After climbing back into the National League West race with a needed sweep of the division leader in their last series, the Rockies will have their playoff legitimacy tested when the team with the best record in the Senior Circuit, the Cincinnati Reds, pays a visit to Coors Field for a four-game set which begins this afternoon.
Colorado has prevailed in 10 of its past 14 contests and pulled within 4 1/2 games of free-falling San Diego in the NL West standings after winning all three meetings with the Padres over the weekend. The Rockies completed the sweep with Sunday's 4-2 triumph in which Melvin Mora came through with a tie- breaking two-run single in the top of the seventh inning.
"We've done a great job in this series and as of late of taking advantage of things that are there in front of us," said Colorado manager Jim Tracy after Sunday's result. "At this time of year, that is what you have to do."
September surges are certainly nothing new to the Rockies. The club won 14 of its final 15 regular-season tests to claim the NL Wild Card during its memorable 2007 season, and went 10-1 to start the month last season to nail down another playoff berth.
Troy Tulowitzki homered and also knocked in a pair of runs during yesterday's victory, while Carlos Gonzalez finished 3-for-5 for Colorado to raise his NL- leading average to .337. The standout outfielder is batting a scorching .529 (27-for-51) with six homers and 16 RBI over the course of a current 13-game hitting streak.
Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa (6-4) held the sputtering Padres to two runs over the first six innings, with relievers Matt Belisle and Huston Street combining for three scoreless frames the rest of the way.
Colorado now returns home to take on a tough Cincinnati squad that tops the NL with a 79-57 record and holds a seven-game advantage on second-place St. Louis in the Central Division, although the Cardinals closed the gap a bit by taking two of three matchups from the Reds this past weekend.
St. Louis came through with a 4-2 come-from-behind win in Sunday's rubber match, with ex-Rockie Matt Holliday's three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning providing the deciding margin.
Cincinnati had broken a scoreless tie on Orlando Cabrera's two-run double in the top of the fifth, but mustered just five other hits off Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter and three relievers on the afternoon.
Homer Bailey (3-3) gave up Holliday's go-ahead blast and allowed four runs in all while striking out four batters in six innings of work.
The Reds still lead the NL in both team batting average and runs scored, but their potent offense figures to receive a challenge from Colorado ace Ubaldo Jimenez in today's opener. The 2010 All-Star Game starter is locked in a three-way tie for the league lead with 17 wins, even though he's been stuck on that number for more than a month now.
Jimenez has gone 0-4 over five starts that followed an August 4 verdict over San Francisco, but can't be solely to blame for his drought. The hard-throwing right-hander has posted a 3.00 earned run average over that winless stretch, with the Rockies scoring two times or less in each of those defeats.
The native Dominican had some more tough luck this past Wednesday in San Francisco, where he limited the Giants to two runs on four hits while striking out 10 over eight strong innings. Nonetheless, he came out on the short end of a 2-1 decision.
Jimenez has been tough to beat at Coors Field this year, however, with the 26- year-old sporting an 8-1 mark along with a 3.16 ERA in 12 home starts. In four career encounters with the Reds, he's 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA.
Aaron Harang draws the assignment for the Reds in today's opener and will be making his second start since coming back from a two-month stint on the disabled list because of recurring back spasms. The towering right-hander pitched four innings in his return and allowed three runs (one earned) on eight hits while walking three batters in Tuesday's no-decision versus Milwaukee.
Harang is 6-7 with a 4.92 ERA over 18 starts this season, but only one of those wins has come on the road. The veteran has fared well at hitter-friendly Coors Field in the past, however, having compiled a 2-1 record with a 3.15 ERA over three previous starts at the spacious venue.
The 31-year-old is 4-2 lifetime against the Rockies and has a 3.00 ERA over those six starts.
Harang was on the mound for Cincinnati's last win at Coors Field, which took place on August 22, 2008. The Reds have lost six in a row to the Rockies in Denver following that outing and are just 3-15 over the last 18 meetings between these teams.
Cincinnati did win two of three bouts against Colorado at Great American Ball Park from July 16-18, however.