Front-running Rockies chasing after first NL West title
By PAT GRAHAM
Sep. 06, 2018
DENVER (AP) — The scorecard in the archives of the Colorado Rockies' history stands like this: World Series appearances 1, NL West titles 0.
No divisional crowns is a particular figure that All-Star shortstop Trevor Story and his teammates are keenly aware of and hope to remedy, especially with the Rockies climbing into a place they've rarely been this late in the season: All alone at the top of the NL West. The Rockies haven't occupied first place this late in the year since 1995.
Colorado began an off day Thursday with a 1 ½-game divisional lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers and 2 games over the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rockies (77-62) start a pivotal stretch by hosting the Dodgers for three games starting Friday and then Arizona for four more.
Buckle up. These last 23 games reckon to be quite a ride.
"A division title would be huge, obviously, since we've never done that," said Story, who crushed three homers Wednesday, including one that went a Coors Field-record 505 feet according to Statcast. "We're very confident we can do it. We're going for it."
The Rockies are a little bit of an anomaly among division-leading team. Consider this: The Rockies are a minus-8 in run differential. For comparison, the front-running Boston Red Sox are plus-223 in the AL East and the defending World Series champion Houston Astros a plus-235 in the AL West.
Colorado doesn't even have the best odds of making the postseason out of its division. According to ESPN, the Rockies have a 48.2 percent chance, while the Dodgers check in at 77.6 percent.
"I still think we are the best team and I know when we are doing things right and playing the way we should," said right-hander Jon Gray, who pitches Friday as the Dodgers counter with ace Clayton Kershaw. "We are going to be where we need to be at the end of the season."
Fresh off a sweep of the Giants, the Rockies find themselves a season-best 15 games above .500. They trailed by eight games after play on June 28, but have since gone 39-20 — including 5-0 in September.
"We've been playing these kinds of meaningful games for a long time now," Story said.
The last time Colorado was in sole possession of first at this juncture of the year was 1995. That happened to be the season the team moved into its new digs at Coors Field and was led by players such as Dante Bichette, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga and Vinny Castilla, who's currently the team's special assistant to the general manager. They were leading until Sept. 27 when they lost to a Dodgers team that would go on to win the division by a game.
Colorado earned a wild-card spot that season. Over the team's history, they've appeared in the postseason four times — all as a wild-card. The Rockies rode a wave of momentum to the 2007 World Series, before being swept by Boston. Last season, they lost a one-game playoff to the Diamondbacks in their first playoff appearance since '09.
"There hasn't been any rah-rah talk, no pep talks," Gray said. "We know what needs to be done. Maybe that was needed last year. But not this time."
Story and Nolan Arenado are pacing the offense with NL MVP-caliber seasons. Story is hitting .298 with 31 homers, 95 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. He's also playing Gold Glove-worthy shortstop. Despite a recent slump, Arenado is batting .297 with 31 homers and 93 RBIs. He's going for his sixth straight Gold Glove at third base.
The team added even more of a veteran presence by bringing in slugger Matt Holliday, who joins a lineup that includes second baseman DJ LeMahieu, outfielder Charlie Blackmon, converted first baseman Ian Desmond and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Younger players such as David Dahl and Ryan McMahon have been coming up clutch, too.
On the pitching side, left-hander Kyle Freeland is among the leaders in ERA (2.96), while German Marquez is coming off back-to-back double-digit strikeout performances. The bullpen has been shaky at times this season, but Adam Ottavino has 100 strikeouts to go with a 1.96 ERA and closer Wade Davis leads the NL with 38 saves.
After finishing their current 10-game homestand, the Rockies hit the road for nine straight. At 40-32 away from home, they're one victory away from tying their mark for most wins on the road in a season (2009, '17).
"This team knows what needs to be done," Gray said. "We are on the same page and we are feeling it happen."
AP freelance writer Dale Bublitz contributed to this report.