At the start of the 2017 season in Major League Baseball, the Colorado Rockies were not considered a favorite in the NL West Division.
Most prognosticators had the four-time defending division champion Los Angeles Dodgers as the favorites once again.
If someone was going to dethrone LA, it was likely to be their arch-rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
Either the Dodgers or Giants have won eight of the last nine NL West crowns. The Giants have captured three World Series championships during that stretch.
The Rockies joined the division in MLB’s 1993 expansion. They last won the division title, well, never. In fact, the Rox have been to the postseason just three times. They went as the NL Wildcard in 1995, 2007, and 2009. That 2007 team is the only Colorado team to reach the World Series.
Yet here we are, nearly seven weeks into the 2017 season. And there at the top of the National League West Division standings are those Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are 25-15 following a 7-3 inter-league victory over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.
Colorado is not just a Coors Field phenomenon either. The club has a 13-10 record in the Mile High City. They also sport a winning 11-5 mark away from Denver.
As a result, the Rockies are three games up on the Dodgers, against whom Colorado has gone 5-4 in head-to-head matchups this season. They have also taken six of seven games over the Giants. The Arizona Diamondbacks, currently 2.5 games back in second place? Colorado has taken four of six.
ROCKIES OVERCOMING INJURIES
When a team is having as good a start as the Rockies are, there are a number of things going right. Manager Bud Black has gotten great pitching from a pair of rookies, 24-year old Kyle Freeland and 22-year old Antonio Senzatela.
The Rockies has also overcome key injuries and illness issues. Perhaps their best anticipated starting pitcher, 25-year old Jon Gray, has been out for over a month with a broken foot. Gray is not expected back until mid-June at the earliest.
Starting shortstop Trevor Story (shoulder), pitcher Chad Bettis (cancer), catcher Tony Wolters (concussion), catcher Tom Murphy (arm fracture), and outfielder David Dahl (rib) have all missed time. All but Bettis, who just completed chemotherapy treatments, are on their way back.
Third baseman Nolan Arenado and center fielder Charlie Blackmon each won a Silver Slugger Award last season. Arenado was a Gold Glover. Second baseman D.J. LeMahieu won a Gold Glove in 2014 and was a 2015 NL All-Star. They are each off to strong starts.
But the Rockies expect to get solid production from those players. One of the biggest keys to the club getting off to such a hot start has been some relatively unexpected production.
UNEXPECTED PRODUCTION FROM A JOURNEYMAN
Mark Reynolds is the club’s 33-year old first baseman. The Rockies are the journeyman slugger’s seventh MLB organization. This is his second season with Colorado, the 11th of his big league career, and that he is even with the ball club is a bit of an upset.
As spring training was wrapping up, Brad Faber here at FanSided wrote that the Rockies had decided to bring back Reynolds, mostly due to an injury to big free agent signing Ian Desmond.
Reynolds had been signed to a minor league deal at the start of spring training. In 2016, he hit for a .282/.356/.450 slash line over 441 plate appearances with Colorado. He contributed 14 home runs and 24 doubles ,knocking in 53 runs and scoring 61 times.
At that time, Faber noted that Desmond “was signed to a five-year, $70 million deal over the offseason, is expected to reclaim first base upon his return. Desmond is currently out with a broken hand.”
Well, Desmond has been back since for three weeks. And yet there is Reynolds, still manning first base for the Rockies. Desmond has instead been pushed out to left field, where he has played in a dozen of his 13 games since returning to the lineup.
REYNOLDS HITS WAY TO STARTING JOB
Reynolds has simply refused to allow Black to even consider removing his bat from the Rockies lineup. Through Tuesday night he has a .326/.399/.630 slash line. Reynolds leads Colorado hitters with a dozen homers and 33 RBI, and is second on the club with 26 runs scored.
Since Desmond’s return, Reynolds has upped the ante a bit, hitting .356/.453/.622 with four homers and 10 RBI.
“He’s been playing phenomenal,” said Desmond per an AP report carried by the New York Times.
Furthermore, that phenomenal play has helped the team overcome an unusual slow start from star Carlos Gonzalez. The right fielder, a three-time NL All-Star and Gold Glover, is hitting just .213/.282/.315 thus far with two homers and 11 RBI.
Following a streak earlier this month in which he homered in three straight games, Reynolds was quoted by Nick Groke for The Denver Post:
Reynolds has been playing and producing all season, and the Rockies are at the top of the NL West pile in part because of that production. If he can continue at even a reasonable fraction of this pace, Reynolds may help Colorado end a season at the top of the mountain for the first time.