For more than two wretched weeks, the Rockies stumbled around the West and fell south, losing a grip on first place, then second place, and sinking to their lowest spot in the standings since last year. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks, meanwhile, engaged in a series in Los Angeles that both sides thought might already decide the division — in July.
“From Day 1, we knew we were the best club,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Thursday after his club swept Arizona one week after sweeping Colorado. “It’s just a matter of going out and playing.”
Nearly half a season remains until baseball folds into October’s playoffs and before the Rockies could object to Roberts’ assertion the race is over, they had a slump to bust.
After Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu smacked home runs Friday in a 12-4 blowout, inter-league victory over the Chicago White Sox at Coors Field, Colorado, for one night to start, found some footing.
The Rockies (51-38) won just a fourth game in their past 16, but they did it in style, knocking a season-high 17 hits, including four doubles, off the last-place White Sox. This is how summer is meant to look in Denver with 38,386 fans looming around LoDo: long home runs leaving the yard and pitchers taking early showers.
Arenado turned a flat fastball from Chicago reliever Chris Beck in the sixth inning with such seeming ease, you might never guess this team split a series earlier in the week against the Cincinnati Reds, the worst pitching team in baseball. Arenado never blinked, his two-run shot flying 450 feet to the upper rows in left field. And his casual double to left-center in the eighth scored two more, for five RBIs.
LeMahieu in the second golfed his own two-run homer against White Sox starter Derek Holland, two of the seven runs he allowed in just four innings. LeMahieu’s hit scored pitcher German Marquez, who lined his first career double two batters prior. Blackmon’s homer in the fourth was his 19th this season, tying Mark Reynolds for the club lead. Blackmon has more hits and more runs than any other player in baseball.
So how did this team fall so far so fast in two weeks? The Rockies slumped largely at the plate, hitting .226 over the stretch. In the past three weeks before Friday, they averaged fewer than four runs per game. They last scored at least seven runs on June 16, two days before everything fell apart.
On Friday, the Rockies picked apart the White Sox and tip-toed out of the dredges. Their first six batters reached base and four scored, on RBI singles from Arenado and Gerardo Parra and a two-run single to center from Trevor Story. Parra, a veteran clubhouse cut-up, returned from the disabled list to three hits, including a double.
“You play your best baseball, or all of us do our best work, when we’re loose and we’re poised and we’re calm,” Colorado manager Bud Black said.
Marquez, the 22-year-old rookie who finished 2-for-3 at the plate, cruised into the seventh inning on just six hits and a run before Tim Anderson pinged him for a two-out, two-run homer to center. The right-hander from Venezuela, though, gave up just three runs with five strikeouts and no walks. He survived long enough to force Alen Hanson into an inning-ending groundout on his 102nd pitch.
Marquez is just the second Colorado starter to last through seven innings in victory in more than a month, joining fellow rookie Jeff Hoffman, who did it on Monday.
Black, in his first season with the Rockies, won his 700th career game as a manager. After a fortnight of frustration, everything fell into place for the Rockies to begin the final weekend before the all-star break. A summer is still ahead.