Monthly archives: April 2008
Are the Bullpen Horrors Behind Us?
It's only one game, but the Rockies' victory over the Cubs yesterday meant a great deal. It would have been extremely painful for Aaron Cook to pitch as well as he did and for Colorado to lose once again, as they did in decent starts by Jeff Francis and Franklin Morales during the bullpen's four-game blown save streak. After the second inning Cook went on a stretch where he retired 16 in a row; the game was crisp and speedy and treat to watch thanks to the quick work of Cook and Chicago's Jason Marquis.
In winning, the Rockies looked like the opposite of the team that's been in the doldrums of late: they played excellent defense, they got runners on and knocked them in, they got notable contributions from their bench. And in the ninth, instead of Manny Corpas hanging his head as Cubs rounded the bases, it was Brian Fuentes, like it was 2006 all over again, coming in to finish things out. Fuentes was devastatingly effective -- as he has been all season save for one brushfire last week -- and made Japanese Cubs sensation Kosuke Fukodome, in particular, look just dreadful at the plate. I don't believe Fukodome saw any of the three pitches he swung at from Fuentes.
Clint Hurdle has acted faster this season to replace players in the lineup who aren't performing than at any time in his tenure as Rockies manager. It's as if a switch in Clint's mind flipped over after the '07 postseason and he's decided that the Rockies are officially Contenders now and he must manage as such. What's positive about Hurdle's new mindset is that he doesn't have a Dusty Baker-like fixation on weathered veterans. Clint's manuevers to improve the Rockies' offense have included benching the young Willy Taveras (for whom the bunt singles just aren't falling this year) in favor of wily vet Scott Podsednik, it's true. But he's also increased Chris Iannetta's playing time since the young catcher is hitting better than Yorvit Torrealba out of the gate, and he's been awfully crafty at finding at-bats for Ryan Spilborghs and Jeff Baker. The switch from Jayson Nix -- it was wishful thinking on the part of the Rockies that the glove-ly Nix was going to hit in the major leagues -- to Clint Barmes is merely one Rockies product taking the role of another.
So what about Brian Fuentes, who's not particularly old but a veteran on this Rockies team, taking over for the young Manny Corpas? Will Corpas rebound out of the closer's role, and will Fuentes regain the 40-save form he had two years ago? Dan O'Dowd would very much like to see both happen. Corpas's early-season struggles are precisely what the doctor ordered for the Colorado GM, since Fuentes is a free agent after this season. If Brian pitches well for the rest of the first half -- and Corpas gets his composure back pitching mop-up duty for a few months -- O'Dowd would be foolish not to listen to offers for the lefty Fuentes, who would surely be the most desirable reliever on the market.
The Rockies have other guys who could close besides Fuentes and Corpas. Taylor Buchholz, like Fuentes, seems to pitch better and better the later he enters a game. If Jason Hirsh's recovery goes well, one of the Rockies' tender young starters could make the switch -- Ubaldo Jimenez seems more suited due to his stuff, but Franklin Morales' wildness makes him a five-inning pitcher, and he might be more focused in a one-inning role. That would be more of a plan for next season, however, since you can't really convert a guy from starting to closing in the middle of the season. Were either of those young starters to get mildly injured, however, having them work their way back in the bullpen might be wise. And of course all young pitchers are injuries waiting to happen.
The question facing the Rockies and the other teams in the NL West isn't so much, Are we this bad? as Are the Diamondbacks this good? If Arizona continues to score at a near league-leading pace and pitches up to expectations, there's no way anyone in the division is going to catch them. The Padres can't score, the Rockies' rotation is shaky, the Dodgers have all those albatross veteran contracts clogging their lineup, and the Giants are simply horrible. I thought that the division would once again be won, as it was last year, around the 90-win barrier. If the D-Backs you now see are the real deal, they're going past that and then some.
