Monthly archives: May 2005
Rockies 2, Cardinals 1
The Rockies have made a lot of roster moves with regards to their pitching staff this season, but none has had the impact of the exchange of mediocre Jason Jennings for his dazzlingly effective identical twin Jeremy. Today only a Todd Greene throwing error kept Jeremy from shutting the Cardinals down entirely. No ripping on Greene, though, because he hit the second of back-to-back homers in the 4th. Dustan Mohr hit the other. Todd Helton didn't start against the lefty Mark Mulder, leading to much hilarity from the TV announcers regarding his role as a defensive specialist when he entered the game in the 8th.
Mohr flubbed a sacrifice attempt in the 8th with two on and nobody out, popping out to the catcher, but the Rockies ended up not needing the insurance runs. After Jennings' seven innnings (6 hits, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts, no perfect innings but only 1 earned run), Jay Witasick and Brian Fuentes shut it down proper.
It's wonderful to get a win any time we can, but besides Jennings and Matt Holliday (2 for 4), the major contributors in this game were marginal veteran guys who aren't the foundation of our theoretical future success. Clint Barmes and Brad Hawpe and J.D. Closser need to get it going. Eddy Garabito did get his first major league hit tonight, so good on him.
Measured answers to pointed questions from Troy E. Renck. The best question is the last one -- why does Hurdle keep giving Desi Relaford and Todd Greene starts when the Rockies' won-loss record is clearly just an academic question at this point? There is no good answer to this question. Hurdle (apparently) doesn't have to win to keep his job. Also, further Preston Wilson speculation. I am backing off this topic until I see a rumor mentioned in more than one place.
Another story everyone is sick of: the Wayne Hagin-Todd Helton conflict. The Rockies' brass have apparently asked Hagin to avoid Helton at all costs during this series, which seems like needless escalation to me. One imagines Hagin is as anxious to get this ugly situation behind him as Helton is. Well, the newspapers have to run something in between all the car dealership spreads, I guess. A St. Louis columnist gives his readers a fairly accurate reading on the state of the Rockies, although the musings about steroids he brings in towards the end are completely silly.
It'll be at least a week until Aaron Miles tries any baseball activities...Matt Anderson, step right up...Jason Jennings can set a dubious record tonight...two big names are out of the draft at the last moment...Purple Row wants your opinion on to whom Colorado needs to hang on. My list: Francis, Closser, Barmes, Hawpe, Holliday, Carvajal, Sullivan. Oh, and Todd Helton. He's good.
Hearing the Bell
Well, it's Buddy Bell in KC. I am Jack's complete lack of interest and/or surprise. Royals owner David Glass was adamant (registration required) that the team hire someone who had managed in the majors before, and he gets his wish. Of course, the teams Bell managed (Detroit 1996-98, Colorado 2000-02) were all bad. The Royals will neither benefit nor suffer from Bell's hiring. He merely gives them another retroactive excuse for their pathetic play besides the fact that they don't spend any money on players and their minor league development system is predicated on drafting players too young and promoting them too early.
Colorado and Kansas City are the two worst teams in the majors right now, but I see some hope for the Rockies that the Royals just don't have. Colorado has shown the potential for being at least a strong mid-market team, assuming they can first put a core of young players capable of finishing at least .500 together first. Were the Rockies ever to become a consistent contender, they have a whole untapped region to conquer. The Royals are stuck with a crummy TV contract and the much more alluring Cardinals, their competitive payroll, and their impending new stadium in the same state. Kansas City as a host for an MLB team has always been a shaky proposition. The Athletics didn't post a winning record their entire sojourn there (1955-67). The Royals had some great years in the late '70s and early '80s, but that was during an era of admitted collusion on the part of the owners to keep payrolls down.
You don't have to spend $200 million to make the playoffs. There is, however, a floor somewhere. The Devil Rays, the Royals, and possibly the Pirates are under it. The Brewers and the Blue Jays are toeing the line. The Rockies are not. Sensible signings, good drafting, and a canny trade here and there, and it's a new day for baseball in Denver. The Rockies kept Todd Helton, while the Royals had literally no chance at retaining Carlos Beltran. A new day isn't coming in Kansas City. Will it come in Portland or Las Vegas?
Cardinals 5, Rockies 4
Well, I committed a cardinal sin last night (ha ha, little joke there) -- I went to bed before the game was over. Between the rain delay, the long road trip the day before, and waking up at 4 in the morning to drive my father to the airport, I just wasn't up for another loss. I saw Pujols' homer, and I thought "Well, there goes that one."
For those who didn't see any of the game, it was a weird one. Jamey Wright was effective. Desi Relaford reached third on a three-base error and scored on an overthrow by catcher Yadier Molina. The Cardinals picked up an unearned run right back on an error by Relaford. Then Colorado retook the lead on a Jason Marquis wild pitch in the 6th, and padded it on an infield hit that could have been called an error on shortstop David Eckstein. I felt fairly confident throughout that whichever team managed to first score a run with a solid hit would win it, and indeed Albert Pujols hit one where no Rockies defender could bobble it in the 7th, scoring Eckstein and Roger CedeÃ±o.
The long and short of it is the Rockies are not going to win many games at Coors when they get only one extra-base hit (a double by suddenly potent J.D. Closser in the third). Brad Hawpe had a 2 for 4 day, and Todd Helton at least walked twice (remember, Closser started walking in bunches right before he started hitting a bit), but this offense has not yet shaken the rust of the brutal road trip off of its back. 1 for 5, Clint Barmes? You can do better!
I have nothing to say bad about Jay Witasick, who gave up Pujols' shot. Albert hit a very good pitch, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Great hitters will hit good pitches sometimes. Matt Anderson sure didn't do much in his Rockies debut, though. As for Jamey Wright, well, even a blind chicken finds a kernel of corn every now and then. Onward!
Four Days in Late May/Early June
It's way more fun to write about dysfunctional teams than good teams. Pointing out shortcomings is just more of a charge than admitting another's job well done. That said, Walt Jocketty has done an excellent job assembling a St. Louis team to defend last year's National League pennant. As I alluded to earlier, the Cardinals probably won't win 105 games as they did last year. A lot has to go right to win that many, and last year's Cards were lucky in terms of injuries and getting career years from starters like Chris Carpenter and Jason Marquis. This year Jason Isringhausen has spent some time on the DL and the great Scott Rolen is out for a while.
An article in today's Rocky Mountain News effectively outlines how St. Louis retooled on the fly. Woody Williams was replaced by Mark Mulder -- huge upgrade. Mike Matheny's job was given to youngster Yadier Molina -- not any better or worse, but a great deal cheaper. The old keystone combo of Tony Womack and Edgar Renteria gave way for Mark Grudzielanek and David Eckstein, a slight on-field gain for a huge drop in salaries. Womack (.616 OPS) is making $2 million for the Yankees (and playing left field), while Grudzielanek's numbers are .846 and $1 million. Renteria: .764 and $8 million for the Red Sox, Eckstein: .767 and $2.3 million.
Of course the guys who make it all go get paid the big money, but they do happen to be Albert Pujols, Larry Walker, and Jim Edmonds, and they deserve it. Reggie Sanders is having himself a good year, and John Mabry has been more than adequate in a super-utility role. The Cardinals lead the league in runs and OPS. Their pitching staff checks in at a very respectable fourth in the league to boot. In short, they're the class of the league.
Besides Rolen's absence, the Rockies will get no favors in this four-game series with Marquis, Mark Mulder, and undefeated Matt Morris set to start the first three games. Wow, that's a lot of M's. Jeff Suppan, a better fifth starter than a lot of teams have #2 guys, will go in the Thursday day finisher. Colorado counters, such as it is, with Wright, Jennings, Kennedy, and Chacon in that order. Marquis and Suppan have relatively swell Coors numbers in limited exposure, while Mulder and Morris haven't pitched there (at least since '02, which is as far back as ESPN's splits go).
The Rockies have had their two best series of the year at home against fairly hot teams (LA and SF), but St. Louis is a whole order of magnitude better than either of those clubs. I have been overly optimistic too much lately, with no good coming of it, so I'm going to predict a Cardinal sweep. We're in rain delay, so technically this preview isn't tardy.
Back at Home
No matter how short a trip lasts, it always feels as if you've missed something at home when you return. Such is not the case with the Rockies headlines, which are the usual lamentations. Whither the rotation? "We have been anything but consistent off the mound," says Clint Hurdle, who ponders replacing Jamey Wright as a starter with Byung-Hyun Kim. This in my view is sort of like standing over a raging campfire with a can of gasoline, thinking better of it, and chucking a can of bug spray in instead. Except I never weighed Kim vs. Wright at Boy Scout camp.
The Post profiles catcher-in-waiting Danny Ardoin, who is much older than I thought (30), and is therefore like recently recalled Eddy Garabito a complete waste of the Rockies' time. Mike Klis oddly describes the Cardinals as "gritty." The White Sox are gritty. The Brewers are gritty. The Cardinals have superior talent, a wonderful veteran core, the best right-handed hitter in baseball, and a Hall of Fame manager. I'll get back to them a little later today, when I explain why the Cardinals have a better team than they did last year, yet will win fewer games.
Todd Helton has no idea, either: "I am going to be all right. I just need to hit the ball hard for a change." He apparently feels that no curse of Wayne Hagin is in effect, as he does not wish to speak to the Cardinals' broadcaster who implicated him as a steroid user. "Now that's a really stupid question," Helton said when asked. Interesting note here (fourth item) about Colorado players' chances to win, place, and show in NL Rookie of the Year voting. J.D. Closser is not in the running but seems to be reacting well to the Rockies' weird decision to evaluate him on practically an at-bat by at-bat basis.
Clint Hurdle on the upcoming stretch of games against St. Louis and Chicago AL: "I look forward to it. We will be able to take a litmus test and find out where we are." Uh, Clint? You don't need a strip of funny paper for that. A regular one with newsprint will do just fine. You're 16 games back. Also, Tracy Ringolsby (second item) notes that Mark Prior and Brad Hawpe's paths have crossed before.
Cubs 11, Rockies 6
Well, at least the road trip is finally over. Mine and the Rockies'. Neither Jeff Francis nor Marcos Carvajal had their best stuff as the Cubs returned to .500 at Colorado's expense. At least Preston Wilson is heating up and J.D. Closser finally managed to hit himself a homer. Luis Gonzalez is making a bid for Aaron Miles' job, nudging his average up to .306 with a 2-for-5, 3-RBI game. Todd Helton avoided going hitless-for-Chicago by the narrowest of margins. Clint Barmes still looks lost out there. No one on the Rockies, with the possible exception of Jamey Wright, will be sorry to return to relatively friendly confines of Coors Field.
Driving back from Chicago afforded me the opportunity to retrieve most of my baseball reference library from my parents' basement. Maybe I will be able to track down the Eddy Garabito info I promised earlier now. I also have my extensive collection of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" literature with me at last. We'll see how I'm able to incorporate that.
Aha, here we go! From John Sickels' Prospect Book, 2003 edition, written when Garabito was in the Orioles' system: "He has little power or untapped offensive upside that I can see, but he does decently with the glove and can swipe a base, 25th man material." And the Watcher's Guide Volume 1 notes that Nicholas Brendon (Xander) played baseball at California's College of the Canyon and intended to try his luck in the pros until a broken arm detoured him into acting. Now that's some research.
Cubs 5, Rockies 1
As I was driving from Chicago to Grand Island, Nebraska (on my way back to Boulder), the beat went on for the Rockies. Early MVP candidate Derrek Lee homered for the third and fourth times in the last two days as the Cubs easily defeated Colorado. Todd Helton is still hitless for this series, and 2 for his last 42. Byung-Hyun Kim pitched as well as could be expected (5 innings, 3 homers, 5 runs, but happily no walks), but the Rockies' offense utterly rolled over for Glendon Rusch. Dustan Mohr, getting the start against the lefty, had two of Colorado's six hits. Luis Gonzalez chipped in another two, and Preston Wilson had the lone RBI.
Before the game, the Cubs reacted quickly to the loss of Mark Prior, dealing useless reliever LaTroy Hawkins to San Francisco for two fairly interesting young guys. Giants' GM Brian Sabean said the high risk was worth it for Hawkins: "We're in desperate need to rearrange the bullpen. We followed (Hawkins) for the better part of May. I believe he needs a change of scenery. He'll fit in nice in our seventh and eight inning." Just don't boo him, San Franciscans, he's sensitive like that.
Clint Hurdle returned to the Rockies Friday, and it sounds like his daughter is going to be OK. I guess that means I can go back to advocating his firing. Neifi Perez: "It bothers me to not have been [in Colorado] my whole career. It's still a painful subject." Perez claims he called his shot in Friday's game as well. Clint Barmes, hitless today, turned an ankle Thursday and that's why he missed the game I attended. The ugly Todd Helton feud with broadcaster Wayne Hagin will be revisited this coming week with the Cardinals in town.
It's never too early to start talking about whom the bad teams will trade. SI fantasy writer David Sabino repeats what we already know about the Rockies: Preston Wilson will go, Todd Helton probably won't. Speaking of bad teams, here's a Royals managerial search update: Art Howe and Buddy Bell interviewed, Jerry Manuel and Terry Collins scheduled. But is Kansas City moving too fast?
Cubs 10, Rockies 3
For some reason when I go to Cubs games, momentous things happen. In 2002, in Milwaukee, I saw Mark Bellhorn hit home runs from opposite sides of the plate in the same inning. In 2003, at Wrigley, I saw Sammy Sosa ejected from a game when cork was found in his bat. This time around, I saw Brad Hawpe break Mark Prior's arm with a line drive that had the sound and effect of a gunshot. If this is what the Rockies have to do to affect a pennant race, I don't want to see them lead off SportsCenter again this season.
The game itself was nondescript, although a few good defensive plays brightened what was otherwise a dull blowout. Todd Wellemeyer came in after Prior's injury and locked the Colorado offense down, allowing nary a hit in 3 2/3 innings. Meanwhile Joe Kennedy got pounded, although only three of his seven runs were earned thanks to a Garrett Atkins error in the fourth. None of the Rockies' pitchers fared particularly well as Neifi Perez, Corey Patterson, and Derrek Lee homered, Lee connecting twice. Once again Kennedy couldn't avoid the big inning and the Rockies' offense was ill-equipped to bail him out.
Preston Wilson did homer, boosting his trade value. He was busy in center as well, as we could see from our vantage point in the upper bleachers. J.D. Closser was hitless but drew three walks, which I'm taking as a good sign. Todd Helton's struggles continued with an 0 for 4 day. Luis Gonzalez was the only Colorado hitter to have a multi-hit day, with two singles in five at-bats. Clint Barmes took the day off. Eddy Garabito pinch-hit for his major league debut.
Even if the bleacher fans are occasionally abusive to park patrons in out-of-town colors, Wrigley Field is the best place to see baseball games in the world. It's a credit to the Cubs' fans that they have 38,000 people every home game, even weekday day contests. Today was Cubs' radio announcer Pat Hughes' 50th, so I joined in singing "Happy Birthday" for him. Northern Illinois' football coach sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch. I yelled "Rockies" as loud as I could at the appropriate time, but it didn't seem to much help.
News Post, Chicago Edition
All is revealed: you wouldn't like Jason Jennings when he's angry; an experiment gone awry turns him into effective starter and S.O.B. Jeremy Jennings when his ire is raised. "I heard on TV how they were talking about how they were going to sweep us like we are everyone's homecoming game. It's personal." A slight change in his delivery may have helped as well. Meanwhile, Jeromy Burnitz would have loved to stay with the Rockies, but they disrespected him by not giving him a huge raise he didn't deserve. Also, Shawn Chacon won't make his scheduled start Saturday and Aaron Miles will see some DL time. As expected, Byung-Hyun Kim will sub for Chacon.
Jamie Quirk has enjoyed his brief managerial career: "A lot of the things the manager does, you've seen him do it but you're not involved in it. It's been an enlightening experience." Quirk may still be a long-shot candidate for the Royals' job, although Kansas City has publically said they want someone with major league experience. Jamie notes how it's difficult to leave an MLB coaching job to gain managerial experience at a lower level: "It's very hard to leave a major league job. Obviously, the money is better.... Just to go with no guarantees is kind of hard."
As soon as I find something written about Eddy Garabito, I promise you'll hear about it. Meanwhile in Chicago, reaction to the Cubs losing to the Rockies is dramatic: "The Cubs are such marshmallows that you hope they consider using steroids and corking their bats," writes Jay Mariotti. "Right now, we're just not a very good team, that's the bottom line," says Todd Walker (registration required). If they want to keep hacking away at every pitch they see the rest of this series, that'd be just fine with me and the Rockies' pitching staff.
Rockies 5, Cubs 2
Well, that was nice! A lot nicer than an hour-and-a-half delay at Denver International, anyway. Jason Jennings' good twin -- we'll call him Jeremy Jennings, in honor of the brothers London -- walked only two while pitching seven solid and allowing a paltry one run. Jeremy's pitch count was a tiny 87 as the Cubs persistently pounded first and second pitches into the ground, disproportionately often to Todd Helton. Meanwhile the Rockies' incredible shrinking offense managed to get to Carlos Zambrano, one of the toughest pitchers in the National League. You never know, in this game.
Clint Barmes looked like his old self, singling twice and walking once, even stealing a base for good measure. Preston Wilson and Todd Greene homered. Even Desi Relaford did a decent impersonation of a major league player, with a double, a single, and a walk. All the Cubs could do to answer was a Todd Walker RBI single and a Jerry Hairston tally on a wild pitch by Brian Fuentes in the ninth. And how about Jay Witasick's perfect eighth?
OK, the Rockies have to be having a pretty horrible season for me to be wildly excited about a single well-played road game. But they are having a pretty horrible season. Also, my relationship to the Cubs is that of a jilted lover. Tomorrow, Joe Kennedy is going to wipe the floor with Mark Prior! Well, perhaps not. But for the first time on this miserable road trip, the vestiges of a future winning ballclub were in evidence. Certainly Relaford and Wilson won't be around then, and probably not Greene or Jennings, but I love three-quarters of our infield, and it's a great twist that suddenly Colorado's most consistent asset is our bullpen.
It seems to come and go, but the defense looked awful solid today scooping up the barrage of Jeremy-induced ground balls. Hopefully Clint Hurdle will take a cue from Jamie Quirk and keep the running game an element as well. Matt Holliday had a swipe in addition to Barmes this afternoon. Yeah, we got wiped out on a double steal in the 5th, but it was a thrill just to see a double steal on in this day and age.
The Rockies may be talent-deficient, but the Cubs are severely dysfunctional. With Mitre and Rusch starting the weekend games, is it impossible to suggest Colorado might be on their way to their first road series victory of the season? Maybe I'm just lightheaded from breathing stale airport air.
Next Stop Wrigley
My first Rockies road trip begins this evening as I fly east to Chicago. I've probably been to more games at Wrigley Field than any other major league venue (the Oakland Coliseum might be close), but it's still hard not to excited about a trip to the best place to see a baseball game in the world. Too bad the Cubs play there. Look for me on TV on Friday!
