Tulowitzki and his 'do are a cut above

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Samson is alive and well, and he wears a freaking mullet.

It's not the hair, you want to believe. It cannot be the hair that's propelling Troy Tulowitzki(notes) to an all-time-great month of baseball – 14 home runs in his last 16 games, among plenty more off-the-charts numbers – and keeping the Colorado Rockies afloat. And then you ask: Well, what else could it be?

Health, of course, makes a difference. Tulowitzki, so injury prone, is playing at 100 percent. More like 150 percent. Only he has been off the disabled list since late July following his broken wrist, and while his OPS was .938 in August, he hit just three home runs in 94 at-bats.

Schedule seems a rightful culprit, too. The Rockies just finished a 10-game home stretch in which Tulowitzki slugged 1.125 – that is, averaged more than one total base over his 40 at-bats. Which is impressive, yes, but not all that much better than his road slugging percentage this month: 1.040.

And other explanations – he's striking out less or getting better pitches because Carlos Gonzalez(notes) is on base in front of him so much – could be explained away by variance.

So it's the hair. It's got to be the hair. When Tulowitzki started growing it this spring for charity, karma intervened. Because anyone willing to endure such a coiffured disaster for six whole months, even for a good cause, deserves something. And if that something happens to be perhaps the greatest September in history, well …

1. Troy Tulowitzki can coin a whole new phrase for his mullet: business in the front, party in the bat. And Tulo has been partying like Mardi Gras, Carnaval and 1999 combined.

Though he went 0 for 4 in the Rockies' 7-6 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday, Tulowitzki's exploits this month have been legendary. His 14 homers in September are as many as the New York Yankees have hit in 560 at-bats. It's more than 10 other teams. And it's twice as many as those with six this month, leviathans Ryan Howard(notes) and Mike Stanton(notes), and …

2. The lean, mean, home run-hitting machine … Jose Bautista(notes)? It's still odd, even as he has gone bananas for six straight months, to think of Bautista not just in the same ZIP code but the same breath as sluggers like Howard and Stanton, guys whose size and swings scream home run. Bautista stands in the right-handed batter's box, waggles his bat and looks like every other 6-foot, 195-pound guy: a major leaguer, sure, but no second coming of Henry Aaron.

And then he unleashes his swing, a torrent of fury, the sort of hack that registers on an anemometer when it misses. He isn't missing as much this year, and now Bautista is one home run away from 50. He's got 13 games to join 26 others who have done it, icons such as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, frauds like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and genuine, true-blue mashers …

3. In the vein of Jim Thome(notes), whose 2002 season is one of the unappreciated masterpieces of the last decade: 52 home runs, 122 walks, a .445 on-base percentage, .677 slugging percentage and OPS+ of 197, which meant his park-adjusted OPS was 97 percent better than the league's.

While Thome's 171 OPS+ this year isn't quite as decadent as '02, it ranks the second best in his career. All this from someone Minnesota brought in as a part-time designated hitter, an occasional pinch hitter, a $1.5 million clubhouse guy who still had some oomph in his stick. Just how much not even Thome could've realized.

Justin Morneau(notes) led the American League in on-base percentage and ranked second in batting average and slugging percentage when the Twins lost him to a concussion July 7. Since that day, Thome's on-base percentage is third in the AL and his slugging percentage fourth. How, at 40, in a home ballpark tough on hitters, he is capable of doing such things only adds to the Thome legend. He's at 587 home runs and counting, and even if it takes him around 23 seconds to circle the bases, it's still fun to watch. After all, not everybody …

4. Is blessed with the speed of Carl Crawford(notes), who may be playing his last September with the Tampa Bay Rays. Crawford has been his excellent self all year: the wheels still evident at 29, the pop palpable enough to scare pitchers, the defense nonpareil for a left fielder. Crawford will ask for $100 million this offseason in free agency, and he will get $100 million this offseason, because he produces.

The Yankees and all of his other big-money suitors have gotten a taste this September of Crawford's game-changing abilities. His five triples this month are more than all but 41 others have hit this year. He leads Rays regulars in all the triple-slash categories in September. If Tampa Bay does sneak past New York and Minnesota for home-field advantage in the AL, Crawford will be right in the middle of it.

His pending free agency will accompany him the whole way, handcuffed against his will. On one hand, Crawford said in spring training, "I've been here since I was 17. I don't know any other organization. If I have to leave, it's going to be a life-changing experience. I'm a little worried how that might be. I'm definitely not in a rush to leave."

And on the other, he noted, "They've got so much talent in the minor leagues here, they feel comfortable [allowing free agents to walk]. It's one of those things where stuff happens, and certain guys like us might have to end up leaving," and if he did, the departure would be sad and confusing …

5. Sort of like the planned retirement of Atlanta closer Billy Wagner(notes), who, at 39, is as good as ever after Tommy John surgery. Never has Wagner in his 16-year career put up an ERA as good as his current 1.43, and just twice has he allowed fewer than 7.5 baserunners per nine innings.

