Rockies begin September in thick of playoff picture
DENVER (AP) Nolan Arenado doesn't let much of anything slip from his Gold Glove grasp. So that's how he's approaching the playoff chase heading into the final month of the season.
''It's all in our hands,'' the Colorado Rockies third baseman said. ''We control what happens.''
With 29 games to go, the Rockies are clinging to the second wild-card spot in the NL, with Milwaukee, St. Louis and Miami close behind. Colorado hosts wild-card leading Arizona for a three-game series starting Friday - a chance to gain some ground as the Rockies try to make the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Pressure? Nah, first-year Colorado manager Bud Black insisted.
''It's the feeling you want,'' Black said. ''Every pitch becomes critical especially as you get deeper into September. That's what's fun, man. The feeling ... it's a different feeling. It's awesome.''
Earlier this season, the playoffs seemed to be all but a certainty for Colorado. The Rockies were 47-26 on June 20 and leading the NL West. Since then, the Los Angeles Dodgers have turned the division into a runaway race, while the Rockies have steadily sputtered - 12-12 in July and 12-15 in August, their first losing month of the season.
What's more, the bats have been struggling. They've had 15 games in August where they've scored three or fewer runs.
''We haven't hit well with runners in scoring position this month, but we were one of the better teams earlier in the year,'' Black said. ''If we can get back to that.''
Arenado, DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon are all in the midst of big years, hitting a combined .320 with 69 homers and 251 RBIs. They're anxious to boost the Rockies back into the playoffs, maybe generate the same kind of excitement as 2007, when the team went to its one and only World Series.
Just as eager is rookie left-hander Kyle Freeland, who grew up in Denver and has long been a fan of his hometown team.
''These guys haven't been through this. This will be great for them,'' Black said. ''These guys, I know, are super pumped to be in this spot. Freeland - are you kidding me? From here? He's excited. His favorite team, and he's in September pitching in the rotation? It's great.''
The Rockies do have plenty of players with postseason experience, such as Ian Desmond, Mark Reynolds, Gerardo Parra and Jonathan Lucroy. Of course, there's also Carlos Gonzalez, who was on the 2009 Colorado team that lost to Philadelphia in the NLDS.
''It is a special moment where you need to be at your best,'' Gonzalez said of being in the postseason race. ''Veteran players are counted on to deliver. The newer players need to make the most of their moments and the rest will take care of itself.''
There are some positive signs: Gonzalez has steadily worked his way out of a prolonged slump and Desmond is returning to health after three stints on the DL.
Still, Trevor Story remains in a funk, hitting .230 with 18 homers, and All-Star closer Greg Holland hasn't been his usual dominant self. Holland recently went through a stretch where he blew three saves and gave up 14 runs. Holland is coming back from Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of last season. He has 36 saves this season.
Colorado will rely on a young rotation that features Jon Gray and three rookies - Freeland, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela, the trio of newcomers who all have won at least 10 games. Chad Bettis is working his way back to form after his return from testicular cancer.
''This is what all teams hope for, just the every year contention - being perennial contenders,'' Black said. ''That's who we hope to become. Now, we're in it this year, which is great for our group, great for the organization, great for the city, great for the fans.
''We're pumped about this. Guys are excited. There's a lot of talk in the clubhouse about what's going on. It's exciting times.''