ESPN's new power rankings are up. We're down to #30. Seems to me for the rest of the season who claims this spot between the Rockies and Kansas City will be whichever team is on the road. Of course, the Royals are angling to trade Mike Sweeney and the only guy the Rockies will definitely move will be addition by subtraction, so there's that. And SI.com has us in the lofty climes of 28-land!
Jamie Quirk: "Sometimes you have to reach bottom before you can fight your way out of it." Todd Helton: "I don't know if there is a lower point." Guys? We're #28! Comings and goings: Clint Hurdle should be back for Friday's game (his daughter was discharged from the hospital Wednesday), Aaron Miles may go on the DL (stay as long as you want, hack-boy), Chin-Hui Tsao is officially out for the season. J.D. Closser might be on the way out as well, which would be silly. Let the guy play out of it! We're 13-31, what difference could it possibly make? Look at the approach the Brewers, a much better team than Colorado, have taken with rookie shortstop J.J. Hardy, who broke out with three doubles in the just-concluded series. Part of rebuilding is giving young guys ample time to prove they either can or cannot play, not giving their playing time to veteran known quantities for the sake of finishing 28 games out instead of 30.
Just glancing at the probables for this weekend's series, about which more later: Mark Prior is going for the Cubs on Friday, against Joe Kennedy. That'll end well. The last time I saw the Rockies in Chicago, they lost 11-0.
Liverpool 3, AC Milan 3 (3-2 Penalties)
Jerzy Dudek, diving to his right, made an amazing left-handed save of an Andriy Shevchenko penalty kick to complete Liverpool's improbable run to its fifth European Champions' League title. Down 3-0 at the half, the Reds made a ridiculous run early in the second, capping a three-goal storm with a Xabi Alonso redirection of his own penalty miss. Late in extra time, Dudek made two saves of Shevchenko shots, the second one point-blank, as Liverpool ran out of substitutions and weathered an injury to defender Jamie Carragher.
After the game went to penalty kicks, Dudek took control. Twitching on the goal line like a grasshopper, he willed a Sergio Serginho miss and stoned Andrea Pirlo. Vladimir Smicer, who scored the second goal for Liverpool in regular time, made the last of the Reds' penalties to set up Dudek's save on Shevchenko. Captain Steven Gerrard began the scoring for the Premiership side.
This final was in short, the most exciting thing to happen to Istanbul since that They Might Be Giants song. Amazingly, Liverpool won't get to defend their title, as their fifth-place finish in the English Premier League doesn't qualify them for a return trip to the ECC.
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, USA, an extremely uninteresting baseball game was contested.
Extra Thick News
Jamey Wright, a former Brewer, goes against Milwaukee in a nationally televised attempt to prevent the Rockies from getting swept by a .500 team missing its two best players, Ben Sheets and Lyle Overbay. Luckily the Brewers' worst starter is set to face him. CBS power rankings show the Rockies consolidating their #29 spot, although the Astros are coming down hard. Houston's bats might be the only ones colder than Colorado's leaguewide. Shawn Chacon will probably not miss a start with his ankle sprain, but Byung-Hyun is waiting should the call come. Free advice for Rockies brass: Stay away from Danny Graves. Run if necessary. If his agent calls, pull the phone out of the wall.
Preston Wilson is doing some job getting his young teammates playing time. Todd Greene is doing quite the opposite. Clint Hurdle's daughter's condition is improving, while Jamie Quirk mulls his future. Only thirteen more shopping days until the MLB first-year player draft, get your fix with coverage from MLBlogs, Purple Row, and Peter Gammons. Of course, as the Post's Terry Frei told us all the other day, the draft really doesn't matter; only teams with enormously rich owners who can afford to run their teams at a loss can win.
Frei's column, which the Row already torched at length, is the kind of irresponsible sportswriting that goads owners into making the decisions that keep bad teams bad. Look at the A-Rod contract and all the good it did the Rangers. Look at the money the Mariners gave Adrian Beltre after their awful year last season, money which they just as well could have spent on Jeff Cirillo and several million Hostess cupcakes. Look at the Rockies and Mike Hampton...or don't, please. But just for fun, here's a few teams that have lower payrolls than the Rockies this year: Toronto, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Cleveland. Hardly a group without hope of ever contending.
That brings us nicely to the series taking place in Phoenix right now, a referendum on building from within vs. spending lots of money you don't have. The Diamondbacks were as bad last year as the Rockies are this year, although like the Rockies they were not without young bright spots. Rather than continuing to position themselves for a return to prominence in due time, Arizona leadership got antsy and brought in via free agency and trade a veritable orgy of bad contracts: Shawn Green, Javier Vasquez, Russ Ortiz, Troy Glaus.
Meanwhile the other team vying for first place in the poor NL West, the Padres, has built gradually from within with young pitchers and position players, and a few balanced trades netted guys like Ramon Hernandez and Brian Giles. Check this out. Past Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin, the Padres are beholden to no one past this year, and after that the only long-term deal on the horizon is a bargain-basement arbitration-avoiding extension for the worthy Jake Peavy.
Those of us who are fans of fiscal solvency, sound planning, and the Ba'hai have to be backing the Padres. Those of us who consider lottery tickets an investment, think Royce Clayton's glove more than makes up for his bat, and who are related to Shawn Estes are in the D-Backs' camp. San Diego won the first game 9-5 (Ortiz took the loss). If you're a Rockies fan, you have to root for the Padres. The last thing we need our impressionable ownership and GM getting in their heads is that we need a Russ Ortiz of our very own.
Brewers 6, Rockies 1
Brad Hawpe hit a really nice opposite field homer, and Clint Barmes got off of his 0-for streak. That is pretty much all there is to say good about this one. Is there any way to get this team out of its hibernatory state? Well, you can't fire the manager. Well, you could, but it would be a pretty low move with the guy's daughter in the hospital. It's too bad, because you know Tony PeÃ±a's available, and I bet he has a ton of Spanglish slogans he hasn't used yet.
Anything but Ervin "Magic" Santana
The Angels' rookie pitcher Ervin Santana was marvelous against the White Sox last night, but efforts to find him a nickname have stalled. We need your suggestions! The Angels' broadcast team was trying some plays on Santana song titles, for example, "Evil Ways." "Oye Como Vas" Santana? Not so much. "Supernatural" Santana? Could work, but a little long. "Smooth" Santana? How about "E. Smooth?" Oh, I like that. Angels fans, e-mail your beat writers and broadcasters and let them know about this exciting new moniker.
Brewers 2, Rockies 1
Oh, you have to feel for Shawn Chacon. Once again the guy pitches pretty well but takes a loss as Chris Capuano and Ricky Bottalico combine on a three-hitter for Milwaukee. And he had to leave running the bases in the fifth with an apparent ankle injury. What's the story? Well, 0-for-12 from your 1-2-3 hitters never helps, as Clint Barmes' slump continued and Aaron Miles and Todd Helton were no help either. Dustan Mohr and Matt Holliday doubled, but the only run the Rockies managed to get across came on a Capuano balk.
It's a shame, because the Rockies defensively had a good game. They didn't commit any errors for a change. Chacon gave up three hits and two walks in his four innings, but the Brewers got the hit with runners in scoring position that the Rockies couldn't from Bill Hall in the 4th. After Chacon's early exit Blaine Neal pitched a perfect fifth, then got into a jam in the sixth that Jay Witasick elegantly worked out of for him. Jose Acevedo looked sharp in the eighth.
But Capuano was almost all the Brewers would need, going 8 1/3 and striking out six while walking only two. Bottalico came in to earn the save after Capuano plunked Holliday with one out. He made things interesting with a wild pitch and a walk to Garrett Atkins, but Colorado's utter ineptitude with runners in scoring position ran rampant as Todd Greene popped up weakly and pinch hitter Brad Hawpe took one on the outside corner for a called strike three.
Maybe we need to start stealing third. Maybe everyone needs a suicide squeeze clinic (I don't know what they were trying with Chacon at the plate in the fifth, but Atkins was out at home by a mile). Maybe everyone should start wearing that Barry Bonds-style armor and leaning into pitches. Shawn Chacon deserves better!
Fear the Umlaut
As the Rockies travel to Milwaukee's Miller Park to meet the Brewers, their hosts sit in second place in the NL Central, although that's not saying much. St. Louis is so far ahead in that division that I believe they are already resting players in anticipation of the playoffs. Milwaukee is one of three flawed teams clustered at seven games back, along with Chicago and Pittsburgh. Based on RS/RA numbers, the Brewers are the best of this bad lot, but I wouldn't write them down as wild card contenders yet. At least they have the advantage of getting to play Cincinnati and Houston many more times each this summer.
Two guys make the Brewers' offense go -- centerfielder Brady Clark and first baseman Lyle Overbay. Overbay is having just an insane season so far, with ten doubles, seven homers, and an OPS over 1.000. Clark, in his first year as a regular, has made Brewers fans forget about Scott Podsednik in compiling a .404 OBP from the leadoff spot. The two major reasons for the Brewers' offense's poor overall showing of 13th in the NL in OPS are the other outfielders, Geoff Jenkins and Carlos Lee. Lee, who Milwaukee acquired from the White Sox this offseason for Podsednik and reliever Luis Vizcaino, has a .307 OBP so far (his career mark is .338). Jenkins, the enigmatic rightfielder, has 4 homers and a .412 slugging percentage on the year in contrast with a .503 career mark.
The rest of the Brewers' offense, names like Jeff Cirillo, Damian Miller, Junior Spivey, Wes Helms, and Bill Hall, has been predictably bad. Third baseman Russell Branyan (5 homers in 87 ABs) has played well enough to merit his starting full-time, but apparently his defensive reputation will prevent his so doing. Rookie shortstop J.J. Hardy (.156 BA) has hit himself right out of the lineup.
It's too bad that Jenkins and Lee aren't pulling their weight, because the Milwaukee pitching staff has been nothing short of sensational. The Brewers rank 3rd in the National League in staff ERA, and that's without ace starter and franchise player Ben Sheets, who hasn't played since April 20th with an inner ear infection. The rotation hasn't missed a step in his absence, led by Wes Obermueller, Victor Santos, and Chris Capuano, all of whom have ERAs of 3.53 or below. The Rockies will see lefty Capuano and righty Santos, but luck out in Wednesday's third game, when righty Gary Glover (6.46 ERA, 1.67 WHIP) gets the call.
If the starters have been surprising, the bullpen has been uncanny. Matt Wise, Mike Adams, Jorge de la Rosa, and young closer Derrick Turnbow are the names to know in a power staff that ranks second only to San Diego in ERA. The Rockies have had their difficulties in the late innings as it is -- let's see them go out and get Shawn Chacon, Jeff Francis, and Jamey Wright some early leads. Hopefully the Colorado pitchers can respond by keeping Bernie Brewer off of his home run slide.
Joe Kennedy: "I was thinking 'He's going to run into him.' If there's no interference call, I am out on the field and definitely getting ejected." Also: Aaron Miles guarantees runs for Shawn Chacon, Preston Wilson takes a nap. No cause has been determined for Clint Hurdle's daughter's condition. Jamie Quirk will resume acting manager duties today in Milwaukee. On the lighter side, Clint Barmes overloads on Slurpees. Apparently the visiting players' lounge at PNC Park has a machine. I wonder if the home team gets one too, or it's all a part of a plot to give the Pirates' opponents nasty Slurpee migraines right before games.
Brian Fuentes: "Now that I'm doing it, I want to be the best closer I can be." That's the spirit! As noted elsewhere, Aaron Cook is in extended spring training, where he expects to make at least one more start before a 20-day minor league rehab assignment. He may be back before the All-Star break, giving the Rockies six starters, a good problem to have. Quarterly report from Tracy Ringolsby: don't blame the youth movement. Good points to be found here, although I don't necessarily agree with keeping Jason Jennings just because he likes to pitch in Coors Field. He has to pitch well there too.
For fantasy wonks: I have been asked a few times already about whether it's good idea to hang on to Barmes. Here's a much more cogent take on the subject than I could manage. I am too biased to be any good at fantasy sports. I always assume the Chicago Bears are just one lineman away from being good, or this is the year for the Brewers, or Byung-Hyun Kim will put things together at Coors. And I won't put any Reds or Yankees or Mariners on my roster because I hate those teams. I've learned this is no way to win, so I don't play. Anyway, if I understand what this gentleman from ESPN is saying, the story on Barmes is sell high if you can. Most folks figure it's only a matter of time until he comes back down to earth, so worthwhile offers are few and far between. I think he's the real deal, and he does play half his games on the moon, so proceed with caution.
Back soon with your CrÃ¼e prevÃ¼e.
Rockies 4, Pirates 3
Well, that was nice. Unexpected, but nice. In the best Colorado pitching performance since Jason Jennings' complete game in April, Joe Kennedy was a changed man. For 8 1/3, throwing an efficient 109 pitches, Kennedy reminded Pittsburgh that they were the Pirates, and struck out six, allowed five hits, and only two walks. Remarkable. But where did it come from?
The Rockies' offense was its usual dyspeptic road self. Clint Barmes' recent struggles continued with an 0 for 5. Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe, batting fourth and fifth, had two hits apiece. Cory Sullivan reached on a fielder's choice and stole a base. Todd Helton had two walks as pitchers continued to work around him to reach the Rockies' lifeless #4 spot (29th in the league with an ominous .666 OPS). Today Holliday had two hits in batting cleanup but no RBI.
Brian Fuentes came on to finish for Kennedy, earning a save despite allowing a hit and a walk. J.D. Closser, who's been scuffling badly, raised his average with a 1 for 3 and a walk. For the Pirates, Josh Fogg was very shaky, walking 5, allowing 5 hits, and throwing 94 pitches in only five innings. The Rockies continued to show a weakness when it comes to scoring against middle relief, managing only two hits and no runs against the combination of John Grabow, Salomon Torres, and Ryan Vogelsong.
This win keyed entirely on one starting pitcher besting the other, and the Rockies owe a lot to Joe Kennedy for stepping up his game and preventing a sweep in PNC Park. On to Milwaukee!
Boy Meets World
It seems hardly a game goes by these days that I don't notice Cory Sullivan doing something good. Sullivan, who was the Rockies' spring training MVP, has made a rapid recovery from a torn labrum suffered in 2004. So far in 2005 Cory has been spot-starting in the outfield in addition to taking on pinch-hitting and pinch-running duties. He's just waiting for a Preston Wilson deal so he can take over as the full-time centerfielder. In 68 at-bats he's compiled a rather nice .324/.356/.456 line, with four doubles, a triple, and a homer. Sullivan isn't a home run hitter by trade, but he has gap power and the speed to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples.
Born 8/20/79, Cory Sullivan was a seventh-round draft pick out of Wake Forest by the Rockies in 2001. He's shown a decent knack for getting on base (.344 career OBP in the minors), but like a lot of the young Rockies, he could stand to take a few more walks. Sullivan can steal a base, but according to Baseball America he could stand some refinements in his technique.
Most of this year's prospect guides omit Sullivan due to his injury last year. Cory skipped AAA in making the big league team out of spring training this year, so he's ahead of schedule. Outfield defense is incredibly important at Coors Field, with its huge gaps, and Sullivan has the tools to be the cornerstone of a very nice young trio with Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe's great arms. Now if only a certain $12 million millstone would magically disappear.
Not much to report today...the News roundup notes that the Rockies have never won a series at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, yesterday's win marked manager Lloyd McClendon's 300th career victory, and the stadium was sold out for Saturday's game. Must have been fireworks or something. Or is Clint Barmes becoming a road draw? From yesterday, BK may not be long for the purple.
Perceptive Mike Klis column in the Post: "The Rockies' problem isn't dollars, but how those dollars were spent." An unidentified general manager repeats a common misconception about Colorado's past success: "I still think Gebby (Bob Gebhard) had the right approach for Coors Field...build a slo-pitch softball team. Then again, it would be tougher to do that today because you couldn't afford to keep that many sluggers." But wait! As this year's Baseball Prospectus argues, the strength of that 1995 wild card team was a marvelous bullpen (which, interestingly, featured three guys who racked up more than ten saves). Going by ERA+, that pen featured four guys (Darren Holmes, Curt Leskanic, Steve Reed, and Bruce Ruffin) who were 50% better than league average or more. Combined with an average rotation and an average (99 OPS+) offense, the Rockies squeaked into the playoffs in a shortened season.
Back to the news. Here's an update on Clint Hurdle's daughter's condition. Todd Helton: "What do I do when I am not in there? I eat a lot." The Pirates' defense has improved, although fielding percentage is a rough metric. A win today would earn Pittsburgh its first three-game sweep of the season.
Full disclosure: I might not watch all of the Rockies game today, because Mark Prior is pitching against Brandon McCarthy in Chicago with the White Sox going for a sweep. Every now and then I stray from the fold, if just to be reminded what winning baseball is like.
Pirates 8, Rockies 3
Not that the offense did him any favors, but Jason Jennings was just awful tonight -- awful. He gave up 9 hits and 4 walks, and practically everything that was an out was hit hard. After a five-run second, he let in another run in the third and two more in the fifth. I realize acting manager Jamie Quirk probably didn't want to hand the team back to Clint Hurdle with a bloodied bullpen, but this was ridiculous. Jennings clearly had absolutely nothing in the second, and should have been yanked while the game was still competitive.
As it was, the offense more or less rolled over after a Matt Holliday homer in the fourth. Colorado did very little against wild Oliver Perez, who walked four but struck out eight as the Rockies constantly got themselves behind in counts fouling off balls. It was ugly out there, and I'm saying that way too often these days. When some late wildness on the part of Salomon Torres gave the Rockies a chance to get back into the game, all they could muster was a sac fly, an infeld hit, and after Mike Gonzalez came in, an Aaron Miles pinch pop-out to right.
Give Blaine Neal his props for 1 2/3 hitless in relief of Jennings, Marcos Carvajal his due for a 1-2-3 eighth, and Preston Wilson and Luis Gonzalez big ups for two walks apiece, and let's put the rest behind us and salvage one game from this series tomorrow. Hey, before I go, what's up with Pirates reliever Rick White, who wears number 00? I didn't know you were allowed to wear 00 in baseball. And for a pitcher?
Pirates 9, Rockies 4
I don't think I have anything constructive to say about this one. The Rockies sure do look like a different team on the road. Six strikeouts against Mark Redman is just not very good. And as for Byung-Hyun -- I suppose there's little chance of his relaunching his career as an outfielder like Rick Ankiel. On to the news!
Clint Hurdle leaves game early to attend to sick daughter. Best wishes to Clint and his family. Jamie Quirk, the Royals are watching...for one day, anyway, Espy and Apodaca will run Sunday's game in tandem.
Jamey Wright is second all-time among active righthanders in pickoffs, to Roger Clemens. That ought to win you a few bar bets.
Pirates fans find reasons to keep coming to games. They have decades of history and five championships, what's our excuse?
Curses for every team from SI's Jacob Luft. For the Rockies: the altitude. Oh, c'mon, you can do better than that. How about the curse of Jim Leyland? The curse of Dan O'Dowd? Armando Reynoso? I don't know, I'm grasping at straws here. But there has to be something better than the altitude.
