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Look back at the Rockies' best wins of 2019

November 26, 2019

DENVER -- As much as the Rockies may be tempted to flush 2019, they shouldn’t send all of it down the drain. The 71 victories were too few, but some of them could provide a window into how the team could return to postseason contention in 2020. In fact, all

DENVER -- As much as the Rockies may be tempted to flush 2019, they shouldn’t send all of it down the drain.

The 71 victories were too few, but some of them could provide a window into how the team could return to postseason contention in 2020. In fact, all but one on this list of five occurred after late August, when manager Bud Black, the staff and the front office made preparing for '20 as much a priority as competing daily.

1) April 14: Rockies 4, Giants 0

The Rockies were 3-12, and weary from an 18-inning loss two nights prior, when righty German Márquez shut down the Giants with a one-hitter at AT&T Park.

What does it tell us about 2020?
This showed what a strong pitcher at the front of the rotation can do. Márquez’s gem sparked the team’s first win streak of 2019, and a run that had the team in contention. When going well, Márquez, righty Jon Gray and lefty Kyle Freeland all are capable of sparking runs of success. One problem in ’19 was all of them missed significant injury time. If they stay healthy in 2020, the Rockies should be better.

2) Sept. 27: Rockies 11, Brewers 7

Raimel Tapia’s pinch-hit grand slam was the big swing in a seven-run sixth inning during a series the Rockies swept to prevent the Brewers from winning the National League Central. Milwaukee would drop the NL Wild Card Game to the Nationals, who won the World Series.

What does it tell us about 2020?
It’s more the swings not taken. Trevor Story, Sam Hilliard and Tony Wolters all walked before the Tapia slam, and Charlie Blackmon (who homered to open the inning) and Nolan Arenado walked afterward. That’s five walks in one inning. During the season, the Rockies had 100 innings of three runs or more -- 60 of those had at least one walk and 29 had multiple walks. While walks aren’t a goal, the ability to lay off pitches can lead to the walks that create traffic that turns into big innings.

3) May 22: Rockies 9, Pirates 3

It was the game where two key Rockies -- one established, the other not quite -- found their form. Gray, who struggled for much of 2018 and hadn’t found consistency in '19, held the Pirates to three runs and struck out seven in seven innings. Also, outfielder David Dahl, who didn’t start but spent much of the time studying video for answers to his strikeout-filled slump, reset his season with a pinch-hit double.

What does it tell us about 2020?
Gray addressed whole list of checkpoints, from his delivery to his slider grip to his ability to overcome challenges. From that day until his season ended in August with a left foot stress fracture, Gray struck out 91 against 34 walks and put together a solid 3.35 ERA (remember, he pitched a lot at Coors), and generally pitched like the guy who earned Opening Day starts in 2017 and '18.

Dahl, meanwhile, rose to stardom. From that day until a right ankle injury in early August halted his season, Dahl hit .310 with 12 home runs and a .915 OPS. He’ll join Story, Blackmon and Arenado, in some combination, leading the offense.

4) Sept. 10: Rockies 2, Cardinals 1

The Rockies took consecutive 2-1 decisions over the eventual NL Central-winning Cardinals, both in similar fashion -- less-experienced pitchers handling big innings. Chi Chi González held St. Louis to one run in six innings. After Bryan Shaw walked a batter and hit another, Carlos Estévez came in with one out and fanned Harrison Bader and José Martínez. Jairo Díaz, who became closer after Wade Davis struggled and Scott Oberg underwent surgery in August for blood clots, earned a two-inning save.

What does it tell us about 2020?
When experienced relievers such as Davis and Shaw -- and Jake McGee and Seunghwan Oh -- struggled, the Rockies’ younger pitchers were not yet ready to pitch at a contending level. But nights like this one push the younger pitchers closer to the heightened situations they’ll be faced with in 2020. For example, with runners at the corners and one out, conventional wisdom said Estévez should seek a grounder. But feeling Bader could beat out a potential double-play ball, Estévez hunted the strikeout. Díaz had a concentrated, heavy workload at season’s end. He passed the two-inning test with flying colors.

5) Aug. 26: Rockies 3, Braves 1

This game is mostly remembered for righty Tim Melville’s bright performance in his Coors Field debut. But it ended with Ryan McMahon’s two-run walk-off homer, which he swatted a left-on-left fastball from Jerry Blevins into the right-field seats.

What does it tell us about 2020?
In his first full Major League season, McMahon homered 24 times to set a club record for a primary second baseman. His work offensively and defensively was a solid response to the challenge of replacing longtime star DJ LeMahieu at second base. But can McMahon, a strong prospect before breaking in with the big club, jump into the echelon with key forces in the Rockies' lineup like Arenado, Story and Blackmon?

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.