Monthly archives: June 2008
Let No One Say They're Inconsistent
So much for taking revenge upon the Tigers, huh? The Rockies finished another road trip winless, something that for many franchises would be an historic oddity. Colorado seems to do it a couple of times a year. They've just finished another one of those sequences where the team seemed to be turning it around on a homestand, only to crumple the moment Coors Field was in the rearview. Your 2008 Rockies: just like every other year's Rockies, except one.
A new series at home against San Diego might provide some temporary respite. Colorado has been getting big scores run up on them even as the offense sputters. The Padres are probably the least likely team in the National League to have a sudden offensive explosion, even in Denver, and they've got even less to play for than the Rockies do. It's another brutal season in Colorado, but at the very least nearly all our players still have most of their careers ahead of them. (Willy Taveras's career is almost over, though.) The Padres have to be really playing out the string, with the same unpleasant rebuilding process San Francisco is mired in ahead of them. The Rockies have hope always in front of them.
Kind of like a carrot on a stick. Anyway, hopefully I will get home in time to watch the last few innings of this one, because it feels like a week since I watched the Rockies get a win.
Please Royals Don't Hurt Us
At the very least the Rockies won't have to face Kansas City again for a few more years. That's about the only good thing you can take away from the series completed Sunday, as Aaron Cook's quest for 20 wins suffered another setback and the Rockies retreated with their tails between their legs from one of the least competitive series they've played all year. Along with Philadelphia, the Royals have a season sweep of Colorado for 2008. The Royals!
The Rockies can erase this past setback and get back to the winning ways they were at least starting to flash before they met the K.C. buzzsaw. You couldn't have picked a better opponent: it's the hated, overrated Tigers and our personal nemesis Jim Leyland. I was ridiculed, immediately after the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis trade, when I said I couldn't believe how lopsided it was... in the Marlins' favor. How you like me now? The Tigers are an unremarkable 38-40, at a performance-to-payroll ratio not all that much better than Seattle's. Cabrera is hitting an only-OK .273/.347/.457, has been outhomered by Marcus Thames, and there's already been grumbling in the Detroit papers about his conditioning. Cabrera lasted all of one month into a seven-year contract extension before having to move off of third base. Dontrelle Willis is hurt and maybe done, and the Marlins are surprisingly good, again. The only thing necessary to complete my vindication is a series victory in Detroit by the Rockies this weekend.
The Rockies getting handled by their eastern neighbors was hardly the big story in the NL West this week. Can you believe that the Arizona Diamondbacks, the toast of April, are now only one game over .500? They're just 40-39, hardly better than the Tigers. It's obvious now that when Arizona stormed out to a 20-8 start, it was merely the effect of them fattening up on a lousy division and particularly a Rockies roster and management team that had already decided as of Opening Day to take this season off and bask in the World Series-appearance glow. At the time I was willing to accept that the quantum leap the D-Backs' offense seemed to have taken was legit. After all, there's any number of guys on their roster we've been reading about as prospects for years. As it turned out, Arizona's young offense still can't get on base consistently -- their .323 OBP is 12th in the NL. They were arrogant to think they could give away guys like Carlos Quentin and Jose Valverde as if they had them to spare. One thing they did get right -- Dan Haren is a bad man. Without him this month they'd already be under .500.
So is the NL completely worthless in 2008? As much so as it was last year? Well, the NL West is obviously a trash heap. The Mets seem far worse, and while the version of the Phillies the Rockies got this year looked like a playoff team, other NL teams have seen different incarnations of Philadelphia. Atlanta is too dependent on a few very old, very injury-prone players. But the Cubs are really good. Can this be so? The Cubs are the only absolutely, positively postseason-worthy team in the National League? Either something is horribly wrong, or it's 1907.
Interleague play has gotten to the point where it's no longer novel. I imagine that the attendance for NL-AL games will continue to be a little better than that of regular games. If you're a Twins fan living in Denver and the team only comes to town once every six years, you're going to make a point of being there. But as an everyday fan of the hometown team, interleague has become an accepted part of the landscape. It's been going on too long for cool things like "the last time these two teams met was the 1945 World Series" to be still true. Now it's "the last time these two teams met was three years ago, in interleague play." Which is less exciting.
For the Rockies in the past few seasons, interleague has been a welcome oddity. For whatever reason, Colorado was quite good against the AL in 2006 and then again in 2007. Last season, the difference between the Rockies' record and the other contenders for the wild card in the National League was their extra wins against the DH league.
Interleague isn't going to save Colorado in 2008. Nothing is. Despite a favorable matchup with the teams of the dysfunctional AL Central, the Rockies have followed up a sweep of Cleveland with two unpleasant losses to the Kansas City Royals. Colorado's yearly matchup with Kansas City has always felt pointless and arbitrary but usually it matches up two very bad clubs. This year it's the Royals who look like they're experiencing a new era of hope while the Rockies are wallowing in the mud again.