This is interesting (registration required): A head-to-head comparison between the Cubs and White Sox telecasts from yesterday's game. It's fascinating how tentative new Cubs guys Len Kasper and Dan Plesac are in contrast to veteran Sox announcers Hawk Harrelson and Darrin Jackson. When Freddy Garcia was late to the bag on a grounder to Paul Konerko in the bottom of the second, Plesac credited Neifi Perez for "winning the race." But DJ had it otherwise: "That's Freddy's job to be there, simple as that."
Speaking of Chicago, I'll be travelling back there next weekend to visit family and I'm going to try taking in the Friday afternoon Rockies-Cubs game. Look for the one guy at sold-out Wrigley wearing purple stripes, that'll be me.
While the rest of Major League Baseball gets their interleague on, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Rockies are the odd teams out. Colorado goes to PNC Park for the first time this year to face a trio of pretty decent pitchers -- Mark Redman, Oliver Perez, and Josh Fogg. Redman has been a huge surprise in becoming the veteran ace of a team with an otherwise pink-cheeked rotation. Fogg is like a righthanded Kirk Rueter, a guy with no stuff who somehow keeps his team in games. Perez has the best raw talent on the Pirates but has had a rough time of it lately; he is still striking guys out so chances are he will put it back together sooner or later.
The best player on the Pirates who absolutely no one has heard of is lefthanded reliever Mike Gonzalez. The guy has quietly maintained a 2.26 career ERA and an unbelievable 1.03 WHIP. He's just as tough on righties as he is on lefties and he strikes guys out at a more than 1 K per inning clip. With the recent struggles and eminent marketability of incumbent Jose Mesa, Gonzalez has "closer-in-waiting" written all over him.
The Pirates have been streaky this year, but they are definitely improved from last season's 72-win season. Last year's NL Rookie of the Year Jason Bay leads the offense with 8 homers and a .293/.359/.547 line. Craig Wilson's power numbers have been strangely absent (1 homer), but the outfielder/first baseman does have a shiny .436 OBP. He's out for the forseeable future with a finger issue. The lineup fills out with a motley crew of damaged goods (Matt Lawton, Daryle Ward) and no-names (Rob Mackowiak, Jose Castillo). The Pirates definitely look to win with pitching (12th in MLB in starters' ERA). They are last in the majors in runs scored.
The Rockies will send out road warrior Jamey Wright, struggling Jason Jennings, and the always unpredictable Joe Kennedy for the three games (Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon). It should do the Colorado rotation some good to face a light-hitting team in the confines of a relatively pitcher-friendly stadium. The keys, as always with this team, will be not walking opposing batters and getting hits with runners in scoring position. If anything it'll be an opportunity to watch two of the more exciting young shortstops in the National League in Clint Barmes and Jack Wilson, and to see two managers not long for their jobs in Clint Hurdle and Lloyd McClendon. The time to win some games is now, because while Milwaukee and Chicago might not be great, they're a lot better than the Rockies are right now, and after the road trip St. Louis awaits.
What's in the News?
Just browsing around while waiting for interleague play to begin with the White Sox and the Cubs.
Here's another reason to move salary...the Dodgers refuse to put "LAA" up for the Angels on the out-of-town scoreboard...Jeff Francis is doin' it with mirrors...Dan O'Dowd is safe, for now...Fuentes solid, Witasick golden, Tsao gone in the bullpen...former ROY shortstop Walt Weiss on the rationale behind Barmes' day off...Brett Tomko is OK after collapsing yesterday, but his run support isn't...why aren't the Nationals playing the Orioles?
As there are 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American, Colorado plays Pittsburgh tonight in the only non-interleague series of the weekend. I think it was originally suggested by Bob Costas, but I've long thought it would be a good idea, as long as we're going to have interleague play, to balance the leagues by moving an NL team over. (Costas suggested the Astros to the AL West, which makes sense seeing as the Astros don't have much NL history, the divisional rivalry it would create with the Rangers would be fruitful much like Cubs-Brewers, and logistically it would make for easier schedules for Oakland, Seattle, and Anaheim, who could make several one-week, two-series sweeps to the Texas teams during the season rather than having to travel from Texas to the east coast or Texas to Washington state all the time.)
The "downside" of this, as far as MLB is concerned, is there would have to be an interleague series going on every day of the season. I think the "pod" system they use now is contrived and kind of weird (and makes for more travel hassles), and there's no reason they couldn't use the last year's strength-of-schedule to determine which teams finish out of the league the way the NFL does. Overall fairness (i.e., having one six-team division and one four-team division) is more important than the minor horror of a long-shot NL wild card contender finishing its season with a DH in the lineup. Of course, this year, were the Astros in the AL West, what a ghastly division that would be. You can't please everybody I guess.
Rockies 3, Giants 1
I don't have much patience for people who claim that Coors Field is ruining baseball, but on the other hand, it is a rare treat when we get two pitchers' duels in a row on a homestand. It's too bad today's contest couldn't have been the nationally televised one, because more people should know about Jeff Francis. The Rockies' young lefty wasn't fabulous today (7 hits, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts, a Lance Niekro solo shot), but he kept the Giants from stringing much of anything together and claimed his fourth win.
The Colorado bullpen continued its unexpected resurgence as Jose Acevedo, Jay Witasick, and Brian Fuentes combined to allow three hits (and vitally, no walks) after Francis's solid six innings of work. Brett Tomko was pretty good for the Giants, especially given his past history in Denver, giving up only a Luis ("N.R.") Gonzalez homer and a Cory Sullivan RBI double. Garrett Atkins homered off Matt Herges in the sixth to round out the scoring.
Clint Barmes skipped a start after his hitting streak came to an end last night; Desi Relaford provided a 2-for-3, one-walk day in his stead. Cory Sullivan continued to make a case for everyday playing time with a 3-for-4 game. Atkins added a single to his homer. Other than that, Tomko and the Giants' pen were pretty tough.
This was old-school National League ball, right down to Felipe Alou sending Omar Vizquel up to the plate for Tomko way late in the sixth, attempting to throw Francis out of his rhythm. In the end, though, the Rockies will take 2 of 3 from San Francisco however they can get it. It doesn't get any easier going on from here.
Paul O'Neill: Still a Jerk
The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, by ESPN.com's Buster Olney (and now out in paperback), performs a rather marvelous little balancing act. If you hate the Yankees, this book will serve as a celebration of your pure hatred. Yet if you bleed pinstripes, it will probably be an affirmation of love. Olney doesn't make any argument for or against the Boys of Steinbrenner, he merely presents the facts in as detached and journalistic a manner as is possible. A slight tone of editorial disgust creeps in at the margins as internal development goes by the wayside and the Yanks begin moving through international and free agent pitching talent like a thresher, but it's remarkable that Olney is able to maintain this amount of objectivity when it comes to the cash-sucking, Arroyo-swatting, Irabu-baiting Bronx Bombers of recent memory.
The cleverest thing about the book is its structure. Rather than going through the run of championships chronologically, which would rapidly become unbearable for those of us on the side of good, Olney closely details Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, flashing back to show each of the Yankee principals became so. It's true that you already know how the story ends, but Olney manages to construct a convincing case that something vital to the Yankees' success was slowly leeched away between 1996 and 2001 amidst Steinbrenner's histrionics and the departures of players like David Cone, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, and Luis Sojo. (OK, not buying Sojo's importance so much.)
Like it does for the team as a whole, Last Night will likely not change your opinions of any of the charismatic players who anchored the Yankees' run. Derek Jeter is a prima donna. Roger Clemens gets himself motivated for games by being mean and nasty to everyone surrounding him. Paul O'Neill throws helmets and savages bat racks like a Little Leaguer. At the same time, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams are icy reservoirs of calm, somehow elevating themselves above the craziness surrounding.
Some things about the Yankees you may not have known emerge as well: Cone's self-appointed role as media lightning rod, Joe Girardi's leadership role disproportionate to his weak hitting, Don Zimmer's mad in-game insights. A few things you already suspected become clear. Joe Torre should be sainted. Brian Cashman has the worst job in the world. Some things have sadly already fallen by the wayside. Rivera was the only Yankee the home crowd never booed, Olney writes, and yet there they were screaming for his head just this April. What a nice bunch of people for which to work.
The tough thing about writing recent baseball history is how quickly you can be proven wrong. Olney strongly implies that whatever led New York AL to all those championships, it's gone now, and the first few weeks of this season certainly supported this thesis. Now, of course, the Yankees are on fire. They could win the World Series this year with their A-Rods, Sheffields, and Matsuis and make the Girardis, Sojos, and Shane Spencers look like the scrubs that they really were. And if they miss the playoffs, the opposite must be true.
Of course, the Rockies have neither $15 million free agents or veteran leadership, unless you count Desi Relaford, which I assure you I don't. As OIney contrasts the Yankees with other recent championship teams -- the '01 D-Backs, the '03 Marlins, even last year's Red Sox -- what emerges is that winning teams have a consistent character. It can be wildly different from champion to champion, but somehow a core of players has to cohere around something more than hating the media and enjoying the company of enthusiastic female fans. What does this mean to Colorado, who are light years away from contention? Well, I suppose a case could be made for hanging on to guys like Shawn Chacon who (weirdly) seem to enjoy being Rockies. First let's see if we can find our own Rivera, Jeter, Williams, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettite, and then we'll worry about chemistry adjustments.
Giants 3, Rockies 2
I've resisted writing about this one until the next game has already started, a sign of my increasing frustration with the young Rockies' rare ability to punt winnable ballgames. After jumping right ahead on starter Brad Hennessey in the bottom of the first on hits by Aaron Miles, Todd Helton, and Brad Hawpe, Colorado went completely into the Funk Zone, getting themselves out repeatedly on weakly hit first and second pitches. Clint Barmes saw his hitting streak come to an end at 12 and no one else looked particularly good save Miles (3 for 5, three singles), Hawpe, and Garrett Atkins (both 2 for 4). Atkins is really heating up both offensively and defensively.
Shawn Chacon had perhaps his best start of the year, giving up only two solo homers (to Mike Matheny and Pedro Feliz) and walking nobody in seven innings. Hennessey lasted 6 2/3 and gave up seven hits and three walks. The failure to score anything in the last eight innings of the game lies entirely on the Rockies' offense, such as it is. Brian Fuentes took the loss after allowing a pinch-hit triple to Deivi Cruz in the top of the ninth, but the game never should have been within reach for San Francisco.
One positive to mention before I put this one behind me for good: Cory Sullivan made an unbelievable peg to get Cruz at the plate in the ninth. Even if we get nothing in a Preston Wilson trade, the club is going to benefit from being able to play this guy in the outfield every day. He already has a base hit in today's game, too.
Brad Hennessey has never pitched at Coors before, which is not true of Shawn Chacon, who only looks like it sometimes. Elsewhere, Felipe Alou explains why Jason Ellison, the Giants' hottest hitter, sat against the Rockies last night. Alou on Clint Barmes: "The game needs a performer like that." I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but another power rankings article has the Rockies dead last, with a note that Todd Helton is hitting pretty well. Oh, there's some deep research right there. You can also vote on Colorado's new jerseys, although I fear the poll is non-binding. SI's Tom Verducci names Todd Helton Greatest Hitter Alive, although based on his raw batting average alone.
And in the local press: Rockies' defense bad, Hawpe back in the fold, Todd Greene promotes Jamie Quirk for Royals' vacancy. (Who would want that job?) The Rockies are on ESPN2 tonight (Dustan Mohr: "Everyone knows it's because of Barry"); you have to imagine the Sports Leader wishes it had the scheduling flexibility Monday Night Football has negotated for what with this sexy Chacon-Hennessey pitching matchup.
Early game on ESPN today, with two American League teams struggling on offense, the Angels and the Indians. It'll be a nice chance to escape from the constant pressure of the Rockies beat and just enjoy a baseball game. The preseason-overrated Angels have scuffled but are still in first place in what's shaping out to be a lousy AL West. The Indians were expected to be at least a .500 team this year after their offense was explosive last season, but the power has mysteriously gone away. Meanwhile the White Sox and Twins might be the two best teams in the American League. I'm rooting for the Indians, because I just can't stand Bartolo Colon. If you're going to be fat and out of shape, at least be amusingly surly like David Wells and Sidney Ponson, I always say.
Rockies 9, Giants 4
In the end, the Giants' lefty starter was shakier than the Rockies' (which is saying something), and the offense seems to be settling into one of those home grooves that keep the Rockies a competitive Coors team even when they're abominable on the road. Joe Kennedy's line (5 innings, 8 hits, 4 runs, 4 walks, 2 strikeouts) certainly doesn't look like one that would lead to a second win, but look at Noah Lowry: 3 and 2/3, 10 hits, 7 runs, 4 walks, 5 strikeouts, 3 homers.
My worries about Lowry's reverse platoon split shutting down Clint Hurdle's righty-heavy lineup never materialized. Dustan Mohr had a triple, a homer, and a walk. Todd Greene had a homer, a single, and two walks. Matt Holliday went 2 for 4 with a homer and a walk. Garrett Atkins had a double, a single, and a walk. Clint Barmes had yet another multi-hit game.
Even more encouragingly, the Giants didn't manage to score at all outside of a very long 4th for Kennedy. Kim, Acevedo, Witasick, and new guy Blaine Neal all got touched for hits but didn't allow anyone to score. The Giants overall looked old and slow, with Pedro Feliz making an ugly error in left and Moises Alou booting a Barmes fly ball that was ruled a hit. Their bullpen was unable to keep them in the game, too.
The Rockies will look to keep the good times rolling tonight against Brad Hennessey. If they can draw six walks again like they did last night, it'll be a good sign.
Come See Barry, Jason, and Armando...Wait, What's That You Say?
While San Francisco sportswriters bemoan what might have been, the actual '05 Giants product on the field stands at 18-19 (and they're not as good as their record, having been outscored by a hefty 20 runs). The Giants took a huge gamble putting off rebuilding for yet another year, signing old warhorses Armando Benitez, Omar Vizquel, and Moises Alou and putting their faith in the word and surgical team of the enigmatic (to choose a neutral word) Barry Bonds. Well, you can't win them all. Benitez is probably gone for the year with a hamstring injury, Alou has already spent significant time on the DL, and Bonds...well, you'd have to check his website. At least Vizquel has been pretty good.
The Giants are also minus their best starter, Jason Schmidt, who is in the midst of a DL stint for a strained right shoulder. The rotation in his absence consists of retreads, representatives from the Giants' perennially disappointing (and arm-centric) farm system, and the amazing Kirk Rueter, who continues to post better numbers than a lot of MLB pitchers despite stuff that could charitably be described as batting-practice quality. In this series the Rockies will face young Noah Lowry, young Brad Hennessey, and old Brett Tomko. (They miss Rueter and Jeff Fassero -- more's the pity.)
Lowry, who will face Joe Kennedy tonight, is a lefty who relies mostly on a straight change. Like fellow left-handed changeup guy Mike Remlinger, Lowry gets whacked around by lefties (.338 BA last year) while staying pretty tough against righthanders (.238). Let's see if Clint Hurdle's lineup tonight will reflect this oddity. My sources point to...no. Brad Hennessey's miniscule strikeout rates in the minors do not point towards a guy headed to long-term starting success in the bigs. His faceoff with Shawn Chacon on Wednesday night could be a slugfest. Tomko has experienced something of a career resurgence with the Giants, helped by the pitcher-friendly nature of SBC Park. In his last four starts at Coors, he's given up five homers and 21 earned runs. Advantage: Jeff Francis, who will go up against him in the Thursday day game.
The Giants' offense right now is keyed by two guys whose names you might not know: outfielder Jason Ellison and Pedro Feliz, who doesn't really have a position (he's been starting in left in The Barry's absence but has also been seen at first, third, and last year even short). Feliz is an OK hitter who the Giants have kind of done a disservice to the last several years by keeping him on the major league roster but not giving him a starting place for his very own. He's got an .808 OPS on the young season with five homers. Ellison on the other hand is a genuine young guy, at least by the Giants' standards, who at 27 is having a completely insane .372/.417/.577 season entirely out of line with his minor and major league record to this point. Coors Field is a bad place to predict the trend to come to an end.
The rest of the Giants' hitters are a bunch of guys you can't believe are still playing (and probably, they wouldn't be, were it not for San Francisco's largesse): Ray Durham, Marquis Grissom, Edgardo Alfonzo, Mike Matheny, J.T. Snow. In short, this is an old, old, old team that is helpless without its surly superstar and should be headed in the opposite direction in the standings as Colorado for the next several years. Might as well go ahead and get it started now. I want a sweep after that disheartening showing against the Diamondbacks.
House o' News
Wilson to Washington may be a dead issue with the Nationals' acquisition of Marlon Byrd from the Phillies. Still plenty of teams in need of outfielders out there, though, and Washington seemed dead set on the Rockies taking Preston's entire salary anyway. Possibilities still: Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago AL (if Jermaine Dye keeps hitting under .200), Chicago NL (their corner outfielders are pathetic), Atlanta (ditto). San Diego could be a long shot if they keep playing well. Face it, any team with a winning record will take a look at Wilson if the price is right. Dan O'Dowd just has to get more than one interested so Colorado can get something worthwhile for their troubles.
Get to know Brad Hawpe, now that he's unavailable for a few days (illness in the family).
Stupid questions get stupid answers. Honestly, I'm just a **** with a weblog, and I get better questions than a columnnist for a major national daily. What gives? If this Troy E. Renck mailbag is to be believed, Rockies fans are all mouth-breathers who want to junk Garrett Atkins for one error, haven't paid attention enough to know Hawpe took the right field job from Dustan Mohr, didn't notice Chin-Hui is out for the year, are worried the team will move to Vegas, and think beer at the ballpark is just too pricey. (This last question has come up before, so quickly: Coors Field and other ballparks don't set beer prices so high for reasons of profiteering or supply and demand. They do it in an attempt to keep people's alcohol consumption at a manageable level, lest they behave like idiots. I think I speak for baseball fans everywhere when I say if you want to go to the ballpark to get drunk -- don't.)
Also: Aaron Miles benefits from drop to 2-hole, Clint Barmes believes his range trumps his high error total: "If I'm going to make a mistake, it's going to be aggressive."
Today's post brought to you by the new record by Fall Out Boy, suburban Chicago's emo all-stars. One-dimensional, yes, but a nice album to put on in the morning to inspire you to hurry up and do your news post when all you want to do is put your jammies back on and watch the Team America DVD. In addition, I went to play group with their bass player.
Do the Red Sox have interest in Jason Jennings? Sunday's Boston Herald says the team looked into getting Colorado's righty starter last year, and they might go after him at the 2005 trade deadline as well. It's hard to imagine the Red Sox needing more starting pitching, as they will have six rotation-worthy guys once Curt Schilling and David Wells return to health, but if Boston wants to throw the Rockies a young arm or two, who are we to say no?
The Red Sox farm system isn't great but they do have some arms. Lefty Jon Lester is probably more than Jennings is worth, but further down Boston has the intriguing Jose Vaquedano, a fastball-changeup righty, and lefty Tommy Hottovy, whose senior year of college K to BB ratio was 92 to 10. Personal fave Abe Alvarez is probably too hittable for Coors Field, although he is closer to the majors if the Rockies decide they want someone they can plug in right away.