With all of the buzz about how the AL is home to all of the game's stars and showcase teams, the shape of the playoffs this year might be quite different than last. Rather than 4 AL teams with the look of champions and a handful of NL teams that were lucky to even get in with their records, it could be -- could be -- the other way around. The Cubs and D-Backs could approach 100 wins while no one in the AL save Boston gets close to that number. And no matter what their record is, the winner of the three-way race in the NL East between Atlanta, Philadelphia, and the Mets is going to be a battle-hardened team. (So probably not the Mets.)
It's a new development that the National League might have two real good teams, but it isn't a new thing that pretty much everybody save the Giants and the Pirates has a chance at the wild card. There may be some better teams in the senior circuit this season, but there aren't going to be any races like the '93 NL West. The wild card is going to be there in that 86-88 win range and the Rockies have enough offense to get to that level, assuming the bullpen at least holds together to give a league-average showing.
Should the Rockies prepare for a playoff race... and shop guys like Brian Fuentes? Of course they should. The Rockies are a self-defined Small Market Team, and thus they must always keep one eye on next year. Colorado still desperately needs its own young ace starter -- sorry, Jeff Francis, you're #1 in my heart, but not in my dream postseason rotation -- and a trade target like Fuentes could absolutely shake a prospect of that echelon loose, if O'Dowd is doing his homework.
Manny Corpas is out as closer and Brian Fuentes is in after the bullpen blew its fourth game in a row last night. I can't begin to explain how miserable this is. A season after they supposedly broke out of irrelevance for good, the Rockies are burying themselves in April, the way they do every year (including last season!) and as a fan I feel powerless. What can you do with a team that suddenly loses its ability to finish out ballgames? I'm hoping that the relevant comparison here is the road trip at midseason '07 where Fuentes initially lost his closer's job to Corpas. Colorado had one road trip where they just couldn't get a save and then the trip ended and the team started functioning properly again.
Were I Clint Hurdle, I wouldn't employ such a basic strategy as taking away the ninth inning from one guy and handing it to another one guy. I think when times are as tough as they are for the Rockies bullpen right now you have to play matchups. Fuentes is every bit as likely as Corpas to give Colorado fans heartburn in the final innings, despite a hot start. Making Fuentes the designated finisher also robs Hurdle of Brian's born ability as a lefthanded matchup guy. The way I would play it is to have Fuentes take the mound when there's a string of lefties coming up and otherwise play the hot hand between Matt Herges, Corpas, and Taylor Buchholz. Rather than wrecking Corpas's confidence by
Will it cost the Rockies more games? That remains to be seen. In any event, I'm going out to the ballpark again today. Hopefully the team will have more luck against my hometown Cubs than they have in the recent past.
I went to the ballgame tonight with one of my best friends and my girlfriend. I was glad we were going to this game in particular, for several reasons. One, Jeff Francis is my favorite Colorado player and he was due for a victory. After getting cuffed around in his first two starts (and in the Rockies' rain-aborted Opening Day game in St. Louis) the Channel pitched extremely well in his last start, a showdown with San Diego's Jake Peavy. The Rockies won that game (eventually) but obviously Francis didn't get the win.
I felt pretty confident that this was his night, facing the Phillies and noted family man Brett Myers. Going into the game the Rockies had blown two they should have won, one in Houston and one at home to Philadelphia. In both cases it was the bullpen that was to blame, punting perfectly good leads granted it by the offense and the starter. Tonight was supposed to be the night the Colorado relievers redeemed themselves. Didn't happen. Manny Corpas got whacked around in the ninth with the Rockies leading by one, Clint Hurdle made a peculiar decision to walk the badly slumping Ryan Howard in favor of the smoking hot Pat Burrell and Burrell immediately doubled in the loaded bases -- so much for that win.
