~ by Rick Langenberg ~
The drought is over and the Denver Broncos may have a little competition in order to snag the center stage of the Colorado sports arena. No pressure, there John Elway, just win baby, or folks may come to the stands with baseball bats singing chants from America’s classic game.
The Colorado Rockies baseball team will square off with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday evening for the NL Wild Card championship. Jon Gray, the Rocks’ star young hurler, will head to the hill for the Rocks, and face Zack Grienke. Go get ‘m Jon, and get those bats loosened up Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. Both of the latter Rocks sluggers are vying for the top NL Most Valuable Player of the year award.
The Rockies’ playoff-bound accomplishment didn’t exactly occur in the most dramatic fashion. Their official berth in the playoffs came due to an amazing comeback by the St. Louis Cardinals, who rose from a 6-0 deficit to overtake the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturdayafternoon. The Brewers faced a dormy predicament, courtesy of some outstanding play in the last week by the Rocks.
As a result of the Cardinals move, the Rockies were spared the reality of having to beat the evil empire and the evil pitcher, Clayton Kershaw and the LA Dodgers.
For the record, this marks the Rocks first playoff berth since 2009, and the first time they have snagged a winning record since 2010. During this drought, the Rockies have dealt with three different skippers and a plethora of theories and Monday morning quarterbacking, regarding what it would take to resurrect the team.
The hero of the Rockies’ amazing resurgence is head skipper Bud Black, who appeared to calm a few nerves when the Rockies were clearly choking in mid-September and appeared ready to relinquish their second wild card spot. “This is baseball” is a comment Black has made on many occasions, when the media kept coaxing him to grapple with a potential meltdown. Black, contrary to previous skipper Walt Weiss, has relished joking with the media, treating them like their beloved uncle, but never giving away any secrets.
Plus, Black displayed an amazing tack in coaching a young baseball pitching staff, who have performed collectively better than any other throwing crew in the history of the Rockies. The story of cancer survivor Chad Bettis also appeared to inspire the team. Black, a veteran manager, is the first head skipper who featured a strong pitching background. Why didn’t the Rocks make a move like this before?
For the record, the Rockies always have been a playoff contender all year long. Up until mid-June, the team maintained the first place spot in the extremely competitive National League West (which will sport three teams in the playoffs), but then the Dodgers went on a winning rampage that was unmatched. As of this writing, they still had a chance to win top laurels as the team with the most wins for 2017, allowing them to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Rockies this year have never quite resembled the dream team of 2017 that made it to the World Series, an event fueled by one of the most amazing late season win streaks in America, winning something like 22 out of 23 games.
But they are much more steady than past Rockies playoff-bound teams, and avoid lengthy losing periods.
Their young starting pitching, with the likes of Gray, German Marquez, Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson and Bettis, have been surprisingly quite impressive
And let’s not forget rookie ace Kyle Freeland, now part of the relief staff. As a starter, Freeland came two outs from recording a no-hitter last summer.
The one sad fact of the forthcoming playoff season: This could mark the grand finale for outfielder Carlos Gonzalez in a Rockies uniform. Cargo is without question one of the most popular and fan-friendly Rockies, whose multi-million dollar contract ends at the end of 2017. Cargo clearly struggled through most of the season, but has found his impeccable timing in the last month or so.
As for my predictions, I am hedging my bets on a Rockies victory against the Diamondbacks with the resounding Rockies’ bat action and the throwing wizardry of Gray. But then prepare for a sweep by the Dodgers.
Gray is on a roll, a fact that has impressed me personally. I actually witnessed the game in spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona during which Gray suffered a terrible toe injury against the Giants, which sidelined him for several months. Otherwise, Gray may have been looking at 15-plus wins. Initially, questions swirled around about his future. But the young ace thrower has clearly recovered.
If the Rocks prevail against Arizona, then they will confront Kershaw on Friday evening. Kershaw is seeking revenge big-time, so don’t look for any wins there. During his last two outings against the Rocks, the Rocks have gotten under his skin. On Saturday night’s rather meaningless game (with both teams assured playoff spots, prior to the opening pitch), the Rocks pounded Kershaw as if he was a mere AAA thrower, sending Clayton to the bench after four innings.
Unfortunately, there is nothing worse than a mad Kershaw. Look for Clayton to pitch a three-hitter, if he faces the Rockies. Clayton, although he is the biggest arrogant snob in baseball, is fun to watch. He still sports the most bizarre pitching wind-up style in baseball. It almost conjures up images of an unorthodox golf swing that may even rival the likes of Lee Trevino or TMJ’s own Charlie Chambers.
Regardless of what happens, 2017 marked a big resurgence for the Rockies, who have brought good times back to Coors Field.
As for other playoff predictions, the Dodgers will beat the Washington Nationals for the NL Championship. Washington will easily destroy the Cubs. The Dodgers/Nationals series could be interesting to watch, as both of these teams are victims of playoff jitters. In other words, they stink in the playoffs. But their pitching staffs are tough to beat.
For the AL, the path must be carved through Cleveland. But look out for the Yankees who will win the AL Wild Card Championship game and do well in the playoffs. The Yanks are hungry and they now have former Rockies slugger Matt Holliday, even if he is still regarded as the Benedict Arnold of the Colorado Rockies’ organization.