The recommendation here, if the Red Sox really do want to do business, is the same as in case of a Preston Wilson or any other deal: get young arms in quantity. Colorado has a lot of young position players either in the high minors or already with the parent club, plus they have the enticement of the Coors Effect when it comes to filling in holes with free agent signings. We need pitchers! Of course, if the Red Sox completely take leave of their senses and want to send us Hanley Ramirez for Jennings, that's fine too. Clint can play second.
Hey Gammons -- Stick to the Red Sox and Yankees
ESPN's Peter Gammons, twice voted "best music taste for a man old enough to be my grandfather," has a column up today about this season's disappointments, and the Rockies get a mention. Who expected to the Rockies to do anything? Not me. My expectations for this year were perfectly reasonable: a few of the rookies to be good, Preston Wilson to be traded for anything of value, and the black-with-purple-sleeves look to be consigned to the dustbin of history. So far I think we are off to a good start on all of those fronts.
But let's look at what Gammons has to say, since he's on TV and must therefore be smart. "Can they ever win a mile above sea level in Coors Lite Park?" Yes, they can. Remember my proposed tattoo idea? Colorado has a .560 home winning percentage on the franchise's history. Please don't make me actually go through with this, clueless national sportswriters of America. I dislike needles. Gammons here is just parroting a common misconception, so let's go on to the thrust of his argument, which is apparently that Denver is a black hole from whence no pitching can escape:
I disagree, for several reasons. First of all, Mike Hampton's career, even setting aside his Rockies years, could hardly be described as "marvelous." He's a notch above-average guy who had one great year in Houston. John Thomson, Darryl Kile? Rotation-fillers, guys who went to teams with good offenses and good bullpens and had facetiously better seasons after leaving Colorado. (Thomson did have a truly horrific 1999 in Colorado, but he was hurt and missed the entire 2000 season subsequently.) Kevin Ritz and Jamey Wright...come on, not even their agents would argue that those guys in their prime were candidates for the starting staffs of good teams.
So why has Colorado never had a really great pitcher? The answer to that question explains why the idea of the anonymous executive in the quote above will never work. Players don't want to sign here, so the Rockies end up with players no one else wants (Chacon, Estes, Stark, and so on). The team hasn't had any luck developing pitchers in the system because for the first decade of Colorado's existence, the farm system was run by blithering idiots. When they weren't drafting sure-miss high school pitchers, they were giving draft picks away with their numerous misguided free agent signings.
If good pitchers aren't going to come to Colorado of their own volition, they're going to have to come out of the farm system or trades. You'd think that a clever GM would be able to get some good pitching on the cheap by trading away guys with Coors-inflated offensive numbers, but in recent years, the Rockies have had their hitters signed to such miserable contracts that they either have to let them play out the string (Vinny Castilla) or pay the bulk of their salaries for other teams (Larry Walker, Charles Johnson). In other words the Colorado Rockies are running one of the worst stockbroking companies in the world -- they persistently buy high and sell low.
This season is supposed to be where this trend changes. What they get for Preston Wilson, and how much money they send out with him, will be the first test case. If they trade for Jorge Julio, as a columnist suggested yesterday, he will bolt in two years, probably before the team is in contention again. If the Rockies were in any sort of position to get Julio a bunch of saves and trade him at midseason '06, it might be a workable move, but you have to win games to get saves. Colorado needs to turn its back on its history and start dealing for the future. Anyone who isn't going to be part of a winning team in (realistically) 2008 can and should go. Does somebody want to overpay for Aaron Miles and his empty .300 average? Done. Someone finds Jamey Wright's road ERA enticing? Help yourself. Offers for Todd Helton should be considered, but he's only 31 and in good health -- O'Dowd shouldn't pull the trigger unless he gets blown away. Helton makes a ton of money, but since the Rockies after this season should be paying practically no one else much more than the minimum, you figure they can absorb it.
I refuse to believe that a great pitcher can't dominate in a Rockies uniform until I see a great pitcher in a Rockies uniform. Francis may or may not be the guy (he pitched pretty well at even-higher-altitude Colorado Springs last year), but it stands to reason you want young pitchers building their craft at Coors rather than veterans forgetting what worked for them in the flatlands. Plus, young pitchers are a whole lot cheaper.
Wow, I guess I kind of went off there. Quickly, then: The Post's Terry Frei thinks this altitude thing is a pretty lame excuse, too. Gloomy days ahead if you're the Rockies, Chin-Hui Tsao (season-ending shoulder surgery?), or one of Clint Barmes' bats. J.D. Closser is on double-secret probation, or words to that effect. Helton was indeed trying to bunt for a hit yesterday. And to close: CANADIAN INVASION!
HQ, We Need a Rush Order of 12's, Stat!
Clint Barmes jerseys unavailable! Rockies merchandise czars afraid #12 custom shirts will not arrive until after inexplicable hot start comes to inevitable end!
Columnist makes fun of Rockies rebuilding plan! Look, smart guy: you know why the Rockies aren't as good as the Diamondbacks? Because they signed Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson and we signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. The D-Backs were able to trade those two guys for value, while we have to pay Hampton to play for another team and Neagle not to play at all. Simple as that. Besides, the Diamondbacks aren't that good!
Bob McClure is next Leo Mazzone! Or not!
Stupid trade suggestion: Preston Wilson for Jorge Julio. What does a team that will be lucky to win 60 games need with a second-rate closer? Unless the Rockies planned to spin Julio off on a team closer to contending (like the frantic Cubs, who may play themselves right out of the trade market the way they're going), this makes no sense for either team. The Orioles are going to need all the bullpen arms they can hold on to when their starters start turning back into pumpkins, and Julio despite his youth will be a fifth-year arbitration player after this season. Pass.
Clint's college coach: "His word is like iron." And his gaze is like steel, and his bald head is blinding! He's a superhero, but you can't buy his costume yet.
Completely off-topic, but cause of much rejoicing here at TGTBATB Central: Jason Bateman confirms that "Arrested Development," the best non-baseball-related show on TV, has been renewed for a third season. STEVE HOLT!
Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 4
I went out to Coors Field today fully expecting the young Rockies to beat up on Shawn Estes and improve my season record for games I've attended in person to 3-0. Alas, it was not to be. Once again, the Rockies bullpen managed to put the game just out of reach for an offense that was sporadically brilliant (two 2-out RBI singles in the fourth inning) and elsewhere (the 5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th) disappointing. The pitching kept Luis Gonzalez, Jose Cruz, and Shawn Green from doing much damage, but took it on the chin from Craig Counsell (homer), Royce Clayton (RBI double), and Alex Cintron (RBI double).
Clint Barmes did extend his hitting streak, and Garrett Atkins hit a solo shot, but it was a tough day for the Rockies' bats all around. Todd Helton had a bad day including a bizarre sacrifice bunt in the fourth. Why would your number three hitter be sacrificing in the fourth inning of a 1-1 game? Anybody? I couldn't see the play too well from my seat in the rightfield bleachers, but my guess is Helton was trying to bunt for a hit and the official scorer gave him a hometown call. Helton was useless with runners on, unlike Preston Wilson, who bolstered his trade value with a 3 for 4, two-double outing.
The game could have been a lot less close had it not been for some good outfield defense on the part of the Rockies (and poor play by their counterparts on the D-Backs; Shawn Green let a popup drop in front of him). Matt Holliday and Dustan Mohr each delivered brilliant snags in the middle innings. Barmes however continued to scuffle at short, he lost a Gonzalez grounder in the first to allow Counsell to score the first run of the game from second.
Jay Witasick continues to be unpredictable out of the pen. Today he was great, striking out both men he faced in the top of the seventh. Jose Acevedo played the role of the goat, walking Green and allowing Cintron's double to score him in the decisive top of the eighth. Jason Jennings was his usual self, walking a few, giving up a hit an inning, seeming on the verge of getting knocked out the whole time. Then you look up, and see he's gone 6 1/3, 3 earned...that's not so bad. But he takes the loss anyway. To Shawn Estes. What's a guy got to do?
Boy, it's a real treat writing my recap off of my handwritten scorecard instead of an Internet box score. I need to get to the ballpark more often. I voted for the All-Star Game again, this time using the paper ballot, and I noticed that Clint Barmes is listed first among the shortstops in the National League (because it's alphabetical). That gives him a really good chance of getting voted in, I think, since Omar Vizquel is way at the end and Neifi Perez isn't even on the ballot. If Clint keeps his average up, he'll no doubt be named as a reserve by National League manager Tony La Russa. But it'd be cool to see him start!
Diamondbacks 10, Rockies 4
I've decided to start this recap with a picture of TV's Kristen Bell, with the following reasoning: Kristen is short and pretty. The Rockies game yesterday was long and ugly. Colorado first took it on the chin in a 4-run first that they might have gotten out of unscathed were it not for a call that went against them on a squibbed pop-up to Todd Helton. From my perspective and TiVo's, Helton scooped the Luis Gonzalez-struck ball up before it hit the ground then ran to first to double up Chad Tracy. The umpires didn't see it that way, and for all intents and purposes the game was over right there in the top of the first. Instead of a runner at third and two outs, it was one out, second and third, and Jamey Wright after inducing a Troy Glaus groundout folded like wet newspaper.
The bleeding continued in a third inning that featured no fewer than three throwing errors, two on the same play. First Todd Helton uncharacteristically threw wide to Clint Barmes trying to start a double play, everybody safe. Then J.D. Closser picked up a nubber of a sac bunt by pitcher Brandon Webb, tried to get Chris Snyder at second, nearly air-mailed Barmes, who made a nice flying grab but then tossed the ball into the stands over a flailing Helton going after Webb at first. I imagine most viewers probably tuned out during the ensuing delay, where Arizona manager Bob Melvin stormed out of the dugout to argue at length that his team's lead should be eight instead of seven.
Not much happened after that. The Rockies' offense, meaning mostly Todd Helton (3 for 3 with a walk and a homer), ventured a tentative comeback attempt in the middle innings, but new bullpen schmoes Blaine Neal (one inning, two hits, a walk, two runs) and David Cortes (one inning, two hits, a walk, one run) conspired to assure that it would not be so. New "closer" Brian Fuentes pitched a perfect, two-strikeout ninth if that does anything for you.
Not to much else to go over. Clint Barmes extended his hitting streak into double-digit games with a single but was otherwise quiet. Aaron Miles (2 for 5) was the only Colorado batter besides Helton with multiple hits. J.D. Closser, in addition to his error afield, was an ugly 0-for-4, three strikeouts at the plate. Garrett Atkins was unable to build on his recent successes, posting an 0-for-4 of his own.
A team loss, to be sure, although Jamey Wright's Coors woes are beginning to spook even me out. And I'm no superstitious ballplayer.
Fun with Retired Numbers
I started watching the Mets-Cardinals game this afternoon and a simple question started me off on a research project that kept me occupied for practically the whole game. My initial question was simply, why isn't Mark Mulder wearing #20 like he did in Oakland? I probably should have known that in St. Louis that jersey number belongs to Lou Brock. But that was enough to get me started thinking about retired numbers as a whole.
There's no rule when it comes retiring numbers. Some organizations have tons of them, like the Yankees and the Dodgers. Others (the Blue Jays, Mariners, Mets, Diamondbacks, Padres, and Rockies) have none. The Astros have retired six numbers in 42 years while the Cubs have retired three in more than a hundred. Milwaukee has retired the numbers of Rollie Fingers, who only spent five years as a Brewer, and Hank Aaron, who only spent two (though he spent many years in Milwaukee as a Brave). Tampa Bay retired Wade Boggs' #12 despite his not even playing two full years as a regular there.
Fingers and Aaron are two of the players to have the same number retired by two different teams. Oakland and Milwaukee hang Fingers' #34 while Atlanta and the Brewers honor Hammerin' Hank's #44. The Reds and the Orioles each have retired Frank Robinson's #20. The Red Sox and the White Sox both have a number retired for Carlton Fisk, but in mirror images: #27 and #72. Nolan Ryan's is the most retired jersey in baseball. The all-time strikeout king's #34 is honored in Arlington and Houston, and his #30 is retired by the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim.
Every number from 1 to 50 has been retired by at least one team except 13, 28, 31, 38, 43, 46, 47, and 48. The only numbers above 50 that have been retired are Don Drysdale's #53, Fisk's #72, and #85, retired in honor of former Cardinals owner Gussie Busch on his 85th birthday in 1984. #4 is the most-retired number overall (8 teams). The most popular double-digit retired number is 20 (7 clubs). Two wearers of retired numbers have MLBlogs -- Brooks Robinson (Orioles #5) and Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers #2).
Two retired numbers are "shared" by two players on the same team. The Expos/Nationals honor both Andre Dawson and Rusty Staub by taking #10 out of circulation, and two great Yankee catchers -- Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra -- split number 8. Besides Busch's #85, two other men who never wore a jersey have honorary numbers. Longtime Angels owner Gene Autry was given #26 in honor of his role as the 26th man on the roster, and the Marlins reserve #5 in memory of first team president Carl Barger, who died suddenly at the baseball winter meetings in 1992.
Only five men have been remembered exclusively for their work in the dugout as managers: Casey Stengel (Yankees #37), Walter Alston (Dodgers #24), Billy Meyer (Pirates #1), Fred Hutchinson (Reds #1), and Dick Howser (Royals #10). Only one coach has ever had his number retired: Jimmie Reese, the Angels' number 50. And of course every team sets #42 aside in honor of the sport's greatest hero, Jackie Robinson.
I could go on with this stuff for hours, but it's the bottom of the ninth in New York and the tying run is in scoring position. If anyone has any retired number stories or factoids they want to share, I'd love to hear them. Will Todd Helton be the first Rockies player to have his number retired? Which players who have left baseball in the past few years are due? I'd say Ryne Sandberg and Tony Gwynn are sure things. With great players moving around as much as they do now -- think Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson -- does it take less to qualify? We have to keep our standards reasonably high, or else all the players in the future will end up wearing fractions.
If Only the Rockies Had Rollover
In Chin-Hui's absence, Brian Fuentes will be the fill-in closer. That's what we call riding the hot hand. No complaints here, young Marcos Carvajal probably isn't durable enough mentally or physically to finish off games. In a situation with multiple tough righthanders though, I would subscribe to an any-righty-but-Witasick policy. Clint Hurdle sees only further change in the future for the Colorado pen. Byung-Hyun Kim will be back in the mix after his decent spot start Wednesday as Joe Kennedy's ankle is healing apace.
Farm report and an incredibly useless "FYI" here. Hurdle spews platitudes re: Barmes and references something kinda dirty-sounding called a "spray chart" here. And as it is the 25th anniversary of the original Friday the 13th, we'll end with a flashback to the #1 all-time Rockies horror story: SI.com's Jacob Luft naming the Mike Hampton deal as the worst free agent signing of all time.
Rockies 18, Diamondbacks 3
It was just a run-of-the-mill 9-3 game at Coors until a bizarre five-double, thirteen-batter seventh turned it into theater of the absurd. Pity Javier Lopez: 2/3 of an inning, 5 hits, 5 runs. And Kerry Ligtenberg: 1 2/3, 5 hits, 5 runs, a walk, one strikeout, and two homers. Starter Brad Halsey got off relatively light thanks to errors on the part of Troy Glaus and Royce Clayton making half of his eight runs unearned.
Jeff Francis only went five innings (5 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts, 1 homer) but would have had to come out after the long 5th or 7th anyway. As for the offense, well, space is limited, but: Barmes 3 for 6 with 2 homers and a double, Matt Holliday 4 for 5 with two doubles, Luis Gonzalez 3 for 6, Garrett Atkins 2 for 3 with a walk and a homer. Jay Witasick and Marcos Carvajal pitched four innings of scoreless garbage time.
I don't know about you, but I love blowouts. They're like the "Three Stooges" shorts of baseball games. The 7th last night was like watching Moe poke Curly in the eyes nine times in a row. Hilarious!
The 13th is Bad Luck for Sportswriters, Apparently
There's a certain rhythm to weblogging that is best to remain in to keep one's figurative curveball metaphorically popping, but sometimes your usual link haunts just don't produce. You can go read the generic roundups produced by the Post and News (or heck, the Arizona Republic) this morning if you want to, but I can save you the trip: they lost. Shawn Chacon deserved better. Royce Clayton tap-dances on moonbeams. And so on.
ESPN.com seems to really like the Diamondbacks; they have two stories currently running, one that explains how middle infielders with good gloves and no bats are making them "contenders," another examining the resurgence of Javier Vasquez, who the Rockies won't face in this series. Let me tell you right now: Craig Counsell, Chris Snyder, and Clayton would have to play defense like Ryne Sandberg, Johnny Bench, and Mark Belanger to overcome their slugging percentages of .365, .329, and .296 respectively. That's right, Royce Clayton is slugging .296. At the moment there are 23 pitchers in the National League hitting harder.
The Dodgers are the class of this division. The Diamondbacks have scored 12 fewer runs than they've allowed, and their record is inflated by the fact that they've played 22 at home and only 14 on the road. (Los Angeles is the only team in the NL West with a winning record away from home.) If anyone is going to threaten the Dodgers, it's going to be San Diego or San Francisco if they can somehow hang around .500 until The Barry gets back. My point is, the Rockies better win today. Doing so would bring them to an even 8-8 at Coors. Let's not talk about their road record.
If there wasn't enough pressure on the young Rockies already, evidently their poor performance is destroying the economy of downtown Denver. These guys cannot catch a break.
Diamondbacks 6, Rockies 3
Just another one of those games. Shawn Chacon pitched effectively but the Rockies' offense simply couldn't get the hit they needed off Russ Ortiz. The Rockies left 12 runners on base to the D-Backs' 4. Lance Cormier extended his unscored-upon streak to 17 innings to begin the season, aided greatly by a Royce Clayton-instigated double play. (Yeah, but our new shortstop can hit. And has better hair. Actually, no hair.)
Chacon (8 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 3 K, 2 solo HR, 98 pitches) outpitched Ortiz (6 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 5 K, 1 solo HR, 115 pitches) but was done in by run support. The Rockies certainly had ample opportunities with Barmes 2 for 5 with a double, Helton 3 for 3 with two walks, even Desi Relaford 2 for 3 with a base on balls. In the 8th, with the score still 3-2 Arizona, Cory Sullivan reached on an infield single that deflected off Cormier and stole second even with a good throw by Chris Snyder.
David Cortes, the latest bullpen lab rat, was terrible in the top of the ninth, giving up homers to Jose Cruz (his second) and pinch hitter Tony Clark to put the game out of reach, despite a mini-rally sparked by a Helton double in the bottom of the inning off Brandon Lyon.
I'm not one of those people who believes that "clutch" hitting is a skill any different from "regular" hitting. These are major league ballplayers, and you have to believe they're trying their best to get on base every time they go out there. Games like this where the team is hitting, but only with the bases empty, have to be forgotten quickly. It's just bad luck, not any sort of teamwide epidemic. Now keep saying that to yourself.
