Rocky Mountain High: Surging Colorado Back in NL Playoff Hunt

Tulowitzki's resurgence in the field and at the plate are a big reason why the Rockies are back in the hunt.

Tulowitzki's resurgence is a big reason why the Rockies are back in the NL playoff picture.

When the Colorado Rockies took the field against the Houston Astros on June 4th, they were 12 games under .500 and mired at the bottom of the NL West. They couldn’t hit, they couldn’t pitch and their defense was more porous than Nick Nolte’s face. The Rockies could have easily given up and mailed in the rest of the season, after all the Dodgers were running away with the division and Colorado looked dead in the water. But as they had already shown in their incredible finish to the  2007 season, the Rockies are a team that can never truly be counted out. Since a loss to the Astros on June 3rd, Colorado has been absolutely incendiary, winning 17 of their last 18 games on the way to a 37-33 record that has them tied with Milwaukee atop the Wild Card standings.

So what flipped the switch for the Rockies and turned them from afterthoughts to serious playoff contenders? Well, a lot of the credit has to go to interim manager Jim Tracey who took over after Clint Hurdle was fired on May 30. Tracey has revitalized Colorado with his positive attitude and, more importantly, got the offense back on track by shaking up an underperforming lineup. The new manager has made sure to get playing time for third baseman Ian Stewart (13 HRs in only 180 ABs) who has replaced the struggling Garrett Atkins (.207 BA). Second baseman Clint Barmes has thrived since Tracey cemented him in the #2 hole (.349 BA in June) and his decision to move Troy Tulowitzki up in the lineup has done wonders for the young shortstop’s confidence (.909 SLG since June 8). With Brad Hawpe likely to set career highs across the board, Todd Helton once again looking like one of the best hitters in baseball and Chris Ianetta rounding into form, the Rockies suddenly have one of the best offenses in the National League.

Street has dominant over the past two months.

Street has dominant over the past two months (0.82 ERA in May).

Just as important to Colorado’s turnaround has been the success of their pitching staff. The Rockies looked to have a solid bullpen heading into the season, with Manny Corpas and the newly acquired Huston Street battling for the closer’s role. However, both struggled in the early going and late game implosions cost the team numerous games. While Corpas has continued to pitch poorly, Street has turned the corner and given the Rockies some much needed stability in end game situations. Since a terrible April (6.10 ERA), Street has been lights out, converting 16 of 17 saves and striking out more than a batter per inning. He finally looks to have regained the form that made him the 2005 AL Rookie of the Year, and continues to emerge as one of the elite closers in the NL with each outing. Just as impressive as the bullpen has been the starting pitching of the Rockies. Long criticized for having a great offense but little pitching (see: the Blake Street Bombers) this year’s Colorado staff features three starting pitchers with ERAs of 4.00 or below. Aaron Cook, Jason Marquis and Ubaldo Jimenez have combined to give the Rockies a solid rotation, and if they can get any a little more consistency out of Jorge De La Rosa (82 Ks in 75 innings but a 5.85 ERA) the team might conceivably have one of the top 5 rotations (2nd in the NL in quality starts) in the league to match their potent offense (1st in runs).

One of the worst teams in all of baseball coming into June, the Rockies are suddenly looking like a dangerous matchup for the playoffs (they have risen from #28 to #15 in ESPN’s Power Rankings over the past three weeks). With a prolific offense and a solid pitching staff, Colorado has made a statement to the rest of baseball that they need to be taken for real. If the Rockies can keep up this torrid pace, the front office may soon remove the interim from Jim Tracey’s manager title (18-5 since he took over for Hurdle), and the LA Dodgers might have to start looking over their shoulders. Once again, the Colorado Rockies have shown why the MLB season is 162 games long…because no team (besides the Pittsburgh Pirates of course) is ever a winning streak away from contention.

Can the Rockies repeat their ’07 run to the World Series, or are they destined for a return to earth? Regardless, it should make for a fun summer in the Mile High City as the team continues to make Rockies’ fans forget about their slow start.


One Response

  1. The Rockies surge has had a lot to do with the consistent play of OF Brad Hawpe – 6th in NL in batting average, T-5th in RBI’s, 2nd in doubles, 3rd in Slugging Percentage, but out of the Top 10 in All-Star Voting. This guy should represent the Mile High City in game and should be Top 5 in voting at the very least.

    I definitely think the Rockies can make another playoff push – with another middle reliever and returning to their dominant play at Coors – this years team might surprise fewer people than the 07 squad.

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