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Thursday Rockpile: Closing the second playoff avenue for some competition...

At the beginning of a season, teams will typically look to their division title as the path of least resistant to the playoffs. The reason is simply a matter of less competition. Your team only has to be really good compared to three to five other teams rather than a dozen. Still, there's that plan B in the Wild Card sitting at the back of their minds if one of their divisional foes proves too difficult a challenge to overcome.

This is the case of your 2009 Rockies, who are in plan B mode, even if they would never admit as much. It behooves them, then to cut off this secondary playoff path to as many other teams as they can early and this four game set with the Braves provides an opportunity to do just that.

So today we start a series against a team that's still focusing on their plan A, but is trying to ignore that their plan B may be moving out of reach. The Braves are four games behind Philadelphia for the NL East, but five behind the Giants for the wild card. They are looking to come into town and gain ground on the Phillies:

"We need to get this cut back down to two by the break if we can," manager Bobby Cox said. "You're not out of this until you're 12 or 13 games out. That first year we won the division (in 1991), we were (9 1/2 games) out at the break."

and the only way they can figure on doing that is by winning a series in Denver.  On the other hand, the Rockies (and Cardinals and Giants) are in a position to break the NL into four tiers rather than the three (Dodgers/middle pack/trailers) we've been seeing for the last few weeks. Okay, Washington's probably on their own tier also, but you get what I'm saying.

A series win or a sweep by the Rockies puts them at least eight games over .500 at the All Star break, and the Giants and Cardinals could be right in that neighborhood as well with winning series. This would break them into a lead pack heading into the final months of the season. Tracy Ringolsby asks what would be enough in this series, I think three wins should be the target to start making this wild card chase a three team race.

The competition isn't worried:

Variations on a theme of a team meeting focusing on offense:

DENVER -- Setting aside Wednesday's offensive outburst against the worst team in the majors, Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy is right to worry slightly about his team's hitting of late..

you can probably tell that one's a little on the pessimistic side.

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