Monthly archives: June 2005
Final All-Star Votes
The fan balloting for the All-Star Game closes tonight. In less than an hour actually. I voted twice more (since I could), once somewhat seriously and once for fun. It seems as if most of the early craziness has corrected itself. Derrek Lee is not going to get slighted. Ichiro and Tino Martinez aren't starters as of right now. Cesar Izturis, who's fallen off the map since his great May, has been overtaken by the slow but steady David Eckstein.
"Serious" ballot: AL Justin Morneau, Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, David Ortiz, Johny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Mark Kotsay NL Lee, Jeff Kent, Eckstein, Scott Rolen, Paul Lo Duca, Andruw Jones, Cliff Floyd, Miguel Cabrera
"Fun" ballot: AL Paul Konerko, Tadahito Iguchi, Brandon Inge, Bobby Crosby, A.J. Pierzynski, Bobby Kielty, Kevin Mench, Scott Podsednik, Travis Hafner NL Hee Seop Choi, Mark Grudzielanek, Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes, Jason Phillips, Jason Bay, Carlos Lee, Willy Taveras
Some Leads Are Safe
Rob Neyer does this thing all the time where he compares two players without giving their names, and then surprises you by revealing who they are. I'm going to do that now.
Pitcher A: 17 starts, 2 complete games, 110 innings pitched, 81 strikeouts, 33 walks, 12 home runs, 6.63 K/9, 1.22 WHIP, .240 BAA, 3.85 ERA.
Pitcher B: 16 starts, 1 complete game, 101 innings pitched, 63 strikeouts, 31 walks, 11 home runs, 5.61 K/9, 1.42 WHIP, .285 BAA, 4.54 ERA.
Pitcher A is Danny Haren. Pitcher B is Mark Mulder. Pretty neat, huh? I mention this because I listened to Haren win his sixth straight decision earlier today and Mulder will pitch against the Rockies on Sunday. You never know how trades involving fistfuls of prospects will turn out, and it sure seems as if Oakland (who also got useful reliever Kiko Calero and much-loved prospect Daric Barton) won this one. Almost makes up for the reaming they took in the Tim Hudson trade.
I don't think there's much that needs to be said about this Cardinals team that their best-in-the-NL 49-28 record doesn't already communicate articulately. For fun, then, in lieu of our usual style of series preview let's take a look at the chances St. Louis and the other division leaders have of staying put.
AL East: Current leader is Boston at 45-32. Baltimore is 2 games back. I think the Red Sox have the best talent in this division, and I don't think many would disagree with me. Baltimore's first half was a good (if overplayed) story. I doubt even a trade for Jason Schmidt would compensate for the healthy return of Curt Schilling which Boston anticipates. I put Boston's chances at 80%.
AL Central: The Chicago White Sox have the best record in baseball at 53-24. The Twins are 10 1/2 back despite very possibly being the third-best team in the league. It's pretty hard to blow a ten-game lead. That said, the White Sox have made a semi-tradition out of second-half slides the last few seasons, and Minnesota often seems to have their number head-to-head when it counts. It's not impossible, just very improbable. Let's call it 95% that Chicago takes it.
AL West: The Angels put a great deal of distance between themselves and Texas this past week. Anaheim is 47-31, and the Rangers are 6 1/2 back after winning today. A bigger threat may be the surging A's, who have won 7 in a row to get within 10 games of the division lead and 2 games from .500. I have doubts about the Angels' starters and their offense, but you have to figure they can afford to get the help they need. 65%, because the Angels have two legitimate challengers.
AL Wild Card: I like Minnesota. 75%.
NL East: Washington's dream season continues, 47-31. Still, even last place New York is only eight back, and Atlanta hangs around at half that. I highly doubt the Nationals will be able to continue playing invincibly at home with a .600 record despite scoring fewer runs than they allow. I give them a 15% shot, Florida 40%, Atlanta 25%, Philadelphia 15%, and the Mets 5%.
NL Central: As I mentioned, St. Louis stands at 49-28. The on-again, off-again Cubs are nine back. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there is no chance that Chicago will catch the better-constructed, better-managed, and way-less-cursed Cardinals. 100% chance of St. Louis repeating as division champs.