Today Rockies hitters piled up 14 strikeouts while managing only three runs off of ten hits. Kansas City got seven runs from eight hits. Only one Colorado hitter walked, and that's your problem right there -- this year, next year, every year. The Rockies need their own version of Kosuke Fukodome, a patient hitter who leads by example and gets everyone up and down the lineup excited about working counts. Todd Helton -- who struck out three times tonight -- has good plate discipline and so does Brad Hawpe, but the rest of the Rockies' lineup is very poor. Matt Holliday doesn't walk anywhere near as often as a potential MVP ought to, and an RBI threat like Garrett Atkins should have better numbers in that area as well. You never hear about Rockies hitting coaches, but maybe it's about time that we started to do so.
It's an odd time for the Rockies with all of the injured players returning. A bad league, and a weak division, mean it's not ridiculous to think about staggering back into contention this season. The way that the Rockies have played almost every game argues strongly that it's not too early to begin planning for 2009. The midseason trade rumor mill won't really start to percolate for another few weeks. How the Rockies approach that hurdle depends in large part how they play in these next few series. A sloppy, strikeout and error-filled first two games against the Royals is a very bad sign. The only major thing distinguishing the Rockies from Kansas City or any number of other payroll-poor youth-rich MLB clubs is desire.
At Full Health At Best OK
I watched Troy Tulowitzki's eagerly anticipated return game on Friday night half expecting the Rockies to look like a team reborn; sadly, it was more of the same. Aaron Cook had one of his less memorable starts on the year, Colorado's offense continued to frustrate (taking some walks would help, boys), and the equally troubled Mets got the series opener.
Yesterday, in a game I would have attended had it not been for my work schedule interfering, things got a little better. Ubaldo Jimenez had an interesting line: eight innings, one run, only two strikeouts. U-Ball, along with Greg Reynolds, is the Rockies' great hope of developing the franchise's first true #1, strikeout starter. So in his second win of the season, over the once-great Pedro Martinez, where were all the strikeouts? I think -- I hope, actually -- that the return of Tulowitzki has built confidence in the team's pitchers to throw strikes and let the balls in play fall where they may. If the Mets lineup couldn't get out of its own way, good for Jimenez to let them do his work for him.
Willy Taveras must not have gotten the memo that I wasn't able to use my ticket last night -- another RBI for him. He's an animal.
It's nice to see a more familiar lineup card, but those expecting an immediate return to playoff-caliber play will be disappointed. The Rockies weren't playing all that well before the rash of injuries started, and their starting pitching still has a long way to go. They also as an offense need more walks and more hits with runners on in scoring position. The bullpen is more stable now than it has been all season -- maybe the acquisition of Luis Vizcaino wasn't just a token free-agent signing after all -- but even at full health this is one of those .400-ish Rockies teams from the last several non-2007 years. Which is way better than losing a hundred games.
Once Again I Am at Coors Field While Boston Clinches a Championship
I went to see the Rockies and the Indians tonight, two young teams who have greatly disappointed this year. The pitching matchup had a least a little bit of interest to it, with Colorado's quickly-improving rookie Greg Reynolds facing Cleveland's Paul Byrd, who's been getting meals at a discount for a couple of years now with his Serviceable Veteran Starters' Club card. The Rockies lineup looks much more recognizable than those from the past two weeks and if you squint (hard), you can almost see "Quintanilla" morphing into "Tulowitzki."
Whether "Baker" needs to become "Barmes," however, is a more vexing question. Jeff had an inside-the-park homer tonight on a high-arcing bomb and smoked a single. The guy can hit and is hitting. The only times in the prodigal Clint's career when he's played well have been the ones when his back's been up completely against the wall. Is it best to hand him the job or should he be thrown into the mix, as they say? Here Colorado has a conflict between the makeup of their roster and the character of their team. The players on the Rockies, almost to a man, are stern, serious, conservative, slightly square folk. Clint Hurdle is the rare manager who's cooler than most of his players. That's why the Rockies work best when things are routine. I can't help but believe that a massive part of the collective team psychology that allowed the sublime September run came from this trait.
Between injuries, flameouts, trades, and Coors Field pitcher attrition, the Rockies roster has been stable for exactly zero of this practically-but-maybe-not-quite-over season. Given the circumstances, there's a lot to defend the approach Clint Hurdle has taken. Might as well just start shuffling the lineups like a deck when nobody's hitting. Now that the team is mostly healthy I foresee pressure on the manager to pick an "everyday" second baseman, much as he has made so much ceremony of anointing Chris Iannetta as the #1 catcher over Yorvit Torrealba. (I wore my Yorvit t-shirt to a game tonight for the first time and Yorvit, although back from suspension, didn't play. Bummer!) But if what makes the most sense is a three-way car crash of Barmes, Baker, and a glove-ly young third option (Quintanilla, Jonathan Herrera, fresh recruit Doug Bernier... probably not the latter), then the manager should have the discretion to play his hunches. With the Rockies' bullpen looking downright capable these days, Clint will have more free time to develop them.
To the Coors Field fan who interfered with a live ball down the right-field line and cost us all a shot of seeing the hulking Greg Reynolds trying to stretch a double into a triple: You're lucky you don't live in a country where there could cut your hands off for that, pal. I'm almost never a violent person but there are some things that are completely beyond the pale. The minute some dirtbag touches a ball or player deliberately at a live sporting event, the ushers should be authorized to Tase the living bejesus out of him right there on the spot. And the fans in the section should get to kick and throw stuff at his twitching body as he's being dragged out.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Rockies built a three-run rally around three consecutive fly balls that bounced off of outfielders' gloves. I don't remember ever seeing that before. Along with Baker's four-runner, and the less historic but far more spirit-boosting sight of another ace-level Reynolds start, it was a good game to have gone to.
