Monday, June 15, 2009

Rockies Streak Puts Them Back In The Race

The Colorado Rockies finally had on day off on Monday. After 17 games in 17 days, the longest stretch of the season without a day off, Colorado had a chance to take a breather.
The only problem, that was the last thing they wanted.

This team just finished off their third consecutive sweep, they are riding an 11-game winning streak, tied for the longest in franchise history. Playing the way they are, there is no one in the clubhouse looking for a day off. They are excited about coming to the ball park and winning another game.

One thing that the off day provides is an opportunity to reflect.

Is it crazy for anyone else to think that the Rockies have won 11 games in a row? This is the same Rockies team that had not won more than three games in a row before this streak, and that came during the second, third and fourth games of the season. That is the one and only time that this team had won more than two games in a row. Now they have rattled off 11 straight.

If the Rockies win on Tuesday night at home against the Rays, they will have the longest winning streak of the season by any team in the Majors. That is not supposed to happen.

There is not a Rockies fan who is not reminded of the 2007 streak that took the Rockies to the playoffs, and eventually to the World Series. The streak is extremely similar. While the '07 streak clearly came at a more important time, it could be argued that the '09 Rockies had one foot in the grave before the current streak began. Now they sit one game under .500 and just 3-1/2 games out of the wild card.

This streak brings back memories of the '07 streak not just because of the number of wins in a row, but also due to the nature of the wins.

It does not seem to matter if the Rockies have the lead or not, there is a feeling that the club is going to find a way to win the game.

Early in the season, if the Rockies did not take the early lead they were done. Before the streak not only had they only won two one-run games, they had only won four games in which they did not score the first run. For non-baseball fans, that is a horrible statistic. It told the story for the Clint Hurdle led '09 Rockies. If they did not get way ahead early they lost the game.

During the streak it seems that the team is just going to find a way to win.

In 2007 the hero of the game was not necessarily the stars of the team. In fact, Matt Holliday was on the bench nursing an oblique injury for two games during the '07 streak. Players like Cory Sullivan, who made an incredible throw to nail the Dodgers Jeff Kent at the plate, essentially winning a game in Los Angeles in '07, became heroes.

In the one-game playoff against the Padres, Yorvit Torrealba hit an early home run to get the lead on San Diego ace Jake Peavy, set the tone for what become the most exciting game in franchise history.

The same thing has been the case for the Rockies during this 11-game streak.

Players like Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Hammel, who combined have five of the 11 wins on the mound have found ways to piece together great starting pitching. De La Rosa battles continuously with his own inner demons and is extremely susceptible to the big inning, but has managed to control his emotions and pick up his first two wins of the season.

Hammel, who had been good on the road, but miserable at Coors Field, put together an impressive start at Coors on Sunday, striking out six and walking none, giving up only a first inning run. The only thing that could beat him was the weather as the tornado delay was long enough to end his day after throwing 5-1/3 innings.

Huston Street, named on Monday as the National League co-player of the week, has nailed down six saves during the stretch, raising his season total to 13 saves.

Reliever Joel Peralta, who three weeks ago was wearing a Colorado Springs Sky Sox jersey, got the biggest out in two consecutive games in Milwaukee, the second time coming with the bases loaded against Ryan Braun.

It should not be forgotten how much of an impact new manager Jim Tracy has had on the Rockies. Since taking over for Clint Hurdle the Rockies are a robust 13-4. While the moves he has made have not been drastic, they have been impactful.

Tracy immediately moved Clint Barmes into the two-hole in the lineup. This ensured that he would see more fastballs because he would be batting behind Dexter Fowler, a threat to steal on the bases, and in front of Todd Helton, who no one wants to face with men on base.

Barmes immediately responded, raising his average over .50 points to nearly .300. He has more extra base hits during the 11-game stretch than he had all season.

Tracy has also made the tough decision to play Ian Stewart everyday. The decision is not hard from the standpoint the Stewart is ready, but from the standpoint that it meant sitting the slumping Garrett Atkins on the bench.

Atkins was a huge contributor on the '07 team. He is the only Rockie to average over 100 RBI's over the last three years.

However, Atkins has been merely a shell of what he had previously been. With a three-hit day on Sunday Atkins average finally went above the Mendoza line, now sitting at a meager .204. To top it off, the Rockies know that signing Atkins after this season will be extremely difficult and are trying desperately to trade him. Putting him on the bench will not enhance his trade value, but Tracy is doing what he thinks will help the team win now.

The problem for the Rockies now is that this winning streak is merely digging them out of the hole that they were dug themselves into through the first two months. After Sunday's game the Rockies are still one game below .500 at 31-32. That means that they have 99 games to go.

It can be assumed that to win the Wild Card the Rockies are going to need at least 87 wins. With 99 games to go, that means that they will have to win 58 more games. That would mean the rest of the way they will have to have a winning percentage of roughly .586. That is a tough number to get to, especially over a 99 game stretch.

While 58 more wins is tough, it by no means is impossible.

On the plus side for the Rockies is that through the first 63 games they have played more games on the road than any other team in the Major Leagues. What that means is that over the final 99 games of the season they will play more games at home than any other team.

That alone should be a huge advantage for making a run, especially considering that they are finally starting to jell as a team. It is always easier to win when the team plays well together, especially when you have the final at-bat.

Regardless, looking back, two weeks ago no one would have thought that there would be a thought of putting the Rockies and contention in the same sentence. That alone shows how well the team has been playing. Regardless of how long the current streak lasts, it has infused the Colorado Rockies clubhouse with a confidence that should help them continue to play well and find ways to win baseball games.

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