Rockies Review: Welcome to the 50-win club, boys

Yep, it's official. After their 6-1 dispatching of the Friars today, our purple pinstriped heroes have crossed the threshold into a fairly exclusive club. As was pointed out in the game thread, that makes the heavyweight AL East and.... NL West? the only two divisions in baseball to boast three fifty-game winners apiece. Without anyone managing to notice, the NL West is the NL Worst no longer. (Although if the Giants would go back to fulfilling their part of the bargain, I'm sure we would all be grateful). In pulling to within a half-game of the wild card lead and sporting the Majors' winningest pitcher in the form of the Staten Island Stud, collecting his twelfth victory today after an eight-inning, one-run effort, the Rockies merited exactly...

zero mentions on the front pages of either MLB.com or SI.com. Raise your hand if you're surprised.

Yep, I thought so.

Where does baseball's most ignored 50-game winner go from here? Coming out of the break on the road, against the creampuff Padres, there was real opportunity for a letdown. Was the momentum from the dramatic 8-7 victory against Atlanta going to carry over, or was everyone going to think that they were still on the beach? Since we've seriously entered the discussion as contenders (well, at least I think we have, since John Kruk's opinion, as always, counts for slightly less than a fart in the wind) it's no longer acceptable to just hope for splits. Winning three-gamers is easier than winning four-gamers, particularly on the road. The Rockies drew out the suspense as long as possible. After being stifled by the mighty Kevin Correia and Padres pen in a 3-1 defeat, they faced highly touted prospect Mat Latos today. As PF mentioned in the game wrap, it's the sort of game they would have lost not so long ago. But this is a new team now.

At least. We think so. If you get on them on the right day. And squint.

But you don't need to squint to see the numbers. Here are just a few:

Overall Record Since June 4: 30-10 (!)

Jason Marquis: 12-6, 3.49 ERA
Aaron Cook: 9-3, 3.85 ERA
Ubaldo Jimenez:  7-9, 3.82 ERA, 111 K
Huston Street: 3-1, 2.68 ERA, 23 SV/24 SVO

Todd Helton: .324 (6th in NL), 10/57, .936
Brad Hawpe
: .325 (5th in NL), 15/61, .987
Ian Stewart:
17 HR, 47 RBI, .220 AVG, 27 BB, 65 K
Troy Tulowitzki:
16 HR, 37 RBI, .251 AVG, 41 BB, 69 K
Chris Iannetta:
10 HR, 35 RBI, .222 AVG, 28 BB, 50 K


Team BA:
.258 (9th NL, 20th MLB)
Runs Scored/Game:
5 (2nd NL, 6th MLB)
Runs Allowed/Game: 4.5 (8th NL, 14th MLB)
Team HR: 106 (2nd in NL, 7th in MLB)
Team ERA: 4.30 (9th MLB, 17th MLB)
Pitcher Walks: 288 (2nd NL, 4th MLB)

Find out what to make of these numbers after the jump.

So, what's to get from these stats? A number of contradictions, actually. First, our front three -- Marquis, Cook, and Jimenez -- are made of solid awesome, notwithstanding Cook's recent struggles with his sinker. I'm sure someone a bit more stat-savvy than I am can dig up the last time the Rockies had three starters with sub-4 ERAs, but in my experience, it feels like this may be a first. The number I found the most surprising, however, was the walk ranking. Did anyone realise that we've allowed the 2nd fewest walks for a staff in the NL, and fourth fewest overall? I sure didn't.

These numbers also highlight the occasional misadventures by the bullpen, as we're only 9th NL/17th MLB in team ERA, but we're solidly middle-of-the-pack when it comes to allowing runs: 8th/14th. But continuing the trend of getting no recognition, we've got as solid a starting rotation as any in the game. Add in the fact of our hitter-friendly home park (which Jason Hammel is alone in still not figuring out) and you'd think that someone would take notice of what our pitchers are doing. But nope, our offensive contributions are discounted and our pitching contributions go completely ignored. Argh. They'll have to notice us when we win the World Series, right?