I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about whether I should give the game a miss to stay home and watch the 6th game of the NBA Finals because, frankly, I thought that a regular-season game between Cleveland and Colorado would be more interesting. Los Angeles lost that series when they buckled in Game 4, and while the huge final margin was a little eye-opening, if I was a betting man I would have guaranteed you that the Celtics were going to win Game 6 by 15 at least. 39 pretty much just reinforces what I've said about the Lakers before. No fight in them. A shame to see, because they've got the talent to be a dynasty.
Willy Taveras had two runs batted in in the game today. I keep joking about how he never knocks runs in, and then he does... but only when I'm at Coors. Aren't spooky coincidences fun?
Making Them Up One Game at a Time
The Rockies lost 7-1 to the Braves today in a makeup game from one of Colorado's usual April snowouts. It's too early to say that the team's recent upturn in fortunes has officially reversed, but with this team a good streak seldom lasts past the end of the homestand. Hope is on the way, we're told. Some breathless reports announce that Clint Barmes and Troy Tulowitzki will be back with the big club within the week. Putting automatic everyday starters at the chaotic second base and shortstop positions might go a long way in keeping the team out of any more extended tailspins. But there wouldn't be a lot of point in rushing either back; I think it's safe to say that this is not the Rockies' year. The risk of getting hurt rushing back is the obvious reason to play it safe with Tulo (and Clint). There's also the possibility of a slump starting because the player isn't 100% and then continuing because they get psychologically frustrated.
With the Rockies no longer the worst team in the majors, and briefly there not the worst team in the NL either, it's kind of like old times. We're existing unnoticed in our own little cocoon of misery while hysterical stories are being written about the problems of bigger teams who are, ultimately, in far better position going forward in the current baseball economy. There were top story links about Chien-Ming Wang's unfortunate injury on every sports site on the web today, and many of the general interest news portals as well. It's a shame the Yankees have lost their ace, and Wang is the few guys in a Yankees uniform I don't hate intensely and a unique and fun player to watch pitch. But where were the headlines when the defending NL champs went through a brief run without their starting second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, left fielder, and right fielder? Not so much. Although I guess when Tulowitzki went down it's not as if it went entirely unreported.
The Mariners finally realized that their incompetent legacy GM had transformed them from a 100 game-winning transoceanic moneymaking machine into MLB's answer to the Knicks and sacked Bill Bavasi. Good for them, although they still have some other folks in the organization who are unclear on the concept that a team must score runs to win games. That's a conceit they share with all of the fools who saw the M's giving the Angels a fight in their division this season.
All of the unpleasantness surrounding the Mariners, where the manager is losing his mind and the since-fired Bavasi tried to lock everyone in a room so they'd just all talk it out, and that following the Mets and Willie Randolph, makes you clutch for a silver lining with the Rockies' season. Colorado may have a terrible record and they may have lost more guys to injuries than they've lost active fans in Denver, but for the most part no one has melted down. There have been no tirades, no rumors about anybody's jobs (other than the ones I've tried to start), no internal sniping, no nothing. Everyone just seems disappointed and kind of bravely chipper, as if they'll face this atrocity with a smile and a thank-you. When you see a Rockies player loaf, it's still a rare occasion.
Given what happened last year, they don't really need anyone to convince them that persevering in the face of impossible odds pays out every now and then.
Speaking of impossible odds, I don't think that the Lakers have much chance to come back against Boston. They looked pretty so-so in a winning performance in Game 5, and even the TV announcers were spending most of the last few seconds of the game beating up on them. I thought that was a little weird, but it was a game Boston nearly won without much of a frontcourt to speak of and Sam Cassell handling the ball for significant minutes in the fourth quarter. It was great for L.A. that Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom got the points the Lakers needed from them, but that was with no Kendrick Perkins and with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce playing a lot of crunch time with five fouls apiece.
The NBA isn't wrestling-level fake, like a distressingly high number of people believe, but that's not to say it isn't a little crooked. The fifth foul Pierce picked up was highly suspect. I don't think the fix was in or anything, but it had to be playing on the officials' minds as it was on my own that a powerful corporation stands to profit very nicely indeed from one or even two more games in Boston. This is inevitable in any sport -- the games were compromised the minute a television cameras were pointed at them -- but it does happen a lot in basketball. The game is fast, it's really hard to officiate correctly even when you aren't worried about the Disney corporation enslaving your children to serve as "Hannah Montana" backup dancers, and guys who do research on the Internet are screaming unpleasant personal stuff at you if you don't give the calls the home squad's way.
I don't think there's anything that can be done to completely eliminate off-court bias from the way basketball games, and especially games at the NBA level, are called. There are a few checks and balances in place. The team with the better record getting homecourt is one. Still as someone who is passionate about the historical record it seems like a 4-1 series win for Boston would be a more accurate representation of how the two teams performed in the series than 4-2.
