It seemed unlikely that much would come out of D.J. LeMahieu’s third-inning at-bat in Tuesday’s game against the Nationals.
Not with the way the rain was coming down in sheets, which would eventually cause a 2 hour, 5 minute delay. And not with LeMahieu behind in the count 0-2 to Gio Gonzalez.
LeMahieu sprayed a couple fouls balls away to stay alive. He watched three balls go by to work a full count. Then Gonzalez let a breaking ball hang just enough, and LeMahieu took advantage by blasting it 446 feet to left center.
The two-run shot brought home Charlie Blackmon and leveled the game at 2-2 in an eventual Colorado win. It also underscored something else: LeMahieu, Colorado’s No. 2 hitter and Blackmon, the Rockies’ leadoff man, have become increasingly difficult outs this year — especially in August.
Here are their numbers so far this month:
- Blackmon: 70 PA, .414 BA, .474 OBP, .900 SLG, 9 HR, 16 RBI, 4 BB, 7 K
- LeMahieu: 60 PA, .483 BA, .581 OBP, .700 SLG, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 9 RBI, 14 BB, 4 K
Right now, Blackmon’s riding an unprecedented power surge.
At least in the context of his own career, that is. He’s smacked nine home runs in August and he’s already up to a career-best 21 homers on the year. As this great Fan Graphs piece pointed out, Blackmon’s done a lot of his damage by feasting on pitches thrown lower in the zone.
Blackmon doesn’t strike out much either. His 14.9 percent strikeout rate is ninth in the MLB among qualifying outfielders. That’s a trait he has in common with the man who bats behind him: LeMahieu, whose strikeout rate (12.9) is two percent lower.
LeMahieu’s discerning eye has helped him elevate his batting average all the way to .343 — just five points behind NL leader Daniel Murphy. According to Fan Graphs, the Rockies’ understated second baseman swings at just 23.9 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, the 19th smallest margin in all of baseball.
Blackmon and LeMahieu’s patient approaches have combined to create one of the scariest one-two punches at the top of an MLB lineup.
“Both guys have really upped their game,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. “Both are getting on base at a really high rate. They’re a big reason why our offense is performing better — even with some key pieces out, and even on the road, where we’ve struggled historically. Our offense is performing, and it has a lot to do with those two guys at the top.”
A lot has changed for the Rockies since their hot stretch of baseball right after the All-Star break. The bullpen has been horrid. There have been multiple injuries. Shortstop Trevor Story and first baseman Mark Reynolds are probably lost for the year. The team’s best starting pitcher this season, Tyler Chatwood, is on the 15-day DL. Right fielder Carlos Gonzalez is in and out of the lineup with an ankle issue. Even Nolan Arenado is slumping the last month and a half by his standards.
Through it all, the two constants have been Blackmon and Lemahieu.
Both are in the midst of career years at ages 30 and 27, respectively, and will be back in Colorado next season.
The Rockies don’t have much hope for a playoff appearance this season; a 2-4 week put them 6 ½ games back in the National League Wild Card race. But they have young talent on the roster, including Arenado, one of the best players in the game, and guys like LeMahieu and Blackmon who are in their primes.
With all that, it’s not hard to imagine them in the thick of things next year.