Thursday, October 1, 2009

Colorado Rockies Inch Closer to Playoff Berth

At Coors Field on Wednesday night fall was in the air. The wind blew trash around the ballpark all night long and the temperatures dipped. It was a feeling that the Rockies are looking forward to getting used to.

Behind the wild, and somewhat effective Jason Hammel, the Rockies picked up their 90th victory of the season, winning 10-6, tying a club record for most wins in a season. When they set the record in 2007, however, it took 163 games to reach the mark.

After a crazy turn of events in the ninth inning in Atlanta, the Braves walked off of their home field losers of their last two games, meaning that a victory for the Rockies would drop their magic number to a lone game, and ensure that even if everything goes wrong for the Rockies and everything goes right for the Braves, Colorado would still have to be beat in a play in game on Monday.

It does not look like that is going to happen. The Rockies are in a position to clinch the National League Wild Card with a victory over the Brewers on Thursday. A win would make the three game series in Los Angeles quite a bit less stressful and would give the club an opportunity to rest some of their starters before the postseason begins.

With Atlanta falling apart, winning on Wednesday night was of utmost importance for the Rockies. It became clear that they had no intention of letting this game fall through the cracks when Todd Helton hit a laser two-run home run to right field in the third inning to give the Rockies a lead that they would not relinquish. It was clear by the way Helton swung the bat that he would carry this team on his shoulders if he had to. It would be nothing new to the 36 year old.

Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki later added home runs of their own to make the score double digits and give the Rockies some breathing room. Despite not pitching well, Hammel picked up his 10th victory of the season. While he might not have deserved to win this game, it may have been payback for the previous three outings in which he was dominant, but left the game without picking up the W.

A baseball season is a marathon, there is no denying that. Each team plays 162 games, and while that may seem like overkill, the fact is, very few races are determined before the final week of the season. In the midst of the marathon, it is nearly impossible to reflect on what has been accomplished over the course of the season.

This past weekend for Rockies fans included biting nails, completing win-loss scenarios, rooting for the Nationals, and fighting off pessimistic thoughts of collapse. With just a two game lead heading into Sunday, there was reason for this concern. However, as the Rockies have all but clinched a playoff berth, it may be time to realize what this 2009 season has held.

On May 29th if someone would have told the average Rockies fan that their team would be two games up in the Wild Card race with seven games to play, there would not have been a fan on this earth that would have turned that down. When Clint Hurdle was fired as manager the Rockies were 10 games under .500 and 15 games out of first place in the National League West. Even more, they had the second worst record in the entire league and were just a half game better than the Nationals, a team that has lost 103 games with four more to play.

The Rockies were under performing, both on the mound and at the plate. They could not hit in key situations and their pitching was suspect at best. Jorge De La Rosa, the lefty with all the potential in the world was 0-6. Ubaldo Jimenez, touted as the next Pedro Martinez, had not figured it out yet, and was 1-3 with an ERA in the fives.

The only positive going for the Rockies at the end of May was that the guy who they got in case of emergency with Jeff Francis, was on a tear. Jason Marquis quickly was looking like the real deal. However, Marquis was not supposed to be the lone positive on a team with this much talent.

The Rockies figured out how to play as a team again. That was something that they were so good at in the 2007 season that was capped with the magical run to the World Series. All through 2008 and early 2009 it seemed like the Rockies forgot that magical formula. Then suddenly, with one managerial switch, the Rockies played as a team once again.

Who would have thought that Carlos Gonzalez would emerge into an impact player after struggling through his June call up? Who would have thought that Seth Smith would make such a huge impact on the lineup, and who would have thought that the Rockies would be so deep into the playoff hunt that they would go out and sign slugger Jason Giambi in order to have one more impact bat off of the bench?

2007 gave the Rockies and their fans a great taste of what postseason baseball is all about, it almost seemed fictional, as if the team had matured too quickly and was not ready to be playing at that level. Sure, it was fun and no fan would trade those memories, but 21-out of-22 was something so surreal that it almost seemed fake.

This 2009 team has been fighting since early June. They are showing that their talent was no one month fluke and that they are good baseball players. This run is fun because it has lasted so much longer, and has been more sustained. This run has shown the Rockies and their fans that they belong with the best teams in baseball, and that they are not just on an incredible hot streak, but that they are a very good team, one that is solid throughout all the way through.

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