In baseball, things are more symmetrical that way. When another Boston team beat the Rockies 4-0 in the World Series last season, they were probably about 5-0 better than us.
And I thought we were going to win! Man, I must be dumber than Bill Bavasi and John McLaren.
The Surge Is Working
The Rockies won two low-scoring games in a row in Chicago, shutting out the White Sox 2-0 yesterday and triumphing 5-3 this afternoon to give Aaron Cook his tenth win. Colorado has won eight of its last eleven. That's the good news. The bad news is they're still 13 games under .500.
I know we're trying to turn over a leaf and be positive here, but I think that every point I ever had to make about Willy Taveras was made by his performance in the game Saturday. Taveras stole five bases -- and scored zero runs.
Jorge De La Rosa has been my go-to whipping boy this year whenever I'm discussing how the Rockies management team cheaped out on improving the pitching during the offseason. So it was astonishing to see that De La Rosa didn't allow a run in his start yesterday. Even for five innings, that's way more than we had any right to expect. The real pitching diadem in the Rockies' tiara, as we've discussed, is Cook, who has double-digit wins well in advance of the All-Star break. The franchise record is 17, shared by the unforgettable duo of Kevin Ritz and Pedro Astacio.
I'm not focusing very much on baseball right now because the NBA Finals have utterly delivered on the classic matchup the teams involved suggested. I guess I was way off with my pick of Lakers in 5, but I didn't expect Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to break and for Ray Allen to spring back to life. I guess Allen's resurrection shouldn't have come as so much of a surprise; the man did play Jesus. The moment in the series that I'll always remember is down the stretch in Game 4 when the Celtics were trying to make their miracle comeback stick and Kevin Garnett went right down into the post and made a little jump hook just like it was the first quarter. Garnett has been passing up that shot in the fourth his whole career. It's exciting now that the ultimate goal is within his reach he's doing what needs to be done to take that last little incomplete space on his Hall of Fame resumé and fill it in.
Maybe I am jumping the gun rewarding the series to Boston before the game tonight, but I think that this Lakers team was exposed Thursday night. They don't have the fight in them, and it's not hard to guess why. Who would want to play behind Kobe Bryant? Kobe's attitude and body language could not make it any clearer that he feels like everyone else on the team is garbage. Bryant makes me angrier than almost any other pro athlete today. How can anyone be that gifted and yet be so completely unappreciative of it? Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, even Shaq in his own way, understood that their talents put an obligation upon them to become great teammates and all-around players. Kobe is the opposite. He feels like because he's so good, the world owes him everything he wants. What a loser. If I was on his team I wouldn't hustle on defense either.
So I'm sitting here watching the high-speed recap of the Rockies' loss to Chicago today and thinking, what to write about? I don't particularly feel like rehashing the last time that Colorado met the White Sox in interleague play; that series at Coors in 2005 was one of the most thorough beatings I have ever seen one team give another across three games. A typo in ESPN.com's game story gave me a very temporary panicked feeling that I've been spelling Willy Taveras's name wrong for two years.
Willy hit a home run today, his first of the year. His slugging percentage is only one one-thousandth lower than his OBP as of tonight. What more can you really say about a player like that? Not much, except I'm disappointed that he somehow managed to tally an RBI without my physical presence in the ballpark. Coors Field may be the strongest all-around offensive incubator in the modern game but there's no park that's as friendly to all fields
After work today I went to the record store, as is my usual practice on paydays. As I write this I'm listening to a used copy of The Beatles that I was quite excited to get for twenty dollars today. As I flipped on the postgame show and "Back in the U.S.S.R." played, it occurred to me that record collecting is a lot like the MLB draft. Much more so than the NFL or NBA drafts, which are probably like collecting other things.
There's the obvious "diamond in the rough" analogy to be made, but the way that the comparison occurred to me was a little more involved. Hopefully, a little more clever, too. The first thing that struck me was that in either case, you simply can never tell. I got a copy of Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway up in Greeley last week that looked flawless in my hands at the record store. When I got it home, it had an irreparable skip right at the end of side two of the first disc. So it is with these high school and college pitchers. Look at Mark Prior's career! He was the biggest can't-miss of my lifetime and... he missed.
Prior, and Genesis, both have something to do with my second point. That's handling. It's true that there's only so much you can do with some raw material. I have a copy of Elvis Costello's Goodbye Cruel World from 1984 that plays perfectly. Good as new, and I think it cost four dollars. Trouble is, it's still Goodbye Cruel World. Crummy songs in impeccable fidelity are still crummy. When I get a record with some good songs, before even playing it I use a Discwasher brush and cleaning solution to polish it until it shines. And I store my records carefully. If I catch my girlfriend handling one of my albums improperly, I give her holy hell. I have a whole organizational system and always put the records away with side one facing forward. The point is, to get the most out of these investments, I have to treat them with almost clinical tenderness.
And so it was with Prior, if you believe sportswriters in Chicago -- Dusty Baker broke him. Prior was a mint copy of Beggars Banquet, and Dusty left dust, scratches, and fingerprints all over him. I'm not sure how much of the Dusty/Prior myth is something we've all just begun to believe because we've heard it so many times before, but the broader point is there even if the example is a weak one. Drafting guys is like collecting records. You have to have good content on the LP there to begin with, but you also have to maintain it lovingly. You have to keep it clean and undamaged. You have to use it with the proper equipment -- my turntable doesn't play 78's, so I don't collect those. You shouldn't stockpile things you have no use for (unless you know somebody who will trade you some stuff you do for them).
