CHICAGO -- Some of the numbers don't add up when it comes to the Rockies' early-season success.
Last year's National League batting champion, Carlos Gonzalez, is hitting .214, and the team played -- and won -- Tuesday night with a lineup that included four position players hitting below .200. Colorado was hitting .239 as a team, good for just 12th in the NL going into Thursday's action. The club's OPS -- on-base percentage plus slugging percentage -- ranked a middle-of-the-road seventh. Last year's ace pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, has battled through a thumb injury, has made just three starts and has yet to win.
Yet at 16-7, the Rockies have baseball's highest winning percentage at .696. There has to be an explanation. One can be found buried in stat-based Internet sites. Or it could be in somewhat plain sight, tucked off in the corner of the stadium in the bullpen when the games begin.
"You know what? If the bullpen doesn't get any credit, we don't want any," right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom said. "We just can't wait until we see some of the other guys, guys we know what they can do, really do their thing."
Give manager Jim Tracy credit for trying to shine a light on relievers. Often in his daily meetings with the media, he brings up the bullpen, even if questioned on another subject.
The numbers that support the credit given to the bullpen are hard to miss.
|"The arms we have, the experience we have, that exudes confidence. But you have to execute and perform. That's what I'm most proud of. We've got a group of guys with character, and we speak with action on the field."|
|-- Matt Belisle|
Closer Huston Street leads the Majors with nine saves and hasn't blown one, and the bullpen as a whole converted 11 of 13 save chances (84.6 percent), second only to the Phillies' 88.9 percent (8 of 9). Rafael Betancourt leads the league in holds with seven, and lefty specialist Matt Reynolds has spent the season among the NL leaders in strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Tracy has a versatile and talented bullpen.
Street has experienced adventure in his role, having thrown the fifth-most pitches of any NL reliever, even though he has gone past one inning just once. But when healthy, he has been successful since joining the team in 2009. Betancourt has been a steadying influence over the bullpen since arriving in a 2009 trade with the Indians. Right-hander Matt Belisle emerged as a solid middle reliever last year, and Reynolds has stayed in the strike zone since being called up late last season. Acquiring Lindstrom from the Astros for a pair of Minor League pitchers during the winter has proven to be a key move.
The result is versatility. Lindstrom, a former closer, has earned two saves this season, one when Tracy wanted to lessen Street's workload, the other when Street ran into trouble. On Monday, Lindstrom went beyond one inning for the first time this season to help quell a rally in a 5-3 victory over the Cubs. Belisle can enter with runners on base or pitch multiple innings.
The bullpen has even found a surprise contributor. Right-hander Clayton Mortensen, a starter by trade, has thrown eight scoreless relief innings in two bullpen-saving performances.
"The arms we have, the experience we have, that exudes confidence," said Belisle (2-1, 4.09 ERA), who has nine strikeouts against three walks and has thrown scoreless ball in seven of his 10 appearances. "But you have to execute and perform. That's what I'm most proud of. We've got a group of guys with character, and we speak with action on the field."
After being dogged by slow starts throughout their history, the Rockies are one victory shy of tying their club record through the first full month. They were 17-7 in 1997. But the entire team is seeing the start through the eyes of relievers, who can't afford to be anything but day-by-day guys. Starting off hot was not a goal, just merely an item on a 162-game to-do list.
"The important thing for us to realize is it doesn't matter what we've done so far," Street said. "We're still not there yet."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.