Real Teams Don't Have Swimming Pools in Their Outfields
The Arizona Diamondbacks were really bad last year. Really bad. They lost 111 games. Then they announced that they had to trade their best player, claiming debt coming out of their ears and declaring a commitment to rebuilding from within the organization. Then, oddly, they started handing out blank checks, even hiring an agent as their new GM. Not only were their signings out of thin air, they were also what some might call in the parlance "stupid." They gave depressingly average starter Russ Ortiz, he of the career 4.03 ERA, 4 years, $33 million. They gave Troy Glaus, whose shoulder is made of bone china, 4 years, $45 million. They even gave Shawn Estes $2.5 million for a year for good measure. In the three-way Randy Johnson trade, they brought on board the greatest Jewish Dodger since Koufax, Shawn Green, and the $30 million remaining on his deal. What happened to their debt? Maybe they forgot to cash one of their paychecks. Maybe someone stole their ATM card.
Even if these players were good (or in Glaus's case, consistently healthy), they would have to be otherworldly to make the difference between 111 losses and the playoffs, even in the watered-down West. The D-Backs are a slightly illusory 20-15 right now; their run differential suggests a more pedestrian 16-19. (For consistency's sake, they were indeed exactly as bad as their record last year, or to be precise a game better.) Ortiz certainly hasn't contributed to the improvement. Russ is 2-2 with a 5.21 ERA, a .288 BAA, and an invisible 3.79 K/9 figure. Green has been his usual underachieving self as well: .258/.313./.402, 18 RBIs.
Glaus, on the other hand, has been fantastic. Near MVP-level, actually, and not a sniff of the disabled list so far. .288/.384/.640, 10 homers, even 3 stolen bases for variety's sake. And continuing one of the great mysteries of the universe, Shawn Estes is having another one of his weird Shawn Estes seasons, like when he won 15 games with a 5.84 ERA for the Rockies last year, or almost won 20 for the Giants in '97. Estes' 3.74 ERA so far this season is almost a full run lower than his career 4.68 mark, despite his strikeout rate being significantly lowered and his pitching his home games in a pretty good hitters' park. I would say that this cannot continue, except it's Shawn Estes -- anything could happen.
The Rockies will face both Estes and Ortiz in this four-gamer as well as erstwhile Yankee minor-leaguer Brad Halsey and the D-Backs' own product Brandon Webb. It's Ortiz-Chacon, Halsey-Francis, and Webb-Wright in the three night games, then Estes-Jennings (there's a matchup for the ages!) Sunday afternoon. Webb is emerging as the staff ace (4-0, 3.30 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) and Halsey (2-1, 3.46, 1.22) has been just as good. Closer Brandon Lyon (13 saves, 1.56 ERA) has been Arizona's biggest pleasant surprise on the young season. Setup man Lance Cormier has yet to allow an earned run in 15 innings. The Diamondbacks' bullpen takes a serious dive after that, though, so the Rockies' homefield advantage should come into play big-time in this series. You can beat these guys in the middle innings.
With the improved play of the Colorado bullpen in the last few series, expectations have to be raised for matchups at home with weaker teams like Arizona. The D-Backs offense is punchless (13th in the NL in OPS, ahead of only Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Houston) and their pitching has overperformed to this point. We shouldn't hope that the Rockies win 3 of 4 -- we should expect it!
MLB.com has evidence of a smart managerial move, so don't look if you're a Hurdle-hater: "[Byung-Hyun Kim's] pitch sequences were much cleaner. We eliminated some pitches -- basically it was fastball, slider, and the occasional changeup to some of the left-handed hitters. That was just a real big shot in the arm right there." One unintended consequence of this win, however, may be more appearances of the dread sleeveless blacks. Elsewhere Brad Hawpe, .391 with RISP, gets some love.
If Bobby Cox says we're "on the right path," it must be true. Chin-Hui Tsao may have some recurring shoulder problems, although this observer thinks his real handicap is the lack of movement on his fastball. (And as Old Man Barry Zito knows, movement is a product of that which does not move.) The baseball-eating-scoreboard play from Tuesday night was indeed a Coors Field first, and the precedent then established (ground-rule double) will be a part of pregame discussions henceforth.
I don't know how closely the rest of you have been following the bizarre saga of Jason Giambi, but it's certainly been about the only thing on ESPN the last few days, not that the NBA playoffs, Dontrelle Willis, the White Sox, or a potential baseball World Cup would be of interest to anyone. I lived in the Bay Area for about five years, and while he was there, Giambi was my favorite player on my favorite local team. I wished him ill when he left Oakland for New York, because unlike the classy Miguel Tejada, he played the A's for a bargaining chip for an entire summer before fleeing for pinstripes with a leaky story about a promised no-trade clause as an excuse for his bad faith.
I did not wish him literally ill, though, and that's what Giambi now is -- baseball-sick. He can't hit, and only his formidable batting eye is keeping him on the Yankees' roster, barely. The Yanks, reasonably, want to send him to the minors where they can determine whether he can still hit without him killing their lineup, which has accelerated its production as of late. Giambi, showing trademark humility, won't. ESPN's Buster Olney has suggested on TV that the Yankees should call his bluff -- let him come to games, put on the uniform, sit on the bench, and completely refuse to play him under any circumstances. The theory goes that a frustrated Giambi will eventually agree to a contract buyout so that he might start his career over somewhere he can actually play (the A's have named as a possibility, although I fail to see what their already crumbling offense would do with him). Trouble is, maybe he knows he's done and figures he might as well collect the full amount of money he has coming, from the DL a la Albert Belle if not the active roster. Is he that big of a heel? Of course he is, he's a Yankee!
Rockies 6, Braves 5
This was a very exciting game all the way through, but unfortunately what I will remember most about it was all the questionable managerial decisions after the 7th. Hall of Famer Bobby Cox: why run John Smoltz out in the 8th when your bullpen is having a solid series and the altitude effect is in play? Smoltz's pitch count was not terribly high (he ended up at 109), but this is his first year starting after three as a reliever, and they say the muscles wear down faster at 5,280.
Clint Hurdle: why even bother throwing Chin-Hui Tsao up against major league hitters? These guys can hit straight fastballs. They do it in the cages before the every game. Doesn't matter if it's 98, if they know it's coming, it's going far. Tsao rolled over in the 9th, turning a 4-2 lead into a 5-4 deficit.
Then Dustan Mohr got all over a Dan Kolb offering in the bottom of the ninth and made it 5-5. Then, gee whiz, Clint Barmes got a base hit. A-Miles singles, Barmes hustles to third. No-brainer intentional pass to Todd Helton. Kolb takes a seat in favor of Chris Reitsma. Pinch-hitter Preston Wilson waves impotently at three medicore breaking balls, as he often does. Todd Greene chucks one into short center, and the Rockies win a series from a first-place team. Hold on, I'm going to write that again. The Rockies win a series from a first-place team.
Clint Barmes, 2 for 5 with a triple. Todd Helton 3 for 4 with a double and a walk. Todd Greene 3 for 5 with a game-winning RBI! Good luck getting off the bench, J.D. Closser. Dustan Mohr, 1 for 1 after a double switch with a huge home run. Brian Fuentes, 1 scoreless with a strikeout.
But the player of the game? Byung-Hyun Kim. 5 innings, 5 strikeouts, 3 hits, 1 earned run. He did walk four, but none of those baserunners scored. Maybe the Rockies should start BK at home and Jamey Wright on the road from now on, if such a thing can be puzzled out.
Hang on a second! Wait for it...the Rockies won a series from a first place team!
Whilst I was busy marveling at Byung-Hyun Kim's instant resurgence and shaking my fist in anger at the pointlessness of ever starting Desi Relaford, the Row scooped me on this doozy: two waiver claims and a meaningless trade to clear roster space! Well, there's Michael Restovich's, Blaine Neal's and Randy Williams' families to consider I suppose. Restovich goes to the Pirates, where he will no longer have to wear the uniform pictured at left and may actually get some playing time in an outfield that is pretty bad past Jason Bay. The Rockies will most likely receive cash for their troubles.
Meanwhile, off the wires we get two generic lefty relievers. Blaine Neal throws hard, has decent strikeout and walk numbers, but simply gets hit too much. Randy Williams? His weakness is the base on balls, 10 in 9 career major league innings. Maybe Apodaca's powerful coaching abilities will somehow cure these no-hopers of their weaknesses. Then again, perhaps not.
As Smoltz begins the bottom of the eighth in what's turning out to be a marvelous ballgame, I return my full attention to the TV. Props to the courageous Colorado fans who actually made it out to the ballpark in this miserable weather.
Maybe It's Being Raised in Chicago, but Day Games are Just Better
It's BK day! I have no idea what to expect from Byung-Hyun. The Red Sox thought they could make him into a starter after flipping Shea Hillenbrand for the erstwhile bullpen stopper. It didn't pan out, and neither has the Rockies' attempt to turn him back into a relief pitcher. So, here we go again. You have to root for the guy, who like Rick Ankiel seems to have lost all sense of where he's supposed to be throwing. And BK can't hit, not that anything will ever come of Ankiel's rebirth as an outfielder.
Posting: Cory Sullivan gets some deserved props. Also: humidor controversy! It's not Jason Jennings' fault, the outfield is too big. RMN: Clint Hurdle says re: Jennings "there is a difference between effort and achievement." Plus: David Cortes, last-chancer; Colorado's 19 wild pitches lead the majors. SI: Clint Barmes makes #17 on the list of the top 20 young hitters in baseball. CBS: Rockies make #30 (again) in the power rankings.
My question to you the reader for today: Were the Rockies to trade Preston Wilson (or, gulp, Todd Helton) what's our top priority? Starting pitching, relievers, second base? You can never have too many starters, I say. But on the other hand, Aaron Miles has got to go. And watching Jay Witasick labor out on the mound is not my idea of springtime fun either. OK, we need everything. But what do we need the most?
I just read a few moments ago that the Royals' Tony PeÃ±a became the first managerial casualty of the young season, resigning after the Blue Wave's loss to the Blue Jays sent them to 8-25. Do I have anything to say in PeÃ±a's defense? No, not really. He was one of my dad's favorite ballplayers, and we both loved his ultra-low catching crouch. But as a manager PeÃ±a was an inept cheerleader, a guy who was long on platitudes and short on strategy. KC's 83-79 2003 stands as one of the luckiest performances by a bad team in recent memory, and their catastrophic 104-loss 2004 had to leave PeÃ±a at a loss for motivational techniques.
More relevant to PeÃ±a's firing, perhaps, was the terrible record of the Royals' young pitching talent under his watch. Jimmy Gobble, Runelvys Hernandez, Chris George, and Mike MacDougal all had a modicum or more of success in the minors but withered as soon as the bright lights of Kauffman Stadium shone down upon them. It's hard to pinpoint whether that was PeÃ±a's fault or not, but it's hard to see how a new manager could do any worse. You can certainly imagine how wary upper management would be about what PeÃ±a's unsteady hand might do to wunderkind Zack Greinke.
It will be difficult for any new manager to improve the Royals' record on the field, but some sanity as far as playing time and roster moves are concerned couldn't hurt the few pieces Kansas City has (like Mark Teahen and David DeJesus). I doubt PeÃ±a will manage again any time soon, but I hope he stays near the game. Otherwise no one is going to know what my "CREO!" T-shirt is all about.
Braves 9, Rockies 5
Despite Jason Jennings spotting the Braves a touchdown in the first inning, I had a good feeling about this one until a brutal Desi Relaford error in the top of the eighth stole the Rockies' momentum after they closed it to 8-5. This is how I feel about the season, as a whole: horrible mistakes by young players, I don't mind so much. They're here to learn how to be big leaguers. But stupid mistakes by mediocre veterans? No, that's the old Rockies. What happened to "Gen R?"
While Cory Sullivan and Atlanta's Ryan Langerhans weren't trading off brilliant plays in left field, the Rockies were busy putting together a series of scrappy mini-rallies. Helton and Wilson combined for a two-out run in the 3rd. Clint Barmes had an RBI single in the 4th. A three-run burst in the 5th was capped off by a pinch-hit single for Garrett Atkins. Who, by the way, was omitted from the starting lineup in favor of Desi "Career .673 OPS" Relaford.
Marcos Carvajal gave up another run in his one inning of work, while new arrival David Cortes was great (2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 K). Jay Witasick would have gotten out of a shaky eighth if not for "Crazy Hands" Relaford. He did recover to pitch a scoreless ninth, which featured a wacky Marcus Giles ground-rule double. Somehow the ball skipped out of Brad Hawpe's glove and stayed on the ledge of one of the wells in the manual scoreboard on the right-field wall. The announcers said they'd never seen such a thing, and they would know better than I. Three strikeouts for Witasick in two innings of work, though, which is pretty good. As for Jason Jennings, well, the less said, the better. At least he managed to hang around in the game for four innings to save the bullpen after effectively losing the game in the first.
Offensive stars? Well, Preston Wilson was 3 for 5 and reached on an error, improving his trade value. Good work, Preston! Clint Barmes was 2 for 5. Todd Helton had no hits, but two walks and two runs. Cory Sullivan was 2 for 4 in addition to his fine glovework. But what are you going to do when your starter chokes up six runs in the first inning? Lose, mostly. With BK facing Smoltz tomorrow, too. Onward, purple soldiers!
O Preston, My Preston
This morning's post made reference to this Denver Post article intimating that the franchise formerly known as the Expos might be interested in acquiring Colorado centerfielder/strikeout specialist Preston Wilson, assuming that the Rockies would be willing to continue paying the remainder of Wilson's $12 million salary. Further sleuthing has not corroborated the report. SI.com's Truth & Rumors and ESPN's Rumor Central (subscription required) merely echo the Post story.
Neither of the Washingon dailies evidence the Nationals' apparent interest in Wilson. They do however track the descent of Zach Day, the righthander whom the Post's Troy Renck mentions as a prime candidate to be included in a Wilson deal. Let me get one thing clear right now: the Rockies do not want Zach Day. While he is a groundball pitcher with a good track record as far as allowing home runs is concerned, Day does not strike guys out, and pitching to contact in Coors Field is a recipe for disaster. He's benefited in the past from Olympic Stadium's turf and good defenders behind him. Regardless of what you think of Clint Barmes and Aaron Miles up the middle, what were easy grounders in Montreal are going to be low screamers in Denver. Day's mysterious feud with Frank Robinson doesn't improve his profile any, either.
Looking through the Nationals' farm system, the top guys, like Mike Hinckley, Larry Broadway, and Clint Everts, are probably off limits. Ryan Church is already contributing to the big club. There are a few guys lower down in the system, like lefty reliever Bill Bray or righty starter Josh Karp, who are worth a look. It's imperative the Rockies get players with little major league service time, their best years still ahead of them -- overpaying for past performance is what got this franchise into trouble in the first place.
We'll have to keep monitoring the Wilson situation. There's a lot of season to play before the trade deadline, and certainly more teams may show interest in a centerfielder who once hit 36 homers, even if his stats are Coors-boosted, his defense is shaky, and his strikeout totals are Adam Dunn-esque.
The Sun Shines a Little Brighter the Morning After a Win
Let the love affair with Chin-Hui Tsao begin! At least until he starts giving it up again. To give Colorado fans an ounce of perspective, go read about the Cubs or Reds bullpens, which have been awful lately, and don't even have the altitude or Bob Apodaca to use as an excuse. As I overlooked in my series preview yesterday, Joe Kennedy will be unavailable for Wednesday's game due to Juan Encarnacion's bullseye on his plant foot Friday. BK Kim will get the start. Write your own punchline.
The above link also covers a minor roster move, the exchange of outfielder Michael Restovich to Colorado Springs for righty David Cortes. Restovich, who hasn't played much and is made dispensible by Preston Wilson's return to full health, must clear waivers before accepting an assignment to the SkySox. Cortes has been reasonably good in AAA: 14 2/3 IP, 7 ER, 13 K, 6 BB. Three homers allowed though. At 31 he's no prospect, more about him if he sticks, I suppose. His retrieval is better than exposing Dohmann or Speier to further abuse.
Finally, the Washington Nationals, the organization that thought Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman were worth their money, now is all hot for Preston Wilson. Jim Bowden, be my baby daddy. I am going to go scrounge around and see what the Rockies might be able to get from the NationExpo farm system, which is not completely devoid of notables despite Omar Minaya's best efforts. Any deal would probably entail Colorado absorbing most to all of Wilson's remaining salary, an acceptable risk if the Rockies can land anyone who can play reasonably well for cheap beyond this season. More on this exciting development later.
Rockies 7, Braves 6
Once again the Coors Field effect sinks a good starting pitcher, as Tim Hudson is frustrated to the tune of 7 runs in 3 2/3 in his first career start at the old ballyard. Jamey Wright is hardly better, coughing up six earned but at least managing to qualify for a dubious win by lasting five and a third. Clint Hurdle moved Aaron Miles to the two spot in the lineup and the juggle seems to have paid off in the short run. Miles went 4 for 5 and scored three times. Clint Barmes, hitting leadoff, had a hit and a run. Todd Helton had two doubles and a walk. His average should be back in its accustomed place comfortably over .300 by the end of this homestand. Brad Hawpe, fresh off his featured appearance here this weekend, had two hits as well, one to knock in the tying and eventual game-winning runs. On the short side of things, Garrett Atkins' struggles at the plate continued 0 for 3, although he did manage to coax one of the Rockies' three walks. J.D. Closser had a base hit but struck out twice.
After Wright and Hudson were out of the contest, it changed from a classic Coors ping-pong game into a tense battle of relievers. Atlanta's Adam Bernero was solid for two innings of scoreless relief. Colorado countered with an effective appearance by Jose Acevedo and another good outing from Brian Fuentes. Their teammates, however, were unable to stretch the 1-run lead against Jorge Sosa. Watching the late innings of this one was painful. You knew the Rockies were either on the verge of one of their best victories of the season or one of their most gut-wrenching losses. I was barely able to to keep from covering my eyes after Chin-Hui Tsao finished warming up for the top of the ninth.
"If they lose," I think to myself, viewing Tsao's unreassuring stats (5.00 ERA, .316 BAA), "it's on the sleeveless jerseys." But strikeout, weak groundout, strikeout and there you have it. Way to go Rockies bullpen, I take back everything I ever said bad about you.
I voted for the All-Star Game today. My philosophy with doing this, whether on the Internet with my mouse or at the ballpark with a ballpoint (tee hee), is to pick players as fast as I can then to check the stats later and see how badly I messed up. For my first try this year, I did pretty well, perhaps because I'm keeping an even closer eye on baseball than usual thanks to this web venture.
1B I voted for Justin Morneau of the Twins, which is a no-brainer. Since coming off the DL late in April he's clubbed six homers, two triples, and four doubles. He's also getting on base at a .448 clip. If you want a guy who's played full-time, try Kansas City's Mike Sweeney or Seattle's Richie Sexson.
2B Brian Roberts, of Baltimore, should win this unanimously. Seriously, if you're at the park and you hear someone talking about voting for Soriano or Bret Boone, cuff them upside the head.
SS Miguel Tejada of the Orioles, with no one else even coming close. Carlos Guillen of Detroit is having a good year, but he has 2 homers to Tejada's 9, and he's not the soul of a team that's in first place in the tough AL East. If you vote for Derek Jeter, you're a bad person. Write-in votes for A-Rod are acceptable however.