I think the Rockies, or at least their brain trust, has real good taste in records, but questionable knowledge when it comes to their care and feeding. Franklin Morales was barely a test pressing when he was pulled up to the majors; he had no business being played with a needle so heavy. Also, not that it's on the subject, but Colorado would be a lot better off if they stopped bringing in used-store finds who are the baseball equivalent of the hundreds of Barbra Streisand records that clog dollar bins everywhere.
I have it on good authority that Clint Hurdle is a big music hound. Maybe he favors the inferior CD format, where everything is identical and nothing ever changes. More likely, he's an mp3 guy. For the mp3 listener, music is chaos -- iTunes downloads, free downloads, file-sharing, mislabeled or spoofed tracks, no permanence or provenance from anything. I'll bet Clint is an iPod guy. So much has been made of how the Rockies pioneered the use of video iPods for showing batters and pitchers game film; I'm sure Clint has some space on his for some Wilco tunes even with all the footage of Brad Hawpe striking out against lefthanders. He certainly manages the team as if his lineups were being generated by a "shuffle" button at times.
The Rockies are on fire, suddenly, and have enough of their first-string players back now that the TV announcers are talking enthusiastically about how many games back the team is in the division. Is it time to get back on the hope train?
That would depend on how many more sustained runs of good starting pitching Colorado gets. Tonight's stunner of a no-decision from Ubaldo Jimenez continues a welcome new trend of the team getting starting pitching that actually contributes positively to them winning. Aaron Cook's having a career year and it's wonderful to see the real Jeff Francis back (even if only for brieft visits), but it's Ubaldo's immediate future that makes me most concerned. It doesn't appear as if the franchise's dependence on pitchers the age of Jimenez or younger is going to end any time soon, so we need a positive case that the organization can bring its draftees and young signings along quickly and safely. If Jimenez isn't broken, then Franklin Morales probably isn't either, and Greg Reynolds isn't going to get irreparably damaged. The Rockies know they're not going to win with the Jorge De La Rosas and Mark Redmans of the world, but it remains to be seen whether they can build a rotation entirely around young, homegrown pitching.
Colorado pulled out this one tonight on a dropped ball at home plate, with Garrett Atkins scoring the winning run off of Yorvit Torrealba's sac fly. On a drive earlier in the inning by Jeff Baker, Atkins held up at third with nobody out. I was thinking at the time that it might be a suitably gut-wrenching point for another losing streak to begin. But indeed fortune was smiling upon the Rockies this night, if few recent others.
The Rockies have been very bad this season. They almost never win. And yet when I go to their games lately, I see a different face. They keep winning, and Willy Taveras keeps knocking runners in. If you only had the games I've attended at Coors as a data sample, the 2008 Rockies would like they were putting together a very spirited title defense. And you'd think Willy Taveras was Hack Wilson or somebody.
The best thing about going to Tuesday night's game for me was the chance to see Aaron Cook pitch in person for the first time in '08. Cook has been the lone bright spot for the Rockies' pitching staff this year. He's having such a classic Walter Johnson great year for an awful team that -- inevitably -- trade rumors have commenced. The Rockies would be stupid to trade Cook, who's always going to be underrated because he pitches at Coors and he doesn't strike a lot of people out. He's the kind of ace, in other words, that the Rockies could actually afford to sign long-term. Given that few of their other long-term pitching plans have panned out it's highly possible that they can't afford not to hold on to Cook.
Matt Holliday was back in the lineup for the Rockies, leading to the first time in many losses that we've seen Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Todd Helton, and Garrett Atkins all playing together. Colorado keeps doing something when I'm at the games that it seemingly never does the rest of the time. They keep having big innings. Last night they scored four in the second and three in the fifth (and one in the sixth and two in the seventh). With their lineup they were supposed to do that consistently this year, but we haven't seen much of either the ideal lineup or consistency. Clint Hurdle's deep-seated need to tweak things isn't helping matters here. Given the pitching they're saddled with, the Rockies don't really need to worry about offense/defense platoons. They should just play the best hitters they have at every position and try to outclub people. This isn't a permanent winning strategy of any kind, it's just how I think the Rockies have the best chance to be less awful for the rest of this season.
Well, tonight's game is starting. I think I'm going to go watch that.
Right Back to the Old Frustrating Ways
At least the starting pitching seems to have stablilized. The Rockies lost today, 3-2, as the offense failed to make more of six hits and seven walks. Jeff Francis took one of his more undeserved losses, allowing three earned in six innings pitched, but he still hasn't shown any sign of the ace-type form he had for much of last year. Scott Podsednik got a chance to start for the slumping Willy Taveras and was 0 for 4 with a walk. The hotly awaited Luis Vizcaino is finally back in working order for the Rockies, and he pitched a scoreless inning with two walks allowed. Seth Smith got another outfield start, the last he may get for a while with Matt Holliday due back soon.
Todd Helton left eight men on base. It wasn't one of his more memorable Coors Field days.
