Never-say-die Rockies in the midst of another unbelievable turnaround
The Rockies are a 53-26 since Jim Tracy took over
Two of the most interesting free agents this winter may be general managers
Are the Red Sox tiring of Papelbon's act so much that they'd deal him?
When a team is struggling and falling far behind in the standings, its players will often invoke the Colorado Rockies, the team most famous for coming out of nowhere to make it to the World Series. Players on these fading teams inevitably suggest they could become the new Rockies. But few do.
The Mets were saying it for the longest time before they finally stopped saying it. Then a few days ago, the Cubs' Ted Lilly started suggesting that they also could become the new Rockies, the team that won 21 of 22 games back in 2007 to become the biggest surprise entrant in any October derby. Lilly's prediction aside, the Cubs show no signs of repeating the Rockies' resurrection.
That's the new drill, though. Every team that's an early disappointment is on the verge of becoming the new Rockies in their minds. But guess what?
This year's Rockies are, in fact, the Rockies.
The Rockies are the team that again made a sudden turn after appearing to be on the road to oblivion back in May. They are repeating history, once again coming out of nowhere. They are again clearing every hurdle in establishing themselves as the wild-card favorite in a wild National League derby (and suddenly a definite contender in the division race).
Ryan Spilborghs' walk-off grand slam in the 14th inning to cap off a comeback Monday night put them four games in front of San Francisco in the wild card. And now, after making it two extra-inning walk-off wins with a 5-4 victory over the first-place Dodgers Tuesday, they actually only trail Los Angeles by two games in the NL West, quite a feat for a team that once trailed the Dodgers by 15.
A lot of folks are surprised about the turnaround. Though, not all. "They are solid in all areas," one competing GM notes. "They have solid starting pitching that's a little underrated. They have a deep lineup that matches up well, left and right. It's not a team that has a weakness."
But man, does it have a strength or two. While de facto ace Aaron Cook had to go to the disabled list the other day, the Rockies have received surprisingly excellent performances from the talented Ubaldo Jimenez plus Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Marquis and Jason Hammel in a rotation that has been startlingly effective.
Their player development system, under oddly anonymous executive Bill Geivett, has been among the most productive in baseball, and GM Dan O'Dowd has made more worthwhile trades than anyone this year. The Matt Holliday deal has worked out shockingly well for the Rockies, as Huston Street leads the National League in saves and Carlos (The Knife) Gonzalez looks like budding star. But the less-heralded deals for Marquis and Hammel have been important, as well. Marquis, 14-8, came for reliever Luis Vizcaino, who was long ago released by the struggling Cubs. Marquis has 19 quality starts, which is tied for third-most in the NL behind Tim Lincecum (21) and Josh Johnson (20). Rafael Betancourt, acquired from Cleveland in July, didn't allow a run in his first 14 appearances.
Overall, the Rockies rotation has more quality starts than anyone, with 77, a stunning stat for team that used to be swallowed up by Coors Field. But if the humidor changed the Coors game, it was the succession of smart moves that made the Rockies a surprise contender. Clint Hurdle was a fine manager for nearly a decade in Colorado, but perhaps the message was being lost, as it tends to after awhile. So he was let go with the team at 19-28. The ascension of interim Jim Tracy might not have seemed like an inspired choice at the time, but who's saying that now? The Rockies are a 53-26 since Tracy took over (the best in the NL in that time span).
Tracy established a couple more definitive roles, and it's worked wonders. For one, he moved long-forgotten Clint Barmes into the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Barmes was hottest during turnaround time, batting .338 in a stretch where the Rockies began their push back to respectability. And Barmes and star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki now comprise the most dangerous double-play combo in baseball, with 21 and 23 home runs, respectively. Tulowitzki has emerged as a big-time player again after a difficult sophomore season, in which he hit only eight home runs and injured himself while slamming his bat into a concrete slab.
All of 24, Tulo is a bona fide comeback candidate. And longtime star Todd Helton is, too.
That makes sense. This, after all, is the team that's known for comebacks.
O'Dowd, Colletti could be in demand as free agents
O'Dowd and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti could be two of the more interesting free agents this winter. The field of free-agent players is unusually weak this season, but the crop of GMs who could be free is its strongest in years, especially in the NL West, where Giants GM Brian Sabean's contract is also expiring.
Colletti, Sabean's former top lieutenant up in San Francisco, has done a consistently good job lately without a typical big-market payroll. He has a mutual option in his contract for 2010, meaning both sides have to exercise it for him to return under that salary. He's got one of the toughest jobs in baseball working for Frank McCourt, but McCourt is expected to try to bring Colletti back.
O'Dowd's deal is also up. But one competing GM said, "I would be shocked if they didn't offer him an extension.. (The Colorado bosses) seem pretty happy with the state of the franchise."
As well they should be.
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