It's mid-May, and the Colorado Rockies are still in first place.
One big reason for that unexpected development is the performance of their resurgent closer.
The Rockies signed Greg Holland last offseason to a contract laden with performance bonuses , hoping the right-hander could regain his status as one of the game's top relievers after missing the entire 2016 season because of Tommy John surgery. The move has paid off so far. Holland leads the major leagues with 16 saves - nobody else has more than 11 - and has a 1.06 ERA. The 31-year-old is the first Rockies pitcher ever to start a season with 16 straight successful save opportunities.
Colorado (24-15) leads the Los Angeles Dodgers by 1 + games in the NL West. The Rockies have outscored their opponents by only seven runs on the season, and they're 9-0 in one-run games. Some good luck, to be sure, but also a reflection of how important Holland has been.
Holland was part of Kansas City's phenomenal bullpen when the Royals won the World Series in 2015, but he was shut down in September of that year, leaving fellow relievers Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera to carry the load during the postseason. Those three relievers are still going strong, but only Herrera is still with the Royals. Davis pitches for the Chicago Cubs now and hasn't allowed an earned run all season.
Turning the closer duties over to Holland was a risk for Colorado, especially after Adam Ottavino was solid in relief last year. Closers can be notoriously unpredictable, and any sign of decline - whether related to age or injuries - can be a major red flag. Of the top 10 finishers in saves last season, three (Jeurys Familia, Zach Britton and Mark Melancon) are dealing with injuries, and three others (Francisco Rodriguez, Sam Dyson and Jeanmar Gomez) have been relieved of their closing duties.
Holland has dealt with plenty of challenges recently, but so far, he's validated Colorado's investment. Behind Holland, rookie starters Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland, and the usual cast of dangerous hitters, the Rockies have been a surprising success.
Here are a few other developments from around baseball:
The Houston Astros have won 12 of 16 and now own baseball's best record at 26-12. With nobody else in the AL West even at .500, the Astros have built a comfortable 7 +-game lead in the division.
Houston has plenty of balance throughout the lineup. Only Marwin Gonzalez has an OPS above .850, but George Springer and Carlos Correa have been solid. The Astros also figure to get a boost from Jose Altuve, who is hitting only .286, well below his usual average.
With a rotation led by left-hander Dallas Keuchel, this doesn't look like a team that's likely to regress too much.
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg aren't the only ones in Washington with lively arms. Bryce Harper threw Baltimore's J.J. Hardy out at the plate in the 11th inning Tuesday night, preventing the winning run from scoring. Harper's throw from right field was measured at 99.7 mph, according to Statcast.
Baltimore won the game anyway an inning later .
LINE OF THE WEEK
J.D. Martinez, Tigers, homered twice, including a solo shot in the ninth inning that lifted Detroit to a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night. Martinez had three hits in what was only his second game of the season. He'd come off the disabled list Friday after missing Detroit's first 33 games with a right foot injury.
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