DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Rockies are finding their stride behind a shortstop who's cutting down on his strikeouts, a converted first baseman who's rediscovering his swing and a rotation that's turning in quality start after quality start.
On top of that, third baseman Nolan Arenado's turning in an MVP-caliber season yet again.
An NL wild-card team a year ago, Colorado is pushing to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. The Rockies trail the Los Angeles Dodgers by two games in a tightly bunched NL West race. Riding a five-game winning streak, the Rockies open the second half Friday by traveling to Arizona and facing a Diamondbacks squad that's 1½ games ahead of them in the standings.
"Guys are really stepping up," said Arenado, who's hitting .312 with 23 homers and playing the hot corner so expertly that a sixth straight Gold Glove looks like a formality. "Everyone has been contributing."
Leading the way of late is shortstop Trevor Story. He's fresh off his first All-Star Game, where he delivered a solo homer for the National League in an 8-6 loss to the American League on Tuesday. Story is hitting .292 with 20 homers. Even more, his strikeout rate is gradually dipping. After leading the National League in Ks last season, he worked on his swing in the offseason and is now putting more pitches in play.
First baseman Ian Desmond has found success at the plate in recent weeks, boosting his average from .173 on May 26 to .235 with 18 homers at the break. He hit seven homers in 2017 — the first season in his five-year, $70 million deal.
Really, though, the noticeable difference has been on the mound. Colorado's starters boast a 2.23 ERA with 10 quality starts over the past 15 games.
Opening day starter Jon Gray showed flashes of returning to form after he was recently sent to Triple-A Albuquerque to hone his mechanics. In his return Coors Field last weekend, Gray threw a season-high 7 1/3 innings and allowed one run.
"There's no secret that everybody in this place knows the ability and the tools that he has," outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said.
Things to know as the Rockies chase after their first NL West title:
BUYERS OR SELLERS: Manager Bud Black could always use another arm for the bullpen. Although, Adam Ottavino and closer Wade Davis have been lights out. Ottavino and Davis are both holding hitters to batting averages below .200. Offseason acquisition Bryan Shaw struggled early, went on the disabled list with a calf strain and hasn't surrendered a run in his last two appearances.
The names that could be mentioned in trade rumors are Gerardo Parra and Gonzalez, given that David Dahl is on the mend from a broken right foot and there will be a log jam in the outfield. Gonzalez has heated up in recent weeks and is hitting .331 since May 27.
"Even when I'm hitting .190 or .200 my confidence level is always high," said Gonzalez, who was brought back in mid-March on a $5 million, one-year contract. "I feel like I have a lot in the tank and games to contribute to this club to reach our goals."
STORY'S TIME: Story was just named the NL player of the week after hitting .400 with three homers, including a walk-off blast against Seattle last Sunday. He's hitting .378 since June 8.
"He's been swinging the bat great," Arenado said. "He looks so good up there, so in control."
ROLLING ALONG: Colorado has captured five straight series against teams at or above the .500 mark for the first time in team history.
"We're playing the way we're capable of playing," Story said.
FIRST AND FOREMOST: The first inning has been friendly to the Rockies — and unfriendly, too. They've scored a league-leading 80 runs in the opening inning and allowed a league-leading 82. In addition, they're outscoring teams 318-226 over the opening five innings but have been outscored 239-145 in innings six through nine.
POWERING ALONG: Charlie Blackmon, Desmond, Story and Arenado have all hit at least 18 homers. The last team to have four players hit that many before the break was the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies.
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