Since arriving in the major leagues in 2008, Carlos Gonzalez has won a National League batting title, made three All-Star rosters and taken home three Golden Gloves and one Silver Slugger award. But one thing he hasn't done since his second year in MLB is make the playoffs. This year, with his Rockies firmly in control of a wild-card spot (at least at the moment), he spoke with Marly Rivera about what it would mean to make a run. He also discussed how he's approaching his impending free agency and what it means for him to represent Venezuela.
It seems you guys are back on track after a tough stretch. How do you feel about your chances to make the playoffs?
We are very happy to see that it's the end of July and we are still in the playoff hunt. We have done a great job since the season started. Since we came back from spring training, we've worked hard and our focus has always been on winning series. It's something that has kept us alive in a tough division, competing with the Dodgers, the Giants and the Diamondbacks. It's been a tough fight all season long, but that also motivates you to keep working hard and giving it your best every day.
Was there disappointment after losing so much ground in the division following the hot start?
No, of course not. All the teams go through highs and lows and obviously we had a bad stretch before the end of the first half. The Dodgers have played incredibly well. But as I told you, all teams go through tough times. The Dodgers still have not gone through that, but we've been fighting to keep up with them and waiting for them to go through the same tough stretch we went through.
With the Clayton Kershaw injury, does that allow the Rockies to start thinking about winning the division rather than simply focusing on the wild card?
Well, we've always wanted to win the division. The wild card is the second option, but you never focus on the second option. Our mentality has always been to win series. When we face any rival, we try to win that series and that's what's been keeping us close to first or second place. The loss of Clayton Kershaw is a significant injury for the Dodgers and hopefully all of us will continue to stay healthy and keep playing good baseball. Our focus has to be on our own performance and staying on track and not losing ground, not on what's going on with the other teams. We just focus on doing our job. If we keep winning series, I know one of those two things will happen: We will go on to the postseason as divisional champions or as the wild-card team.
How do you describe your playoff hunger after not being in the postseason since 2009?
For me, it's still one of the best experiences I've ever had in my career, being able to play in the playoffs. It's what we try to focus on every day, to be able to have that opportunity again. I have been in this organization for quite some time and I know what it's like to go through bad times. Obviously right now the team is going through a great period and we are trying to enjoy it the most we can.
As you enter the final months of your contract, do you start thinking this might be your last chance to go to the playoffs with the Rockies?
Well, yes, that possibility exists. Obviously you have to be mature and know that's something that could happen in the future. There are several options, but as I have told you, I am focused on doing my job on a daily basis. At this time, I am still with the organization and I am putting in all my heart so things go well this season and we'll see [what] happens in the future.
How did you decide to deal with your impending free agency?
We had a conversation with the owner of the team during spring training and we came to an agreement that when they said play ball [on Opening Day] each one of us was going to focus on playing baseball and on trying to improve and be a great team. That's what we have been doing, and as I said, that's something that will take care of itself in its due time. I am not thinking about that right now.
How much will this team's ability to make the playoffs regularly influence your decision?
Right now this team has a good core, a good base of young players who are going to be very good for years. Look at guys like Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, guys in the rotation like [Antonio] Senzatela, like [Germán] Márquez, like [Jon] Gray, who are just coming up and they have been given the opportunity to play at this level and are doing a great job. That means this is going to be a team where if most players stay healthy and everyone continues to develop, it's going to be a very good team for many years, and then there will be a time for me to make a decision. I know that time will come, and we will evaluate the options when we have them.
Is that what's most important for you, being with a team that has a chance to make the playoffs consistently year after year?
Yes, of course. I believe that at this stage in my career the most important thing is to win, and to be at peace. In terms of money and those things, that's separate. I want to have the opportunity to play on a team that gives me a chance to develop further as a baseball player and allows me to contend for a championship ring.
Would you say that money is secondary at this stage of your career?
Of course, yes. Obviously at the beginning of your career you focus on doing things right, and everything you do, and all the sacrifices you make, they are for your family, to be able to help them and to secure their future. I am already in another stage; this stage is about winning, and about enjoying the game as I have always enjoyed playing it since I was a kid, and being able to win a championship.
How do you and many other Venezuelan players focus on baseball every day knowing the difficulties your country is going through?
It is quite difficult. For us, Venezuela is still our home. We have a lot of family, many acquaintances and friends over there, and it's thanks to them that we are here today, all the education and everything we learned over there; you can never forget that. Everything we do here in the United States is in representation of each one of them, not only our family, but the whole country. We know that we have a country full of talent, full of warriors, of people who have always supported us and we are here because of them and we also support them.
How difficult is it to follow what's happening on social media and to receive calls and messages from friends and family?
It is very difficult. As a human being I always worry when I see so many deaths and all the war and all the fighting that's happening in our country. It's something very difficult for us to just put aside. I have also always said it; I support them, the same way that they have always supported me. I hope things in my country will get better. As I told you, we are winners, we are talented people and we will be able to move on from this very difficult time.
Has honoring Venezuela further motivated you to reach the playoffs?
Of course. Every win, every little thing any Venezuelan accomplishes, fills us with pride, not only for me but also for people over there. We know that there is a generation that is going to come and will represent us as well and everything we do here, we do for them, and we are very happy that they continue supporting us.