We are getting down to the final two weeks of the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season, and local product Greg Holland is in a familiar position: He’s looking at the opportunity to make MLB’s postseason for the third time in four seasons.
Holland, a 2004 McDowell High graduate and former Western Carolina standout, and the rest of the Colorado Rockies are in the hunt for one of the two National League Wild Card spots here in the middle of September.
The Rockies, as of the beginning of this weekend’s series at Coors Field against the San Diego Padres, sported an 80-67 record and were in control of the NL’s second Wild Card.
As of Friday, with 15 games left, Colorado was out of contention in the National League’s Western Division, 14 ½ games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. Still, Colorado controls its own destiny for making a playoff appearance, 2 ½ games ahead of St. Louis and Milwaukee for the last Wild Card spot.
Earlier this week, the Rockies split a four-game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks, keeping them five games back of their division rivals for the top Wild Card spot. A strong finish by Colorado could set up a one-game showdown between the two in the postseason.
For both Holland and the Rockies, the second half of the season has had its ups and down.
After spending most of the first half in front of the NL West and with one of the best records in the league, Colorado went through a rough spell starting in late June. It began with an eight-game losing streak just prior to the All-Star Break, with most of those losses coming against divisional teams.
That allowed the Dodgers to jump ahead of them in the standings, taking the Division lead. From there, a July mark of 12-12 and a 12-15 mark in August turned a healthy margin in the standings into something much less certain.
However, in the month of September, Colorado has done a solid job in trying to get back on track as they have gone 8-6 so far, winning all eight of those in a nine-game stretch.
Much like his teammates, Holland has also experienced a few bumps in the road during the second half, blowing three saves in the month of August, including consecutive attempts. Against the Philadelphia Phillies on Aug. 6, he gave up two earned runs to the Phillies at home. Then, a couple days later, Holland allowed four runs on two hits and a walk in Cleveland against the Indians in a rescheduled rainout from earlier in the year.
The third blown save of the month came in a battle against his former team, the Kansas City Royals, at Kaufmann Stadium back on the 23rd. Holland gave up three earned runs, including a walk-off home run to Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer in a 6-4 loss.
During this timeframe, Holland, who earlier made the All-Star team for the third time in his career, was diagnosed with a finger injury on his throwing hand, an injury that is believed to have affected his ability to command his pitches efficiently. With those struggles in August, some national baseball writers questioned whether Holland should be removed as the Rockies closer.
But Colorado manager Bud Black has stuck with Holland as the closer, and in recent days, that call has looked like a wise decision. Holland is showing signs of getting past that rut and regaining his command again, just in time for the stretch run.
Holland has converted his last five save opportunities, giving up either a hit or run in only one of them. That occurred last Saturday night when he allowed a run to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, but he did strike out a pair to preserve the save in a 6-5 win.
Statistically on the season, Holland has a 3.69 earned run average and a 1.16 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), which are some of the highest numbers in his major league career. His 25 walks are on pace to be the most he’s allowed since the 2012 season (34). But even with those numbers, the Rockies’ closer has shown his grit and has battled his way to the 40-save mark as of the start of the weekend. Holland is the National League’s save leader and is four behind Tampa Bay’s Alex Colome (44) for the major league’s most.
Holland was signed by Colorado as a free agent back in January to a $7 million base deal with several incentives built in that could potentially double his salary this season. He also kicked in a vested option of $15 million for the 2018 season after finishing his 30th game, a save against the Cincinnati Reds back on May 21.
The Rockies can exercise that option for next season, or Holland, at age 31, could become a free agent this offseason and search for a more extensive contract with another team.
For all the things that have happened to the Colorado Rockies and their bullpen ace to this point of the 2017 season, the roster is exactly in the position that they want to be in with just over a dozen games left.
Penciled in before the season by most sportswriters as a postseason sleeper, Colorado has the opportunity to live up to that billing over the next couple weeks.
The only difference for Holland compared to most of his teammates is that he has prior experience playing in big games down the stretch, having been a key component in Kansas City’s magical 2014 run that ended with a loss to the Giants in the World Series.
That experience should go a long way when it’s time to anchor down the late innings for Black and pitching coach Steve Foster.
NOTE: The Rockies last playoff berth came in 2009 as the National League Wild Card. The team was eventually eliminated by the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series. Colorado, in its franchise history, has clinched the Wild Card on two occasions (1995, 2009) and the National League Pennant once in 2007.