Rather than calling this latest Colorado Rockies winning streak a spark of magic, a lucky, once-in-a-season run, or a last ditch effort to make it into the post season (as is what happened in 2007), the Rox are proving they are contenders by playing the best baseball in the league with constant hitting and shut-down pitching. They are good. They are contenders.
I write this after watching last Monday’s routing of the Los Angeles Angels, 11-1, where the Rockies’ bats remained relentless all night and the pitching just fell into place under the start of Aaron Cook. His sinker against the Angels was un-hittable -- and when they did hit it, it was ground ball city. Cook’s win on Monday, in which the Angels garnered only three hits and one run in seven innings, made him the winningest pitcher in Rox history with 59 wins.
As a team, the Rockies have the best winning stretch in baseball this year. As of Monday’s win the Rockies went 17-1 over the last 18 games, where, according to The Denver Post, the Rockies have allowed more than four runs only twice and have scored into double figures four times.
The question that I, Rockies fans, players, and managers are asking right now is what changed on this team other than Jim Tracy being moved from bench coach to the manager position following the firing of Clint Hurdle on May 29? Can a manager have that big of an impact on a team? After Monday’s win, the Rox are 20-5 with Tracy at the helm. The Rox were 18-28 with Hurdle. Wow. So I ask again, what changed? You can’t just take your bench coach and put him in the manager position and expect to win. This is the Holy-Grail question for every team owner out there when he or she decides to change coaches/managers. How do I know this will work? I guess after the past 18 games, Tracy has proven that a coaching change can change everything.
Instead of striking out when they needed just a hit, players like Troy Tulo-witzki, Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe, and designated hitter Seth Smith have relaxed, waited for pitches and struck when the iron is hot. And once one of these hitters gets hot, they all seem to. They are patient at the plate, making the pitcher work and once they see what they like, they become aggressive hitters. The Rox’s hitting is dangerous – maybe even more dangerous than the days of the Blake Street Bombers? We shall see.
The starting rotation has been on a tear since the change in management as well. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Marquis and Cook have put together an impressive rotation. And going to the bull pen for relief from Huston Street has also worked well recently. I’d say it is about time that Jimenez starts to fire the cannon, too. He has been hot and cold in recently but has turned up the heat on his heater, which has been topping out at 198-199 mph.
The only starter that I constantly worry about is Jorge De La Rosa, who can win games every now and then but when he struggles on the mound, boy does he struggle. In fact, his pitching, I believe, was the demise of the Rockies loss to the Rays recently, where their hitters got on top of him early, making for a long night. If Tracy can work more of his winning magic, he needs to concentrate on De La Rosa.
So there it is, all of a sudden the Rockies are hitting, pitching and running the bases aggressively, yet smartly. I have to ask again -- What did Tracy do to this once underachieving team to turn them into contenders? I guess it is just his style – a style that is opposite of Hurdle’s.
“He’s the exact opposite of Hurdle,” Tulo-witzki told The Post. “You had a guy who was very loud, very intimidating and sometimes you didn’t know what you were going to get with your lineup. Tracy is low maintenance, very mild-tempered, will let you know if you aren’t playing. Both ways can be very effective.”
Whatever he is doing, Tracy is very Zen-like compared to Hurdle and the team seems to have taken to the style very, very well. The real question here is if Tracy and the Rockies are simply on a huge winning streak that, as soon as it is over, will have us back to poor baseball in the Mile High City? Or are the Rockies really this good? I believe the latter.
They are currently tearing through American League inter-league play. Manny, after his suspension, will be back in L.A.’s lineup in a couple of weeks. If the Rox want to make a run they have half the season to do it. While they are currently playing better baseball than the Dodgers, they need to keep it up. As of Monday, the Rockies moved within a half-game of the Giants for the NL Wildcard slot and they are nine games behind the Dodgers. It isn’t too crazy to think the Rockies can catch them under the new Zen management of Tracy.
All I can say now is that I hope the Broncos will play like the Rockies with their new coach, but that is a complete mess in itself that I don’t want to get into it right now.