NL West: The most miserable division in baseball is led by San Diego at 43-36. The Padres may well be just as secure as St. Louis since the other teams in the division are so poor. No one else is over .500, and the Giants and Rockies have essentially eliminated themselves from playoff contention. Arizona is in second at 4 back, but I don't think they're even that good. The Dodgers, 5 1/2 back, are the Padres' only threat such as it is. 85% we see the fourth different division winner in four years. Hey, if that trend continues, the Rockies will win next year!
NL Wild Card: The parity in the NL East could end up being the Cubs' biggest asset here as they fatten up on average Milwaukee, subpar Houston and Pittsburgh, and dire Cincinnati. Still, it's pretty wide open, with six teams within five games of each other. Advantage Chicago, but no better than 45%. Divide the rest however you want between all five NL East teams.
Astros 7, Rockies 1
Superior talent trumps momentum again as Roy Oswalt conquers Coors and Craig Biggio and his ridiculous elbow armor march into history. (Although as my friend Ali pointed out, what's the big deal about the "modern" HBP record when the pre-1900 one, Hughie Jennings' 287, is only 20 higher than Don Baylor's mark and easily within Biggio's reach?)
No real highlights for the Rockies in this one (Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe did have a single and an extra-base hit each), so let's not dwell long. Who's going where today? First I want to soapbox a moment. If you are a Yankees fan (AND WERE BORN OR LIVE WITHIN ONE DAY'S DRIVING DISTANCE OF NEW YORK), I understand you might feel some consternation about your team's lukewarm performance thus far. (If you're a Yankees fan from say, Seattle, you're a bad human being. Like Cowboys fans from Chicago. What is that?) You have every right to expect your team's management to do whatever they can to improve themselves, especially given their investment on the season thus far.
This does not mean, however, that you are entitled to the players you need to get better, no matter what Peter Gammons says. Like Mark Kotsay. Why would the A's trade Kotsay to the Yankees when a) they're playing better than New York is right now and b) the Yankees' one decent prospect is a third baseman? Likewise the Cubs and Preston Wilson. Well, if we can't have "Johnny" CedeÃ±o, and we can't have Todd Wellemeyer, we're packing up our marbles and going home. We're not taking Joe Borowksi and Mike Fontenot just because you will it so.
I think both the Cubs and Yankees are making a misevaluation of where the market is and where it's going to be. At this point a lot more teams are buyers than sellers, and a lot more teams than either are simply standing pat. You'd imagine extremely profitable Washington ought to be able to brook a payroll increase. Baltimore's fans should tar and feather Peter Angelos if he doesn't pop open the checkbook soon. Toronto is allegedly about to experience a cash infusion. Atlanta certainly has enough talent to spring for a rent-a-player here or there. It would be unlike White Sox GM Kenny Williams to let the deadline go by without making a move or two just for the sake of stealing the Cubs' headlines for a second. Right now you have to be figuring he's trying to think of a way to move Carl Everett so he can reacquire him at the deadline for the third consecutive year. It's also tradition that the Mets make at least one shortsighted, boneheaded move a year. David Wright for Russ Ortiz!
My point is, as uncomfortable as it is watching the Rockies team as presently constituted, he who laughs last laughs loudest. Preston Wilson is actually having himself a nice little bounceback year (13 homers, .807 OPS). OK, maybe he is .219/.267/.396 on the road. (Out-of-town GMs, you didn't hear that from me!) Still, in the perception of many still he is a difference-maker, and the market for legitimate power-hitting guys who can play anywhere in the outfield isn't crammed. There's no Carlos Beltran out there this season, that's for certain. Colorado doesn't have to trade anybody. If no one is willing to deal them more than the value of two high draft picks, they should sit the thing out. It's not like it's going to drive away (any more of) the fanbase.
Speaking of Carlos Beltran, has there been a bigger "superstar" free agent bust this year than he? Yes, there has, and his name is Adrian Beltre. The third baseman hit a long ball for the Mariners last night in Oakland, but he's slugging .380 and has only six homers all year. Just for fun, here's a short list of third base regulars who make less than Beltre's $11 million: Morgan Ensberg ($450k, 20 homers), Brandon Inge ($1.35m, .299/.384/.464), Joe Randa ($2.15m, 12 homers). In fact, among 20 batting-title qualified ML third basemen, Beltre ranks 16th in OPS. Even Vinny Castilla and the much-maligned Joe Crede are having better years. Eric Chavez took the first six weeks of the year essentially off and has easily passed Beltre since. No point to this really, other than to make fun of the Mariners. Ha ha, they used to be good, wouldn't spend the money to put themselves over the top, and now they're stuck in a division with the filthy rich Angels and teams that produce cheap pitchers (A's) and hitters (Rangers) like they were tap water. I will say that their TV commercials, which feature players as hosts in a Home Shopping Network parody, are very funny.