3B Speak of the devil, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees is the pick here. Granted, he has no personality and his team is going down in flames around him, but Alex has the numbers. And the deodorant commercials. Honorable mention to Melvin Mora -- boy, that Oriole infield is pretty good.
C My choice and the numbers' is Joe Mauer of Minnesota. The Twins farm system is all right, huh? Jason Varitek of the Red Sox is proving his new contract wasn't a waste of money, and Toby Hall is as good a candidate as any to be the Devil Rays' lone All-Star representative.
OF A lot of names to choose from. The ballot doesn't make you do so, but I like to pick a right fielder, a center fielder, and a left fielder if it doesn't cause a huge slight. I think teammates Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon of Boston and Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels make a pretty solid trio. Jacque Jones of the Twins would be my first guy off the bench.
P Fans don't get to vote for pitchers, but Jon Garland of the White Sox is the early favorite to start.
1B I first clicked Lyle Overbay of the Brewers, then just as I was picking my third outfielder, had a "d'oh!" moment and went back to pick Derrek Lee of the Cubs, who is putting up MVP-like numbers thus far (like a 1.224 OPS). Another easy choice, which is probably why I so nearly botched it. Amazingly, the great Albert Pujols is the third choice in this loaded category. Carlos Delgado of Florida and Washington's Nick Johnson have arguments as well.
2B I hate his **** star-moustached guts with the white-hot intensity of a thousand flaming suns, but it's impossible to deny that Los Angeles's Jeff Kent should be the starter in Detroit in July, barring any tragic truck-washing accidents. No one else in the NL is in his class.
SS Colorado fans, rejoice! Clint Barmes is on the ballot, and if he keeps up his ridiculous hitting pace, he stands a chance to break into the heady climes of the All-Star starting lineup. His only competition is Omar Vizquel, who gives up 200 points of OPS but has two main things going for him: he's been an All-Star three times before, and he doesn't play for the Rockies. Stuff the ballot boxes! Get Clint to Motown!
3B Chipper Jones of the in-town Braves laps the field here. Troy Glaus, whose signing by Arizona was criticized in many quarters, is second best.
C This was the one I really messed up. I was going to vote for Paul Lo Duca but wanted to mix it up, and I have read good things about the hitting and defense of the Nationals' Brian Schneider, so I gave him the nod. I shold have stuck with the Marlin. No matter how good Schneider's defense may be, he gives up 40 points of OBP to PLD. Yeah, you know me. San Diego's Ramon Hernandez is in the running as well.
OF I just kind of guessed here, coming up with Miguel Cabrera of Florida, Carlos Beltran of the Mets, and Jim Edmonds of the Cardinals. That's two centerfielders, but none of the rightfielders popped out to me. Edmonds and Cabrera are solid picks, and you could hardly go wrong with Beltran, who may have guaranteed himself a huge fan vote with his performance in the playoffs last year. However I can't believe I overlooked his teammate Cliff Floyd, who is just playing out of his mind -- 1.057 OPS, 8 homers, 20-game hitting streak. Adam Dunn would be my fourth outfielder.
P 6-0 and a 1.07 ERA good enough for you? Then call Dontrelle Willis.
Well, that was a fun little exercise. I'll vote again in a few weeks and see what changes, if anything. Meanwhile, do your best to get out the Barmes vote. A Rockies player starting in the All-Star Game could well be the highlight of this rapidly dimming season.
Hopefully We Won't See the Red Jerseys
After losing two of three to the team with the best pitching in baseball, the Rockies return home to face the team with the second-best staff. All five of the Braves' starters have a 3.68 ERA or lower at this point in the season; the staff's overall figure is a cool 3.01. If there's a soft spot in the bullpen it's closer Dan Kolb, who has posted nine saves despite a 1.85 WHIP and 5.54 ERA. The Rockies, who will face Tim Hudson, John ("No P" ) Thomson, and John Smoltz on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday respectively, will be lucky if they reach the ninth inning of any of the games within three runs.
Atlanta's bats aren't as scary as their arms. The Braves rank 11th in the NL with a .744 team OPS, and 13th in OBP (.323). Then again, they are coming off a 16-0 deconstruction of the struggling Astros (who have only a single road win this year, one fewer than the Rockies) to complete a four-game sweep with an aggregate score of Atlanta 38, Houston 8. Chipper Jones is playing back at his 1999-2001 form, hitting .349/.472/.640 with five homers. However he's been carrying the team basically by himself, as other expected key contributors like Rafael Furcal (.295 OBP), Johnny Estrada (1 homer), and the corner outfield duo of Brian Jordan (.632 OPS) and Raul Mondesi (.592 OPS) have been terrible or worse. At this point Mike Hampton (7 for 20 with a homer) is the second-best hitter on the team, with apologies to Marcus Giles. And Hampton isn't pitching in this series.
The Rockies will send Jamey Wright to the mound in the Monday night game, throw Jason Jennings on Tuesday night, and pitch Joe Kennedy in Wednesday's day tilt. This is a series where the Rockies need to use their home-field advantage to the hilt, scoring early to get into the heads of the opposition's hurlers. Good luck with that as far as Hudson and Smoltz are concerned. To cue up the broken record again, the Colorado starters need to not walk batters and stay in games late. Hopefully Joe Kennedy can get past his terrible performances in day games thus far (10.57 ERA) and likewise Jamey Wright can overturn his great-on-the-road (1.37), apocalyptic-at-home (13.94) trend.
The Braves are a first-place team, and playing like it. The Rockies are a last-place team, and playing like it. Winning this series would be a nice surprise, and the most impressive accomplishment for this young team since humbling the Dodgers 4/22-23. Let's go put the pride back in the purple.
One in a Row
Jeff Francis: "Maybe I should start eating breakfast for dinner." Dustan Mohr: "Barry's just zis guy, y'know?" Matt Holliday: "Light my fire." Bernie Lincicome: "Being the worst is not as easy as it seems." Todd Helton: "It's not going to get any easier."
Off the Rockies beat, the California state government wants the "Los Angeles" Angels to put a disclaimer on their tickets that indicates that the team (still) plays in Anaheim. I'm not sure what it is that has the White Sox playing like the '98 Yankees, but I'm pretty sure it's not clubhouse chemistry. I had read somewhere and mentioned in passing earlier that Twins starter Carlos Silva was out long-term; as it turns out the guy is playing with a lateral meniscus tear in his right (plant) knee. That's got to take a lot of ice.
The Rockies may be terrible, but they're in good company. The Cubs (registration required) and Yankees each ended streaks of their own this weekend. The drama is hardly over as Dusty Baker and Mel Stottlemyre face external and internal threats to their jobs. Were I Joe Torre, I would resign in two seconds flat were Steinbrenner to can Stottlemyre. The guy didn't ask for this bunch of fragile, over-the-hill arms. As for Baker, I got to see firsthand while living in San Francisco that while the guy's a good clubhouse leader and a wonderful interview, he can't game-manage his way out of a resin bag. He still hasn't figured out that lefty straight-change specialist Mike Remlinger is better against right-handed hitters than left-handed ones, even though he's had more than two years in which to do so. As far as I can tell no such questions exist about the job security of Clint Hurdle and Bob Apodaca. Give it time.
Rockies 8, Marlins 3
The streak is over! Colorado finally ran into an average starting pitcher and ripped him pretty good, with an A-Miles granny and Clint Barmes inside-the-park three-run job chasing Al Leiter. Jeff Francis responded to the sudden burst of run support with a 7-strikeout, 6 2/3-inning outing that only lost control when his pitch count got up around 120 in the seventh inning.
Everyone in the lineup save Dustan Mohr and Michael Restovich had one safety; Barmes had a single in the first in addition to the fly ball Juan Encarnacion misplayed into a round-tripper. It was odd to see the Rockies sacrificing in the first inning (the best way to avoid lots of scoring is to give away outs), but Aaron Miles deserves credit at least for executing what he was instructed to do.
Jay Witasick pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 in relief of Francis; nice rebound effort on his part. Marcos Carvajal, who hasn't worked in a few days, was shakier in the ninth, walking two and giving up a hit before striking out Damion Easley and Jeff Conine to finish off the win.
The worrying thing is that the Rockies went real quiet after their two big innings, not much threatening after the fourth. This team needs to keep the Coors mentality that no lead is safe wherever they go. Still, a win's a win, and this bunch of kids deserved one on Mother's Day of all days. Which reminds me: Hi, Mom, if you're reading, and thanks for attending all of those Foley Buick games back in the day, even when I only played two innings in right field, picking dandelions and wondering when they would let me play short.
Brad Hawpe began his pro career as a first baseman, which comes as a surprise to me since he moves reasonably gracefully in the outfield for a big guy. Hawpe is 6'3", 200, and was born 6/22/79. The Rockies drafted him out of Louisiana State in the 2000 draft, 11th round. Hawpe has gotten on base and slugged at every level in the minors, although his numbers out of A-ball and not at altitude (that is to say, AA Tulsa) aren't as fearsome.
Baseball America says Hawpe's biggest hangup is becoming overly concerned with his bat speed. He's strong enough that if he concentrates on making contact, the extra base hits will come (especially at Coors). The Sporting News 2005 Scouting Handbook is convinced Hawpe has a place as a starter: "The question he has to answer is whether he can make consistent enough contact to hit up in the middle, or will he be left to hit in the sixth or seventh spot." John Sickels is a little less enthusiastic: "Give Hawpe 500 at-bats in a regular park, he'll hit something like .257 with 21 homers and a .331 OBP, not awesome by any means, or even above average, but OK as a complementary player for a good team."
So far this season Hawpe has been the Rockies' third-most productive offensive player after Clint Barmes and Todd Helton. His biggest weakness has been acute difficulty against left-handers: on his big league career Hawpe's hit .261/.330/.424 vs. righties compared to .154/.267/.231 vs. lefties. Then again the latter numbers are only over 13 at-bats. Memo to Clint Hurdle: Hawpe is too young to be pigeonholed as a platoon player. He's not going to learn how to hit major league lefties if he never gets to face them.
The long and short of it is Brad Hawpe is a pretty good young player, and he'll help a good team eventually if not the Rockies. Colorado desperately needs him to fill out to the high end of his potential, because they need a #4 hitter badly. And a leadoff hitter. And five through eight hitters. Right, and a rotation that doesn't walk people and a bullpen. But if they had all these things already, then they wouldn't need me, right?
Why do they print the Sunday papers so thick? So there's room for the comics, the mattress ads, and piling on poor Colorado. Woody Paige as usual takes the donut with a rambling column that does mention the interesting fact that the Rockies close the season at the Mets, where they could well challenge that franchise's record for all-time futility. He also coins a lot of nicknames that I won't repeat. Don't you either.
"There's only one minor flaw in O'Dowd's brilliant plan," Paige writes, "it won't work." Which one? Why not? What would you suggest? But he stops flogging that dolphin to go work over the Yankees some, which is kind of like abandoning the shooting of fish in a barrel in favor of clubbing them. Dan O'Dowd's plan (this year) is to lose with lots of rookies. Right? You'd have to be a fool (or one of the owners) to think they were actually supposed to contend this season. So if you want to make fun of the Yankees, go ahead, but leave the Rockies out of it -- this is positive bleeding here out west. Or at least offer some suggestions as to what you the newspaper columnist/television personality would do different.
Also in the Post: A Mike Klis piece that says something with which we can all agree, that the Rockies hit way too many groundballs. (I predict this will be the first part of a three-parter, the second section concerning how the starters walk too many, and the third revealing that the bullpen isn't very good.) They may play terrible baseball, but their mothers love them.
On to MLB.com, where the man with the least rewarding job in pro baseball, Bob Apodaca, has some stale wisdom about throwin' 'em in there, takin' 'em one at a time, and just tryin' to help the ol' ball team. Also: Matt Holliday's mom.
Marlins 4, Rockies 1
Nine walks, but only two earned runs for Shawn Chacon. That's amazing. Of course, A.J. Burnett of these very Marlins threw a no-hitter with nine walks a few years ago, so anything's possible. Chacon would have needed a no-hitter, or at the very least a shutout, to keep from taking his second loss in this one. Or who knows even then. Short of Clint Barmes (2 for 3, ho hum), the Rockies had nothing going in this one against Josh Beckett (6 strikeouts, 5 hits, 1 walk). To be fair, Todd Helton had a single and sharply slapped another ball opposite-field but was robbed by a diving Alex Gonzalez.
Another worry for Colorado again rose its head when Luis Castillo stole second easily in the fifth, leading directly to the Marlins' first run. The Rockies are only 4 of 26 on the year catching baserunners. Their 22 allowed steals puts them at fourth-worst in the bigs. Part of this can be laid at the feet of pitchers like Chacon and Joe Kennedy with pokey throwing motions, but neither J.D. Closser nor Todd Greene, today's starter, has much distinguished themselves in this regard. A team that gives up this many walks can't get a reputation for being open for business on the basepaths; imagine if Chacon gave up 10 doubles a game. On second thought, don't.
Barmes (with another hit, a double) and Helton (single) were able to team up for a run against reliever Jim Mecir in the eighth, but then again, I thought Mecir was retired. He struck out the side, Relaford-Miles-Wilson, on either side of the Rockies' two good hitters, too. The Marlins got the run right back on a long Delgado drive that Preston Wilson very nearly made a terrific over-the-shoulder basket catch on; unfortunately, the ball was apparently so surprised to find itself in his glove that it immediately jumped out again. Mesmerized by the subtle curves of Todd Jones' moustache, Colorado went 1-2-3 in the ninth, and that makes ten loses in a row.
Post and News sports desks, I have one for you, free of charge: TENderfeet. Try it out.
News You Can Use
It's a good thing sunrises are beautiful in the mountains. Little good news awaits the Rockies fan this fair morning, as if any has since the Don Baylor era. Joe Kennedy will miss at least one start with a left ankle bruise. Here's a rules oddity I did not know -- had Todd Helton managed to hit Kennedy's wild throw with his glove toss last night, each runner would have been awarded two bases. As I'm writing this, I see that SportsCenter has given Helton and Kennedy #1 on their Not Top Ten list for their efforts. Oh, sure, it's all sympathy for the Royals, but pile on Colorado. Must be the purple. Finally on the Colorado beat, Shawn Chacon shaved his head: "I felt like a woman at times, with all the hair products I had."
With their latest stadium initiative defeated, what's the Marlins' next move? It seems that now that there's a franchise in D.C. again, Las Vegas becomes the new bogeyman for all teams unhappy with the level of free handouts they're receiving from their current communities. More questions exist about Sin City baseball than answers. The only thing that kept MLB out of Washington for so long was undue influence exerted by Baltimore ownership; Las Vegas has a populace that works nights, a lot of competetition for the entertainment dollar, and the thorny question of gambling surrounding it. And they're no closer to having a major league ballpark than Miami is. Congress, which did an effective if heavy-handed job with the steroid mess, ought to step in and impose a 100% tax on the profits of all baseball teams that extort public money for stadiums by threatening to move. If they can build a privately-funded ballpark in San Francisco, which I can tell you from experience is one of the hardest places in America to find a decent apartment, they can can build one in South Florida, which is mostly swampland and nightclubs. We need to get Michael Moore on this.
The story in the National League so far this season has to be the Cardinals, who look head and shoulders above everybody else and stand to finish off the NL Central this month with their soft schedule. If St. Louis is the story, the sidebar would be the red-hot Brewers, whose seven-game streak ended Friday but still have the return of Ben Sheets on the horizon.
The other side of the coin would be represented by the Reds, whose brutal eight-game stretch only got worse with a 10-run first against the Dodgers yesterday. Attendance is predictably suffering. Meanwhile, let me know if you can figure out the Phillies, who have talent in abundance yet are in last place in the East with issues ranging from Jim Thome's back to Tim Worrell's psyche. As of now, the Astros will not trade Roger Clemens, but I would be shocked if we'd heard the last of that story.
While the American League is a relative cypher (the White Sox and Orioles are not this good, people), the NL could be sorting itself out already. The Cardinals look like they're unstoppable in the Central. The West should be a race between the Dodgers and the Giants, hinging on when and if Barry Bonds returns to active duty. The East could be between two teams with fabulous pitching staffs, Atlanta and Florida, with the first to get their offense in gear taking the flag. It's too early to rule anyone out (except the Reds, Rockies, and Pirates) for the wild card.
Finally, congratulations are due to Trevor Hoffman on his 400th save. Say what you will about the watered-down nature of the modern save stat, watching baseball in Colorado if anything creates a greater appreciation for the difficulty of late-inning relief pitching.
Marlins 7, Rockies 0
It doesn't really matter that the Rockies bullpen continued to give it up like France under invasion tonight; Dontrelle Willis was on, he was getting the outside corner, and there wasn't much Joe Kennedy or anyone else was going to do to stop him (7 IP, 10 K's). Kennedy was pitching well when he his ankle got pegged on the one-hop from a Juan Encarnacion grounder. It's indicative of the way Colorado's season that before Kennedy had to be carried out of the game, he managed to limp his way over to the ball and commit a throwing error.
That makes nine in a row if you're counting, and with Beckett tomorrow, the path doesn't get any easier. The Rockies at this point have two losing streaks longer than their win total, and that ain't good. At least it wasn't a one-run loss, eh?
After Kennedy went out, Jay Witasick, who seemed due for a torching, got torched, letting both of Kennedy's runners score and sending in three of his own for good measure. The game effectively over, it was as good a time as any for the Byung-Hyun Kim experiment to continue. It's a worthy cause, as Kim still looks nasty when he's in the strike zone, but he had two walks to go with his two K's and gave the Marlins an extra point on a wild pitch.
Bright spots, bright spots. Brian Fuentes effectively shut the barn door after Witasick let out all the cows in the 6th. Clint Barmes had a single and was on base twice. Catcher Todd Greene continues to outhit the guy he's ostensibly backing up (although that could be a platoon phenomenon). Luis ("N.R.") Gonzalez had a hit and drew a walk, equalling right there the season total of the man he was spelling. And they didn't wear the sleeveless jerseys.
I'm not licked yet! I can take more! Tomorrow: Beckett, and local sportswriters struggle to find clever ways to interpolate the word "ten" or digits "10" into their headlines.
Will the Rockies Win Ten Games by June?
It's a question that demands closer examination. Consider the schedule ahead: with three games in Florida and three at home against Atlanta, they'll be lucky to get one win. Assuming they don't they continue at home with four against Arizona and three against San Francisco. They probably get either one against each or two against the D-Backs, making 8 total. Then they have a long NL Central swing, facing Pittsburgh and Milwaukee three apiece and the Cubs for four. Given the way they've played on the road thus far, they could easily win only one game for the whole trip, probably against the Pirates. Then look who's waiting at Coors Field. Uh-oh, it's the Cardinals, the best team in the National League. That's a four-game series -- a four-game sweep?
I'll see you at Coors on Friday, June 3rd, when the Rockies face the Cincinnati Reds for a chance to hit double-digit wins!
OK, here I am surely catastrophizing. But the point is this: this will not be a season for the weak of heart. Maybe I should have titled the page "The Ugly, the Ugly, and the Barmes." We'd still have Todd Helton covered. Sorry, Todd, you know we love you.
