The Rockies have stormed back into the MLB playoff picture, and they're doing it with pitching and defense

Understandably, the Oakland Athletics are the talk of baseball right now. They erased a 10-game deficit in the AL West in about a month and had a chance to move into sole possession of first place Sunday afternoon, but their loss to the Astros (HOU 9, OAK 4) knocked them one-game back. Still, the A's are scorching hot and in position to steal the division from the defending World Series champions.

With Oakland hogging all the attention -- again, understandably so -- it's been easy to overlook the fact there is an A's caliber race up the standings going on in the National League as well. The Colorado Rockies, who were eight games back as recently as June 28, have won 30 of their last 44 games and now sit only a half-game behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West. The best records in baseball since June 28:

  1. Red Sox: 34-10 (.773)
  2. Athletics: 31-12 (.721)
  3. Rockies: 30-14 (.682)
  4. Cubs: 28-17 (.622)
  5. Indians: 27-17 (.614)

"To me, anybody who makes the postseason has a chance to be a legitimate World Series contender, and the Rockies have a chance to make the postseason," Jonah Keri said on CBS Sports HQ. "Does that mean they are one of the three or four best teams in baseball? I don't think so. They've put themselves in position to make the postseason either as a wild card or maybe win the west."

Making Colorado's rise up the standings even more impressive is who they've beaten. All 44 games during his 30-14 stretch have been played against teams over .500 -- the Rockies have played 46 straight games against winning teams overall -- which ties the 1926 Phillies for the longest such streak in National League history. The 30-14 stretch has included:

  • A four-game sweep of the Braves in Atlanta over the weekend.
  • Three-game sweep of the Dodgers last week.
  • Three-game sweeps of the A's and Mariners last month.
  • Four wins in six games over the D-Backs.

We're so used to the Rockies being a dynamite offensive team because of Coors Field, but during this 30-14 stretch, they're averaging only 4.75 runs scored per game, which is above the NL average (4.46) but not substantially so. Colorado is averaged 4.69 runs scored per game on the season, which ranks tenth among all teams and fourth among NL teams. A good offensive team? Yes. A powerhouse offensive team like most Rockies teams historically? Nah.

The 2018 Rockies are built on run prevention, and aside from a midseason blip in which the bullpen seemed to blow a lead every night, the Rockies have been better than average at keeping runs off the board. That is not easy to do in Coors Field.

2018-rockies-runs-allowed.png
The Rockies have been an above-average run prevention team most of the season. The Baseball Gauge

The expensive new-look bullpen has not worked out as hoped -- Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee have a combined 5.83 ERA in 142 innings -- but Adam Ottavino has been dominant all year and new addition Seung-hwan Oh has helped picked up the slack. Kyle Freeland might be having the best pitching season in franchise history, Jon Gray has been very good since returning from Triple-A last month, and German Marquez and Tyler Anderson give the club two more quality starters.

"It's a team that has pitching and defense, and pitching and defense can play in the postseason," Keri added. "This is a team with a minus-12 run differential. They are ahead of the Dodgers, who are in third place in that division -- Dodgers are plus-113 -- but guess what? Those wins are in the bank. Colorado's got a chance now as the season winds down to beat out teams that might have more of a profile of a playoff team, including a team like the Dodgers."

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Seattle Mariners
German Marquez held the Braves to two runs in seven innings Sunday. USATSI

The Rockies have won 30 of their last 44 games despite facing good competition, and now the schedule will let up a bit. Twelve of their next 15 games are against the Padres, Angels, and Giants. Any team can beat any other team on any given night in this game, those bad teams won't beat themselves, but it should be a nice reprieve for the Rockies after all those games against teams with winning records.

Much like the Mariners earlier this season, it's fair to be skeptical about the Rockies as a viable contender given their run differential, but, much like the Mariners, these wins have happened and they can't be taken away. There are six weeks to go in the regular season and what has happened already won't have much impact on what happens going forward. The Rockies have played quite well lately, and if they continue at something close to this pace, they'll have a chance to not only go back to the postseason, but win the NL West.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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