Elsewhere in sports... so much for Lakers in 5. I did not expect that the Celtics would play this well on defense, nor that the Lakers would play so poorly. I can't believe Kobe Bryant hasn't gone off for an extended period this far into the series. As for Leon Powe's breakout game, I expect nothing less on the big stage from these Cal guys. Where has the L.A. bench gone, though? The biggest shock of this series so far has to be how the Celtics are expanding their leads when the benches are in.
It would have been a totally different story if the Lakers could have turned the ball over one or two fewer teams. It was surprising how close the game was in the first half, considering how much better Boston appeared to be playing, and it didn't seem at all off-script when the Celtics ran out to the big lead in the third. The Lakers' almost-comeback crept up very quickly and while it didn't prove enough in this game it could increase their confidence in the next two at home.
How did the Celtics play so badly, by comparison, for the whole of the playoffs until now and then turn a switch when it came time for the Finals? Well, the Eastern Conference playoffs were in retrospect kind of a walkover -- there isn't any excuse for Boston losing focus against Atlanta but you can see how they had a hard time staying focused after spending the regular season beating up on the same competition. Also everybody knows the end is in sight now, and the change from a lot of pressure to ultimate pressure has a positive effect on them. This seems to be happening for Doc Rivers and Ray Allen, who have gone from useless to serviceable, and for Paul Pierce, who's gone from good to great.
Rockies Win 4th in a Row
The Rockies' lineup is starting to look more like the one we all remember, with Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe back to full health. Hawpe was locked in for the game I attended tonight, hitting a four-run homer in the first and adding a single and a walk later. Greg Reynolds worked into the seventh and only gave up two runs on four hits and two walks. Reynolds only threw 73 pitches in the game. That's encouraging on two different levels. First, that the rookie could work that far into the evening so efficiently. Second, that Clint Hurdle still gave him the hook. With the season gone the way it has, there's no point in taking any unnecessary risks.
I was a little apprehensive to see Jorge De La Rosa coming in out of the bullpen, but he, Jason Grilli, and Taylor Buchholz were able to keep Milwaukee off of the board. The Rockies were homer-happy, as Ian Stewart and Chris Iannetta connected for solo shots to go with Hawpe's slam. Three home runs at Coors for Colorado used to be a below-average day, but this year's squad hasn't been much for the long ball. I prefer pitching over hitting and low-scoring games to slugfests, but enough is enough. It was nice to crane my neck as balls flew by multiple times.
Coors Field was pretty loud tonight. Ticket sales might have been goosed by a Troy Tulowitzki bobblehead giveaway, but enough fans stayed to cheer to make the park rock more than it has any day since the home opener. We'll have to wait and see what things are like in the dog days of August and September, but as of now I'm willing to consider that I've underestimated the average Denver sports fan. Maybe we're just seeing crowds at the games now who bought their tickets in the preseason, when things seemed so much more hopeful. And next season will really tell. I don't know whether the Rockies are going to be able to sustain any real long-term increase in profile until they start winning consistently. At least for now the fans who are going to the games know how to generate a good racket, and that wasn't something you could often say of Colorado fans between 1996 and 2007.
With the way the Rockies have looked most of the season, it's hard to believe they've won four games in a row... twice! They won four in a row on the road, believe it or not, two against San Diego then two in Houston, back in April. Win four in a row on the road in April, then lose thirteen in a row on the road in May and June. Maybe this is a more interesting year than I thought. Better a terrible season that's not dull than... most of the other seasons in Rockies history.
The Brewers have some issues, huh? It's too bad Bill Hall's play has been so poor that he's riding the pine. I'd be throwing a hissy fit too if Russell Branyan was taking my playing time. Russell Branyan! I had no idea he was still playing. He felt like a retread when announced at the ballpark and I recalled him playing for the Brewers once before. Indeed he did so, in 2004-05. Hard to make fun of Branyan now that he's been nearly as productive as Bill Hall in vastly playing time.
What was most soothing to see from the other side for once was lousy starting pitching. The Brewers as always live in terror of a Ben Sheets injury, and with Sheets that's always just a start away. Ben leads the Crüe with a 26.6 VORP; second is reliever Salomon Torres at 9.1. Then there's Yovani Gallarado, presently on the disabled list, followed by tomorrow's starter Jeff Suppan. That leaves a vulnerable rear flank of Dave Bush, Manny Parra, and Seth McClung. Bush went double-walk-walk-homer-homer with two outs in the first tonight. Parra doesn't have the name recognition of the other two but has the best chance to be not awful. He was sort of okay in limited action last year and has been likewise thus far this season, with a rising strikeout rate. Seth McClung, a relic of the bad old days in Tampa Bay, I don't feel good about having in my rotation for more than a time through or so.
Then if Sheets goes down, move all those guys one slot over to the left, and then think about how that looks. Not pretty! The Rockies might be in better shape with the mix they have now, depending on whether the good or the evil versions of all their young pitchers turn up. Before this season started Francis-Cook-Jimenez-Morales-Reynolds seemed like a can't-miss group of young system guys, with Cook the old man at 29. One of those guys, Morales, wiped out so bad he had to be sent down to the minors before Reynolds came up. Francis has been flailing, and Jimenez has been thrashed. Colorado's homegrown rotation of dreams became that of its nightmares in, like, two months.
