Rockies trying to prove they can play with National League's best

It’s been a long time since the Colorado Rockies were legitimate contenders.

Truth be told, it’s been a long time since we’ve even been able to take them seriously going into Mother’s Day. Yet here we are.

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Going into play on Sunday, the Rockies are sitting atop the National League West with a 23-15 record. That’s one-half game better than the Los Angeles Dodgers. With a win against those Dodgers on Sunday, Colorado would split a four-game weekend series and finish their 10-game homestand — which included series against the Diamondbacks and Cubs — with a winning record. It would also further cement them as a team to be taken seriously.

The Rockies early season success and the Dodgers attempt to slow them down made this matchup one of the most intriguing on the National League slate Sunday. Colorado took the victory, 9-6.

The Rockies turnaround has to be catching some people off guard. Since last making the playoffs in 2009, they’ve mostly floundered while appearing to lack any real direction. That’s slowly changed though since general manager Jeff Bridach took over in October of 2014, and now it looks like everything we felt safe to assume about them is no longer true.

Rookie starter Antonio Senzatela has been an early bright spot for the Rockies. He’ll start Sunday’s finale against the Dodgers. (AP)

For example, the Rockies can flat out pitch. They have developed a core of young starters that do not seem fazed by the challenges Coors Field presents or the level of competition they face. They’ve carried that focus and success on the road too, as Colorado’s 3.23 road ERA is the best in the league.

Check this out: Beginning with Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs and ending Thursday against the Dodgers, the Rockies started rookie pitchers — Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman — in four straight games. Typically, that’s a recipe for disaster. Especially so against elite offenses at Coors Field. Yet Colorado emerged from that stretch 3-1.

The bullpen, which has traditionally been a disaster, is holding up its end too. There are a couple obvious weak links there, but manager Bud Black has been able to work around those effectively. It helps when you have veterans like Mike Dunn, Jake McGee, Adam Ottavino and Greg Holland, who’s 15-for-15 in save opportunities this season, providing sturdy relief in the late innings.

Of course, the Rockies are always going to hit. But unlike past seasons they’ve been able to overcome numerous injuries in the lineup.

When Ian Desmond and David Dahl went down in spring training, veterans Mark Reynolds and Gerardo Parra picked up the slack. In fact, Reynolds is hitting so well he might be difficult to keep off the All-Star team. When the catching tandem of Tom Murphy and Tony Wolters went down, Dustin Garneau and Ryan Hanigan stepped up. With Trevor Story struggling and now injured, Pat Valaika has filled in admirably.

The Rockies are proving to be an exceptionally deep team. Just as importantly, they’re playing with a confidence rarely seen in a team that’s forced to shuttle between the mountains and sea level.

If they continue pitching well and can keep that confidence going, they’re going to be a team contenders don’t want to face.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!