Understandably, around the baseball world the Rockies' current streak is being greeted with a degree of surprise. This team performed so poorly out of the gate that the front office made a managerial change, from Clint Hurdle to Tracy. The Rockies have to extend the streak to a dozen on Tuesday night against the Rays at Coors Field to bring their record to .500.
But all along, the Rockies knew they were capable of such success. And they knew how to achieve it, partly because they've been reminded of it since Spring Training began in Tucson, Ariz.
"We knew we weren't playing to our capabilities," said Rockies second baseman Clint Barmes, who has become a solid hitter in the No. 2 spot in the order during the streak. Barmes' 22 hits since June 1 put him in a tie for the Major League lead for this month. "I bet it was only a matter of time. I was actually surprised it took as long as it did, to be honest."
Before the streak, the Rockies were 10-3 in games in which they scored at least six runs. That's a lot of runs to need to have a chance to win.
In the first four games, the Rockies outscored opponents 38-10. But the Rockies kept the streak going by prevailing in closer and lower-scoring games. The Rockies have exceeded six runs just twice in the last seven games, which have included two one-run and three two-run games.
Low-scoring games are impossible without strong starting pitching, and Rockies starters are 10-0 with a 2.49 ERA during the run.
There was only one time during the run a starter went fewer than six innings, and that was Sunday when Jason Hammel didn't return after rain and tornado warnings forced a delay after he had gone 5 1/3 innings. During the run, Rockies starters have 59 strikeouts to 22 walks and Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis have sub-2.00 ERAs. Ubaldo Jimenez has a complete game and an eight-inning start, and Hammel (in three starts) and Jorge De La Rosa (in two starts) each have 15 strikeouts.
"The way the starting rotation has pitched the last two weeks has been outstanding," said long reliever Josh Fogg, a starter during the 2007 streak. "Everything starts with pitching. If those guys do a good job for six, seven, eight innings, it allows the bullpen to line up a little better."
A solid bullpen, led by reigning co-National League Player of the Week Huston Street, has a 2.70 ERA during the run.
The Rockies have had competent starting pitching for much of the year, as evidenced by their 37 quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer runs), but too often poor offensive execution left those starts wasted.
Now that's changing. Saturday, after the Mariners committed three eighth-inning errors, the Rockies broke a 3-3 tie with sacrifice flies by Chris Iannetta and Barmes. Earlier, the Rockies might have blown the chance, with hitters later talking about "trying to do too much."
A poster child for executing when it counts is right fielder Brad Hawpe. He knocked an RBI double in the fifth inning and a two-run homer in the seventh in a come-from-behind, 4-2 victory over the Brewers. His RBI double Friday against the Mariners broke a seventh-inning tie.
While Hawpe has been one of the most consistent performers over the course of the season, several others have stepped up during the streak. Over the 11 victories, formerly slumping shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has hit .383 with three home runs while playing in nine of the games; Barmes has hit .383 with a team-high 11 RBIs; Todd Helton has hit .351 with 10 RBIs, and Ian Stewart has hit .333 with four homers.
Did all that work on fundamentals this spring suddenly bring everything together? What has the managerial change had to do with it? Can it be explained?
"We don't have an answer," Tulowitzki said. "We're just doing what it takes to win games."