The Rockies have always been an offensively proficient team. The overlap of Larry Walker and Todd Helton makes that an indisputable statement, even while more mediocre players have occasionally filled out the roster. Coors Field is a hitter’s park, and generally speaking the scouting and development department has done a perfectly adequate job finding good hitters. So we expect our team to score runs. Still, excellence deserves recognition. On top of that, the Rockies have not had an especially excellent year. That makes those performances worthy of recognition stand out even more.
Note: In some ways this was even more challenging than selecting 10 pitching performances, since a hitter rarely owns a game the way a pitcher does. I had to eliminate many quality games simply because the individual hitter didn’t make an impact on the outcome. That’s unfair. It’s also unfair that Troy Tulowitzki will get no MVP consideration since his team sucked this season. If you want fair, baseball probably isn’t for you.
10. Todd Helton – April 26
One of the most pleasant surprises of this season has been the offensive resurgence of Todd Helton. Because of his back problems in recent years, it has seemed that perhaps his career might be coming to a close. He’s definitely nearing the end, but he has been far and away the most consistent producer in 2011, outshining tentpoles Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki with his professional at-bats and will to win. In this game at Wrigley Field, he hit 2 home runs for the first time since 2007, leaving no doubt in our minds that he was back. The Rockies won the game by 1. He hit both homers off lefties as well, proving that nobody can hold the Toddfather down.
9. Troy Tulowitzki – July 19
There was a lot of noise surrounding this game versus the Braves. The rumor mill chugged away, saying that it was potentially Ubaldo Jimenez’s last home start. I, for one, scoffed at that, but it turned out to be true. And Tulo helped the Chief to a victory with his 3 RBIs on a single, a double, and a home run. He also didn’t strike out or hit an inning-ending pop-up once. Hopefully Ubaldo knows what a special thing that is.
8. Jason Giambi – August 15
The Giambino’s role on this team is supposed to be occasional back-up first baseman and regular late-inning pinch-hitter. He has filled that role so well in the past, especially after he first put on a Rockies uniform in 2009. This season, though, his pinch-hitting has been pretty abysmal. He has generally only performed well in games he has started. And he did start in this game at Coors versus the Marlins, but he had an extremely important at-bat in the 9th inning that served the same purpose his clutch pinch-hits always have. He hit a walk-off 3-run home run off Leo Nunez. It’s the Rockies’ only walk-off homer this season, so it’s deserves a nod.
7. Troy Tulowitzki – August 6
Just as he came through for Ubaldo in July, Tulo did it again for Juan Nicasio in this game against the Nationals. The day before, Nicasio suffered a season-ending (many feared career-ending) injury when a line drive knocked him out and caused him to break his neck when he landed on the mound. The Rockies needed a big win on this day, and they got it. Tulo wasn’t the difference in the game, but he made a bigger difference than any other player. He went 3-for-3 with a walk, an RBI single, an RBI double, and a sacrifice fly. Tulo hasn’t necessarily been good for bringing the hope this season, but on that day he did.
6. Charlie Blackmon – June 17
It’s no great secret that I adore Charlie Blackmon. I don’t know what it is about him. The team just started playing better when he came up. He made me excited the way Tulo made me excited when he first came on the scene. Unfortunately, his major-league career was limited to 27 games when he broke his foot in July. The good news is that he’ll be back next season, and in this game against the Tigers he gave us a glimpse of what we can expect. It was just his 10th game as a big leaguer, and he went 4-for-4 with 2 runs scored and 2 RBIs. In every inning in which he came to the plate, he either scored a run or drove one in. 2012 will be substantially better simply because it will have more Charlie in it.
5. Seth Smith – August 8
I wish I could have included Smitty on this list more than once, because I think he’s good enough for that. But he only played in 135 games this season, and a great many of those was as a pinch-hitter. Jim Tracy’s prejudice against Smith is one of life’s enduring mysteries (especially considering how often he let the disgraced Eliezer Alfonzo play). Of many solid, productive games, the best Smitty played was this one at Great American Ball Park. He hit 2 2-run home runs in a 3-run win over the Reds. Free Seth Smith. Please.
4. Carlos Gonzalez – May 24
Cargo has had a lot of great games this season, but the one most worth mentioning is this one against the Diamondbacks. This was the first game of a doubleheader, and it was also the one where Jorge de la Rosa left in the 3rd inning with a ligament tear that would lead to season-ending Tommy John surgery. The Rockies were having a terrible month, and they would lose 3 of 4 to the D-backs. But they won this game, largely on the strength of Cargo’s 2 home runs and 4 RBIs. It was his first multi-homer game of the season, and it was about time.
3. Chris Iannetta – May 28
Iannetta is second only to Seth Smith on my list of criminally underused players. After a pretty tough 2010, Iannetta has come back so strong and so productive this season, only to have Tracy continually bench him in favor of whichever back-up catcher happens to be on the roster at the moment. The story with Netta is that he doesn’t live up to the potential for power that he has, and that is certainly true. But every so often we get a glimpse of what that power can produce, as we did in this game against the Cardinals. The Rockies won 15-4, but 6 of those runs were driven in by Netta on a pair of 2-run homers and and a 2-run single. It was nothing other than a dominant offensive performance.
2. Jason Giambi – May 19
Speaking of dominant, how about Giambi in this game at Citizens Bank Park? The man has 428 career home runs, but this was the first time he had ever hit 3 in one game. I vividly remember watching him come to the plate for his 3rd at-bat, and wondering if he could go deep a third time in three tries. Did he ever. And he singlehandedly won this game for Jhoulys Chacin, since he drove in all 7 of the Rockies’ runs. These kinds of games only come along once or twice in a career, and they only happen once in a blue moon for a team. The last Rockie to accomplish this feat was Larry Walker in 2004.
1. Todd Helton – June 8
Could I really top this list with anyone other than the Toddfather? If you thought I would, shame on you. He represents everything that has been lacking for the Rockies this season: patience at the plate, quality contact, situational hitting, teamwork. He played many, many excellent games, but the best was this one against the Padres at Petco Park. He went 4-for-4 with a walk, and very nearly hit for the cycle. One of his 2 doubles probably would have been a triple if his legs were a little younger. He drove in 4 runs and scored 3 and, as the Rockies won by 2, it’s safe to say he was the difference. A birds-eye view of the 2011 season says that’s the case more often than not.
Honorable Mentions: On May 9th, Chris Iannetta scored both the Rockies’ runs against the Mets, and they won 2-1. It was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal month. On July 3rd, Carlos Gonzalez collected 6 RBIs in a 16-8 loss to the Royals at Coors. He also made a spectacular, wrist-crushing catch in center field that robbed him of a significant amount of playing time. On September 5th in a loss to the Diamondbacks, Dexter Fowler went 3-for-5 with 2 home runs. It was his first career multi-homer game, and just his 3rd and 4th homers for the season. He hit his first 2 at Chase Field the previous week. And I can’t not mention Mark Ellis and his Rockies debut on July 1st. He went 3-for-5 with a home run and 3 RBIs, immediately acquitting himself as a far better choice at 2nd base than anyone else who played there this season.