The Rockies were troubled by defensive issues the whole evening. Clint Barmes got a spot start at shortstop and was having tremendous difficulty making straight throws to Todd Helton at first. Barmes and Jeff Baker, not a natural second baseman, missed tagging the sack twice for what should have been double plays. Helton committed an error at first in the ninth to begin Philadelphia's winning rally. Willy Taveras air-mailed a cutoff man, leading to a second-and-third situation where it should have been first and third. It was not a lot of fun to watch. At least Francis was able to hold things together for seven innings and put himself in a position to get a win. Naturally it was stolen from him, but that counts as progress. Jeff was troublingly wild, walking in a run and having difficulty locating all evening. It looked early on like he was going to put more stress still on the bullpen by getting sent to an early shower -- he'd thrown more than 70 pitches after four -- but he gutted it out and left with a lead. But it didn't take. Three straight games blown by the bullpen is pushing up against the point where everyone on the team starts to freak out. Soon the hitters start pressing because they think they have to score 10 runs to win every game. The starters start overthrowing because they don't expect to get any support. And the bullpen guys themselves start really going around in circles. This needs to stop now.
UPDATE: In my disgust over the state of the Rockies' bullpen, I completely forgot that during the game last night a rather comely female streaker made her way onto the Coors outfield grass and got down to her bra before security got to her. Jayson Werth, who was in centerfield at the time, had to cover his entire face in his glove to hide his uncontrollable laughter.
This Is a Funny Game
With their death-defying 22-inning goose egg-a-thon prohibiting them from arriving in Texas until 7:20 a.m., the Rockies have started a makeshift lineup including bench players Scott Podsednik, Ryan Spilborghs, Jeff Baker, and Chris Iannetta. Iron men who played the whole game last night and started today: Troy Tulowitzki (obviously), Clint Barmes, Willy Taveras, and Garrett Atkins.
Even with the whole bench playing and the Rockies exhausted from travel... Colorado scored six runs in the top of the first inning.
Rockies 2, Padres 1 (22 innings)
Can we finally all agree that for as much as people have complained for years about the offense-nurturing nature of Coors Field that the deep alleys and sea air of Petco Park are just as bad? For a time in the game last night it looked like neither team was going to be able to score at all. Then it looked like they were never going to be able to score again. What's unfair about this is that, at least after strikeout-happy starters Jeff Francis (an incredibly important bounceback start for the Channel, let's not forget) and Jake Peavy came out of the game, the Rockies were bashing line drives that died at the warning track and the Padres were hitting into groundout after groundout. The entire San Diego bullpen seems to be accustomed to throwing high fastballs they know are going to get tattooed... all the way to the warning track. Todd Helton and Matt Holliday hit multiple shots that should have ended the game much earlier than it did, but the menace of Petco sucked them all into outfielders' gloves.
Willy Taveras had a good game, indeed, scoring both runs, but I still think it might be nice for the Rockies to have a leadoff hitter with more than 1 RBI by now. (My nominee, Troy Tulowitzki, is now up to three with the game-winner from last night. Jimmy Rollins has six.) It was the Rockies' bullpen (not to forget Francis's seven three-hit innings) to whom the night belonged. Brian Fuentes, Taylor Buchholz (who was lights-out throwing first-pitch strikes and fanned three in two innings -- give this guy a start already), Micah Bowie, Matt Herges, Manny Corpas, Ryan Speier, and Kip Wells (four shutout innings) allowed only eight collective hits in fifteen innings of work.
Thanks to these expanded box scores we have nowadays, I can tell you that the Colorado pitchers forced 31 groundballs versus 17 flyballs while the ratio for San Diego was 25 to 20. That doesn't even tell the whole story -- a lot of the Padre "flyballs" were popups, and the Rockies were driving the ball regularly, particularly the middle of the lineup. I draw two things from this -- first of all, Petco needs some kind of anti-humidor to harden the balls and make them go farther. Second of all, if you trade for a Padres reliever with scary good stats and expect them to get as many flyball outs in your ballpark, you do so at your own peril.
