What a difference four days makes! While the All-Star Game required only Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado to punch in, the Rockies used the four-day holiday to otherwise refocus on the MLB playoff picture. At 40-48 going into the break, the Rockies were treading water in the hunt, a distant 6th place from the last playoff spot.
Since then, the Rockies have posted the best record in all the majors, going 14-5 after last night’s drilling of the LA Dodgers by a score of 12-2 at Coors Field. Impressive as the run has been, it’s even more so considering the teams that the Rockies have felled along the way. Full disclosure: 6 of those wins have come at the expense of the pathetic Braves. However, this Rockies team has also won: 2 of 3 in Baltimore, 3 of 4 at the Mets, and 2 of 3 from the Dodgers at home. The average winning percentage of those three teams is .546. The wins against the Orioles were perhaps the most impressive, but the wins vs. the Mets and Dodgers are the most meaningful as both teams currently occupy spots in the playoff picture above that of the Rockies.
The question on every fan’s mind right now is: can they keep up this level of play and win a playoff spot? I think the answer is “yes” but it will depend on the Rockies continuing to get quality starts from its surging starting rotation.
The Rockies posted 20 quality starts in July, which is not only a team record for any month but also happens to be what I think is the most important single factor for the team’s success. I’ve written before about the importance of quality starts for this club and I’m happy to say “I told you so.” The Rockies have already collected more quality starts through July than they had all of last year. At the rate they are going, they should end up north of 80, which would be an improvement of about 50% year over year. You can see the results in the win column. With the emergence of Carlos Estevez at closer, the team can now depend on quality arms like Jake McGee’s and Adam Ottavino’s in setup roles. That limits the exposure to a questionable platoon of middle relievers, and THAT has been the key.
Many people like to speculate that it is the offense that drives the Rockies’ success, but that is only partially true. More important for this team’s success has been its pitching quality. As of today, the Rockies rank 9th in the league in ERA- (which happens to be a critical measure for this club, statistically speaking). The last time the Rockies attained a ranking in the top 10, they went to the World Series after winning 90 games.