If the MLB season is a rollercoaster full of ups and downs, the 2018 Colorado Rockies are bungie jumping off the Empire State Building.
The season has been less of a slow-rolling amusement park ride as it has a thrill-seeking jump taking the team to the lowest of lows before quickly snapping them back up to immaculate heights.
Colorado just completed what is likely its most important series of the season – winning three of four from the Los Angeles Dodgers to pull 1/2 game behind their divisional foes and 1 1/2 games back from first-place Arizona.
The series win came on the heels of a stretch that saw the Rockies lose seven of 10 games, including three walk-offs in the span of five days. Against the Dodgers, though, it was the Rockies who had a flare for the theatrics.
Thursday’s series-opening defeat left fans with a sour taste they are all too familiar with. Six innings of one-run baseball from Tyler Anderson and a three-run lead were squandered by the bullpen in an 8-5 defeat as Colorado’s bullpen – the highest paid in the MLB – dropped to the second-worst ERA in baseball.
Things seemed to worsen Friday when Nolan Arenado left the game with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Ryan McMahon. An unlikely hero emerged, though, as McMahon hit game-winning home runs in back-to-back contests – a two-run home run in the seventh inning Friday followed by a walk-off, three-run shot Saturday – to revitalize the team’s NL West hopes.
Colorado capped the series with another walk-off win Sunday in the form of a bases-loaded walk to Chris Iannetta. The four-game set pulled Colorado closer to the top of the NL West, a place the team hasn’t been since June 6.
More importantly, it proved the Rockies can compete with baseball’s best.
When Colorado made minimal moves at the July 31 trade deadline – acquiring reliever Seunghwan Oh and signing outfielder Matt Holliday to a minor league contract – Rockies believers turned into curmudgeonly skeptics. Matters got worse when the Dodgers, D-Backs and a host of other NL contenders bolstered their rosters at the same time.
Manny Machado and Brian Dozier solidified the Dodgers as one of the MLB’s most talented rosters while the Rockies embarked on an ugly losing streak that began to sink their chances of a NL West crown.
But the lengthened weekend series over the talented Dodgers pulled the Rockies away from the abyss and towards the top of the division. The matter in which they won is just as important as the wins themselves.
Colorado finished the series with three consecutive one-run victories. For a team that has watched late leads slip away time and time again, the strong finishes from the bullpen could revitalize its confidence moving forward.
In the three victories, Colorado’s relievers surrendered two earned runs over seven innings, all of which were pitched under intense pressure of one-run baseball.
They couldn’t afford to make costly mistakes, and for the most part, they didn’t. For comparison, the same relievers surrendered five runs in two innings pitched in the first game of the series.
If the confidence gained from the three victories over then first-place Los Angeles extends through the remaining month-and-a-half of baseball, Colorado could finally piece together a complete team where everyone is hot at the same time.
Save for a few games throughout the season, relief pitching, starting pitching and offense have rarely all clicked at once. It’s something players have touched on throughout the season, and if it happens this late in the schedule, everyone knows the impacts of a baseball team on a streak.
The Rockies’ upcoming six-game road trip against Houston and Atlanta – two teams leading their respective divisions – may be the biggest test of the season, especially considering the Dodgers and D-Backs face significantly less competition over the same period.
Riding the high of their most important series win to date, this could easily prove to be the make-or-break point of a year full of trenches and skyscrapers.