|The Colorado Rockies have given lots of high fives in 2014.|
At essentially the quarter point of the 2014 Major League season, the Rockies have racked up 23 win. GO back in time and ask 100 hardcore fans what they believe the number of wins would have been at this point in the season and not even the most optimistic fans would have said 23.
The reality is, two years removed from barely avoiding 100 losses, and one year removed from nearly losing 90, the most purple-bleeding Rockies fan would have been very content with a .500 record. Baseball isn't the NFL, where a team can be terrible one year and contend for the playoffs the next.
The Rockies lost on Sunday, their only run coming off of a Charlie Blackmon solo home run, but despite the series loss, they head to Kansas City for a two-game set and a chance to come home with a winning road trip.
Skeptical fans are still pointing at the date. May 11th is usually about the point where it all falls apart for the Rockies. They may pretend to be in contention when June rolls around, but traditionally the swoon starts in May. The dagger usually comes when Troy Tulowitzki goes down for an extended period of time due to injury.
Optimistic fans point to better depth, a team full of hard working players with talent, 1-25. They also point to a lineup that might be the best the Rockies have ever fielded, which is a bold statement considering the firepower that traditionally comes with a Coors Field lineup.
What is the real key to the Rockies early success? The answer to that question isn't anything definitive, but there certainly are a few key differences that the 2014 Rockies have over the two teams that came before them.
The 2014 Rockies are much deeper. Look at the options that this Rockies team has on the bench. Unconventionally, the club went with six outfielders out of spring training. The reason was that Brandon Barnes, Corey Dickerson, Blackmon and Drew Stubbs were all too talented to leave one off of the roster.
Barnes is a gym rat who plays with high energy. The Rockies have missed that attitude in recent years. He isn't a guy who will play every day, but he wants to win. That is evident in the way he plays the game. Dickerson and Blackmon are hitters. Despite minimal big league at-bats, both of them seem comfortable at the plate. They seem to understand what the pitcher is attacking them with and they both make solid contact on a regular basis. The strikeout factor is low with both of them and they have the ability to move once they get on base.
Stubbs has plenty of speed as well, and he also provides a bat that gives pitchers a slightly different look. He struggles against righty's, but he provides just one more option for the club. Dexter Fowler was a talented player, but the reality is, he was a guy who didn't understand who he was as a player. His occasional pop was fun, but he didn't make enough contact. He was often times swinging for the fences instead of getting on base. He never learned to steal bases, and while his defense was good, every now and then he would get caught showboating a little too much. The four outfielders who essentially replace him couldn't be more different.
The Rockies are also getting significantly more production from the both first and third base. Arenado is the same guy who started the majority of games for the Rockies at third last year, but he isn't the same guy at the plate. He certainly wasn't bad in 2013, but with his rookie year in the rearview mirror, he suddenly looks like a savvy veteran at the plate. Pitches that used to be swings and misses are now doubles down the left field line. His approach is far better, evidenced by his 28-game hitting streak.
Justin Morneau also provides a boost. The love for Todd Helton will never die, nor should it, as he was the first true home-grown hero this franchise ever developed. However, Morneau is a younger version of Helton. He isn't necessarily a home run guy, but he smacks a ton of doubles and plays great at first base. He adds a dynamic to the lineup that the Rockies have missed over the past few seasons.
The Rockies might fade. No one has ever earned a playoff spot at the quarter mark, and every year there are surprising teams who quickly fall back to where they belong. The thing is, this team may not perform at the level that they have been, but they are better than they have been in the past. They are fun to watch. They play baseball with the energy that they should be playing with and they are giving fans hope that someday this team won't be a bottom-of-the-barrel franchise.
The reality is, no one predicted 23 wins at this point. They are far better than anyone expected, and even if they fade, they have given reason for belief that the ship might be headed in the right direction again.
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