If the Braves can hold onto a playoff spot – their four-game series at Philadelphia starting Monday could thrust them atop the National League East or send them deep into the rest of the wild-card morass, on which they hold a 2½-game lead – Wagner and the rest of the bullpen will be the undeniable strength on a team that is last in home runs during September.

Even with Takashi Saito(notes) missing, the Braves trot out Wagner (7 1/3 scoreless innings, one hit, one walk, 11 strikeouts in September), Peter Moylan(notes), Jonny Venters(notes), Kyle Farnsworth(notes), Eric O'Flaherty(notes) and rookies Mike Dunn(notes) and Craig Kimbrel(notes) (a combined 10 scoreless, three hits, four walks and 19 strikeouts this month). It is the complete opposite …

6. Of the Phillies, carried by their three aces, the least likely of whom is Cole Hamels(notes). Just last October he admitted, during the World Series, "I can't wait for [the season] to end." He was drained, he said, and while it sounded at the time as if he was quitting on the team, Hamels was guilty only of brutal honesty. Fatigue overwhelmed him. He caved to it the way so many others do. And he vowed this offseason to return refreshed.

Hamels might be having the quietest great season in baseball. He is ninth in the majors in strikeouts, and he saved his best pitching for the stretch. Over his last 13 games, Hamels has limited opponents to a .567 OPS by throwing two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. His ERA since July 11 is 1.79, the best in the NL, even lower than acclaimed rotation mates Roy Oswalt(notes) (2.63) and likely Cy Young winner Roy Halladay(notes) (3.01).

The Phillies' 14-3 jag to start September has put their playoff-clinching magic number at eight, with 12 games remaining. Everybody in the NL is now chasing them for home field, a distinction …

7. That three weeks ago seemed incontrovertibly in possession of the San Diego Padres and Adrian Gonzalez(notes). Then the Padres lost 10 straight. Now they're in second place, half a game behind San Francisco, a game ahead of Colorado. And while Gonzalez continues to surge, his teammates' lack of production is finally turning the Padres' carriage into an October-appropriate gourd.

In September, as his teammates struggle to get their collective on-base percentage to .300 – without him, it's .285 – Gonzalez goes about his business like .368/.464/.561 is nothing. Gonzalez's ability to produce amid such offensive misery isn't just laudable. It's amazing. Tulowitzki may be carrying the Rockies in September. Gonzalez has done it for the Padres the whole season, and that he doesn't have sciatica from doing so is all the more impressive. Put him in a lineup …

8. Like the Braves', and he may be producing more like Jason Heyward(notes), whose rookie season keeps getting better and better. On a team built around getting on base, the 21-year-old Heyward does it better than anyone – and almost as well as anyone in the NL. His .402 on-base percentage is stunning for a player with so little time in the major leagues, and it obscures the fact that Heyward leads the Braves with a .478 slugging percentage, too.

The power is easy to forget because the walks so overwhelm. Heyward has 15 in September, tied with Todd Helton(notes) for the most in the major leagues, and he's hitting .350 on top of them. In any other year, his receiving the NL Rookie of the Year award would be a unanimous affair, except this is 2010, the year of the NL greenhorn, with Jaime Garcia(notes) making a strong case, with Stanton slugging over .500 as a 20-year-old and especially with …

9. Buster Posey(notes) helping put the Giants in first place, somewhere they might've been long ago had Brian Sabean and the team brass simply done what everyone, their mother, their grandmother and even their estranged aunt knew was the right thing and started him off with the major league team instead of keeping him at Triple-A, where he ripped the ball to all fields, something he continued upon his arrival in San Francisco and continues today.

Sorry. It's simply maddening to look at the standings and think Posey wouldn't have given immense help to a lineup that even with him struggles to stay relevant during the three-team NL West bonanza. Posey has contributed somewhere in the vicinity of three Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com, and that's over three months. If the Giants end up losing the division in a one-game playoff, or by one game, or even by two games, they can do nothing but blame themselves for burying far and away their best player and allowing …

10. A team like the Rockies to creep back into the race with a player like Troy Tulowitzki so incendiary. The best part about watching Tulowitzki play, beyond the intensity, the eye black, the sort of grit usually reserved to describe players of far less skill, is that he does it from shortstop.

One of the great gifts of the '90s was getting to see big, rangy, athletic shortstops prowl about in the field, then turn around and sock long home runs. Nomar Garciaparra(notes) was a Roman candle, bright for only a short while, and Alex Rodriguez(notes) juiced himself over to third. Even Derek Jeter(notes) never was a great source of power. Cal Ripken, it turns out, was the be-all, end-all, the prototype unmatched – until now.

For all of the Jeter comparisons, it is Ripken who Tulowitzki better resembles – the Cal capable of going on month-long torrents, when he adjusted to a new swing, where he seemed impossible to get out. No, Tulowitzki doesn't have Ripken's durability. Nobody does. He has the size, though; and the power, too; and the range, yes; and the arm, wow; and, most important, the opportunity.

This is a race, and it may well be the Rockies' to lose. The only thing that can stop them is a cooled-off Tulowitzki. And the only thing that can stop him is a pair of scissors.