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Rockies 2 games out of NL wild card spot at break

PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer

DENVER, Colorado – Be wary of what’s voiced in front of Jim Tracy. As Ian Stewart found out, it just might end up on a T-shirt.

Sitting next to the Colorado Rockies manager in the dugout one day, Stewart uttered the word “sick” after a dazzling play in the field.

The slang word for awesome struck Tracy as funny. Soon he was handing out gray shirts with the term stenciled across the front.

The expression is fitting since the team has been playing “sick” baseball since Tracy took over for Clint Hurdle on May 29, going 29-13 and climbing back into the playoff picture.

They were once a floundering squad on the verge of becoming irrelevant before the calendar even flipped to July.

But Rocktober came early this season.

Soon after Tracy took over, the Rockies caught fire and went on a streak reminiscent of their run that propelled them to the World Series in 2007. Colorado captured 17 of 18 at one point, including 11 straight.

Now they’re in third place in the NL West, nine games behind baseball’s best team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rockies are also just two games behind San Francisco in the wild card race.

“I personally feel very strong there’s more to come,” said Tracy, whose team is 47-41 at the All-Star break.

This club has become a carbon copy of Tracy – loose and laid back.

They’re not as uptight in the clubhouse, and it spills over onto the field.

With Hurdle, the lineup seemed to be a work in progress, changing often.

Tracy has opted for stability, making Clint Barmes his everyday second baseman and starting Stewart at third over Garrett Atkins, who’s showing signs of emerging from his season-long slump.

“Just the atmosphere and the chemistry in the clubhouse has been great,” Barmes said.

The Rockies did some soul searching after Hurdle was fired. Breaking from spring training, the team thought they had the talent to make another postseason run.

Instead, they limped to an 18-28 mark. It didn’t take long to figure out the culprits – themselves.

“We couldn’t help but turn it around. We were so bad, we were playing so far under our potential and our ability,” said reliever Huston Street, who arrived from Oakland in the Matt Holliday trade and has converted 22 of 23 save chances. “It was one of the strangest things where everybody wasn’t playing that well, other than a few guys.”

Namely, All-Stars Brad Hawpe and Jason Marquis. They’ve been dependable all season.

Hawpe has been clutch at the plate, coming through with a major-league leading 33 two-out RBIs. He won the game Sunday against Atlanta with a double in the ninth, sending the team into the break on a high note.

Marquis has emerged as the staff ace after being acquired in the offseason. He’s tied for the league lead in wins (11) and has two complete games.

The 30-year-old righty also brings a competitive flair, reaching the postseason in all nine of his major league seasons – a streak he has no intentions of snapping.

“I’m a competitor. I want to win,” Marquis said. “I’ve always wanted to win wherever I’ve been. I’ve brought that attitude with me.”

Marching to Marquis’ beat, the starting rotation has been highly reliable this season, going deep into games. Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel also have complete games.

Ubaldo Jimenez has looked sharp in the first half, despite a 6-9 record, while Jorge De La Rosa keeps holding onto the fifth spot with solid performances.

“I said it in spring training that potentially this could be the best rotation I’ve ever had” in Colorado, said Bob Apodaca, who’s in his seventh season as the team’s pitching coach. “I’m staying by that comment.”

With the trade deadline approaching later this month, the Rockies might be in the market for another reliever. They lost Alan Embree over the weekend when a line drive fractured his right tibia.

Manuel Corpas could be back after the break, though. He’s been out since June with bone spurs in his right elbow.

It’s not like the starters are giving the bullpen much work anyway.

“We want to finish what we start,” Marquis said. “It irks the bullpen because they aren’t getting as many innings as they want.”

In the midst of their winning streak, the Rockies were missing one of their leaders – catcher Yorvit Torrealba. He left the team to attend to matters involving the kidnapping and safe recovery of his son, Yorvit Eduardo – who turns 12 on Tuesday – in Venezuela.

Torrealba just recently returned to playing, and his son is constantly by his side.

“It’s great, knowing your family is around you and you don’t have to wonder how they’re doing,” Torrealba said.

The switch to Tracy has benefited Troy Tulowitzki, who’s blossoming at the plate after a frigid start. Tracy got him to stand upright in the batter’s box, and his powerful swing instantly returned. Tulowitzki’s 16 homers this season leads all major league shortstops.

The team has also received a boost of youthful energy from the legs of Dexter Fowler and a dose of veteran leadership from Todd Helton.

Fowler leads NL rookies in numerous categories, including stolen bases (20). Helton is showing that his back has recovered from offseason surgery, hitting .319 with 10 homers.

The constantly grinning Fowler takes his success in stride.

“We’re having fun,” Fowler said. “If one guy doesn’t get it done, the other guy will.”

Stewart couldn’t agree more.

“We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves,” Stewart said. “You can see what kind of team we can be.”

A team that’s playing “sick” baseball.


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