I would have liked to be on the comment board following this epic with you folks at home last night, but there's a funny story behind that. I had plans with my girlfriend last evening and when she arrived I asked if it was OK if we listened to records until the game was over. I thought it was going to be an important contest last night, and boy, was I right. I wasn't expecting to see what I did, but I was hoping to see Colorado claw back to just one game under .500, something it took them most of the first half to finish doing last season. When the game went into extra innings, she was understandably cranky, so I explained to her -- at length -- how it's an essential part of the code of who I am that I never bail out on my team during extra-inning games. Never. I've been that way since I was ten years old. Of course, after giving this speech in the 11th or so, I was compelled to watch the entirety of the game not only because my code demands it and you my readers deserve it, but also because to not have done so would have make me look like an enormous hypocrite.
What Should the Lineup Be?
Kels (recognize) asked in the comment section what I think the ideal Rockies lineup would be. I started to write a massively long response, but then I realized more people would read it if I made it a post.
Here is what I would do: I would set up a home/road platoon. Play Willy Taveras at Coors for his defense, since the rear flank of the Rockies' lineup all tend to turn into big producers at home and on the road the Rockies need all the help they can get (and nobody, underline nobody, has an outfield bigger than Coors Field's). So at home:
Why bat Willy seventh? Well, you obviously can't bat him eighth -- his entire offensive value is his basestealing ability. You can't put a basestealer on right before the pitcher because the pitcher's always going to bunt the guy over if he gets on anyway. He's not really an RBI person, but leadoff hitters get more RBI opportunities than #7 hitters simply by virtue of coming up far more often. The other thing I like about this for the Rockies is that Yorvit Torrealba hits significantly better with runners in scoring position. Willy leads off and gets on, steals second, then either Yorvit (or Iannetta!) knocks him in with a single or moves him over with a sac fly or grounder to the right side of the infield. Then with one out the pitcher squeezes him in. Perfect, right? And you expect little smallball one-run rallies like that from the bottom of your lineup. You want the TOP of the Rockies lineup to be having three, four-run innings.
Having Troy Tulowitzki hit leadoff is one of those "Your time will come" things. He's going to be a 3-4-5 hitter soon but right now with the guys they have he's the best candidate. Obviously he has to bust his slump first.
And Helton second? Makes so much sense I don't know why they haven't thought of it yet. He's on base all the dang time and he owns the strike zone.
Besides, both Helton and Holliday should bat in the first inning in every game. That maximizes the possibility of the Rockies getting out to early leads. And, you know, at home games it's cool to see the team's megastars all in the first inning (wishfully projecting Tulowitzki becomes a megastar).
Then on the road:
There are a few wrinkles. You can't start Ryan Spilborghs on the road and bench him at home all year long -- the poor guy would get a complex if everyone else's numbers looked Coors-sized and his looked as if he played for the Padres. That's all well because he can serve as a rightfielder for Hawpe against tough lefties. Hawpe continues to improve against southpaws, as you may have observed during the Rockies' big ninth last night, but everybody needs a day off every now and then. Likewise, Clint Barmes and Jayson Nix both need to get their share of Coors Field starts -- so that they might drink from its restorative waters.
I've Seen This Movie Before
The Rockies are out to a cold start on the road in April... like every year. After managing to get their first game of the year from the Diamondbacks in Phoenix they've moved on to San Diego, whose home ballpark has been a chamber of horrors more often than not for the Rockies since its construction. They lost the first game but they're out to a decent start tonight, leading 2-0 as of this writing.
Clint Barmes, who's been playing great as the first infielder off the bench, is getting a chance to start at second tonight. If Barmes continues to drive in runs that will be bad news for Jayson Nix, who after a bit of a rally is back down to .161. Would the Rockies send Nix down if Barmes claimed the second base job? As we've discussed, they have a bit of an issue with cheating young guys of crucial development time by keeping them as bench players in the majors and then giving them hardly any at-bats at all. Despite this history, I suspect that Nix would remain as a bench player. His defense at second is highly regarded and Barmes isn't really a second baseman. Managers love to establish late-inning defensive platoons because it makes them look like they're doing something.
