For the third time in the team’s 17-year history, the Colorado Rockies are going to the playoffs.
They took the lead in the first inning and never gave it up in last night’s win over the Brewers, ensuring their spot in the postseason.
After a losing season in 2008 and an 8-12 April, it didn’t look like they would be here. But an incredible 44-27 (.620) record after the break has clinched it, and the Rockies are back for the second time in three years.
Coming into the season, the Rockies looked like they were in rebuilding mode. They had just traded away their star slugger, face-of-the-franchise Matt Holliday, who scored the winning run in their one-game playoff to enter the 2007 postseason.
Their return was a closer trending downward and a talented prospect who was having trouble converting from minor league star to successful major leaguer. Yet the play of Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez has been as crucial to this season’s success as Holliday was in 2007.
The catalyst for this season’s transformation, of course, was the dismissal of manager Clint Hurdle and appointment of Jim Tracy as replacement. Under Hurdle they stumbled to 18-28; under Tracy they soared to 73-40.
Stars and Streaks
Their hottest month was June, where they went 21-7 and ran up an 11-game winning streak from June 4 to 14—including a four-game sweep of the Cardinals.
September has been almost as hot, with an 18-9 record and an eight-game streak from Sept. 4 to 11.
Part of the Rockies’ appeal is that on any given night, many different players could step up to deliver a win. Four of their hitters have more than 20 home runs, but none has more than 31. Every one of their starting pitchers has an ERA above average and at least 10 wins, but none have an ERA below 3.50 or as many as 17 wins.
The Rockies have star power without stars, yet a few players stand out as first among equals. These are the men to watch this October:
Troy Tulowitzki burst onto the scene in the Rockies’ 2007 run as the lionhearted shortstop who led the defense and did more than his share on offense. This season the 24-year-old has outdone himself with a career high in home runs (31), stolen bases (20), triples (9), and, if he keeps pace, batting average (.299 on Oct. 2).
Todd Helton has had what would be a Hall-of-Fame career in any era but the steroid era and at any park but Coors Field. He doesn’t have the power of his prime, but his .323/.414/.487 line includes the best batting average and on-base percentage on the team. In the golden years of his career, Helton is not baseball’s poster boy, but he is still the Rockies’.
Ubaldo Jimenez is a name that will stick in the mind—if not for its peculiarity, then for the achievements of its owner. Jimenez leads the Rockies with a 3.52 ERA and is tied for the lead with 212 innings pitched. A 25-year-old power pitcher finally living up to his potential, Jimenez is an ace waiting for the big stage to become a star.
Huston Street is 34 for 36 in converting saves, providing the kind of dependability that stabilizes a ball club. His jump in ERA (2.88 to 3.73) and walks (12 to 27) between 2007 and 2008 made him look like he was on the decline, but in four seasons as Oakland’s closer he was never this good.
Among the other postseason-bound teams in the NL, the Rockies have to hope they draw a matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards are the only playoff team against whom they have a winning record—and what a record it is: 6-1!
The L.A. Dodgers, meanwhile, slapped them around like a backyard bully. Their 3-12 record against the divisional rivals is their worst against any team. Thankfully they won’t have to face them in the first round.
The Rockies have gone 2-4 against the Philadelphia Phillies and have an OPS 21 points lower, as a team, when facing lefties—neither of which bodes well for them in a series against the Phils. The Phillies will likely start three lefties in a playoff rotation.
The Rockies’ last series this season is against the Dodgers, and they have the potential to come out of it as the division winners—which would be a first for Colorado. That series will determine playoff matchups, with the winner likely getting to face St. Louis.
More than securing a plush matchup, though, this final series could be a preview of the NL Championship Series—the NL’s best team facing its hottest. The Rockies have clinched, but there are still good reasons to get excited about this weekend’s last series.