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Big League Stew

Five reasons the Rockies own baseball’s best record

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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The Colorado Rockies are commonly associated with absurd stretches of great baseball. Winning 21 of 22 in the last two months of 2007 established the trend and it continued in 2009 when they almost caught the Dodgers to win the NL West. (They settled for the wild card.)

However, it has been Colorado's propensity to start slowly — three winning Aprils in 18 seasons — that has forced them to pull off those near miraculous late-season streaks to stay above water. Because of that, manager Jim Tracy made a fast start a point of emphasis throughout the last offseason. His team has responded in a big way.

These are the five biggest reasons why his Rockies are a franchise and league-best 10-2 as they prepare to host the Chicago Cubs at Coors Field this weekend.

1. Troy Tulowitzki's maturity: The new face of the franchise is a man on a mission with seven homers in the team's first 12 games. {YSP:MORE}

'Duk did a fantastic job chronicling Tulowitzki's offensive success late in 2010 and early on in the 2011 season. And to answer the 40 home run question he posed: Honestly, I would be surprised if the number didn't end up between 45 and 50. Health permitting, of course.

But as scalding hot as Tulowitzki is with the bat, and although his defense remains at a Gold Glove level, what stands out most to me is his maturity. His onfield leadership. Tulowitzki is not afraid to take over any game, at any time, from any number of different angles. Two great examples of this happened during Thursday's doubleheader.

After Carlos Gonzalez lost a flyball in the sun early in Game 1, Tulowitzki, without hesitation, ran to the Rockies dugout, grabbed a pair of sunglasses and jogged them out to Gonzalez. Later in Game 2, a miscommunication on the infield allowed a pop-up to land safely. One inning later, Tulowitzki ranged from his shortstop position to near first base to personally make sure the scenario was not repeated.

Some might see this as showing up his teammates. I see it as a baseball player taking ownership and refusing to accept avoidable failure.

2. No Ubaldo, no problem: When Ubaldo Jimenez was placed on the disabled list back on April 6, many assumed the Rockies' starting pitching was on the verge of a collapse. But quite the opposite has happened. Since opening day, Rockies starters have gone 8-0 with a 3.32 ERA.

That includes two fantastic starts from former No. 2 overall pick Greg Reynolds, who replaced Jimenez. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistency have kept Reynolds from breaking through completely, which means he'll likely never shed the "guy Colorado selected ahead of Evan Longoria and Tim Lincecum in the 2006 draft" label, but for one week, he more than competently filled an important vacancy atop the rotation.

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Helton

3. The Glue: While Tulowitzki has taken the reigns, don't overlook the importance of Todd Helton. Helton is the glue that holds the team together in many ways. He anchors the defense, saving errors on a nightly basis. And despite the loss of power, he's still one of toughest outs in the National League (.345-.375-.483).

Of course, Helton's back will always be an issue. It already flared up once, costing him three games. The Rockies are equipped to give him days and innings off when he needs them, but an extended absence would hurt the team far more than most people realize. He's still the guy that completes the puzzle, he's just a little smaller piece further from the middle.

4. Know your role: The Rockies role players, with the exception of Ian Stewart, have all shown encouraging improvement. Guys like Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, Chris Iannetta and Jonathan Herrera are all performing at a higher level than they did at any point last season.

A ton of credit should be sent in the direction of new hitting coach Carney Lansford. He worked with each of these players in the Rockies minor league system, and his return to the organization has provided a spark. I believe that history also gives all involved a greater chance of sustaining their early success.

5. Exorcising demons: The Rockies completed a four-game sweep of the New York Mets at Citi Field on Thursday. To put that into perspective, Colorado won a grand total of four games at Shea Stadium or Citi Field between 2003 and 2010. That's four wins in 27 tries. It was the first time they have won back-to-back games in New York since 1998. The series win in Pittsburgh prior to that was their first east of the Mississippi River since August 2009.

Nothing fun about those facts, but it's something they can now put behind them. And for the first time in their history, the Colorado Rockies may be disappointed they're headed home.

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