Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, long the two faces of the Colorado Rockies organization from a player perspective, weren't in the lineup on Memorial Day. Truth be told, they haven't been too good -- this season, at least -- even when they have been on the field.
That's why, when Walt Weiss' lineup for the Rockies series opener against the Cincinnati Reds was unveiled, I wasn't as ... um, hesitant? ... as I ordinarily would be upon seeing Ben Paulsen hitting cleanup with Wilin Rosario and Brandon Barnes hitting directly behind him (in addition to Daniel Descalso's presence on the card). Colorado, quite frankly, has been in need of a spark for quite some time, regardless of the source.
Paulsen, Barnes and Descalso have provided that in spark in recent days. Good on them; even if their performance isn't sustainable (not directly saying it isn't but ... well, you know), it's great to see players putting together good at-bats, taking what the pitchers give them and flashing a kind of energy that the team has been sorely missing.
But the player who has really put the Rockies on his back lately is the man who may soon end up being the next face of the organization. After breaking out of a slump by going 4-for-5 with a homer and four runs batted in on Sunday, Nolan Arenado continued to wreak havoc on opposing pitchers on Monday while helping the Rockies to their third straight win.
Arenado finished 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBI, including the eventual game winner on a sacrifice fly against dominant Reds closer Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning. Arenado was hitting just .216/.275/.419 in May prior to his breakout in the series finale against the Giants but believes he has righted the ship.
"Probably selection," Arenado said when asked about the biggest difference in his performance at the plate. "I'm just trying to hit the ball hard and stay up the middle."
Arenado was the benefactor of some good luck on Monday but also clobbered a home run to left field for the second consecutive game, showing he's in a better place offensively. He swatted the ball all over the field on Sunday, lending credence to his comments.
Despite his highly respectable .287/.329/.541 batting line, defense of course remains Arenado's strong suit. On Sunday, the two-time Gold Glove winner again did not fail to disappoint.
First, it was a diving snag to his left on a scorching line drive from Billy Hamilton, whom Arenado was playing to bunt. Then, the Rockies' third baseman one-upped teammate Brandon Barnes -- and himself -- by flying into the stands to snare a foul ball.
Basically, it was a typical day at the hot corner for the 24-year-old defensive wizard. Let's not forget that he already fought the crowd -- and the tarp -- while making a similarly terrific catch in San Francisco earlier this season.
"It was two different plays; I didn't go that hard, like the other one," Arenado told MLB.com's Thomas Harding after the game. "I just got to reach over and the momentum took me over [the wall]. But I got the out. That's all that matters."
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Entering Monday, Arenado had accumulated 10 defensive runs saved, leading all National League third basemen and establishing a pace that would put him ahead of his performance in 2013, when he finished 30 runs above average. Arenado's play at the hot corner has resulted in a league-leading 1.2 defensive rWAR. Other defensive metrics, such as those presented by Fangraphs, see Arenado in a similar light; he leads NL third basemen in UZR (4.5) and fielding runs (5.5).
In short, Arenado is good at baseball. Really good at baseball, in fact. And, judging by his performance at the plate this season relative to his age, he's only getting better. That bodes well for the near future, which will almost inevitably unfold with Arenado displacing Tulo and CarGo as the Rockies' biggest star.