Yesterday’s game against the San Francisco Giants marked the halfway point of the Colorado Rockies’ season. Sitting at .500, the first half has given Rockies fans a little bit of everything. Exceeding expectations, the Rockies find themselves in the thick of the NL West Divisional race. Bolstering an offense that is third in baseball in homeruns, sixth in runs scored, sixth in on base percentage, fifth in team batting average, and third in slugging percentage, Colorado has been able to overcome a pitching staff that has yet to find itself this season: the staff that has tallied the second fewest strikeouts in baseball, while allowing a third worst opponent batting average against. Considering the combination of offensive explosion and woeful pitching, the Rockies are one of the season’s biggest surprises; a surprise that has them two games out of first place through the season’s first leg.
Colorado’s first half of the season has consisted of the resurrection of Michael Cuddyer, whose hitting streak is now at 26 games and has safely reached base in 45 consecutive games, both Rockies records. It has also displayed the continued elite performance of Carlos Gonzalez, arguably one of the best outfielders in baseball. And this season has found Dexter Fowler establishing his role as a reliable and consistent lead-off hitter.
Exciting walk-off victories and one of the best offenses in baseball has provided Rockies fans with plenty to talk about. However, with the good comes the bad. The continued decline of future Hall of Famer Todd Helton has been a hard thing to watch. A bat that was once feared by any pitcher, Helton’s batting line is mediocre at best.
It is becoming an annual expectation, but another mid-season injury to Troy Tulowitzki leaves the Rockies without one of the last true five-tool shortstops in baseball. Despite his unique combination of defensive and offensive abilities, Tulowitzki’s durability will be a topic of conversation through the rest of the season. Finally, the mess that Walt Weiss calls his pitching staff (excluding Rex Brothers who has only allowed two runs in 34.1 innings of work) and the failed experiment of Jeff Francis and Jon Garland has escaped the spotlight thanks to Cuddyer and the offense. Despite all this, the Rockies have become formidable in the West.
Any fan of baseball will tell you the Rockies have spent the first 82 games of the season overachieving. A team riding the shoulders of Cuddyer, Gonzalez, and up until recently, Tulowitzki, Colorado refuses to fade from the NL West race. As the All-Star break approaches, Denver is wondering what’s next. Will there be another “Rock-tober” for fans this fall? Can the Rockies, a team expected to be nothing more than a convenient divisional series for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants really contend for the NL West crown? Or are we witnessing merely a burst in a marathon that is turning the corner into its most grueling stretch, the infamous “Dog Days of Summer?”
Perhaps what makes the case for the Colorado Rockies so enamoring is their potential. The answers to these questions are difficult because we find ourselves asking that dreaded “what if.” Jhoulys Chacin is showing glimpses he can establish himself as a reliable starter in the rotation (0 ER in 15.0 IP his last 2 starts). What if he can turn his recent performances into a ten win second half? Jorge De La Rosa, not a dominant pitcher, continues to find ways to keep the Rockies in games. Colorado has won eight of his last ten starts. What if he can continue to keep games close and get to 18 wins? Before Tulowitzki’s injury, his batting line was out of this world (.347/.413/.635) and he had returned to the form we saw in 2009, 2010, and 2011. What if he returns to the top of the Rockies order as hot as he left? Roy Oswalt is definitely not the Roy Oswalt from his days in Houston. What if he can muster up some of his old self and give the Rockies quality starts and fill a void at the tail end of their rotation through the second half? Cuddyer has discovered a fountain of youth and continues to be one of baseball’s best stories this year. What if he can somehow continue to produce at even a fraction of this rate the rest of the season?
The “what if’s” are too numerous to count, but it is their temptation that has enthralled Rockies fans. At first glance, the Blake Street Bombers appear as nothing more than a good story and a candle that will burn out as the season rolls on. However baseball has the ability to show us signs of stories that no one in their wildest imaginations could have scripted. A game so proud of its history, we don’t have to look back far to find examples of its unpredictability. A 41-41 first half, two games out of the division lead, and an offense that continues to scorch opposing pitching are all signs in Denver. We’re only halfway home, but the Colorado Rockies continue to show us signs this season. In Denver, these signs are whispered about quietly back and forth; whispers of a “Rock-tober” autumn. Whispers that have many asking, what if Colorado finds itself in the Fall Classic? What if?