Man alive, is it good to be a Rockies fan right now. There's that small matter of 11 straight wins, in addition to a killer draft that saw the notoriously risk-averse front office take a flier on a high-risk, high-reward, high-school arm, Tyler Matzek, in addition to nabbing two other Top 20 talents in Tim Wheeler and Rex Brothers. While we're facing an uphill battle to sign Matzek away from the University of Oregon, if we can lock it down, we'll get a prep lefty whose fastball can already hit 95 mph, was rated as highly as the number 2 talent in the Draft and who fell into our laps at Number 11. Combined with glowing reports about Christian Friedrich down on the farm (even though it took them 1 googolplex years to bump him up from Asheville) it looks as if we may have ourselves a rotation in a couple of years, and the one that we have now isn't doing so badly either. While Manny Corpas finagled himself into getting a win last night that he didn't entirely deserve, Jason Marquis's seven sparkling innings of one-run ball (with a horde of Rowbots cheering him on) put the team in a position to pull it out, and that was essentially par for the course. It's funny how breaks tend to go your way -- the Mariners essentially giving us the two runs immediately after the game-tying homer, which un-tied the game and paved the way to hang a perfect 10 -- when you're playing like a five-alarm fire. Whether the credit goes to Jim Tracy, the guys deciding that shaky job security wasn't the brightest idea in this economy, or just all that luck finally swinging back towards the mean (what's next, a 11-game losing streak to even things out? Don't worry, I just knocked on wood with both fists) nobody knows. But nobody cares, as long as it keeps going.
Where from here? Now that we've displayed the capability to play like everyone was waiting for, what is a realistic expectation for the rest of the season? Do we expect the karma wave to flatten out and restore us to our usual state of affairs, or has something really clicked? Are we actually going to see Rockune, Rockuly, Rockugust, and Rocktember (then, of course, Rocktober Part Deux?) This has gone from team that appeared to be playing out the string to a team that has forcibly reintroduced itself into the Wild Card discussion (and, ZOMGZ! succeeded in getting its very own slide on the MLB.com front page). So, it looks like we're going to have to hang our hearts high and get used to the fact that we may actually be fans of a contending team. At least that's a conversation you can have with a straight face. I remain unconvinced that we'll haul within sniffing distance of the Dodgers, especially since they're due to get Looney Tunes back soon, but 3.5 out of the Wild Card... well, caveat emptor to the maximus, as this team doesn't exactly have the best track record for consistency and we're still a month away from the All-Star break, but three sweeps in a row, two on the road, does have to catch your attention.
When I asked if we'd turned it around last week, answers in the poll were mainly split between "Yes" and "LOL," which is basically shorthand for "I don't have a clue what's going on but damn this is fun." Well, a week later, and they still haven't put up another notch in the L column (long may it continue). With a win on Tuesday, we'll break the record for longest streak in the majors this season (accomplished by that evil team from Boston) and our own franchise record (set during the original Rocktember). As was pointed out, with Brandon Webb on the DL, what's to stop us now?
The resurgence hasn't been just one guy or one aspect carrying the weight. We're receiving strong starting pitching, timely hitting, solid defence, and, Manny's hiccup aside, generally solid to excellent performances for a bullpen that, until now, was justly malingered for its collective inability to hold a damn lead. That's what has some of us thinking that this thing may be for real. Of course, we don't need to sweep everyone the rest of the way -- a solid 2-of-3 would be just fine with me. (Not that these sweeping business isn't fun. Maybe they'll give us a discount on brooms). Hot streaks are all good at the slot machines, but eventually you need to get a 9-to-5 job and win some money a different way.
What's showing that's been missing the most? It's one of those baseball cliches, the "intangibles." Not so very long ago, in the painful ye olden days, when they went down or the other team even scored first, you knew it was over. You knew they weren't going to come back, there'd be an ill-advised bunt, a questionable pitching change, and an excruciating first-pitch tapper or a backwards K with guys on first and second and two outs, followed by a bullpen blow-up later just in case it didn't hurt enough. Either that or it'd be another one-run heartbreaker. I don't know why it's changed now -- again, there's just too many factors contributing to the turnaround. But Tracy certainly seems to be pushing the right buttons. He figured out just as fast as the rest of us what we all know about Clint Barmes -- that he can't hit a breaking ball -- and managed to overcome it, sticking Clint in the two-hole and encouraging him to just go with the pitch. Similarly, he made a simple suggestion to Tulo -- quit slouching in the batter's box, dammit -- and our golden double-play duo is now paying dividends on both sides of the ball. (I only get to watch their glovework -- and their hitting, for that matter -- on the highlight reel, but every time I do, I'm struck by how much awesome our infield is made of. Stewart's perfected that spin-and-throw-from-the-behind thing, and to watch Barmes and Tulo turn two ranks right up there with the most beautiful sights on God's green earth. Not to mention the Toddfather is still a pickin' machine who must save the cannons from at least half a dozen errors a year).
So, is there a DOWNSIDE to being a Rockies fan right now?
First, the Lemur has been officially decommissioned until the All-Star break NEXT year. Those of you who took a pessimistic appraisal of his prospects of return were sadly proved to be right. As soon as I read that the bullpen session hadn't gone well, I immediately thought those two evil words, Tommy John, and then logged back on this afternoon to see it was already the case. Fortunately, the surgery has been improved and now has a relatively high rate of return, but saying that Taylor Buchholz has a slightly better chance of coming back and pitching effectively than does Jeff Francis isn't the most encouraging thing in the world. Bucky didn't throw an official pitch in purple pinstripes in 2009, after an outstanding year as a setup man in 2008, and no matter how much the bullpen is holding up now, we were all counting on his successful return to help introduce that tricky word, consistency. But now we're just going to have to keep crossing our fingers.
Does this sound horrifying? Well, it is. But it also gets worse. Brace yourself.
Earlier this year, I happened to mention the possibility of a ghastly event. Rox Girl made the mistake of confirming it. And now... THE UNTHINKABLE has happened.
Really. Don't. You will never be the same again.
Aaaaand that's all folks! As it happens, Rockies Review will be superintended by Russ for the next two Sundays, as I return to my gallivanting and carefree ways! This is totally coincidental and has nothing to do with the fact that Rox Girl's ego is coming to kill me! Nothing at all!
/slams bunker hatch
/I'll be back to writing the Review on July 5, a day after I go to my first Rockies game of the year -- fireworks and all!
/If I'm not dead!