Rockies 6, Astros 5
Well, I was supposed to go to this game and see Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio tying Don Baylor's all-time HBP record, and Garrett Atkins' big fly. Instead, I got a migraine and saw these painful flashing lights. With my eyes closed. At least I recovered in time to see the last few innings of the A's winning again.
Astros 11, Rockies 5
I turned away from this one fairly soon, as it was obvious Jamey Wright had nothing and I wanted to watch the Padres-Dodgers game, which ended up being infinitely more interesting. Looking quickly at the box score, at looks like at least the top of the lineup had a good night, as Gonzalez, Atkins, and Helton all had two hits. Garrett Atkins is having a pretty good year, huh? His home/away splits are brutal though (1.087 home OPS vs. .548 on the road). Zany.
I was on the fence about going to the game tonight and then I realized: This could well be my last chance to see Roger Clemens pitch in person. Clemens may return for another year or even two in Houston, but there is no guarantee that he will start in Denver ever again. Seriously, if you can can make it to Coors tonight, do it. He's only the greatest pitcher of my lifetime, and in many people's opinions of all time. I don't really like him very much personally -- I'm a Curt Schilling guy -- but his portfolio is pretty undeniable. There's a debate over whether he should enter the Hall with a Red Sox or Yankees hat. I think they should just induct him twice, first the skinny, flighty Boston version and then the heavy, cranky New York version a few years later when he becomes eligible. It's up to the Veterans' Committee whether to let in the Blue Jay Clemens.
Update: According to ESPN Radio's Dan Patrick, Clemens can set a record tonight for the most consecutive scoreless road innings to begin a season. As if I needed further incentive!
The PM GM
Since I did write about the Astros just two series prior to this one, I thought I'd take a bit of a different tack and play ghost of Christmas future for a little while. The Astros are definitely sellers this year, although the nature of their frontline talent makes their strategy going forward a little unique. Seriously, can you imagine Craig Biggio finishing his career anywhere else? And what about that Clemens guy?
1B: Look, it's sad, but it's true. Jeff Bagwell's career is effectively over. It might be nice for him to try and make a comeback next year only so he and Biggio can enter the Hall of Fame together, but his days as a difference-maker are gone. Killer B's, we hardly knew ye. Lance Berkman has been playing first while recuperating from an injury of his own, but past that on the major league level it's thing one (Mike Lamb) and thing two (Jose Vizcaino). As you would expect for an organization that's had a franchise guy entrenched at the position since 1991, Houston has nothing coming down the pipeline at first. The only guy Baseball America has in their top 30 prospects is Todd Self, a lefthanded-hitting guy with a terrific batting eye and no power whatsoever. Nonetheless, Self will probably get to hold down the position for at least a year as the Astros look to upgrade here through trade or the draft.
2B: Biggio is back at his first adopted position this year (who else has a baseball card of him as a catcher?) as the bizarre center field experiment thankfully only lasted half a season. Not as bizarre as Tony Womack in the outfield, but still, with that messed up 430-foot hill, what were they thinking? His heir apparent, Chris Burke, is already in the majors. Burke is 25 and has a reputation for being a high-average guy with a great glove. Like a lot of the Astros' younger players, he'll be useful but not a star. They're going to have to get lucky or aggressive somewhere.
SS and 3B: Adam Everett had a good year last year and has been terrible in '05, Morgan Ensberg has been the opposite. Ensberg already has nearly twice as many homers as he did last year in half as many at-bats. Both of these guys are young and for the moment cheap, although Houston better hope the '03/'05 version of Ensberg is the real deal or else they're going to have no power on the infield whatsoever.
LF: Likely Berkman's for as long as he wants it. The Astros have a tradition of laying out the big bucks to keep hometown guys hometown, and after Biggio, Bagwell, and Clemens ride off into the sunset, Berkman will be the only high-profile connection left to the Astros' (very brief) Second Golden Age. Minute Maid Park should serve to boost his power numbers swinging righty.
