For possibly the first (maybe second) time in Colorado Rockies franchise history, the team on the tips of the tongues of Denver-ites (Denver-oans?) come mid-September is not the Denver Broncos, but that team that plays on 20th and Blake.
The Rockies have just moved to twenty-one games over .500 (81-60 as of September 10) for the first time ever, and the team keeps inching further and further away from the second-place San Francisco Giants in the NL Wild Card race while at the same time nearly clipping the heels of the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers.
With nine wins on their most recent 10-game homestand (the best homestand in franchise history), the Rockies have rebounded from their five-game losing skid to once again make themselves legitimate contenders in the eyes of the national media as well as assuring themselves at least a .500 season for the fifth time since 1993.
But unlike before, the team is doing it without some key cogs in their Rocktober machine.
All-world shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the unabashed leader of the purple pinstripers, has been kept out of the starting lineup with a lower back injury he suffered, of course, while knocking the game-tying base hit in the seventh inning of Monday's tilt with the Reds.
Same goes for all-or-nothing Ian Stewart, whose back pain flared up when he—what else—clubbed a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning of that same Monday game.
The newly annointed ace Ubaldo Jimenez also fell victim to a hamstring injury when he, you guessed it, singled and scored in Monday's contest as well. After the initial injury, Jimenez was not able to throw his fastball consistently, yet he still continued his stellar streak of 25 consecutive outings of six innings or more.
Tulo and Jimenez are being held out for precautionary measures (no sense rushing them back with a fairly comfortable lead in the wild-card race), but Stewart has not progressed as quickly as his teammates.
The Rockies are fortunate that since it is September, Major-League rosters have expanded to 40 men, so the loss of key players does not necessarily mean that the Rox have been placed behind the eight-ball.
At least from a quantitative perspective.
Talking about leadership, however, is a whole different story altogether.
The losses of the clubhouse leader and cleanup hitter Tulowitzki, as well as the emerging ace Jimenez, could have been crippling to a young team in the midst of their first sustained march towards the postseason.
But that has not been the case at Coors Field.
This Rockies team is the most complete club the Blake Street faithful have seen in 17 years of hardball in Denver.
Players, instead of showcasing all the symptoms of four-legged creatures blinded by the high beams of an oncoming Chevy, have made smooth transitions into their newly created spots in both the lineup and the field of play.
Clint Barmes, though scuffling at the dish, has played excellent defense all year and has taken over the shortstop spot while Eric Young, Jr. has displayed flashes of why the Rockies' brass view him as a big part of the new crop of golden prospects.
Hell, even the erstwhile Jose Contreras, he of leading-the-AL-in-losses-fame, came in and pitched 6 2/3 of one-run baseball in his debut to pick up a win against the Diamondbacks.
Why not throw Kevin Ritz back in there for a start or two. What's Marvin Freeman doing these days? Armando Reynoso, pick up your phone because I am pretty sure that with the good vibes coming out of Denver these days that you or I could probably toss six solid stanzas.
And I have not even mentioned the offensive juggernaut that Seth Smith has become in the last couple of weeks.
In just nine games in the month of September, Mr. Late Night is hitting .471 (16-34) with four home runs and 14 RBI to go along with an absurd 1.513 OPS.
From the seventh inning on in 2009, Smitty is hitting .358 with eight home runs and 30 RBI with an on-base percentage hovering around .450.
He is also the reigning NL Player of the Week to boot, sliding into the number three spot in the batting order in Tulo's absence. Since moving into the heart of the lineup, all Smith has done is go 7-14 with two home runs and eight RBI.
Huston Street, arguably the best closer in the National League in 2009, has to take a breather for a couple of weeks due to some discomfort in his elbow, so what do the Rockies do?
Turn to their flamethrowing, 22 year old lefty who has never closed out a game in his life.
And Franklin Morales? He is just 5-for-5 in save opportunities since taking over the role.
Jason Giambi, golden thong and all, has completely forgotten his brutal beginning of the year with Oakland and is harkening back to his MVP days at the plate, especially when the game is on the line (2-2, 4 RBI with RISP in five games).
With Tulo, Jimenez, Dexter Fowler, Aaron Cook, and Stewart all on the mend, it has taken a team effort to keep the Rockies not only treading water, but gaining ground on their counterparts in the race for the postseason.
Jim Tracy's ability to put bubble gum in the leaky dam has not yet backfired because the depth of this Rockies ballclub is going to carry them into uncharted waters for a team ready to make waves in October.
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