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June 23, 2000

NL West Notebook

Rocky Mountain High

by Dave Pease

Rocky Mountain High

Heading into action on May 27, it was shaping up to be another thouroughly mediocre season for the Colorado Rockies. The team sat just over .500 with a record of 23-22, and rivals Arizona and Los Angeles were running away from the pack in the NL West. Despite first baseman Todd Helton's fireworks display and the delayed debut of brittle left fielder/Dante Bichette replacement Jeffrey Hammonds, the team had cause for concern. Right fielder Larry Walker, far and away their best hitter, was in the middle of what would become a month- long stay on the disabled list, and the revamped pitching staff had yet to show a real difference from last year's bunch.

Instead of rolling over, the Rockies have gone 15-6 since then to pass the Dodgers and place themselves firmly in contention for a postseason payoff. What happened?

  • The bullpen. Starting May 27, the Rockies ran off a streak of six straight wins at home, and the bullpen accounted for five of them. It's early, but this bunch is pitching magnificently. The strangest story here has got to be Gabe White, who picked up three of those bullpen wins. Following the Rockies' acquisition of White, we noted that his proclivity for serving up the meatball would probably make his Rockies stay an ugly one.

    It hasn't happened yet. Post-trade, White's numbers are outstanding. He's not giving up runs (1.54 ERA), he's keeping runners off base (22 hits and five walks allowed) and he's given up just three bombs in 35 innings pitched.

    White has been the most prominent success story, but closer Jose Jimenez and banished starter Brian Bohanon have been very effective as well. Overall, the team's bullpen is ranked second in the majors by Michael Wolverton's Re lievers' Run Expectation ratings.

  • The starting five. With ten Quality Starts during the streak, these guys have got to be factored in--especially considering today's offensive climate. Pedro Astacio has matured into the ace we all thought he might become over the last two years, and is the rock this team needs in the rotation. He's led Masato Yoshii, Kevin Jarvis, and the rest of the rotation to their recent successes.

  • The defense. New GM Dan O'Dowd set out last offseason to find players who could catch the ball, and he's been rewarded with an outstanding defensive effort by his team. Center fielder Tom Goodwin, who is also providing surprising offense at the top of the order, is great, and Hammonds has covered the corners with competence. Jeff Cirillo, Neifi Perez, and Helton comprise three-quarters of a good infield, though neither Mike Lansing nor Terry Shumpert are better than average at second base. A groundball- eating left side and fleet feet in the outfield have provided the pitching staff with a lift.

  • Coors Field. The Rox have played 13 of their past 21 games at home, and it's no surprise they've gone 11-2 in those games. The games have been high-scoring, with 182 runs scored by both teams. That's an average of 14 a game. A pattern becomes clear: the starter is frequently knocked out early and the Rockies bully the opposition in the middle and late innings with their deep and talented bullpen.

Colorado has leveraged its strengths extremely well during the streak, and the team's home record now stands at a league-best 25-8 overall. We may finally see what some have been predicting since a major-league franchise was awarded to Colorado: a team constructed to take advantage of the massive outlier that is it's home park. It's tough to say what the perfect Colorado roster would be, but it stands to reason that there are players who will take more advantage of the rarified air than others. Since these players don't get the same results playing in a normal stadium, the Rockies organization should be able to get more out of them--and the dollar values associated with their contracts--than anyone else. O'Dowd may have found that winning formula in the bones of last season's 72-90 club and his Big Dig-scale rebuilding project over the offseason.

I still have trouble taking the Rox too seriously. They remain impotent on the road, and that's going to get them into trouble once they cool off. But this organization looks to have made some serious progress in breaking the Coors Field code, and that's as promising a factor to have on your side as you'll find in the majors.

Dave Pease can be reached at dpease@baseballprospectus.com.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dave's other articles. You can contact Dave by clicking here

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