Colorado Rockies on a tear
AP Sports Writer
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado – When Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle as Colorado’s manager, GM Dan O’Dowd said he wasn’t expecting miracles.
The Rockies were 10 games under .500 and threatening to become irrelevant before June even started.
The Rockies won 18 of their first 23 under their new skipper, including an incredible 16-1 streak heading into a West Coast trip starting in Anaheim on Monday night.
Tracy likes to deflect credit, but there’s no hiding that it took him half as many games to win 18 times as it took Hurdle, who was fired with the Rockies in last place in the NL West at 18-28.
“I just asked them to play the game correctly. And I’ve asked them to play the game unselfishly, and I’ve asked them to get a little bit more aggressive offensively,” Tracy said. “And we’ve done an unbelievable job of that.”
Colorado won eight straight on the road before an 8-1 homestand that was most memorable for Todd Helton’s game-winning ninth-inning homer Saturday night against Pittsburgh that recalled his similar shot against the Los Angeles Dodgers that ignited their Rocktober run to the 2007 World Series.
After Tampa Bay snapped their winning streak at 11 last week, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki shrugged and suggested, “We’ll just start another streak tomorrow.”
A familiar refrain, but about as believable as their contention a month ago that they were really a good team that just happened to be playing bad baseball.
Just as Tulowitzki envisioned, the Rockies reeled off five straight wins.
“It’s nice to show up and go out and expect to win every day,” second baseman Clint Barmes said.
The Rockies credit their dramatic turnaround to the change in atmosphere that followed the switch in managers on May 29.
They’re not as uptight on the field nor in the clubhouse. They show up at the ballpark expecting to win rather than wondering if they’re in the starting lineup.
That’s a welcome change from the days under Hurdle, who constantly juggled his lineup in what sometimes seemed like a frantic search for the right mix that would bring back some of the magic of that memorable month two summers ago when they won their first NL pennant.
Tracy benched slumping third baseman Garrett Atkins and replaced him with emerging slugger Ian Stewart. Tracy made Barmes his everyday second baseman and he carved out more at-bats for outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who came over from Oakland in the Matt Holliday trade that also netted closer Huston Street.
“It’s a blast right now,” said Street, who converted 16 of his first 17 save chances. “Twenty days ago, not that it was no fun, but we’ve been waiting for this. We’ve been saying it, almost ad naseum, to where people were saying, “Uh-huh, you guys are almost there, sure.’ But we really felt that and believed it.”
The Rockies are playing sound fundamental baseball under Tracy.
They move runners over. They’re aggressive at the plate without expanding their strike zones. They’re driving opposing starters’ pitch counts high early in games. They’re fighting off good pitches and when they see a mistake, they make ’em pay.’
Defensively, they’re not giving teams extra outs or extra pitches.
And with their starting pitchers going deep into games, their bullpen has finally settled into a good rhythm.
Leading Colorado’s resurgence is right fielder Brad Hawpe and right-hander Jason Marquis (9-4), who has reached the playoffs in all nine of his major league seasons and has no intention of seeing that streak snapped this summer.
A month ago, it looked like he’d have to get traded to keep that streak alive. Now, the Rockies could just as easily end up being buyers as sellers at the trade deadline next month.
Ryan Spilborghs said everything’s different since Tracy took over and the Rockies started winning.
“The food tastes better. The water tastes better. Your family looks nicer to you,” he said. “Everything about baseball on and off the field is a lot more enjoyable.”
Tulowitzki has benefited tremendously from the change at the top. He’s starting to look like the player who led Colorado to the World Series as a rookie in ’07 thanks to some tweaking from Tracy, who got his shortstop to stand higher in the batting box and inch his hands up a bit so that he swings down through the ball instead of swooping underneath it.
The result is that he’s driving pitches between the power alleys with renewed authority, and that’s rubbing off on other parts of his game, which in turn, leads the way for his teammates to follow suit.
“We’re definitely playing with more confidence, with some swagger,” Tulowitzki said.
Upon his promotion, Tracy said his top priority was to get the Rockies to establish an identity. They’ve done that and more – they’ve established an expectation level.
They don’t see these past three weeks as an aberration but as a revelation.
“It’s not like there is a secret magic rabbit that we pull out,” Spilborghs said. “We have a group of good people and when you get them playing like they are capable of and not doing more than what they should, you tend to go on streaks like this.”
The question on many people’s minds after the Birds of Prey giant slalom at Beaver Creek on Sunday: Who is Tommy Ford?