There was a time when the Rockies and the Marlins were often referred to as sister teams, since both entered the league together in the expansion of 1993. Since then, Florida has two World Series championships and Colorado has...a nice stadium. Although neither team has ever won a division title, the Marlins have been much more productive with their wild card appearances. Nowadays, the Florida state expansion team the Rockies are more likely to be compared to is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The 2005 Marlins (15-10) are again competitive thanks to a pitching rotation that ranks second to none in the MLB in ERA and opponents' OPS. Their offense has been good enough to win led by Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Delgado, and a hot start from Juan Encarnacion. Usually steady third baseman Mike Lowell has been a disaster, however, posting a .196/.235/.337 line with only two home runs thus far. Florida is coming off of a two-game split with division-leading Atlanta, losing Wednesday on the strength of a dominating Tim Hudson performance.
The most important game for the '05 Marlins, however, is playing out in the Florida statehouse (registration required), where the future of a new ballpark for the '97 and '03 champs hangs by a thread. A subsidy bill for the Fish's proposed new retractable-roofed aquarium has been passed in the state House but stands to die a slow death in the Senate. The biggest news for the Marlins' long-term future in the state of Florida may well come down during this series with Colorado. However, it is unlikely to help the Rockies any on the field.
Of more immediate concern to the purple-and-black are Dontrelle Willis, he of the corkscrewing motion and Juan Marichal leg kick, and Josh Beckett, he of the World Series MVP award. This duo will start the two night games in the series, on Friday and Saturday. The Rockies counter with Joe Kennedy and Shawn Chacon. The Sunday matinee may be Colorado's best chance to get a road win in, as fading veteran Al Leiter will face Jeff Francis. A Miami sportswriter gives a Marlins'-eye view of the Rockies here (registration required).
Unlike the Last Rockies-Marlins Series, Snowouts Are Not Expected
It appears as if the Marlins' stadium story (registration required) we've been following intently since last night before bed is a dead issue. Too bad, there's a drawing of the proposed new park with the article and it looks real pretty; it's a sardine can-style design like Minute Maid Park only more lavender. Perhaps Florida can make up the $30 million they're short by striking some kind of deal with Pepperidge Farm to build the new digs in the shape of a giant goldfish. Or, they could just ask Shaq.
Back at altitude, Denny Neagle's dispute with the Rockies is settled, putting an end to an ugly story indeed, though not as ugly as Neagle's pitching while with Colorado. The Rockies will apparently end up paying $16 million of the $19.5 owed. After legal fees it's probably a wash, but at least they've proved that the Colorado Major League Baseball club doesn't brook with Low Morals. Does David Wells have one of these good citizenship clauses in his contract? The Post this morning also gives us this story about the team's offensive difficulties away from Coors.
Are you like me? Do you really hate those new black sleeveless alternate jerseys the Rockies are wearing this year? (ESPN's Uni Watch surely does.) Well, now whenever you see them you know whom to blame: the night's starting pitcher. Jamey Wright seems to be the only one of the Rockies' current quintet who prefers the sleeveless look (Shawn Chacon: "You probably won't see me wearing those"), so if you happen to catch Wright starting this season, please let him know that his team looks like full-body bruises in those things. For the record, when it comes to roadwear Chacon and Joe Kennedy prefer the purple while Jason Jennings and Jeff Francis like the grey. (DAFH has a nice punchline to this story.)
Finishing off this morning's survey of the relevant headlines: Marcos Carvajal is the youngest current big leaguer (I didn't know that) and the Marlins have done somewhat better than the Rockies since '93 (that I knew).
Where Are You, Jimmy Chitwood?
Inconsolable after yesterday's games saw the Nuggets eliminated and the Rockies fall behind the winning pace of the Amazin' '62 Mets, I watched the movie Hoosiers for the first time in years. I feel a little better. Do any of those retro clothiers make #15 Hickory High jerseys? I would buy one of those in a second.
If you wish to continue reading about the slow development of the Rockies' young talent, you can read about the struggles of J.D. Closser, the struggles of Jason Jennings, and the struggles of Matt Holliday. On the lighter side of things, Clint Barmes likes country music and Frosted Flakes.
If Clint Hurdle is no Coach Dale, Bob Apodaca is no Shooter. You can read about his work with the pitching staff here if you honestly think there is anything that can be done. If you want to know what the national media thinks of the Colorado Rockies, I'll save you two trips: #30 and #30.
The Marlins are next up after a travel day, and with Dontrelle Willis (1.29 ERA) and Josh Beckett (2.57 ERA) set to pitch the first two games, a nice round ten-game losing streak sounds like an inevitability. Strange things have been known to happen in this game we love, though. Don't give up hope. And pass four times before you shoot.
Padres 8, Rockies 7 (12 innings)
Where to begin? Okay, here it is: A-Miles drew his first walk of the season. Obviously the lineup change was a good move. I have been carefully avoiding mentioning Miles' Reyes-ishness in an attempt not to jinx him; now the story can be told. 87 AB, no walks. It has to be hard to do that without trying.
Otherwise, it's a minor blessing that this game was radio-only, because I would have gouged my eyes out by now. There have been plenty of losses this year that could be pinned on the starters, the relievers, or the hitters. This one is on the manager. Why was Jason Jennings left in so long in the sixth when he was clearly done for the day? Why was Chin-Hui Tsao asked to pitch two innings with Acevedo was available? Another series, another sweep. Marcos Carvajal allowed his first earned run in the bottom of the 12th; his first major league loss will come in a game he never should have been in. Hasn't Clint Hurdle ever played ESPN Baseball 2K5?
Bright spots? Well, long-suffering Byung-Hyun Kim pitched a perfect seventh. Todd Helton's hot May continued with a double and a homer. Dustan Mohr hit a huge two-run shot in the eighth that ultimately only had the effect of prolonging the agony and wearing out the bullpen. Good on you, Dustan. It just seems like all the elements of winning don't want to show up at the same time for the Rockies, a common lament for very young teams. Hurdle isn't helping by putting his kids out there in situations where they're bound to fail. Tsao's one skill is to throw the ball as straight and hard as possible before his velocity drops a tick; in other words, he's a one-inning pitcher.
Jake Peavy is a good pitcher, so we'll forgive Colorado the eight strikeouts (thirteen total). Only six by the Rockies' five pitchers is pretty poor, though. (Two of these were by Carvajal in only 2/3 of an inning.) Two wild pitches and two throwing errors on pitchers, though? It may be time for some new voices on the coaching staff. I haven't lost faith in these young players yet, but I'm not terribly confident in the guy steering the ship.
Coffee and Links
Desperate for new storylines in the "Twilight Zone" episode that is each Rockies road trip, the Post this morning tries to stir up bad blood between Damian Jackson, whom Colorado discarded last year, and the Rockies, losers due to Jackson's eighth-inning double. Not so much. To make room for Jackson, the Padres designated Adam Hyzdu for assignment. I thought he was a young guy, but it turns out he's 33. I hear the weather's lovely in Portland this time of year, Adam.
The RMN, bless them, has the answer to our Chris Nelson mystery: another hammy injury. They also note that the hearing on Colorado's attempt to void Denny Neagle's contract will take place this week in New York.
Hey, has anyone besides me noticed that the Brewers are playing pretty well? Milwaukee beat Chicago 4-1 for the fifth victory in a row last night. The CrÃ¼e are a team Rockies fans should keep an eye on, as their GM Doug Melvin has done a very nice job of building from within. The Brewers' attitude after years of stagnation has been to wheel and deal with impunity, giving everybody a shot while they wait for their superstar prospects to be ready. With guys like Lyle Overbay, Dan Kolb, and Scott Podsednik, they struck gold, but were unafraid to then spin off Kolb and Podsednik while their trade values were high. If the Rockies could get a haul for Todd Helton like the one Milwaukee got from Arizona for Richie Sexson -- Overbay, Junior Spivey, Chris Capuano, Craig Counsell (now back with the Snakes), Jorge de la Rosa, and Chad Moeller -- they'd really have something. Of course, Sexson didn't have a cartoonishly huge and unwieldy contract attached to his services. But then again Helton is a better player.
What the Brewers have done is isolate their biggest needs -- this offseason it was catcher and a right-handed bat -- and pay the going rate. They gave Damian MIller a market-value contract to catch and traded former waiver claim Podsednik and reliever Luis Vizcaino (another guy they got for basically nothing) for Carlos Lee, a really good player. They were lucky in that Ben Sheets wanted to stay and took below-market money to do so, but one of the reasons that their young pitching stud made that decision was his approval of the direction the franchise is going in. Meanwhile they're saving big on decent to good players like Bill Hall, Brady Clark, and Overbay who are in their cheap pre-free agency period. The concept is the very best of them will get resigned and the others will be replaced from the farm system (Overbay will bring good returns in a trade when Prince Fielder is ready).
The Brewers' pitching isn't yet in a state for them to contend, but one of these years they will be close at the All-Star break and in a terrific position to deal. The Rockies are a year or two behind in terms of young players already established in the major leagues, but their farm system gets good marks from the people who give out such things. The trick now is getting out from under the two really onerous contracts -- Helton's and Preston Wilson's. The harder part will be deciding when to let go of younger guys who might be blocking better players in the minors. Take Aaron Miles...please.
Supporting the Scene
I'm really excited by this whole MLBlogs concept, as you perhaps can surmise from my hyperactive posting on this my own site. I wish that Major League Baseball had been so kind as to include a clever indexing system so I could find like-minded bloggers more easily -- just the ability to sort the active pages by team would be a help. Nonetheless, just by cruising the "recently updated" links which you may even now be noticing to the left of this very post, I've found a few blogs whose development is worth monitoring:
Keep on posting, everybody, and if you have a cool site that I missed, hit me up with an e-mail.
Padres 2, Rockies 1
I missed "Veronica Mars" for that? Stupid baseball team. If the Rockies are going to lose, you want them to lose badly, so you can say, "Oh well, same old pitching, what are you going to do?" When Colorado gets terrific starting pitching, as they did from Jamey Wright tonight, it gnaws at you. Even the bullpen wasn't terrible. Jay Witasick did take the loss, but you can't expect your relievers not to give up a stray run here and there. The failure here lies entirely on the shoulders of the offense.
The only guys who looked good were Todd Helton, who hit a clutch double to get into scoring position down one run in the ninth, Cory Sullivan, who was 2 for 4 subbing as leadoff man for Aaron Miles, and Todd Greene, who scored Colorado's only run with a solo shot in the top of the second. Wright himself had a single -- he's 4 for 11 on the year.
That got me thinking. Jason Jennings can handle the bat pretty well too. How do the Rockies' pitchers rank as hitters? Going by OPS, they're sixth. The Cubs are not surprisingly #1 -- Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior are good batters, and the departure of Matt Clement has an addition-by-subtraction effect in this category. Mike Hampton alone is probably enough to put the Braves in the top 5. The surprise at #3 is the Nationals. I don't know much about their staff. Is Esteban Loaiza a slugger?
In-Game Prospect Update
Today is "Interactive Tuesday" on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain, which means when they get around to it the announcers answer e-mail questions from we lowly viewers. Apparently they're not getting around to my question about why we would have Clint sacrifice, ever, but they did in the top of the third rattle off a number of prospect names upon receiving an obligatory "But will the Rockies ever be any good?" query. As my gift to you, here's the deal so far on these future purple pinstriped people-eaters:
Well, I have to say, that was probably more fun than directing my full attention towards the game, which is showing every indication now of finishing with Trevor Hoffman's 399th save. Prove me wrong, Colorado! Prove me wrong!
Are You Ready for Some Football?
European Champions' League football, that is! Today I watched a very exciting match between Chelsea and Liverpool in the semifinals for the UEFA Cup, European club soccer's biggest prize. Liverpool's Luis Garcia scored a goal right at the beginning of the game that barely crossed the line before a Blue defender chipped it out. The rest of the match was as tense as soccer gets, with Chelsea needing only one goal (due to the same weird rules that make international soccer so unappealing to most Americans, a tie would have meant Chelsea's advance) and Liverpool working feverishly to deny it to them.
Okay, now here's why I think this is of interest to baseball fans. Liverpool is out of it in their own league, the English Premiership -- in fact, Chelsea wrapped up the title last weekend. Their fans still have something to go nuts for, however, with the team headed to Istanbul for the Cup final. I'll bet tickets for Liverpool's last regular season game at Anfield are selling pretty briskly with Cup fever in the air. All of the European soccer leagues have tournaments that run during the regular season of some kind or another; many have several. England's FA Cup matches teams from the minor leagues with the big boys from the Premiership; NCAA basketball-style upsets are not uncommon.
Wouldn't a single-elimination baseball tournament, carried on every few weekends during the regular season, be fascinating to watch? The major league teams could be seeded by their records from the season before and minor league teams could be selected to fill out the bracket by play-in games between the high finishers from every AAA, AA, and A league. Sure, the baseball minor leagues aren't like the English soccer ones in that they're controlled by big league clubs. But no one has to take this theoretical tournament too seriously.
The allure, in addition to something like Albuquerque Isotopes whipping the Braves in the first round, is a scenario like this: The Yankees draw the Royals, who've gritted out a few close wins, in the quarterfinals. The game is at Yankee Stadium on a Sunday. The Yanks face the Red Sox that coming Tuesday. The Royals, who are completely out of the regular season race by this time, pitch Zack Greinke. Are the Yankees going to put Randy Johnson up against him, or throw a middle reliever out there? Of course the Unit is saved for the Red Sox. The Royals win, and go on to meet the Lansing Lugnuts in the semis.
This will of course never happen. The scheduling would be a nightmare, and it's far too radical an idea for the current MLB regime. But when you really think about it, is it really that much crazier than interleague play, the wild card, or the designated hitter?
Closser the Colossus
I wrote recently about Rockies rookie reliver Marcos Carvajal, who's off to a hot start, and I thought that today I might go in the opposite direction in more ways than one by taking a look at J.D. Closser, who plays catcher and isn't finding the big leagues as easy. Closser is hitting a lean .160 while playing in about two-thirds of the Rockies' games. He's also thrown out only 1 of 11 attempted base stealers for a Piazza-like .091 average. Not much can be said so far for his game-calling as Colorado pitchers have rung up a 6.23 ERA on his watch.
Jeffrey Darrin Closser, born 1/15/1980, is 5'10" and weighs 175. He's a switch-hitter who was drafted out of high school in Indiana by the Diamondbacks in 1998. The Rockies acquired him in a trade for lefty reliever Mike Myers before the 2002 season. Closser is a career .281 hitter in the minor leagues, with an impressive .383 on-base percentage. His double and homer totals have risen as he's moved along. He's not likely to become a big-time home run hitter, but his mixture of on-base and gap hitting skills makes him a useful offensive player, especially for a catcher.
Defensively Closser is more of a question mark. At Colorado Springs last season he only nabbed 22% of basestealers. Baseball Prospectus's defensive metric rates him as very slightly below average as a defensive catcher, scoring him a -4 (0 is neutral) in AAA last season. The Baseball America Prospect Handbook notes that work with well-regarded SkySox pitching coach Bob McClure has improved Closser's game-calling.
Despite his slow pace out of the gate, Closser is one of the best candidates on the Rockies' roster for long-term success. His batting eye should sustain him through slumps like this -- right now, despite the ugly average, his OBP is a slightly less ghastly .250 -- and he's certainly demonstrated ample ability to hit the ball in the minor leagues. Catcher is one of the most difficult, technical positions, and Closser at 25 has plenty of time to develop the footwork and release technique to keep opposing runners from going wild on the bases against him. None of the references I've checked suggests he doesn't have the arm strength to eventually be a first-rate backstop. The pressure is on pitching coach Bob Apodaca to build a productive relationship between Closser and the Rockies' corps of young arms.
Morning Headline Roundup
Not much new on the daily beat, except word that the Padres set a record for smallest announced crowd in PetCo history (something that may become a repeated chorus as the Rockies work their way around the circuit). Preston Wilson will be out until at least the weekend with what has been described as a strained left groin.
If you're really a glutton for punishment, there's a singularly uninformative mailbag over at the Post (you mean, the Rockies are having bullpen problems?) and feature at the News (Clint Barmes had a good April?) you can read. Looking around the league for a second, the amazing Cubs training staff has another one of their incredible expanding injuries, with Kerry Wood's shoulder soreness going from "one start" to "three weeks" to "two months" in the blink of an eye. The Cardinals set a franchise record with their seven-run rally in the ninth against the Reds. Keep it up, Cincinnati bullpen, you might make the Rockies look good by comparison.
In the NL West, the Giants continue their hot play, although questions persist as to the recovery of Barry Bonds. The Dodgers' hot start seems a memory as questions about the defense abound, although personal fave Hee Seop Choi kept himself off the bench for one more game with a double. The D-Backs may be cooling off also, with an impressive run by their starters coming to a close. I don't know how I managed to forget mentioning this yesterday, but the Padres built a giant wall in part due to the Rockies' Jeff Francis. They're under new management, too.
Padres 5, Rockies 4
Okay, who believes in heartening losses? I enjoyed watching every minute of the Rockies game tonight, even if they did lose. Yeah, Jeff Francis was unspectacular. But at least the bullpen didn't turn it into a laugher, and Todd Helton is finally starting to warm up. Helton certainly doesn't have to prove anything to potential trade suitors, but it's simply fun to watch the man hit. He's good at it.
While 5 earned runs, 7 hits and 4 walks isn't anything to lead the SportsCenter highlights, Francis did do something tonight that impressed me. After back-to-back doubles by Clint Barmes and Helton pulled Colorado within 1 in the top of the fifth, Francis managed to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning. Rather than blowing up and forcing Clint Hurdle to go to the pen early, Francis induced a Sean Burroughs double-play ball to end the fifth, then marched right back out and pitched a perfect sixth. The ability to hang on in games, even after getting pounded early, is a particular skill that Rockies starters must master if they are going to be successful at home or away. It wasn't a good outing otherwise for Francis, who walked three in the back-breaking four-run Padres second.
As the Rockies' broadcasters pointed out before the game began, 7 of the 9 spots in the lineup today were taken up by either first-year or second-year players. If even half of these guys pan out, Colorado will have a cheap foundation of position players and the path will be clear to the legendary Fountain of Payroll Flexibility. So how did the kids do? Well, the remarkable Barmes was 2 for 5 with a double. Garrett Atkins was 2 for 3 with a walk. Aaron Miles however was 0 for 5 and Brad Hawpe and Matt Holliday, despite having a hit apiece, missed out on multiple chances to win the game for the visitors.
It was a pretty sedate affair, despite San Diego skipper Bruce Bochy being tossed in the second for arguing a blown call at first on the back end of a double play. Trevor Hoffman and Akinori Otsuka looked very good for the Padres. Hoffman's changeup is in classic form. Their counterparts Brian Fuentes and Jose Acevedo were effective for the Rockies as well. On the small ball front, I wonder what on earth Clint Hurdle was doing having Jeff Francis try to bunt on a 3-0 count in the 4th (must have been a missed sign), and Ramon Hernandez nailed Barmes trying to steal third in the seventh with lefty-swinging Brad Hawpe at the plate. Clint had just taken second, too.
Preston Wilson left the game in 6th with some kind of unspecified groin concern. Didn't I just write about how Wilson's one job to was to not get hurt? Perhaps the Rockies should stick Preston into cryogenic stasis only to pull him out for a long homestand right around the trade deadline.
