DENVER (AP) – Drenched in bubbly the night the Colorado Rockies clinched a playoff spot, general manager Jeff Bridich soaked up the scene.
Revelries like this haven’t come along all that often in Rockies history. Predicted by many to be mediocre this season, the team earned its first postseason appearance since 2009 behind bearded NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon, slick-fielding, heavy-hitting third baseman Nolan Arenadoand a young rotation. Asked if his team was ahead of schedule, Bridich pondered the question as he wiped sparkling wine from his eyes.
“Whose schedule?” Bridich said. “We felt like we could be playing meaningful games and postseason games this year. That’s exactly what these guys went out and achieved. I don’t care about any schedule. … To have it come together this year with this group is a great feeling.”
Their playoff run came to an abrupt end in Arizona on Wednesday night with an 11-8 loss to the Diamondbacks in the NL wild-card game.
Now, there are some difficult decisions ahead, including whether to bring back emotional leader Carlos Gonzalez — the only holdover player from the ’09 postseason squad. Or what happens with closer Greg Holland, whose agreement includes a $15 million player option for 2018.
Other free agents include relievers Jake McGee and Pat Neshek, right-hander Tyler Chatwood, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and first baseman Mark Reynolds. Those are some pricey choices for a team coming off an 87-75 season — the third-best mark in franchise history.
The Rockies started on a torrid pace, holding a lead in the NL West until late June. They weathered a rough August and hung on down the stretch to clinch the franchise’s fourth trip to the playoffs on the second-to-last day of the season.
“This was a good year for our group. A lot of things transpired that I think will help us in the future,” first-year Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Here we talked about our work ethic and our determination to get to where we want to be, and it was extremely admirable what our group did.”
Blackmon won an NL batting title with a .331 average, while Arenado made highlight-reel plays at third, along with being a dependable force at the plate with a major league-leading 22 game-winning RBIs. Reynolds helped carry the team early with his bat when Ian Desmond was sidelined by a broken hand. A young rotation emerged, with German Marquez, Denver native Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela all winning at least 10 games in their rookie campaigns.
“If you have a group of men that believe in each other, they can galvanize the group and bring the group together,” Bridich said. “That creates trust and belief when times get tough or times get hairy down the stretch. … This team has got that. It’s special.”
Here are some things to know before the Rockies open the 2018 season at Arizona on March 29:
Second baseman DJ LeMahieu is glad he doesn’t have to take sides in the NL MVP race. He couldn’t pick between Arenado and Blackmon.
“They both deserve it,” LeMahieu said.
Desmond had three stints on the disabled list this season after signing a $70 million, five-year contract to take over at first base. With Reynolds’ emergence — he was brought in on a minor league deal — Desmond spent quite a bit of time in the outfield. Desmond hit .274 with seven homers.
Holland saved an NL-tying 41 games in his first season back following Tommy John surgery. He bolstered the bullpen with 28 saves in 29 chances and a 1.62 ERA before the All-Star break. But he struggled in the second half, going 2-5 and converting 13 of 16 save chances with a 6.38 ERA. During the wild-card game, Holland surrendered two runs.
Should this be Gonzalez’s final season in purple pinstripes, his numbers for the Rockies included a .292 average with 211 homers. He also captured an NL batting title in 2010.
“I know to his teammates, Carlos is held in high regard,” Black said. “They really enjoy Carlos as a teammate and respect his tenure.”
Sure, right-hander Jon Gray got roughed up in the wild-card game. But Gray and the young staff took a big step forward this season. The feel-good story of the year was the return of right-hander Chad Bettis from testicular cancer. He underwent surgery last November and went through treatments during the spring and into the season before returning to the rotation in August.
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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