The Colorado Rockies won a game last night and put an end to the wild card race. Their ride through the summer has been one of the truly great stories of the season. What makes the Rockies' story such an interesting one is how the team started the season and what happened after they fired Clint Hurdle.
The Rockies played 46 games under Hurdle and were ten games under .500. Ten games under! They were 18-28 and everyone (including this writer) was writing them off as a bad team and a major disappointment. Then the Rockies fired Hurdle and made Jim Tracy their manager. Under Tracy, the team has gone 73-40. And the change happened immediately after the manager move too. Well, check that. They won their first two under Tracy, but then lost four in a row. Different manager, same old Rockies, right? Hardly. Then then won eleven in a row and an astounding seventeen out of eighteen.
The astounding run with Tracy is not without precedent. In 1988, the Boston Red Sox were floundering around under John McNamara who was then fired. His replacement, a little known career minor league coach and manager, Joe Morgan, led the team to a 46-31 finish and the AL Championship Series. Ten years earlier, in 1978, the Yankees were in the midst of one of those tumultuous Billy Martin years when Martin was fired. Bob Lemon took over and the Yankees went 48-20 the rest of the way and won the World Series.
Is it the manager? Did just making a new environment make the difference for those clubs and this year's Rockies? Who can say. Ultimately, the players play the games and for one reason or another, the Rockies have played brilliantly since Tracy was installed as manager. The Rockies are first in the league in OPS and second in OBP. All five of their starting pitchers, while not superstars, have ERA+ figures over 100. The bullpen which couldn't buy a save early in the year with blown save after blown save ended up leading the league in saves.
The biggest difference really is that this has become Troy Tulowitzki's team. The shortstop had a terrible year last year and started slowly this year. But the young shortstop has blossomed and his 134 OPS+ matches the fire and intensity that he plays with. Add in a seasoned Todd Helton, the comeback of Huston Street and you have a magical season.
So now it's time for the playoffs and the Rockies certainly have some holes. Like most Rockies' teams of the past, they have an .845 OPS at home and only .723 on the road. Clint Barmes, Ianetta and Fowler have struggled coming down the stretch. They aren't a perfect team, but nobody else is either. No matter what happens in the post season, nobody can take away a Rockies' ride that has been a lot of fun to watch.