The Rockies return to the postseason

The Colorado Rockies surprised the MLB faithful by winning the wild card in the National League (NL) to advance to the playoffs. On Saturday, the Rockies swept the Philadelphia Phillies to win the NL Championship Series. These wins are shocking to baseball fans because over the past decade, the Rockies have arguably been one of the worst MLB teams.

Until this year, the Rockies had only made the playoffs once in their franchise history. They have one of the league’s lowest payrolls, and they heavily invest in unsuccessful players like Mike Hampton. So what makes the 2007 season different? In 2007, the Rockies proved that homegrown talent fused with veteran experience could lead them to the playoffs.

During the last off-season, the NL West teams signed some big-name players. The Dodgers signed ace Jason Schmidt to lead their starting rotation. The San Francisco Giants gave $126 million to starting pitcher Barry Zito. While their competition made big free-agent signings, the Rockies had a quiet off-season. Colorado only made one modest trade when they moved their second-best starting pitcher, Jason Jennings, to Houston for Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz, and Willy Taveras.

However, the Rockies had a core of young talent, including ace Jeff Francis, outfielder Matt Holliday, third baseman Garrett Atkins, and outfielder Brad Hawpe. In addition, they had the always-reliable veteran Todd Helton and one of the best closers in the game, Brian Fuentes.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres dominated the division prior to the All-Star Break. After the break, the Arizona Diamondbacks came out of nowhere and took the division lead with a strong pitching staff led by Brandon Webb. With the top of the division crowded, no one considered the Rockies a serious contender. Sure, they were only five games out during most of the season, but nobody thought that they could overtake the Dodgers, Padres, and the D’backs.

Someone should have been carefully watching the Rockies when they swept the red-hot New York Yankees at home during June’s interleague play. They out-pitched and out-slugged a “superior” Yankees offense. Or what about the time they swept the best NL team, the New York Mets, in July?

Most importantly, the Rockies put together an unbelievable September, going 20–8. Rookie Manny Corpas, who replaced Brian Fuentes as the new closer, had a 2.08 ERA with 22 saves. With Corpas stabilizing the back end of the bullpen, Jeff Francis led the front end of the starting rotation, going 17–9 and making him a Cy Young contender for this year.

The offense led by MVP favorite Matt Holliday, Rookie of the Year candidate Troy Tulowitzki, and veteran Todd Helton, was first in batting average, first in hits, second in RBIs, and second in runs scored.

With a significantly improved pitching staff and powerhouse offense, the Rockies did the unthinkable, winning the last 13 of 14 regular season games to force a one-game play-off with the San Diego Padres at home.

Most fans expected the Padres to win because they had ace Jake Peavy and superior bullpen pitching on their side. The Rockies knocked off a struggling Peavy early in the game, but the game went into extra innings. In the top of the 13th inning, the Padres took the lead with a two-run homer and sent the best closer in the game, Trevor Hoffman, to the mound.

However, the Rockies never gave up and put together a rally to score three runs to win the game. In order to score the winning run, Matt Holliday went face down into home plate trying to avoid a tag from catcher Michael Barrett. Holliday probably did not touch the plate, but his determination and sacrifice illuminated the persistence of the hungry Rockies team.

The Philadelphia Phillies also had an improbable run to the playoffs, overcoming a New York Mets team that had a seven-game lead with 17 games left in the season. Yet, even the Phillies couldn’t stop the surging Rockies; the Rockies swept the Phillies on Saturday at home.

For all the doubters, the Red Sox did the unthinkable in 2004 by winning the World Series. The White Sox, which had one of the longest World Series droughts, won in 2005. Why can’t the Rockies win it all in 2007? It might be just their year.