DENVER - If you are a Colorado Rockies fan, you might have woken up on Monday morning asking yourself a few questions.
What just happened?
How did this happen?
Is this real life?
Will this continue?
In brief, the Colorado club just produced one of the most impressive stretches of baseball in franchise history---and recent MLB history---by trusting in their core group of talents, refusing to panic, and hitting their stride at the right time. It is, indeed, real life and it might just lead straight to their first ever National League West division title.
But let us pour inside some of the details about this flurry of wins and how they inform some of the major debating points that have surrounded this team all year.
What Just Happened?
The Rockies just went 30-16 in a stretch of 46 consecutive games played against teams with at least a .500 record, that's what just happened. That many games in a row against winning teams with a winning record is an NL record.
It featured a 3-1 series win over the NL West bullies, the Los Angeles Dodgers, that easily could have been 4-0 and culminated in a four-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves, something the Rockies had never achieved before. In fact, they only have one three-game sweep in Atlanta and that came back in 1997.
It began on the road inside the division in a series they actually lost in San Francisco and also saw them kick away incredibly winnable games in Milwaukee and St. Louis, which can either sour the point or drive home that Colorado could have come out of this even hotter.
Whether it was sweeping the Oakland A's, taking five of six from the surging Seattle Mariners, or splitting a home-away four-game set with the defending champion Houston Astros, the Rockies proved quite concretely that when they play like this---which still arguably is not at their absolute best---they can hang with anybody.
How Did It Happen?
While the starting pitching has been the most consistent driving force for success on this team going back to last year, they've been getting contributions from just about everyone in order to make this happen.
Posting a 3.52 ERA from the starters over this stretch and a 3.75 team ERA (including some big bullpen blowups) since June 28, the Rockies have been the third-best pitching team in the NL for a while now. But that's even before you start to account for Coors Field.
But c'mon man, didn't they just get lucky a bunch?
In a vacuum, sure. The odds of winning the third game in Atlanta, for example, down to their final out in the top of the ninth were about 0.4 percent. But the notion the Rockies have had an inordinate amount of ninth-inning luck this season is a laughable one to anyone who has been following this team from the beginning.
If anything, the more dramatic late comeback wins were a bit of karmic retribution for the entire month of June. The Rockies are now tied with the Dodgers at 23 for the second-most blown saves in MLB. The Giants lead the pack with 26.
But, in reality, the Rockies simply had too many players who weren't contributing anywhere near their best, let alone their career averages, early in the season combined with an exciting group of young players that have finally started to come into their own.
Leading the way, Trevor Story has reached base safely in 16 straight games and is batting .326 since May 15, fourth in the Majors, second in NL. Since June 28, Trevor Story’s .352 average leads the National League. That includes a.385 rate on the road. He has hit safely in 18 of his last 21 road games with .442 on-base and .692 slugging percentages.
That matched a resurgence from Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu that itself matched the emergence of David Dahl and Ryan McMahon---all of whom came up with huge clutch hits in the last couple of weeks---to help improve the Rockies to 21-12 in one-run games.
Veterans Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra have done their part as well with some big base hits, providing a rotation of younger and more experienced players that allows the Rockies to mix and match and keep their guys closer to full strength, helping to win more games on the margins and power through long bits of schedule with no off days.
This is all before we get to a subtle but not-at-all complete turnaround for the bullpen that suggests this team actually has a higher ceiling if they can get their most expensive arms right.
Seunghwan Oh has been a steadying force and Scott Oberg has finally taken the reigns as the go-to bridge between the starters and the backend. Fighting through some setbacks, Adam Ottavino continues to look like a pitcher whose exclusion from the All-Star game should be embarrassing for MLB. Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, while still more hittable than they've been throughout most of their careers, are finding ways to finish innings.
And Wade Davis, despite some pretty gnarly collapses, is now comfortably the National League leader in saves with 35.
Oh...and Nolan Arenado. This team still has Nolan Arenado.
Is This Real Life?
...or we are all living in a Matrix-style simulation that is having some kind of Rockies-oriented glitch.
Will This Continue?
Probably. This isn't just a hot stretch.
No one player, with the possible exception of Story, has gone truly nuclear.
Arenado has just two home runs in August. Blackmon and LeMahieu are still looking for their rhythm. Parra and Desmond have had enough offensive slumps that there is still a growing movement to let the young players start every day (which would hinder their depth but that's a conversation for another time) and the aforementioned bullpen woes have by no means been fully ironed out.
Jon Gray was on fire after returning from Triple-A but has managed to find success despite cooling off a bit. Kyle Freeland went through a stretch where he couldn't pitch more than five innings. Tyler Anderson has given two of his last three starts away almost before they even began. Chad Bettis had one of those as well in his return from the DL.
The Rockies aren't playing above their heads. They may not even be playing at their heads yet.
With the possible exception of catcher---depending on how you feel about the more subtle but more important aspects of the position---the Colorado Rockies don't have any major weaknesses.
And now we come to the truly crazy part: This team can add more talent in September. And we're not talking about some nice young pieces that may be a thing one day. We are talking about highly-rated across all of baseball prodigious hitters like Brendan Rodgers, Raimel Tapia, and Tom Murphy. We're talking about pitchers who will almost certainly play major roles down the stretch and in the future in Carlos Estevez, Sam Howard, and potentially even Peter Lambert.
And we're talking about the best player on the best team in franchise history; Matt Holliday.
It was this insane amount of potential, and (of course) this schedule that had me saying before August began that Colorado needed to simply survive the month. Instead, they've thrived.
Yes, there is still a hill to climb for Mountain Kings, but the division is theirs to win now.