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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.

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