If the Colorado Rockies want to have any shot at the National League pennant in October, they’ll have to do it on the back of their superstar third baseman and face of the franchise Nolan Arenado. That notion existed before the season and is still prevalent today; he’s arguably the best player at his position and perhaps the greatest player in franchise history. And after a disastrous start, Arenado has gotten red-hot, and with him has come the team.
The Rockies, after winning the NL Wild Card Game last fall, came into the season with pretty high expectations and were projected by many to contend for the NL West division crown. Then they started 3-12. Their pitching — which had been elite in 2018 — was costing them games while their best hitters struggled to get into rhythm. Arenado was a big part of that underwhelming start, as the righty hit .246/.299/.311 without a single home run in Colorado’s first 15 games.
Often the third or fourth hitter in the Rockies lineup, it was on him to spearhead the offensive attack, and in the early parts of the season, there was nothing to be found. And now it’s his epic hitting surge that has fueled the overall turnaround the Rockies have experienced over the past couple of weeks.
Over Arenado’s last 25 games, the star third baseman is slashing .350/.389/.738 with 10 home runs, 26 runs batted in, 19 extra-base hits, and a 1.127 OPS, leading the Rockies to a 16-9 record in the span of its last 25 contests. Colorado ranks fourth in the NL West standings at 19-21, six and a half games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. Case in point, they are right back in the thick of things, and they have Arenado’s recent hot streak to credit.
Offensively, the 2018 NL Most Valuable Player Award nominee has been the lead bull as the Rockies climb back up the standings. For instance, the Rockies are batting .304 as a team in May after hitting .231 over all of April. Their May batting average ranks second in Major League Baseball, compared to 25th in the prior month.
The six-time NL Gold Glove Award winner at third base has slashed .452/.489/.857 in May, contributing to Colorado’s 82 runs scored this month, a mark that ranks second in MLB. Part of the reason why is how difficult it is to pitch to the 28-year-old right now, as his spray chart elucidates how truly locked in he is.
“When you see Nolan use the whole field and you see him lay off certain pitches, that tells me he’s seeing the ball really well,” Rockies manager Bud Black, a finalist for NL Manager of the Year last season, told the Denver Post. “He’s seeing the ball well, and going the opposite way with a pitch outside. Or he’s turning on the ball on the pitch inside. He’s squaring up fastballs, not missing many. All of that tells me he’s in a good spot.”
The effect has rubbed off on other top players in the Rockies dugout. Shortstop Trevor Story, who hit 37 bombs last season, was hitting .242 in mid-April and has slashed .296/.369/.541 with five home runs and seven of his NL-best eight stolen bases since April 14, while leadoff hitter and center fielder Charlie Blackmon is hitting an absurd .379 with eight bombs in his last 20 games.
Aside from German Marquez, who leads the team with a 2.1 Baseball-Reference WAR, their pitching has been downright terrible. Jon Gray continues to struggle; Kyle Freeland, one of baseball’s best pitchers in 2018, has a 2-5 record and 5.84 ERA; Antonio Senzatela and Chad Bettis are hardly major-league caliber arms right now. It’s on the offense to carry the club back to the postseason, and Arenado, the headman of a powerful batting order, has done a terrific job keeping the ship afloat and on its path.
Even when they were ice-cold, we knew that the Rockies were a team with far too much talent to be as bad as they were at the time, and it was clear that they just needed a boost. When they inked the face of their franchise to a seven-year, $260-million contract this past offseason, they were looking for this kind of production and this kind of leadership from a guy on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Nolan Arenado has carried the Rockies back into the pack after a horrific start, and only he could have.