As I expected, the moment I brought up the Tigers' dreadful start, they turned it around. After writing that stuff I made a point of watching Detroit play Minnesota that evening and naturally after teasing me through the first few innings (three early errors!) they blew up in the eighth inning that night to blow away the Twins. Then they won again and tonight they're hammering Cleveland 11-2 in the 7th. This is the whole reason I waited as long as I did before acknowledging the Leyland Boys' struggles. But given our antagonistic history I couldn't let it go forever. If I just could have waited until they fell to like 3-17... oh well, no use crying over spilt milk now.
Things correct themselves: Baltimore and Kansas City and Oakland are not the best teams in the American League. St. Louis's starting pitching is not going to be excellent, or even good, all year long. And the Rockies aren't going to stay at a winning percentage of .385... well, it's highly unlikely.
Update: Colorado was hanging on to a one-run lead in a typical Petco game when suddenly the Rockies went SACPOP on the Padres bullpen in the ninth and won 10-2. Any win in Southern California at any time is seldom-heard but good news for the Rockies, and it was a sweet night in particular for Troy Tulowitzki, who finally got his first (and second) RBI of the year, and Clint Barmes, who made the most of the rare opportunity to start with two batted in of his own. That gives Barmes, a month ago thought likely to be traded or released outright, seven on the year -- tied for second on the club! And in some 40 at-bats fewer than Garrett Atkins, with whom he's deadlocked! That's so crazy. Jayson Nix, prepare for bench duty.
Okay, That's One Win Against Arizona
Finally, on their sixth try of the season, the Rockies beat the Diamondbacks yesterday, exploding for 13 runs. This was encouraging to see for many reasons. It snapped Arizona's winning streak and hopefully slowed the momentum of a team trying to win the NL West right here in April. In 11 games prior to Sunday Colorado had scored 33 runs. The team's OBP was collectively under .300 when I last checked it. With 15 hits and 6 walks in one game, it's jumped up to .323. Aren't all of these early-season statistical curiosities amusing? I love this time of year.
The Rockies are still two games under .500 but the feeling around the team has to be that the storm has been weathered. Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe are still scuffling offensively but Yorvit Torrealba and Jayson Nix both had big hits this week. You look at the numbers up and down the Rockies' lineup and it's starting to look more natural. Garrett Atkins, somewhat the forgotten man in Colorado's run last fall, continues to be reliably productive. Todd Helton, now hitting third, seems to get on base two or three times every game. If Tulowitzki continues to struggle, Clint Hurdle might wish to think about moving him to seventh or eighth and pushing everyone ahead of him up a spot. Helton, who doesn't hit a lot of homers any longer but has superhuman plate control, would be an unconventional but effective #2 guy. I wasn't a huge fan of the lineup Hurdle used often last season with Willy Taveras batting leadoff and Kaz Matsui hitting second. It seemed to me that having two guys in a row at the top with no home run pop whatsoever was less than optimal.
Theoretically Tulowitzki ought to be a huge improvement, but the poor guy doesn't have a single RBI on the season thus far. And Clint Barmes gave him a breather at short on Sunday and promptly knocked in four runs. It's a classic sophomore slump for Tulowitzki, but he needn't worry about losing his starting job -- the organization is too invested in his continuing success. Colorado has had a bit of a problem the past few seasons getting prospects hung up between starting in AAA and playing regularly in the majors. Ask Jeff Baker or Chris Iannetta. That's not going to happen to Tulowitzki. If he doesn't hit all year -- well, he and Khalil Greene and Yuniesky Betancourt can start a support group. They can have guest speakers come and show PowerPoint presentations about newfangled defensive metrics.
