I'm becoming paranoid. I think I have "we don't get no respect" syndrome, and I hate people who insist that their favorite team is being conspired against by the media, or the officiating, or FEMA, or whomever. Honestly, I feel like I watched every highlight show and listened to the radio updates all night last night and I never once heard "the Rockies sweep the Astros," merely "Colorado 5, Houston 3." I heard that the Cardinals swept Florida. C'mon, everybody sweeps Florida. I heard that Philadelphia swept the Giants, but only after two or three minutes of fulminating about some dude about to pass a number that isn't a record. I even heard that the Padres swept the Cubs, which is weird because they still have one more game to play today. It's not news that the Rockies -- the Colorado Rockies -- swept a three-game set against a team that was in the Series last year. The World Series. Colorado was 1-6 against the Astros and the White Sox last year. I don't know how significant a stat that is, but it least looking it up was fairly easy.
For what it's worth at this particular moment in time the NL West is looking less patsy-like than usual, with Colorado (7-3 in their last ten), Arizona (7-3), and San Diego (8-2) all having records resembling those of legitimate first, second, and third-place teams. I don't know for how long these salad days will roll, because the Padres in particular look like they're doing it with mirrors, but at the very least the division winner should have a final win total of something like 87 or 88 instead of last year's embarrassing 82. They might not even have the "worst" team in the playoffs this year, unless things pick up in the AL West.
One thing I did hear on the radio last night was Chase Utley being interviewed for the Sunday Night Baseball pregame show. If I'd had to guess beforehand, I would have bet that Utley would be an old-school Bad Interview, and I would have been right. Apparently the man has no hobbies, listens to no music, and has nothing he would change about baseball besides possibly moving in more of the right-field fences. The one interesting thing Utley had to say was that his least favorite pitcher to face in the game right now is Brian Fuentes, and he'd reckon that there's more than a few other lefties in the National League who'd tell you the same. If your bandwagon can't be big, the least it can do is win some influential converts. How about the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers? He likes the Rockies' chances this year, as an informant in Chicago (my dad) passed on to me yesterday. (Meanwhile, in San Francisco it's still the "NL Woebegone Division," although Bruce Jenkins says, quote, "Many observers say it's time to stop belittling the Rockies, who are very close to being for real." That's...sort of...a compliment. I guess.)
Highlights from a 4-1 homestand: Well, it's nice to have Todd Helton back. Real nice, and it looks like he's skipping the prolonged recovery slump. Jason Jennings was marvelous on Saturday night, Aaron Cook very nearly gave the Rockies back-to-back complete games yesterday, and let's not forget that Byung-Hyun Kim struck out nine in a no-decision on Friday. Colorado ranks sixth in the National League in overall ERA, and you don't need to have been a fan of this team long to know that that's extraordinary. They're even eighth in regular unadjusted home ERA, and that borders on crazy. (It also reflects the tenor of the times. Four teams ranked below the Rockies overall have ridiculous bandbox ballparks of their own: Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Houston, and Arizona. Ray King was on Jim Armstrong's radio show the other day and insisted he'd much rather pitch at Coors than at Citizen's Bank or the Great American Ballpark. Ray King, by the way, is a way better interview than Chase Utley.) It's also time for me to admit I was wrong about Jamey Carroll. In Helton's absence, Carroll has been playing pretty much every day and he's a big reason the Rockies went 8-6 during that stretch. Carroll doesn't have any power to speak of but he does play sparkling defense at second and he does something that few other Rockies besides Helton and Brad Hawpe are inclined to do, which is walk. Carroll is tied for fourth on the team with ten walks (including the game-winner Friday) and the guys immediately ahead of him, Hawpe and Garrett Atkins, have twice as many at-bats. Carroll has an OPS of .810 despite slugging .368, and I've always heard that the OBP component of the OPS formula is the more important half. Consarn it, I just like guys who walk, perhaps because that's the only way I could get on base on little league. Well, the only way after the competition grew old enough to field bunts reliably.
Which leads me nicely to my dark cloud in the first place sky. The Rockies are bunting way too much. Way, way, way too much. They lead the majors in sacrifice hits (an oxymoronic stat name, by the way) with 23. It certainly looks good when Colorado gets a leadoff double, moves the man on to third, and knocks him in as they have been doing with a scout-pleasing frequency lately. It looks too good. Clint Hurdle is going to start getting ideas. What's more, out-of-town managers (oh geez, we just had Phil Garner in and La Russa is coming up next) are going to start talking in the papers about how those young Rockies are getting it done by Playing the Game the Way It Should Be Played and the next thing you know everyone in the lineup save Helton will be squaring off like it's an extra-inning playoff game. Memo to Clint: The Rockies are not winning because they bunt immoderately. They're winning because Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe are suddenly clubbing the ball full-time instead of only at Coors and the pitching staff is the best the franchise has ever had. This has the makings of an epidemic. They could start bunting against Cincinnati pitching. They could start bunting against San Francisco's amazing all-AARP outfield. My god, Jose Lima is back in the National League. It's a madhouse I tells you. A maaadhouse.
You know, speaking of the few pesky ideas in Clint Hurdle's head, here's another thing Clint has led the way in that bugs me. Why is everybody in the NL still walking Barry Bonds? A hitter has to be going out of his mind to make the automatic intentional pass a good play, and Bonds has obviously sunk beneath that point with his various health complaints. Yeah, he's going to hit a homer every now and then, but that's true of a lot of guys, and you don't see Adam Dunn or Nick Swisher or Morgan Ensberg or Jonny Gomes getting the knee-jerk four fingers. OK, random examples, but all of those guys are slugging higher than Bonds. Every manager in the NL seems afraid to be the first guy to call for an end to the insanity and get burned. You know what, there's no shame in being beaten by Barry Bonds. If you walk Bonds and get beaten by Lance Niekro or Mark Sweeney, now that is shameful. Of course there's also the conspiracy theory that says all the time Bonds is having to spend standing around at first base is further deteriorating his knees and driving him ever closer to retirement. I think Occam's Razor applies. Do we think the field generals of the NL are a) participating in a silent and quixotic plot to protect the non-record of a dead guy or b) all deeply afraid of trying something contrary to conventional wisdom and looking foolish for it? There is no more powerful force in baseball than Fear of Change. In fact I believe Joe Morgan has a motto to that effect tattooed on his ass.
Off to St. Louis, where the Cardinals are playing a tad bit diffidently despite a 20-12 record. Who can blame them, as the Mets have basically clinched the NL East with about the same record while the Cardinals are caught in a three-way dogfight with the resilient Astros and the surprising Reds. Has their window closed already? Well, the National League seems better overall. It's hard to call any team that often fields an Aaron Miles-David Eckstein middle infield offensively threatening, despite the ethereal Albert Pujols. The Rockies draw Jason Marquis, Chris Carpenter, and Jeff Suppan. More on that series later, assuming I feel like it.