For the second time in three days Tuesday, Nolan Arenado stepped to the plate in a critical late-game situation with the chance to help his team tie the game or take the lead.
On Sunday, the Rockies third baseman hit a cycle-completing home run that earned Colorado a walk-off win. Two days later, Arenado was up with two on and his team trailing by a run. Arenado watched one ball go by then took the second pitch the opposite way.
Arenado’s go-ahead triple, which scored both of his teammates in Colorado’s eventual 4-3 win, was the latest example of a Rockie coming up big with runners in scoring position. This season, Colorado is batting a scorching .322 when a runner is present on second base, third base or both. That’s the highest mark in the majors by a significant margin and outpaces the Rockies’ batting average across all situations of .275.
More than any other teams in the majors, Colorado has produced runs by taking advantage of moments when it already has runners on second or third — or what Rockies manager Bud Black calls “ducks on the pond” situations.
“I had a coach in Iowa who said that all the time,” Black said. “‘Ducks on the pond. Let’s go get a base hit.'”
Seven different Rockies are hitting .300 or better with RISP. Gerardo Parra (.432) and Ian Desmond (.425) rank a respective second and third in the big leagues under those circumstances. Center fielder Charlie Blackmon is also raking with proverbial “ducks on the pond,” hitting .387 with seven home runs. Arenado (.373), Mark Reynolds (.366), Tony Wolters (.360) and D.J. LeMahieu (.324) round out the group.
“It’s contagious,” Wolters said. “When we get some guys on, we’re just trying to have quality at bats. And just do whatever we can to give our pitcher a little bit of cushion. We take a lot of pride in that. No one wants to make that last out. We just want to keep that chain moving, and that’s just kind of the mindset that we have.”
The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals hold the single-season record for batting average with RISP. They hit .330 that year on their way to winning 97 games. Since then, no team has batted above .288. Given that, and the fact that the Rockies’ average with RISP is .47 points higher than their average across all situations, it’s fair to wonder if Colorado can keep this up.
Desmond and Parra are lifetime .273 and .264 hitters with RISP. The numbers suggest they’ll cool off as the season wears on. But the numbers also suggest that what Arenado is doing is sustainable. Over the last three years, the Rockies’ star third baseman has hit .366 and 32 home runs with RISP.
“I feel like some guys just have a knack for driving runs in, shortstop Trevor Story said. “I feel like Nolan, as long as I’ve seen him play, it just seems like he has a knack for either getting a knock or getting that guy in.”
Black agreed with his shortstop, saying that in big moments, some guys have the ability to elevate their games.
“There’s higher intensity when ducks are on the pond, especially later in the game,” Black said. “You just sort of heighten your focus.”
Black’s club has had success in those critical parts of the game so far, and it’s paying dividends.
All numbers are updated as of Wednesday morning.
Subscribe to Denverite’s weekly sports newsletter here.