This weekend, the Colorado Rockies find themselves in a funny, yet extremely favorable position — a position that, three months ago, no one could have expected them to attain.
When the Rockies fired manager Clint Hurdle on May 28, following a disappointing 18-28 start, then-bench coach Jim Tracy inherited a team that was dead last in the National League West, trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers by 14 1/2 games and looked nothing like a playoff contender with the second-worst winning percentage (.391) in the majors.
Now, after an incredible 63 wins in their last 95 games, the Rockies are 81-60, atop the National League wild-card standings by 4 1/2 games over the San Francisco Giants, and just two games behind the Dodgers in the race for the West crown. After struggling to walk and chew gum at the same time this spring, the Rockies are now making their Senior Circuit competition look like Big League Chew.
Colorado?s midseason transformation has entailed numerous changes, all of them coming together to boost the team from the cellar to the ceiling.
Young right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez has matured into a bona fide ace, employing his power arsenal to amass a 2.60 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 7-1 record in 11 starts since the All-Star break. The Rockies are 9-2 in those games, and the 25-year-old flamethrower has chipped in with a quality start in each of them. In fact, Jimenez?s string of 11 consecutive outings of six-plus innings with three or less runs allowed is the longest active streak in the bigs.
Outfielder Seth Smith has emerged as a favorite in the NL Rookie of the Year race, by erupting for a .316/.400/.561 line in 285 at-bats this season. Previously known for flailing at a high Jonathan Papelbon fastball to record the final out in the 2007 World Series, the 26-year-old Smith may soon have a story with a much happier ending if he can maintain the torrid 17-for-38 pace he has in his last 10 games, which includes six doubles, four homers, and a walk-off single against the Reds on Wednesday night.
Only six National League players with at least 250 at-bats have a better OPS than Smith this season: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Hanley Ramirez, Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, and Adrian Gonzalez. That?s pretty elite company for a redshirt freshman of sorts, who has also played an excellent left field this season.
Closer Huston Street has been among the best ninth-inning stoppers in baseball, after the A?s shipped him to Colorado in the Matt Holliday deal. The 2005 AL Rookie of the Year has been nearly flawless, converting 33-of-34 save opportunities, while holding opponents to .196 batting average and a 62-to-11 K/BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings of work. Street?s lone blown save came way back on June 2, and he?s coughed up just one home run since June 11, allowing Jim Tracy to hand him the ball with confidence whenever a critical situation arises.
Combine those three elite performances with the leadership of Troy Tulowitzki, the veteran presence of Todd Helton, the energy of rookie Dexter Fowler, and the beneficial midyear infusion of Joe Beimel, Rafael Betancourt and most recently Jason Giambi, and you?ll find as balanced and diverse a roster as there is in the game. And that?s how the Rockies have climbed all the way back to the top to control their own postseason destiny.
They now face a quirky dilemma, but one that they?re glad to have in front of them. As the Rockies square off against the San Diego Padres this weekend, they?ll have their eyes on the Dodgers-Giants matchup at AT&T Park. Assuming Colorado takes care of business at Petco Park, any Giants victories would allow the Rockies to creep closer in the division standings, while any Dodgers wins would pad Colorado?s wild-card lead.
The Rockies seemed like the team of destiny in 2007, until the Red Sox halted their incredible run with a sweep in the World Series.
Now, with two more years of experience and maturity under their belts, the Blake Street Bombers are ready to give ?Rocktober? another go.