DENVER -- The next 10 games will go a long way toward determining if the Rockies (40-48, third in the National League West) can make the unexpected run for the playoffs that they believe they have the talent to make.
Colorado's strategy approaching the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline could depend largely on how it performs in a three-game series against Atlanta on the road, where the club started better than usual but has dropped 10 of its past 13, and in seven games against the Rays and the Braves at home, where a team that traditionally struggles on the road simply can't afford its current 20-22 record.
The Rockies are in an intriguing place. There are two big contracts -- lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who by the Deadline will be owed about $5 million in the final year of his contract, and All-Star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who is owed roughly $25 million through next year. Some of the vets on affordable deals also could be in play, such as catcher Nick Hundley, relief pitcher Boone Logan and first baseman Mark Reynolds, who are signed for this year; and relief pitchers Jake McGee and Jason Motte, who are signed through next year.
Can the Rockies go deeper? With center fielder Charlie Blackmon (arbitration-eligible through next season) and second baseman DJ LeMahieu (under club control through 2018), could Colorado bring back attractive players and/or open spots for prospects?
Gonzalez has 19 home runs this season and an NL-leading 55 since last June 1. At 30, with knee and finger injuries behind him and therefore no sign of an offensive decline, his value may not go any higher. But with the Rockies harboring hopes this year and happy about their young pitching, Gonzalez could be just as valuable to them. It's not a case like shortstop Troy Tulowitzki last year, when Colorado dealt him to Toronto because the club wasn't convinced he'd be healthy enough if it decided to deal him later. So the Rockies, who didn't deal Gonzalez during the offseason, can afford to wait for the perfect deal. Teams will kick the tires on De La Rosa and the relievers, and may see if Colorado is interested in listening on Blackmon and LeMahieu.
WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?
The Rockies don't have to be in full tank mode, because at most positions, they already have affordable players under their control for a long time. Third baseman Nolan Arenado is theirs through 2019. Even if they don't make their move this year, they could come back in 2017 with largely the same roster, only with young pitchers having a little more experience.
THE ROAD AHEAD
It's good Colorado had that All-Star break. The team begins the second half with 17 straight days of games. That stretch includes a seven-game road trip against the Orioles and Mets to finish July.
Left fielder Gerardo Parra, who had 27 extra-base hits but underperformed in the on-base department, could make a difference depending on when he returns from a left ankle injury and whether he has better at-bats than he did during the first half. Problem is his return is unpredictable. Parra was hurt June 14, and he has done some hitting and controlled running since. He'll be evaluated in Atlanta on Friday as the Rockies determine the next step.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game participants Jeff Hoffman, a righty starting pitcher, and David Dahl, an outfielder, plus lefty starter Kyle Freeland, catcher Tom Murphy and outfielder Jordan Patterson are at Triple-A Albuquerque. Murphy is the only one of the Triple-A players to have appeared in the Majors (11 games last year) and is on the 40-man Major League roster. Outfielder Raimel Tapia, another Futures Game player, is at Double-A Hartford and on the Major League roster.