The lesson of this four-game win streak is obvious: when good starting pitching arrives, wins come with it. If the Rockies are going to start spelunking out from oblivion, they'll need Aaron Cook to be every bit as good as he's been. They'll need Francis to consolidate on his recent progress and turn back into the hammer he was last season. They'll need young Jimenez and Reynolds to throw strikes and minimize the exposure to the bullpen. And they'll need another player from somewhere to hold down the fifth starter's spot. It's too soon for a Morales comeback, and with the season lost he might as well get the developmental time he should have gotten in 2007 back. Jorge De La Rosa, I'm pretty sure, is not the answer.
Aaron Cook Superstar
The Rockies ended their miserable road trip on an up note, taking the last two of three with the Dodgers and getting major league-level starting pitching in both of them. Jeff Francis's breakout on Tuesday couldn't have been predicted but Aaron Cook has been almost untouchable all season. Cook's 8-3 (.727) on a 22-38 (.367) team. I know won-loss records aren't the best indicator of a pitcher's performance, but Cook has earned each and every one of those wins. He's been an oasis in the desert for pitching-starved Rockies fans. If he gets anywhere near 20 wins on this crummy team he should win the Cy Young, Johan Santana be damned.
Yorvit Torrealba got three games for shoving Matt Kemp in the face in retaliation for Kemp's pissy shove of his own (four games). There was a time when stuff like this got one game for the instigator and a fine for the other guy. And not so long before that this sort of behavior wasn't given special notice by the league at all, so long as it wasn't repeated too often.
The Rockies next play the Brewers at Coors Field. Colorado can handle the Brewers. They have problems of their own. This seems like kind of a busy season for teams with problems of their own, doesn't it? Even some of the good teams have internal feuds. There's a high number of teams expected to contend who are bombing. Angry manager face is becoming a nightly "BTN" staple. The Tigers, the Mariners, the Indians, the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Mets... probably all of the teams except the Cubs and Tampa. And the Cubs have the Alfonso Soriano issue to iron out. Lot of franchises wishing they could reach for the reset button this year. It's little consolation for Rockies fans, who are watching a full-fledged disaster unfold, but... well, it's something to write about.
The Rockies have the evening off tonight, which is appropriate, because isn't it all about Lakers-Celtics? My loyalties lie with the team in the Irish green, but having watched the playoffs pretty closely over the last four months there's no arguing that Los Angeles is the better team. Several Boston players who have been wortheless or absent in the postseason thus far would have to wake up and contribute in addition to Pierce and Garnett dominating in order for the series to return to Boston for Games 6 and 7. I don't think that will happen, whereas the Lakers can absorb a so-so series from Odom or Gasol. Kobe is so amped up right now that he could score 50 every game if he really set his mind to it, and as a lot of analysts have mentioned there's so much time off between games that Bryant can play monster minutes without getting much less rest than he would in the regular season. Lakers in 5.
One in a Row, Baby
I arrived home from band practice during the top of the ninth inning. Was I just in time to see the Rockies end their losing streak, or was I in time to see the most heartbreaking collapse yet? Recently I've been too busy with non-baseball issues to catch as much of the games as I would like, but I do always try to tune in for an inning or so and lately every time I do the team's fortunes immediately take a turn for the worse. For the Rockies recently, taking a turn for the worse is no easy trick. Brian Fuentes unbelievably allowed the tying run to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, a storybook setup for a Rockies meltdown, but nothing came of it.
I've been talking about the Rockies' lack of a shutdown, losing streak-busting starter repeatedly lately. Could it be that the real Jeff Francis is back? If Francis can team up with Aaron Cook to give Colorado two non-useless starters, the Rockies can go a long way on their quest back to respectability. A good or even mediocre season is out of the question at this point, but the Rockies at the very least can defend the honor of the franchise by posting a higher winning percentage in each successive month from here on out.
I'd never really given up on the Channel, but I was avoiding confronting the issue by mentioning him directly as little as I could. It is tough to see your favorite (current) major league player get roughed up game after game like Jose Lima. I feel that I'm jinxing Jeff now by even mentioning this one (seven inning, zero ER) good start. He's had some other isolated good starts this year, but he's never gone back to back with them. We'll have to wait to see that, and probably another two of the next three, before we can officially pronounce him recovered. But now would indeed be a good time.
The other story in the game was an excellent two-point takedown of Matt Kemp by Yorvit Torrealba, after Torrealba bumped into Kemp fielding a dropped third strike. Kemp shoved, Yorvit shoved very hard back, and then Torrelba dropped down and efficiently took Kemp to the ground. They wrestled wildly until the scrap was broken up. A streak-breaking fight, a spirit-building exercise on the part of the ejected Torrealba? It's also possible that Yorvit is in a bad mood from having lost playing time, hitting .229, playing on a horrible team, having to call pitches for pitchers who don't have any to throw, or some combination of all of those and just overreacted to Kemp being a bit of a baby. I don't think it was any brawl that helped the Rockies end their run of losses, I think it was getting great pitching from Francis (and the two reliable Colorado relief pitchers, Taylor Buchholz and Brian Fuentes).