The major reason that I finally feel like things are all right again with the Rockies, and at the very least they'll nip at the heels of the wild card race all year, is Matt Holliday. Matt Holliday is so freaking good. I forget sometimes, because I have the sort of personality that is drawn more to relief pitchers and glove guys, but Matt Holliday is one of the best baseball players on the planet right now and the Rockies are lucky to have him for as long as they can hold on to him. The double he hit in the eighth of yesterday's game against Doug Slaten was such a lovely swing I watched it back about four times on the TiVo. It was a low pitch, probably a ball, but Holliday was so locked in he simply bent his knees, swung through, and hit the baseball perfectly square. I don't want to praise Holliday for swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, but he's not like most players. Most guys get themselves out swinging at pitches out of the zone because even if they can hit them there's no way they're going to be able to drive it. But there's always a few genetic freaks who have such strength and hand-eye coordination that all they do is see the ball and hit the ball. Vladimir Guerrero is this era's most notable example. Holliday has become an MVP-level player because he can absolutely kill anything in the strike zone and because he has the skill and the judgement every now and then to extend his zone for something he can drive. He's so good.
You know who isn't good, and it's hilarious? The Tigers. The Tigers are terrible. I was thinking going into the season that they were due for some injuries to their starters (which indeed has happened, Dontrelle Willis is out already) and that their bullpen was going to be wretched. Well... their rotation is quickly becoming a shambles (Kenny Rogers might just be done), their bullpen is even worse than projected, and shockingly, nobody at all is hitting. I expected there might be a certain amount of attrition involved with the high number of older offensive players Detroit has (Polanco, Guillen, Sheffield, Renteria, Ivan Rodriguez) but I thought it would be minor and the strength of the lineup would be able to make them an 88-win team (or so). I was very pessimistic about the Cabrera deal (although I am surprised by how miserably Miguel Cabrera has begun his career as a Tiger) because I felt like it didn't quite get the Tigers past Cleveland this year or next. That's their window -- having mortgaged their future for Cabrera, absent another huge payroll increase they're going to be pretty bad for a spell after their late-30's core retires, declines, or moves on.
Only now, maybe they're already terrible. Who knew? Certainly not fans in Detroit, who are "way past the point of panic" if the Free Press's Tiger blogger is to be believed. I don't know if the Tigers will pick it up or not, but the historical record certainly suggests that most teams that get out to 2-10 starts don't follow that up with a postseason appearance. Whether the Tigers' season is doomed or not kind of depends on whether any of the other AL Central teams start playing at a higher level. Detroit has a two-game series against Minnesota today and tomorrow (I'm watching the first game as I write this, the Twins are up in the second and the Tigers just left two runners on base) then takes a road trip through Cleveland and Toronto. Those are two pretty good teams. There has definitely got to be a point -- I don't know where it is, but it's there -- where you get so far below .500 that your chances of making the playoffs become infinitesimal.
That could be kind of an interesting situation in Detroit -- if you're not a Tigers fan, I suppose. As some readers may know we here at Bad Altitude have strong feelings about Jim Leyland, who completely bailed on the Rockies after less than one season as the highest-paid manager in the game. He's definitely one those Larry Brown types who gets immediate results but wears out his welcome with great speed. But what about this Tigers team? What if they really are as bad as they have looked in the first few weeks? What are we to make of that? Talentwise I think that Detroit has a roster that ought to finish with a win total in the high eighties, meaning they have a fair chance of winning anywhere between say 85 and 94 games. If they end up winning way less than that -- if they finish 10 games under .500 or more -- something crazy has to have happened, right? Is it possible that the championship expectations placed on a good but not dominant roster were enough pressure to psychologically devastate the entire lineup? Probably not, no, but mix a little bad luck with a little bit of old-fashioned early season pressing, keep losing and throw in a lot of sniping from ESPN's talking heads, and soon you've got a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe things won't get any better for Detroit. Maybe they'll get worse.
