Last week, I talked about some of the stats that helped point to the areas of our resurgence. Walks, starter ERA, power numbers, runs scored -- just a few measures of the many that have helped us reach a quantifiable truth: 54-44, 2nd place in the NL West, two-game lead in the wild card, 7-3 since the break, 4-2 homestand, helping ourselves to 2 of 3 from each the Diamondbacks and Giants. Aside from a pair of demoralizing defeats, the Rockies have played remarkably complete baseball for the past week, and even the defeats didn't hold them down for long (Although they sure were annoying to watch). Juan Rincon, who hasn't exactly established himself as a trustworthy eighth-inning option, gave up a two-run homer to Miguel Montero to allow the Diamondbacks to take the second game of the set, and the Rockies got completely shut down by Matt Cain in the Giants opener, allowing Cain to tie our own Jason Marquis for the MLB victory lead. (Annoying, I know). But both times, they bounced back with well-played, close wins -- 4-3 over the Dbacks and 4-2 over the Giants, spearheaded by a teamwide contribution. Helton's 500th double and go-ahead homer featured in the win over Arizona, and today, Aaron Cook held the Giants to 2 runs over 7 innings on a tidy 77 pitches. The Rockies themselves had been stifled by a succession of Giants relievers after Ryan Sadowski's exit, and were only up by 2. It was time for that general bane of our existence, the bullpen.
Time for pain, right?
What happened? Franklin Morales made the heart of the Giants lineup -- Lewis, Sandoval, and Ishikawa -- look absolutely foolish. Slinging 96-mph heaters and 75-mph curves, he induced a lazy fly ball from Sandoval and two strikeouts from Lewis and Ishikawa, who had absolutely no clue what they were swinging at, only that it had been somewhere else entirely a second earlier. He passed proceedings off to Huston Street, who disposed of the Giants in order in the ninth, getting two easy grounders before striking out former Rockie Juan Uribe to bring 40,000-odd fans at Coors to their feet, and put a nice little ribbon on the series. And all of a sudden, hey, puff the chests and polish the fingernails, we're solidly in the catbird seat of the wild card before heading off on one of those bruising ten-game roadies, which -- in the past -- seem to have been designed for the express purpose of rapidly disabusing us of the notion that we're contenders. It won't be easy this time either. But damned if I can quantify it, but something feels different. Something feels better. Something feels a little less flukey. Maybe this isn't all a hot stretch. Maybe we're... dare I say it....
Yes Rockies fans. This is a legitimately good team. The bullpen can earn adoration one moment and total horror the next, of course. But newly acquired Rafael Betancourt got a grounder and a strikeout (of the dangerous Sandoval, no less) in his Rockies debut on Saturday, and then today, Franklin Morales put in his application for the position of situational lefty. If he can keep up the level of performance, then he's going to feature as more than just a LOOGY. As has been well chronicled, the bullpen has had trouble all year handing leads to the one rock(ie)-solid piece, which is of course Huston Street. Remember all those scouting reports that had us pegged as the best team in the National League, if only we added some middle relief? We may be on our way there. Now, I'm not going to point to Betancourt and Morales as TEH ANSWER, but middle relief guys don't need to be world-beaters (although it's always helpful if they are). All they need to do is get the game into the hands of the closer, and they've showed some encouraging signs at doing so. Combined with an excellent starting rotation (Cook is now 10-3 with 7 straight wins, Marquis is Marquis, Hammel finally turned in a quality start at Coors Field, JDLR is on an 8-1 run, and U-ball is U-ball) and just enough situational hitting... I dunno about you, but if I were the Mets, I wouldn't be too enthused about welcoming this outfit to Citi Field for four.
Which brings me to my next point. The Mets are totally ravaged by injuries, playing in a cavernous park, having a crisis of management amid rumors that a VP of player development offered to fight disgruntled minor leaguers, etc etc. They built up some modicum of momentum by winning a series on the road against the Astros, but still sit at 46-51, five games south of .500 and 4-6 in their last ten. Their only real power threat this year, Sheffield, just joined the rest of the roster on the DL. We'll be facing the unpredictable Oliver Perez, the mercurial Mike Pelfrey, the needs-no-introduction Johan Santana (unfortunately, our luck at missing Haren and Lincecum didn't extend that far) and some youngster named Jonathan Niese. We'll be throwing Jimenez, Marquis, Hammel, and JDLR at them, in that order. On paper, Hammel vs. Santana is easily the most dismaying, but Hammel may have some Josh Fogg dragonslaying mojo in him, especially once you get him out of Coors. But in the other three, I'll (through my deeply, deeply purple-coloured glasses) give us the advantage.
Of course, it remains to be seen how well our lineup's power translates to the notoriously pitcher-friendly Citi Field, and if the bleacher bums will sufficiently discomfit the outfielders enough that they crash into each other and let the latest Mets scrub get away with a triple. Even if they get through this series, there's the Reds and the Phillies to come. But I'm not going to look any further than this right now, since that's how we're going to have to take this thing. One series at a time. One game at a time. Where we stand now has a pretty nice view, but there's still a mountain to be climbed. I don't have much criticism or introspection to offer at this point, but await the next chapter in what's turned out -- after an utterly disreputable start -- as a pretty damn good season.
Knock on wood.
P.S. Far be it from me to scoreboard-watch or anything, but the Dodgers are opening a set against St. Louis tomorrow. Hey, Matt. Wanna give your old pals a hand?