But a little rhubarb never hurts anybody. I mean, except the people who get hurt.
Will They Ever Win Again?
I wish that I could say that this is the worst losing streak the Rockies have suffered through in all the time I've been doing Bad Altitude, but the truth is that Colorado tends to have one of these runs every year. Even last season, on their way to the World Series, they checked in with a 1-9 road trip in June that had everyone including myself throwing dirt on them. Why does this keep happening? With apologies to James Carville, it's the pitching, stupid. The Rockies don't have a starter capable of winning games all on his own now. They never have. Maybe they never will. It's chilling to consider.
This year, the Rockies are lucky if they even receive competent pitching. Apart from Aaron Cook, their rotation is rotting garbage, and while the bullpen's overall numbers haven't been as awful, there's no one out there you really trust to answer the bell besides Brian Fuentes, soon to be traded, and Taylor Buchholz, who (as I'll say for the 900th time) ought to be starting. Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd are both obsessed with putting labels on pitchers. If a guy is acquired to start, he's going to start, by God, even if he's Jorge De La Rosa (8.44 ERA). They have the same paralysis in the bullpen. Manny Corpas was going to be the closer, Brian Fuentes was going to have the ninth inning, and Luis Vizcaino's domain would be the seventh. Vizcaino got hurt, Corpas spit the bit, and now Hurdle manages the bullpen like a stoned college kid playing MLB 2K8.
This insistence on labels hurts the lineup too -- Willy Taveras was traded for to be a leadoff hitter, so that's where he's going to hit, even if the Rockies have scores of better candidates available. But lineup order doesn't make that much of a difference in whether a team wins or not, compared to making sure that it's the best pitchers who pitch the most innings. Earl Weaver, John McGraw, and Lee Elia combined couldn't make an average staff out of the refuse with which O'Dowd has provided Hurdle. But a sharper manager ought to be able to find some way to keep the Rockies' odious pitching from disqualifying them from winning every game they play. It's been pointed out elsewhere, and it's frankly incredible, how often the Colorado pitchers this season have allowed runs the half-inning after the offense has scored one or more. It happened last night in Los Angeles, right in the first inning. The Rockies got one in the top half, overextended rookie Greg Reynolds gave up two in the bottom half, and most of what happened after that was academic.
I wish after all this criticism that I had a good suggestion to offer. I don't. The Rockies don't have enough pitching to go .500 the rest of the way, or maybe even .400. The offense is going to have to pick it up considerably to keep this team from losing 100 games. I suppose the point that I have to make is that anything would be better than this, at least as far as the staff is concerned, and Hurdle and O'Dowd ought to blow things up radically. This season is down the tubes, and management's main goals should be to avoid losing 100 and evaluating how their young talent will fare in the majors, in that order. I don't think the duo, Hurdle in particular, have the mindset or the temperment to start batting the pitcher 8th or anything else even mildly transgressive. (Although now two teams, MIL and STL, are doing that in the National League, which absolutely constitutes a trend.)
And that's why both O'Dowd and Hurdle need to be fired. They're incremental improvement guys, and the Rockies need a quantum leap.
The best team in baseball beat the worst team in baseball today, again, as the Cubs finished a perfect seven-game homestand. The Rockies have lost seven in a row on this particular trip. Colorado has lost twelve in a row on the road; their overall record away from Coors Field this season is 8-23. At 20-37 overall, the Rockies are on pace for a 57-105 finish. As bad as the Colorado franchise has regularly been over the past 15 years, they've never suffered through a 100-loss season.
Has any team ever been in the World Series one year, and lost a hundred games the next? The 1915 A's did, but that was something of a special circumstance. The hard-bitten, old school Connie Mack refused to participate in the bidding wars for players' services spurred by the upstart Federal League. Like Charlie Finley or Jeffrey Loria in their own times, Mack traded players or gave them away so he wouldn't have to pay the salaries they were demanding. That 1915 team lost 109 games a year after winning 99. The Rockies, who only won 90 last year, would be hard-pressed to match that differential. It also will be tricky to finish 58.5 games out like the A's did.
More recently, the 1998 Marlins lost 100 a year after winning the World Series. (The '14 A's, like the '07 Rockies, were swept.) That was the same situation -- Wayne Huizenga decided he could make more money by selling the team to someone else and just holding on to the stadium. He forced a fire sale just like Mack's, only Mack at least was being honest when he claimed his team was losing money. The Rockies, if they sink that low, won't have the excuse of a sell-off. They could become the first team to be in the World Series one year, then lose 100 games -- with almost exactly the same roster.
I'm not enjoying this display of utter futility any more than you are, but it is making me reconsider my loyalties. I used to be a huge Cubs fan, and I have been accused of still carrying a torch for them before. When I caught my home run ball at Coors Field in 2005 I was wearing a Ron Santo jersey. I should be ecstatic that the Cubbies are the best team in the majors, but I'm totally indifferent. I'm too preoccupied mourning the Rockies' decline and wondering when I'll get to see Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday, and the real Jeff Francis again. I'm a Rockies fan! I'm stuck now. This season is going to test my faith, but at least I know what I believe in. The purple and black shall rise again.
The first thing they're going to have to do is bring in some more pitchers.
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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