Oh, man, that would be so great. I hate the Tigers (well, mostly I just hate Leyland) and I can honestly say that I would get more satisfaction out of them having a disastrous season than even the Yankees (because if the Yankees don't win their division Boston will, and Boston if you haven't realized it yet is the new boss, same as the old boss). Detroit almost certainly isn't going back to the depths of 2003 (43-119), but man, wouldn't it be hilarious if they did? Right now based on their 2-10 record they project to 27-135. Did I mention that I love this time of year?
Must Beat Diamondbacks
Hey, the Rockies are on Fox's regional broadcast today! I can't remember that happening at any point in the last three years. Progress has arrived. Unfortunately, Colorado has been unable to do much against their division rivals in the first four games they've played this year. An offensive burst in the last game against Atlanta (the scheduled fourth game of the series was snowed out, giving the Rockies a three-game sweep) proved impossible to sustain against old nemesis Brandon Webb. Jeff Francis got knocked around again, which is certainly discouraging. And today Colorado must face the Diamondbacks' marquee offseason acquisition, Dan Haren, another guy like Webb who keeps the ball down and throws strikes.
On Tuesday when I went to see the game at Coors Field it was distressing how many of the Rockies listed on the scoreboard had sub-.200 averages next to their names. That's improved a little but there are still some regulars waiting to hit -- Troy Tulowitzki, Jayson Nix, Yorvit Torrealba, Brad Hawpe. One good homestand for the squad will fix all of that, but if the Rockies are finally going to win some games on the road this year they will need at least good situational hitting from the bottom flank of their lineup.
I have been concerned about Clint Hurdle running too much -- his decision to give Scott Podsednik the last outfielders' spot was an ill omen -- but thus far he hasn't really had enough baserunners to get himself in trouble. Willy Taveras is off to a good start on the bases (4-for-4) if not at the plate and although Hurdle got Tulowitzki nailed badly a couple games ago it was a worthy two-out gamble. The Rockies' real problem right now is a team OBP of .299. This series against Arizona and the next one in San Diego will challenge them to improve upon that. The young Rockies hitters can't wait for Coors Field to pick up their numbers. Not this year. Not when they're on regional TV.
Rockies 4, Braves 3
Colorado's offense is still having some difficulty finding second gear, but two home wins in a row against a good team (Atlanta) goes a long way towards making me feel like disaster has been averted. Ubaldo Jimenez was wild in the game yesterday, walking his opposite number Jair Jurrjens twice, but Jimenez avoided the big inning and the Rockies bullpen was stout. The result was a one-run win, usually Arizona's specialty but nothing to sneeze at at this early juncture. I still expect to see the Rockies exploding for a seven- or eight-run win one of these days and won't be completely at ease until that happens. But the difference between early last season, when the franchise was genuinely dysfunctional, and right now, where they just have some bats in a slump, is obvious. The Rockies have the middle relief corps of a team that expects to win ballgames, and lo and behold, they might just win some for that very reason.
It's funny how Clint Hurdle forms bullpen allegiances -- it's usually his habit to pitch whichever guy has the biggest name in high-leverage situations until such time as the guy melts down. Jorge Julio, Jose Mesa, LaTroy Hawkins, and their ilk aren't around this season which must be making it tough on Clint. Luis Vizcaino, this offseason's answer to "late-inning guy you've heard of before," is injured. So Clint has been going to Taylor Buchholz with encouraging frequency. I'm a fan of Buchholz (he's the only guy the Rockies got from Houston in the Jason Jennings trade with any meaningful positive value) and he's been quite good early this year.
The Rockies weren't particularly affected by it, but the early-season schedule this year made no sense. Why were teams playing one- and two-game series? That seems extremely wrong to me. Making the Braves and Nationals play a game last Sunday to serve as the second opener, then start three-game series in different towns the next day seems cruel and unusual. And also pointless -- why couldn't they just have played two more games in Washington? All of these extra opening days need to go. They should just have the one.
Oh No, What If the Rockies Are Terrible?
