Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rockies Ride To The Playoffs Not Solidified Yet

The Colorado Rockies will go into Tuesday's game with the San Diego Padres with a four game lead in the Wild Card race with just 12 games to play. The sheer numbers say that the Rockies have nearly secured their position in the playoffs. That thought is hard to comprehend for anyone who was following the Rockies in April and May.

The Rockies fought their way back from 12 games under .500 to sitting at 20 games over .500. That accomplishment was nothing short of impossible. It has never been done by a team in modern Major League history. But then again, rewriting the history books is nothing new to this franchise, who two years ago destroyed the record books in their once-in-a-lifetime run to the World Series.

Despite the success, however, the race for the National League Wild Card is anything but over.

On paper, everything looks good for the Rockies. They are playing nine of their final 12 games at Coors Field, a place where they have once again learned to dominate since Jim Tracy took over for Clint Hurdle. They have the second best home record in the National League. The Giants play seven games at home and five on the road.

Four games back with 12 to go means that if the Rockies go 8-4 the best the Giants can do is tie. But that would mean that San Francisco would run the table to finish out the season. If the Rockies go 7-5 the Giants must go 11-1, Rockies 6-6, Giants 10-2, and so on.

To be realistic, the Giants are in need of a 2007 like Colorado Rockies run. That is, if the Rockies win half of their games.

It would be easy to assume that the Rockies will go at least .500 down the stretch. That may be a more difficult proposition than might be first suggested simply by looking at the number of home dates down the stretch. When looking through a magnifying glass, the idea of the Rockies limping their way to 6-6 in the final 12 games almost seems like a difficult task.

First, the Rockies play a hot Padres team. This is the same team that was one strike away from sweeping the Rockies two weekends ago. It is the same team that did not simply beat the Rockies, but fought hard to come back late in games, and found ways to out pitch the Rockies. It was a team that struck out 33 Rockies in the three games. Add in the intangible factor of the weather, which should not get above 55 degrees throughout the series, with snow in the Tuesday forecast, and what comes out is a difficult series.

Then, after the Padres the Cardinals and Matt Holliday come into town. The Cardinals have the most balanced attack in the league. They pitch well and hit well. Speaking of pitching well, the Rockies have drawn the top three Cardinals pitchers in the series. They face Adam Wainright, Joel Pinero and Chris Carpenter. The three have combined to win 47 baseball games this season and they round out the top five in wins in the National League. Throw in the fact that the Rockies swept them in a four game series at home in June and the series may be a recipe for disaster.

After a grueling series with the Cards, the Brewers come to Coors Field. This is a team that sits right around .500, but has vastly underperformed. Their talent suggests that they should have been at least in the hunt for the Wild Card, but their pitching just did not get the job done for them. The Brewers present a problem for the Rockies because their lineup can hit. That means that no matter how much of a lead the Rockies get, cruise control is not an option. Also in the Brewers favor is the fact that their closer has more saves than anyone who has ever played the game. Trevor Hoffman has once again reinvented himself and is having a great year in Milwaukee.

Those three teams figure to make for a difficult nine-game homestand.

If the Rockies have not wrapped up the Wild Card by then, they may be in trouble. Colorado heads west one more time for a three game set in Los Angeles. The Rockies are 3-12 against the Dodgers this season, and have never seemed to be able to find a way to get past their loaded lineup.

On the flip side, the Giants have a fairly easy schedule, facing Arizona five more times, facing Dan Haren only once. They face the Padres three times and the Cubs go to San Francisco for four games. With that schedule, it is not inconceivable for San Francisco to go 9-3 down the stretch.

If the Giants end up 9-3 down the stretch, the Rockies would need to go 6-6 to ensure their spot. That would mean winning both series against the Padres and Brewers respectively, and avoiding a sweep in both series against the Cards and the Dodgers. That is easier said than done. If the Rockies get swept by St. Louis, it puts an enormous amount of pressure on the club to win the Brewers series and win in L.A., something they have not shown the ability to do.

So don't quite dust off the champagne bottles at home, these Rockies still have more work ahead of them and they still have quite a bit to prove.

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