Finally, the Rockies managed to prolong the inevitable in the ninth on a nice hustle play by Dustan Mohr. With two out and Helton on first, Mohr hit a grounder towards second that Mark Loretta bobbled. Taking off at once at a sprint, Mohr managed to beat Loretta's throw out. It goes down as a reached on error, but a lot of guys in that situation would have dogged it and not even forced the issue. A purple star for you, Mr. Mohr.
The Rockies begin a three-game series against the San Diego Padres tonight. The pitching matchups are Francis and Eaton for the first game, Wright and Redding for the second, and Jennings and Peavy for the Wednesday day game. Colorado may feel as if they've stepped through the looking glass at Petco Park, which by all accounts absolutely stops offenses dead. The NL West must have the strangest home ballpark divide in the bigs, with Dodger Stadium and SBC Park also playing as pitchers' parks and Bank One being an extreme hitters' stadium. Coors, of course, belongs in a category by itself.
Popular mythology in San Diego has it that the Padres are completely psyched out by the faraway fences at their new roundball palace. Rational analysis indicated that the team really just has a bunch of singles hitters who would be stymied trying to slug anywhere. Sean Burroughs' line is representative -- he's hitting .329, but with a paltry 2 extra-base hits. The Padres' .713 team OPS puts them at 13th in the league, and they're actually better at home (.720) than away (.708). The only really dangerous hitters in their lineup are Ryan Klesko and Brian Giles, both of whom have low averages and high OBPs -- they're getting nothing good to hit, in other words.
But the Padres' strategy these days, in accordance with the dimensions of their new ballpark, is to win with pitching, and the early returns are disappointing. Eaton and Peavy, neither of whom the Rockies will be able to avoid this series, have been lights out, but the rest of the rotation has been wobbly. Redding has been awful, and Woody Williams and Brian Lawrence have ERAs higher than you would expect given their peripheral stats and home park. The bullpen has been good, but with an offense as poor as the Padres', the pitching needs to be exceptional.
The Padres were a trendy NL West pick in the preseason due to a perceived power vacuum; the Giants and Dodgers didn't seem to get any better and the D-Backs and Rockies were a long way away. The young pitching seems to be arriving on time but the expected surge in hitting hasn't followed. The Padres in short are not contenders this year, and a team by which the Rockies ought to at least avoid being swept. Who knows, maybe they can take 2 of 3 and warm up the hearts of some of us snowbound Coloradans. Snow in May, honestly -- what's up with that?
Step Away from Preston Wilson!
I never realized that keeping a baseball blog would entail writing notes about notes columns. I mean, how meta is that?
Troy E. Renck's latest is a pre-obit for Preston Wilson, who has been outplayed by Cory Sullivan lately and is making a cool $12 million. Wilson's Coors-enhanced homer totals will give him at least lukewarm trade value, although there's no way the Rockies will get out from under him without absorbing some salary. Where will Wilson go? Well, the Cubs could use another outfielder, and they've got scads of arms in AAA that Dusty Baker will never give chances to pitch. Wilson could join his equally overrated former running mate Jeromy Burnitz and Corey Patterson -- they could call it the Five Hundred Strikeout Outfield.
The crux of Renck's piece is that Wilson has become a mentor to all those Gen R kids, passing along no doubt his secrets to excessive whiffs, deficient bases on balls, and subpar outfield defense. Bad Preston! Just be quiet and try not to get (more) injured!
Also the Rockies are in the lead in the Dan Miceli sweepstakes. I think I speak for Colorado fans everywhere when I say whoo! Dan Miceli!
Kicking the Tires on Carvajal
Apparently I'm not the only Rockies observer to have noticed righthander Marcos Carvajal, the thus far shining exception to Colorado's utter bullpen ineptitude. Little wonder: over six appearances, the 20-year-old has given up only four hits and four walks in 9 2/3 innings pitched. Not too shabby for a guy who had never pitched above low-A ball before this year. In honor of his two-inning, two-strikeout performance yesterday, I thought he might make for a fine inaugural entry in an ongoing series I like to call "Naming the No-Names: The Young Guys On the Rockies, and Whether They Will Actually Help the Team Improve Or Not." OK, the title is a work-in-progress.
Before I begin examining Carvajal's background, a little aside on methodology, as my college professors used to say. If you want to know about young players in MLB and the minor leagues, there are three essential print references you should have at hand: the Baseball Prospectus, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, and John Sickels' Baseball Prospect Book. The first focuses on the statistical side of things, the second is more of a scouting guide, and Sickels balances the two elements. The Prospectus includes commentary and projections for major league players and those expected to contribute to the big clubs within a few years; the other books are strictly minor league guides. Any is helpful by themselves, but used in tandem they tend to cancel out each others' weaknesses.
So back to the lecture at hand. Marcos Carvajal was born on 4/19/1984, he's 6'4", and tips the scales at a willowy 175. The Dodgers organization signed him out of Venezuela in 2000. Carvajal began his pro career as a starter, as does nearly every major league pitching prospect, but was moved into the pen by his second full year in the minors. In any case, he pitched well throughout, compiling a career 2.10 ERA and averaging just a tick above a strikeout an inning. The Rockies essentially paid the Brewers to take him in the Rule 5 draft back in December '04 (because Colorado wanted LA's Matt Merricks as well).
Carvajal made his name in the minors predominantly with a high-nineties fastball, but as BA notes he now has a complementary slurve (demonstrated yesterday to great effect against J.D. Drew). Sickels, a notoriously tough grader, merits him a B-, and says with refinements to his command Marcos "has a good chance to emerge as a dominating power reliever." The Prospectus is less bullish, stating Carvajal has "a long way to go," and projects him for mopup duty in Colorado, obviously not taking into account the quality (or lack thereof) of his mates in the Rockies bullpen.
The obvious caveat to all of the nice things the prospect books say about Marcos Carvajal is the possibility of injury. He is, after all, only twenty, and as much as the temptation may be for Clint Hurdle to use his best bullpen weapon as much as possible, great caution must be taken, especially considering the adjustment to altitude. The Rockies aren't going to have much need for a dominant setup man this year anyway. In my estimation the best thing to do with Carvajal is pitch him in two- or three-inning stints every few days, regularly as possible, and avoid back-to-back appearances especially at Coors. The Rockies can't send him down to the SkySox for seasoning (as a Rule 5 pick, Marcos has to stay with the big league club or else be offered back to the Dodgers, who would almost certainly want him), so great care must be taken to avoid those psyche-damaging Coors innings that send the ERA rocketing and the confidence plunging. Carvajal can do what Dan O'Dowd wants out of his pitchers these days: change speeds. His fastball pushes 100 and his slurve is nearly 20 MPH slower. If he can keep throwing both pitches for strikes, he'll be a major contributor down the line. Now only if they had two or three more righties and a lefty or two like him.
Todd Helton, Tragic Hero
There's a Buster Olney article (subscription required) in the new ESPN Magazine that repeats several things you may already know about Todd Helton. Apparently some pundits have no faith in Helton's greatness due to the Coors Effect. He hates the losing but admires many of the new wave of young Rockies, believing that winning days are coming sooner rather than later. Todd loves Colorado but would waive his no-trade clause if the team really wanted him to do so:
The only thing remarkable about Olney's piece is that a major national magazine is bothering to run a feature about the Rockies at all. Appearing next to the Helton article, however, in scarlet type, is a sidebar by Steve Phillips (whose sparkling career as Mets GM certainly qualifies him) on that ever-popular old chestnut, How To Win at Altitude. I'm summarizing what Phillips says only as a service to you the reader, because as I'm sure I'll mention again, the Rockies have a .560 (or so) lifetime home winning percentage. I think I might get that stat tattooed on my arm, actually.
The first thing Phillips says is interesting appearing as it does next to a glowing article about Todd Helton, loyal Rockie: trade the guy to anyone who'll take his contract. "Cut your losses and move on," Steve writes. I'm not sure what the Rockies' "losses" on Helton are exactly, but I disagree that Todd should be traded for no talent at all. If the Cubs were able to get a few marginally useful players for Sammy Sosa, Helton should be worth more than a bag of balls.
The next three bullet points are the usual assortment of crackpot Coors theories: get pitchers with sinkers and/or weird arm angles, hitters who get on base rather than slug, prioritize defense. The problem is the usual one: What would any of these strategies do to improve the Rockies' woeful road performances? Take a team with a bunch of singles-hitting glovemen on the road, and you're going to lose a lot of ballgames (which is kind of what the current Colorado group is doing). One of Phillips' more interesting suggestions is that the Rockies move their AAA affiliate from Colorado Springs, so organization pitchers can build confidence at normality. I have always thought quite the opposite: the Rockies should endeavour to put as many of their minor-leaugue teams as possible at altitude, so pitchers, batters, and coaches alike can get used to the wild home/road splits.
Phillips' final, and most interesting, suggestion is to play the Coors Field home advantage to the hilt. Granted, this sort of contradicts the first several things that he says, but give the man credit for finally making a good point: "Don't apologize to anyone for how the park plays. Relish the fact that it's your home. Understand that opposing pitchers are intimidated there, and that your staff can outlast and outman the opponent because of its depth and balance." Perhaps Phillips remembers, as many forget, that the most successful team in franchise history won with a great bullpen.
Reading this article reminded me of several more things I want to touch on in the near future, like the structure of the Colorado farm system, the possibilities for Helton trades, and the makeup of that ephemeral 1995 playoff team. Remind me if I forget to do all of them.
Dodgers 2, Rockies 1
The road futility continues, despite Shawn Chacon only allowing one run and Derek Lowe looking hittable. Don't feel too sorry for Chacon, though. You can hardly be called a hard-luck loser when you walk seven and give up only two runs. He was lucky to be a hard-luck loser, if that makes sense. Still, Chacon's ERA moves to a isolatedly respectable 3.27. The Rockies have very few veterans with reasonable contracts and trade value, and with the epidemic drought of decent starters out there among the competitive teams, Chacon should be one of the first guys Colorado thinks about shopping a month or so down the line.
The star of the game for the Rockies was 20-year-old reliever Marcos Carvajal, who pitched 2 innings, allowing a lone double to Cesar Izturis. In the seventh he had two nasty back-to-back strikeouts. He snapped off a breaking ball to J.D. Drew that fooled Drew so badly he lost the handle on his bat. More promising for Carvajal's prospects at Coors, he then took Jeff Kent down simply by moving fastballs around in the zone. Colorado desperately needs a young star to emerge from among the no-names in the bullpen; Carvajal, who's 6'4" and throws mid-90s, could well be the man.
Aaron Miles scored the Rockies' lone run when he struck out and reached first on a wild pitch, then later crossed on a Brad Hawpe single. This was only one of two incidents in the game where Miles was bailed out by a boneheaded Dodger defensive play. In the 8th, Miles botched a sacrifice, popping up directly to reliever Giovanni Carrara, who promptly chucked the ball down the right-field foul line (first baseman Hee Seop Choi wasn't even covering). The runner in that inning was the amazing Clint Barmes, who didn't start but still managed to get a hit, coming in on a double switch with Carvajal in the bottom of the sixth.
The game did not end without a little drama. After Hawpe walked (his third time reaching base), Luis Gonzalez came out for a bizarre pinch-hitting appearance which featured no fewer than three bat tosses and a rare batter's interference ruling. Hawpe was called out on a stolen base attempt as Gonzalez swung at strike three, then blocked out Dodgers catcher Jason Phillips. Los Angeles's Yhency Brazoban, apparently put out by the antics, then scored a bulls-eye on next batter Dustan Mohr's back. This may have been a rash decision, as Mohr promptly scooted to second on a wild pitch, but Todd Greene ended the game on a long fly to left.
The good news? The pitching was good enough to win. The bad news? The hitting wasn't. For a team that has indicated a desire to play small ball, execution was poor all day. The performances of Carvajal, Barmes, and Hawpe certainly have to be listed as positives. Brian Fuentes was shaky but unscored-upon out of the pen as well. Garett Atkins meanwhile was hitless for his first time since coming back from the DL.
Final thought: This team is bad, but it's interesting!
Coors Stock: Sell
Usually when your hometown ballclub is on the front page of the business section, it's either a very good sign or a very bad one. This is a Rockies-centric page, so you know it's not the former. Season ticket sales are plunging, Julie Dunn writes. Record lows in attendance are being reached. As profits decrease, payroll goes down. The Monfert brothers say that this is a necessary structural change on the way to competitiveness. Dick: ""Bottom line is, we've just got to win, and that's what we plan on doing."
Or are they planning on selling the team? Old Brewers and Marlins regimes slashed salaries like they were going out of style before cashing out. Entry into the fraternity of major league owners is still a coveted thing, as the $400 million pricetag MLB has placed on the Washington Expos evidences. How much do you suppose a team with a stadium would fetch?
One sign that the Monferts may be looking for an exit strategy is the continued employment of Dan "Blank Check" O'Dowd, the man most responsible for the dire straits Colorado now finds itself in. New owners usually like to bring in new general managers when they take control of a club. It happened in Los Angeles and in Boston, and it likely will in D.C. too. Maybe O'Dowd really has done his penitence for past extravagances and has convinced his dedicated bosses that his latest plan for a purple October is the one he's going to stick to, see through, and make work. Or maybe he's a lame duck waiting for the winds of change to sweep him out with the ashes.
On another topic entirely, I flipped past the Braves-Cardinals game on TBS while I was writing this and I'll be if Atlanta's new alternate jerseys aren't actually uglier than the sleeveless purple-and-black monstrosities Central Marketing has imposed upon the Rockies. Does anybody actually buy these things?
Alas, poor Petrick
It serves me right for being such a know-it-all. As I was preparing my introductory post for this new venture, I saw a link on the Denver Post site referring to the premature retirement of former Rockies catcher Ben Petrick. "Perfect," thought I. "Another cautionary tale proving what a fool's errand it is to draft high school players. Everything is falling into place." Actually, he has Parkinson's disease, and now I feel like a heel. Petrick, by contrast, seems to have a good sense of perspective and is coaching hitting and football at home in Oregon. Good luck, Ben, and congratulations for being the first to here receive an apology. I can only assume you will not be the last.
April in Review
For a month that saw an eight-game losing streak, three-quarters of a series postponed due to snow, a manager out with exhaustion, and a rookie shortstop hit .400, April 2005 was first and foremost about the future of the Colorado Rockies. There have been questions about whether the Rockies can win with their current ownership, ballpark, and first baseman. Can young guys Clint Barmes, Cory Sullivan, and Brad Hawpe stay this good? Can old guys Preston Wilson, Todd Helton, and Jamey Wright stay this bad? How can anyone in good conscience continue calling this group of relief pitchers a bullpen? In the end, the numbers never lie: 6-15, 8 games back, #29, #29, #29.
It'd be silly to look at this year's Rockies team game by game and say, "Well, they didn't win because of x." We know they're not going to win a lot of games. They're not trying to, or at least they're doing a more efficient job of losing than they have in the past several seasons. A smart Rockies observer will look for players who are a) within the team's budget, looking forward and b) at least somewhat productive. If any players who fit this descriptions are pitchers, so much the better. While the big league team races towards 100 losses, it's as good a time as any to learn about their farm system. Could Ubaldo Jimenez or Juan Morillo be the pitching holy grail this organization has sought since its birth?
One thing I'm sick of hearing about is the altitude thing. The Rockies can win at altitude. They do, every year. It's winning on the road that gives them fits, and I'm operating under the assumption that the key to winning on the road is assembling superior talent and utilizing it correctly. That second part of the question is another thing to concentrate on this year, through the losing -- is Clint Hurdle the right man to be the big league Rockies' field manager? Is Dan O'Dowd the right GM? By observing which players they choose to play, which they choose to trade, and which they choose to acquire, we should get a clear idea. Clint and Dan, free tip -- stay away from league-average veteran breaking-ball pitchers.
Now make no mistake, I love Woody Paige. The man brightens my day nearly six times a week, between his columns and his blood feud with Jay Mariotti. In today's column, however, I believe the Woodman to be off the mark when he writes:
My initial response to this would be my usual boilerplate Coors Field speech, which is to say that nothing needs to be changed and the thin air effect is just so much local flavor, like Houston's fly ball-gobbling Crawford Boxes or San Francisco's right-centerfield Death Valley. Not everyone agrees with this standpoint, however. So let's examine Woody's idea on merit. Would short, high walls really make games in Denver more closely resemble major league baseball at sea level, cosmetically and statistically?
I think for certain that the answer to both is no. Unless a rule change was made to make catches made on the carom outs, the number of hits would probably increase rather than decrease. Boston, whose ballpark has a giant wall of note, had 23% more doubles than league average from '02-'04 -- more than Colorado at 17%. The result of a pull-in, push-up on the walls would likely be a huge spike in doubles at the expense of triples (69% more than league average at Coors). Don't many people call the triple the most exciting play in baseball?
Woody also writes about experimenting to find the best configuration of outfielders to handle the new dimensions. This is where I really think he's lopping off a nose to spite a face. Isn't the whole argument against Coors Field that the games it hosts aren't "real baseball?" 17-14 scores are meant for football games, they say. Wouldn't reorganizing the outfield so it looks more like a cricket pitch than a baseball field be the opposite effect from what we want? If Matt Holliday starts playing silly mid-off instead of left field, I'm calling it quits with this team.
If high-scoring games are anathema to baseball, there shouldn't be a team in Denver. If folks however believe that cracking the altitude nut is somehow the key to solving the Rockies' winning woes, I remind them (again) that the team has played .551 ball at home the last five years, and .457 ball overall. Good teams win on the road, and no Great Wall of Woody is going to help the Rockies do that.
Dodgers 6, Rockies 2
I admit I missed most of yet another road loss (1-9) while I was watching the Nuggets lose ugly, but the box score tells the story. Joe Kennedy lowered his season ERA by giving up 5 ER (6 overall) in 6 1/3, most of them in a brutal fifth. Don't hit the pitcher, Joe, even if Lou Piniella tells you so. Kennedy only struck out two in the outing, giving weight to the theory that his fine 2004 season was a flash in the pan and a diminishing K/BB ratio and fluctuating velocity tell the real tale. That's bad news for the Rockies, who had to think that with Kennedy, Jason Jennings, Jeff Francis, and a suddenly revived Shawn Chacon they had at least the skeleton of a respectable rotation. Kennedy was wisely signed to only a one-year contract at totally reasonable terms ($2.2 mil), so if he continues to be miserable, Colorado can cut bait painlessly.
Over on offense, Brad Hawpe continued his hot start with two singles and a homer. It's a good sign for the Rockies that some of the young guys are hitting on the road, even if the pitchers aren't performing, Coors Field can have a deleterious effect on road averages (ask Vinny ".218" Castilla). Barmes, Sullivan, and Hawpe are at least hitting for average on the road, if not for much power. Meanwhile Garret Atkins is back in the fold, which is an improvement on Baker/Relaford/Gonzalez at third and gives the offense some spark, which is more than you can say for the bullpen.
As for our man Clint, he went 0 for 4 with two K's. Take a walk, Clint. Just one, for me.
Not trying to win, but at least ticket prices won't rise (again)
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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