First-week panic is too easy. The offense hasn't shown up at all for Colorado, even after a much-needed 2-1 victory tonight. The Rockies have scored 12 runs in 7 games, which wasn't exactly the plan. Even when they've gotten good pitching -- and they've gotten their share -- they've lost with the offense sputtering along like that. A fine start from Aaron Cook tonight was saved by a timely Matt Holliday blast, but the Rockies have hardly seen a big hit besides all week. I hope that this is the low point of the season and a team that doesn't have much of a history of anything besides slow starts shakes it off and starts providing the league-leading scoring we've been conditioned to expect.
The Rockies could have easier opponents against whom to get back on track than Atlanta. The Braves are division-title good, once again. The National League is improving in places but it's still a down league. The Rockies need a warm stretch to counter their flat start. Crowds at Coors after Opening Day have been encouraging, but that's partly due to the organization spreading out the celebration of the World Series season over all three games of the opening series. It remains to be seen how crowds will be for coming home series against the Giants and Twins.
It would be negligent of me to leave for the ballpark this morning without putting up some kind of hearty season-beginning message, but troubles abound. For one thing, I don't think the Rockies are going to make the playoffs this year, and that makes me sad. I also think that unless the team catches fire early on, fan interest in Denver is going to go back down to its usual level of zero. It's just not going to be like last year, and by that, I mean that it will be exactly last year, up until about September 20th.
They moved my seat. I've had the same 20-game plan seat at Coors Field since 2005, the year I caught a homer while sitting in it. The seat has been good to me, but when I was on the phone with the renewal guy this year he told me someone had bought it in a season plan this year. I don't feel like the Rockies organization did me over unfairly unexactly -- I understand that they make more money getting somebody who's got the money to promise to pay for the ticket all 81 games. But I'll miss my seat.
Maybe they need their heroes' welcome in Denver to build it up, but the Colorado club did not look like NL champions while scuffling through a muddy, boring series in St. Louis. First official regular-season at-bat for your 2008 Rockies? Willy Taveras grounds a slow one to third, you expect to see a real close play at first -- but oh no, Willy has tripped over home plate. The Rockies need to play with more authority on the road against teams they should beat. Given that they won the league last year, they ought to have at least a little swagger. I get that they're young and that as a franchise the Rockies have kind of a low-profile imprint but it's time for management to start quietly encouraging the players who have earned the right to crow a bit (notably Troy Tulowitzki) to do so. They are taking the field as they did last year as just another one of the not-so-bad NL teams that could emerge dubiously from the muck; the only advantage the Rockies unquestionably can claim in the league is that they did win it last year so they might as well make it work for them a little bit.
During the endless ESPN Opening Day feed (I swear, it seemed like there were three Opening Days this year... for some reason) Steve Phillips, who is one of the dumbest people on TV and hence a constant source of light in my universe, said that he didn't think the Rockies could win the division because he didn't think they could do it again with the crazy kind of run they had at the end of the year. Because, see, that having been the way Colorado made the postseason in 2007, it's the only way they necessarily could make it this year. They couldn't, say, not start out April brutally (9-15) and then not go on a 1-9 road trip in June. The Rockies are unlikely to ever again get as hot as they were for that one brief stretch -- it was a singular baseball phenomenon. They will likely not need to to stay in the division mix this year assuming they can avoid another disastrous start and get the starting pitching settled and confident enough to not repeat another such ruinous away stretch. It's incredible that the Rockies made the World Series last year given that they had not one but two such runs of looking like one of the worst teams in the majors. But Colorado doesn't need an incredible or an extraordinary case to make the postseason again -- it just needs to not play badly for long protracted stretches. Given the franchise's history this could seem monumental, but that was supposed to be the whole point of last season's breakthrough. The impossible having happened, the mythology about winning at altitude having been dispelled, the organization really ought to be able to get down to the far more prosaic task of winning games efficiently and regularly.
Not trying to win, but at least ticket prices won't rise (again)
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
westernhomes (at) yahoo (dot) com