CHICAGO -- Young love is the subject of The Happening's 1966 hit "See You in September.'' So we're going to have to take some poetic license here.Switch the subject to baseball, roll back the calendar a month and it could have been the theme song for the Rockies' visit to
CHICAGO -- Young love is the subject of The Happening's 1966 hit "See You in September.'' So we're going to have to take some poetic license here.
Switch the subject to baseball, roll back the calendar a month and it could have been the theme song for the Rockies' visit to Wrigley Field this weekend. While "there is danger in the summer moon above,'' as the song says, the Cubs just might see the visitors from Colorado again in October.
Like the defending World Series champions last June, the Rockies are winning with a regularity that speaks both to their talent and how well they've come together behind their manager, Bud Black.
There is nothing fluky in how they have put together the best record in the National League, even if few around baseball expected them to be a postseason team this year after a run of six consecutive losing seasons.
"There are goals and benchmarks that you set, when you talk about teams and players getting to certain levels in their career and performance,'' Black said Sunday. "Can that plan not happen? Of course. Conversely can it happen soon or can it happen when you don't expect it? Absolutely. No doubt. There have been a lot of stories where, I don't want to say teams come out of nowhere, but sometimes teams come out of nowhere.''
When Rockies General Manager Jeff Bridich hired the experienced Black to replace Walt Weiss last November, it was hailed as a good move that would pay dividends in years to come. But it wasn't until Bridich won a bidding war to sign Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70-million contract that it became clear Colorado's ownership and management was thinking about the present as well as the future.
The Rockies have a long way to go to stand alongside the Dodgers, Nationals and Cubs in an NL loaded with powerful teams, but there's no ignoring their 41-24 record. One also can't ignore bearded leadoff man Charlie Blackmon -- who is building an MVP case -- nor a starting rotation that is succeeding without its expected 1-2 starters (Jon Gray and Chad Bettis).
The Rockies had won seven in a row before losing to the Cubs 7-5, and even then they made Wade Davis work hard in the ninth inning on a 91-degree day. They're opening eyes as summer weather arrives.
"I think the attention that the guys are getting is good,'' Black said. "It's natural. It's a story. I think our guys, the people here, the fans should embrace it, because it's real.''
The Rockies won two of three against the Cubs in May, so they claimed the season series 5-2. Blackmon hit home runs on Friday and Saturday and scored runs in all four games this weekend, giving him eight runs scored in the seven games. Maddon has had to juggle his leadoff men after losing William Fowler to free agency. The .309 on-base percentage of the No. 1 hitters is among many reasons the Cubs (31-31) are a .500 team.
Asked about the importance of the leadoff spot, Maddon points to the Rockies. "Talk to the Rockies right now about their guy, about what he's doing, what he does to their offense,'' he said. "He's really set the table for that entire team.''
Blackmon is hitting .337 with 15 home runs and a .384 on-base percentage. He's followed in the lineup on most days by reigning NL batting champ DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Mark Reynolds and Desmond.
"It's huge,'' Black said of Blackmon's presence. "From a pitcher's perspective, when he steps in the box, if you make a bad pitch it could be 1-0. You make a bad pitch he could be on third base, second base. His slugging percentage, ability to drive the ball is dangerous. That doesn't feel great when you're facing him … It's a big part of our offense, Charlie at the top. Charlie could really hit anywhere in the order but he likes it there. He prides himself on leading the game off, starting the game.''
When the Cubs scored four runs off rookie Antonio Senzatela in the first inning on Sunday -- with Benjamin Zobrist's three-run homer the biggest blow -- it marked one of the few times they forced a Colorado starting pitcher to work out of the stretch. The Rockies limited the Cubs to three runs or fewer in the first three games this weekend and in four of seven games this year, demonstrating the emergence of their pitching staff.
"I knew they were good on the field, I knew they would play good defense, but the difference between them now and the last couple of years is absolutely pitching,'' Maddon said. "The kid [Jeff] Hoffman yesterday. I've seen him before; real good arm, and then yesterday he decided to throw his curveball for strikes every time he wanted to. That's the outlier. [German] Marquez, outstanding arm, really sort of a short arm, quick arm, and [he] also threw strikes.
"They're throwing strikes, not just out there walking guys. And they have other things to do, not just good high-velocity fastballs; they have other pitches.''
Maddon seems most impressed by 27-year-old right-hander Tyler Chatwood, who mixes mid-90s sinkers with swing-and-miss breaking pitches. He's 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA this season and has almost 600 Major League innings under his belt, putting him at the point in his career where he could take a leap forward.
"Chatwood is outstanding,'' Maddon said. "For me, keep an eye on him. This guy, what he's doing now and how he's doing it, by the end of the season you'll be talking about him a lot. That's what I saw.''
Gray, the Opening Day starter who has been out with a broken foot since his third start of the season, is expected to make his first rehab start on Wednesday for Class A Advanced Lancaster. Bettis, who required chemotherapy after surgery for testicular cancer, is back traveling with the Rockies but is only at the equivalent of starting his Spring Training. Black said he could be back by late July, early August.
"It's hard to imagine they're better than what they have,'' Maddon said. "When they get their guys back, obviously they're going to be even better, no question about that. But while they're doing that, they're developing these arms too. Who knows? They might throw them back in the bullpen. I don't even know where they'd put them [because their bullpen is already strong].''
Tom Murphy, who had a chance to be the Rockies' primary catcher, and outfielder David Dahl, another great-looking hitter, have also been sidelined. Murphy is on a rehab assignment, but Black said Dahl still can't swing a bat comfortably because of the stress fracture in his upper back.
Black believes it's only a matter of time until the Cubs start playing like the team that won 103 games last year.
"I wouldn't have guessed it. But I do know that's not going to last very long. I would think that you'll see them in a short period of time [and they will] start playing like we all think they're going to play.''
Imagine that -- the Cubs needing a vote of confidence from the Rockies' manager. Maybe these teams will see each other again In October.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.