The other caveat is the offensive numbers. We've got plenty of power, as evidenced by the overall homer ranking and the fact that we have six starters (Barmes, Helton, Tulowitzki, Hawpe, Iannetta, and Stewart) in double figures, but hitting for average is lacking. We rank 19th in MLB, and I couldn't help but notice the steep drop-off in today's lineup after cleanup hitter Hawpe (.325): Tulowitzki (.252) Stewart (.225) Iannetta (.222) Gonzalez (.213) and Marquis de Studly (.231). Three of the five have contributed to that double-figures HR club while simultaneously investigating  the Mendoza line, so we're attempting to turn into a team of Adam Dunns. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, per se, but as no doubt everyone in baseball is already aware, counting on a homer, or trying for one, when all you need is a solid base hit, will eventually backfire on you and you'll turn into Jeff Francoeur. (This is a bad thing).

It seems strange, I know, to be carping on the offense after a four-game series win on the road, including a game where we scored 10 runs, at night, in the hitters' paradise known at PETCO Park. But now that the second half is well and truly underway, and we're in the mix, everything needs to be scrutinized more closely than usual. "Pretty good" is no longer acceptable. Where we need to take good and make it better. It's time to acknowledge good results, then turn straight around and ask for something better. It's time, in short, to become -- well, not bitchy and unsatisfied, but realising that "okay" isn't going to cut ice. This is best exemplified in my favorite quote from a Rockies manager in a long time, Jim Tracy on Ubaldo Jimenez after his Friday night start:

"[Jimenez] is inches away from being a very special player, but we're not there yet." Tracy said. "[He needs to] get to the point where the mindset is such that when you build a 5-1 lead, there's very little doubt as to where the game is headed. That's what we're working on."

Now, I don't know about you, but I almost did a spit-take when I read that quote. A manager taking note of performance, rewarding a good effort but recognizing the need for improvement? A Colorado Rockies manager? Am I in bizarro universe? If it is, don't turn off the transponders. I'll stay here, thanks. While Troy Renck may be overstating the galvanizing effect that Tracy's had on this club, I think it's safe to say that it's been a very, very definite one. Anyone think that we'd be sitting at 50-42, considering the start we had, if Hurdle was still at the helm? That's serious, by the way, not facetious.

The change in mindset is everywhere. Further proving that Purple Row is ahead of the mainstream media, there's an article on the Rockies official site today about how Carlos Gonzalez's "intangibles" outweigh the fact that he's, you know, completely overmatched at the plate. It asks the question of how long a contending team can accept intangibles in place of quantifiable production. Now, not to toot my own horn or anything, but the Review I wrote last week already asked that question. Tracy remarks that while sending CarGo down, or benching him, would probably be counterproductive, he can't ignore what Seth Smith's done, and if you want to be "one of eight teams playing baseball in October," you can't keep staffing your lineup with the equivalent of David Ecksteins. Gonzalez is a toolsy and exciting player who can make stuff happen (see today, as he got on, got to second, stole third, and scored on a bad throw) but as a left fielder, he doesn't occupy a premium defensive position and has already struck out 27 times in 94 at-bats. I think that the organization as a whole is pushing for immediate returns from him, as proof that we "got something" from the Holliday trade, but they can just as easily point to Huston Street, who has been making the ninth inning a lot more pleasant experience than I remember it being with Fuentes. I don't support demoting Gonzalez, exactly, but I don't think that he should receive the lion's share of the starts just on principle.

So, after it all, here we sit at 50 wins, having just taken 3 of 4 from a bad team on the road. That's a good start to the second half and the playoff chase. What comes next? For a start, the upcoming homestand against the Diamondbacks and Giants is absolutely crucial. We need to put the screws to the D-backs in the way we failed to do last time, and as the Giants are shaping up to be our main competition, we need to beat them in the head-to-head contests and not just rely on, for example, the Pirates to help out. Then we have another long road trip: four games against the seriously underwhelming Mets, three against the mediocre Reds, and a tough three-gamer against the NL East-leading Phillies in the bandbox of Citizens Bank Park. Last time we were there, we yakked up 20 runs to them. In one game. That, uh, needs to not happen again.

I, for one, am genuinely pleased with the Rockies' performance thus far. I really am. I'm looking forward to an exciting stretch run and playoff chase, and I feel good about the essential makeup of the club.

That doesn't mean, however, that I won't be looking for them to do better.

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