CF: Is Willy Taveras the second coming of Vince Coleman or of Alex Sanchez? No one doubts Taveras's speed, but whether he can convert that single tool into a useful big league career is under scrutiny. Taveras also isn't a wonderful centerfielder for his speed. As an isolated roster spot Willy looks like he could be of some help, but the Astros have to be very nervous about having an entire team of table-setters and no big boppers.
RF: Maybe the most obvious spot for improvement besides the first base vacancy. Jason Lane is a corner outfielder with a centerfielder's bat, and despite bully predictions in the prospect guides, he hasn't really put it all together in the majors yet. If he can start turning some of his doubles into homers (hey, worked for Brian Roberts), he'll stick around. More likely this is where Houston will choose to pursue a veteran stick. If not, Mitch Einertson is probably their most interesting hitter in the low minors.
C: In hindsight, giving up John Buck in the Carlos Beltran trade might have been a fatal mistake. The Astros have nothing in the minors and so could settle for several more seasons of Brad Ausmus, named by Baseball Prospectus this year as "the worst regular in baseball."
SP: Roy Oswalt and a bunch of question marks. Andy Pettite is younger than you think (33) but given his injury history and winning pedigree, who knows if he wants to hang around with a bad Astros team after his contract is up next year. Roger Clemens would be obvious trade bait if he was anyone other than, you know, Roger Clemens. As it stands Houston could make a lot of money and gird their future position by continuing to fill the stands at Minute Maid for a year or two more of Rocket starts. The young guys, Brandon Backe and Wandy Rodriguez, are probably not the future. Backe has a better national reputation than his numbers merit, and should be traded while that still remains true. Rodriguez is just a guy. It gets better in the minors, where Houston has Ezequiel Astacio and lower down some guys like Troy Patton. If they could make a trade for a handful more starting prospects this year it couldn't hurt, but it's hard to say whom they have besides Clemens who would be of value to any contenders.
RP: Oh, right, Brad Lidge. Somebody might want him. Lidge is having another dominant year but he's 28 with a history of arm problems. Dan Wheeler could certainly step in the closer's role gracefully much as Lidge did for Octavio Dotel. Somehow Houston always seems to come up smelling roses when it comes to relief pitching prospects. Chad Qualls and Chad Harville are fairly young swing-and-miss guys as well. It's hard to predict who in the farm system might be of service since so many major league relievers start games in the minors. Mark McLemore and Chad Reineke are the current names to know. Yes, you probably already know the name Mark McLemore, but like Luis Gonzalez, this is a different one.
Another Week Begins
As interleague play wraps up and the All-Star Break draws into view, the baseball season is really starting to get interesting. The Red Sox are feeling real confident after a perfect road trip swung them into first place. The Cubs are jazzed with the return of Mark Prior and a victory in an intracity series commemorated with a celebrity-studded crosstown commuter flight. The A's finished off a sweep of the Giants by handing San Francisco their worst shutout loss ever. The Nationals are an amazing success on the field and at the ticket window; should they be looking to make additions? The Angels, despite their miserable offense, are seeing daylight between themselves and the sinking Rangers. The Yankees keep following every step forward with three steps back. Oh, and then there's the disrespected White Sox, owners of the best record and biggest division lead in baseball. Can they go all the way? They're from Chicago, for pete's sake! What's next, a Boston championship? Oh...yeah. (Many of these links require registration. Forgive me.)
In the baseball backwater of Denver, things move more slowly. The Rockies' sweep of the Royals, combined with the Devil Rays' poor showing against their neighbors to the southeast, gives Colorado only the third-worst record in baseball for the moment. Brian Fuentes may well be the Rockies' lone All-Star representative, as Troy Renck notes. Eddy Garabito will get an opportunity to play shortstop as Desi Relaford is apparently unable to play every day. I myself would give Luis Gonzalez a shot at short, what have the Rockies to lose, but what do I know.
The Rockies' bullpen is good all of a sudden, and this should illustrate a commonly overlooked principle: you can assemble a good relief staff on a shoestring budget. Ask Cleveland, Toronto, or Milwaukee. The trick is to try a little bit of everything, and to not be afraid to make plenty of changes as you go. If you can get a Miceli or Carvajal or Fuentes or Witasick for basically nothing, you can afford to jettison a complete disaster or two. Yes, I mean Matt Anderson. Someone please put this guy out of his misery.
