting average (.254), ninth in runs scored (534), eighth in RBIs (513), and seventh in OPS (.749).

At 60-54, they need nothing more than their highest-paid player to step up big with 48 games left. If that hitter’s pedigree we eluded to means anything, Desmond is bound for a rebound. Like the Rockies, Desmond has been very streaky this season, and maybe August is just a temporary decline, given that in July, he slashed .321/.380/.500 with 27 hits, eight extra-base hits, eight walks, five steals, and 12 RBIs.

He saw his batting average rise from .217 to .240 from July 1 to July 31, completing streaks of 13 games in a row with a hit and 21 games straight being on base. July is also when the Rockies flirted with first-place in the division, sliding in and out of the coveted spot. Obviously, teams are going to perform better when they’re getting consistent production everywhere in the lineup, but the Rockies are a significantly better team when Ian Desmond is hitting well.

For example, in July, the Rockies were 17-6 thanks to the increase in production from Desmond. In August, they have equaled their loss total from the prior month already, going 2-6 so far. For Colorado to get hot and make the postseason from their current position, a sudden surge from Ian Desmond, like the one in July, is the key.

Nolan Arenado is an NL Most Valuable Player candidate, Charlie Blackmon is a contact-hitting machine, and the Rockies’ starting staff has been — despite the Coors Field effect looming over them — one of the best rotations in baseball. But with three games to make up in ground for the division title, or even just the Wild Card, they need a certain struggling first baseman to heat back up and steal the show. Ian Desmond could be a hero in Denver.

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