The Colorado Rockies are currently leading the National League West division by 0.5 game over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rockies have 13 games left, the Dodgers 12. Three of those games will be against each other this week at Dodger Stadium. The Rockies have never won a division title in 25 previous seasons. The Dodgers are going for their sixth straight division title. The stakes don’t get much higher than this.
In fact, for the Rockies, they have probably never been higher. This morning, we published a series preview that said the series that starts tonight is the most important one of the season. More than one reply on Twitter said that it may be the most important series in Rockies history.
Looking back at 25 years of division-title-less history, there aren’t many competitors for the title “Most Important Regular Season Series in Franchise History.” Rather than give in to recency bias and declare this series the winner, let’s look back at those other candidates. The Rockies have nine winning seasons in 26 years, including this year, and have made the playoffs in four of those and came tragically close in another. Three series in particular stand above the rest.
September 25-27, 1995: at Los Angeles
The Rockies first trip to the playoffs came in a year that was shortened by the 1994 players strike that cost the previous year’s World Series. It was the first year of three divisions per league and the first of the Wild Card era and it represents the closest the Rockies have ever come to winning a division title.
The Rockies at one point in July held a five game lead over had spent all but two days between August 30 and September 24 at least tied for first place. Heading into their three game set for the penultimate series of the season, their division lead over the Dodgers stood at a 0.5 game (sound familiar?). They lost the first game of the series 4-3, even though they brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the seventh and ninth innings. They won the next game 7-3 to regain the division lead thanks to five runs in the final four innings. Unfortunately the Dodgers took the division lead for good the next day, beating the Rockies 7-4. To take a half game lead.
Had the Rockies been able to win one more game over the 65-75 Giants, they would’ve at least tied for the division, forcing a play-off for the title. Instead, they split their four game set, including a dramatic 10-9 victory on the last day of the season, and settled for their first ever Wild Card. It would be 12 years before they ever got close again.
September 28-30, 2007: vs. Arizona
Most (if not all) readers of this site remember fondly the Rockies miraculous run to the 2007 National League pennant in which they won 21 of 22 games. What we tend to forget (perhaps intentionally) is the team went into the final series of the year with a chance, despite being 6 1⁄2 games back on September 15, to win the division. They had already won 11 in a row, seven over the Dodgers and four over the Padres, to leapfrog them both in the division standings. If they lost this series to the Dbacks, their season was, likely, over. A sweep and the Rockies would also pass the Diamondbacks for their first division title.
Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed quickly, as Arizona won the first game of the series 4-2 to claim their fourth division title. But the drama wasn’t done! The Rockies still needed to win the next two games to force the now famous Game 163 and claim just their second ever postseason appearance. Perhaps it would’ve been too much to ask for them to win 14 in a row, but if they had we might not have gotten this.
October 2-4, 2009: at Los Angeles
On June 3, 2009, the Rockies were 20-32 and a staggering 15.5 games out of first place already. They had let go of manager Clint Hurdle less than a week before. Then they went an NL best 71-36 to clinch a playoff spot on September 30. That put them two games back of the Dodgers with three games in LA remaining; once again, they would need a sweep in the last series of the year to clinch a division title.
They managed to win the first game of the series 4-3, thanks in large part to six innings and 10 strikeouts from Ubaldo Jimenez. But the next day was all pitching, as a 16-9 Jorge De La Rosa lined up against an 8-8 21-year-old lefty by the name of Clayton Kershaw. Jorge had to leave in the fourth with groin tightness and Kershaw went six, striking out 10. But it was Franklin Morales’ five-run seventh inning that gave the Dodgers their second straight division title under Joe Torre. The Rockies went on to the NLDS as the Wild Card and we’ll just stop talking about that now.
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These are the regular season series that have had the largest impact on the Rockies history. The context tells us they were no doubt very important series at the time, even though we have the benefit of hindsight to see just how important they turned out to be. Considering there’s two weeks left in the season it’s a wonder that this week’s three-game set at Chavez Ravine is in the mix with these three series that were all either the last or second-to-last series of the season. Maybe on October 1 we’ll look back and see another series as even more important to the Rockies’ playoff fate. But for now, it’s clear that these next three games are among the biggest the Rockies have ever played in the regular season.
What was/is the most important regular season series in Rockies history
This poll is closed
September 25-27, 1995
September 28-30, 2007
October 2-4, 2009
September 17-19, 2018
Other (in the comments)