We've got Houston coming in, and hopefully we'll treat them as badly in our house as they did us at theirs. The Astros' road record certainly supports it. I'll have to find some sort of new angle for the series preview, since I wrote about Houston so recently. We'll see how that goes. Might go to the game tonight. I don't often get the chance to show off my handsome Brad Lidge jersey now that I'm living out of NL Central country. Then again, I also would like to buy groceries this week. So I can, you know, eat.
Rockies 9, Royals 4
For fun (and also because I am quite sick of George Frazier) I watched the game today with the sound off and my iPod on shuffle. The results were interesting.
Top of the first: As Joe Kennedy took the mound, the Stoogesâ âYour Pretty Face is Going to [Heck]â comes on. That canât be a good omen, I think, and it isnât, as Joe first loads the bases then lets a grounder go right through him on its way to scoring two runs. Before Kennedy gets out of the inning, Bob Dylanâs âI Shall Be Releasedâ (the version from Biograph) plays in its entirety. This could mean one of two things, I ponder. Either the Rockies are going to score a bunch of runs and get Joe off the hook, or heâs not long for this game.
Bottom of the first: Jose Limaâs entry theme is âWelcome to the Terrordomeâ by Public Enemy, and the terror in question I believe is in relation to Limaâs frightening blonde dye job. Or the fact that Eddy Garabito is the Rockiesâ leadoff hitter today. Garrett Atkins doubles to the Dismemberment Planâs âOne Too Many Blows to the Head,â which may well be the explanation for Limaâs hair. Lima gets his glove knocked of by a Todd Helton liner just in time for the trombone solo. His facial expression after Helton reaches on the infield hit looks appropriate for trombone accompaniment. Preston Wilson knocks the Rockiesâ first run as âBrooklyn Zooâ by ODB kicks in. I donât know what this presages. Maybe a trade to New York? Anyway, Helton scores on a groundout as Olâ Dirty taunts Lima. I canât here repeat how, but it sure made me laugh.
Top of the second: Calexicoâs funky instrumental âAttack El Robot! Attack!â is on as we resume play, and strangely there are motorycles on the field. The promotional significance of this escapes me because I donât have the sound on. Next, as Lima singles with one out, we have âTemporarily Blindâ by Built to Spill. Now Iâm going to watch the ball-strike calls very closely. Nothing controversial occurs, though, as David DeJesus lines to Helton, who tags a sheepish Lima out for an easy double play.
Bottom of the second: âCome Around,â Sugar. But whatâs coming around? The Rockiesâ offense? Limaâs season? Clint Hurdleâs shocking midgame firing? Maybe itâs J.D. Closserâs bat; the onscreen statistics seem to bear it out. Or maybe not, he pops up. Joe Kennedy lays down a sacrifice bunt. Uh-oh, here we have âRefugee,â by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Not too difficult to apply that to the current situation. On cue, Garabito flies out to strand the runner.
Top of the third: No Frank White on Frazierâs list of the top five all-time Royals? Anyway, the soundtrack for this inning is Radioheadâs âWe [Blank] Young Blood,â which is what their respective leagues are doing to the pink-cheeked Royals and Rockies. Kennedy goes 1-2-3, how âbout that?
Bottom of the third: Yo La Tengoâs âDouble Dare,â as Shane Costa robs Atkins of a double. Lima goes 1-2-3 too.
Top of the fourth: Death Cab For Cutieâs âSurprisingly, Kennedy Continues to Cruise.â OK, I made that up, itâs âLittle Fury Bugs.â
Bottom of the fourth: Over the commercial we had âI Got a Woman,â by Ray Charles, which doesnât have anything to do with baseball but sure gets you moving in your seat. Next up: The Descendentsâ âMr. Bass.â OK, itâs a song about a fish, I got nothing there. The lack of synergy is really hurting the Rockiesâ offense, as Lima sets them down in order once again.
Top of the fifth: The Vines, âAutumn Shade.â Well, I assure you come autumn no one on the national scene is going to be paying attention to either of these teams. Perhaps Iâm stretching a bit. As Jurassic 5âs âI Am Somebodyâ livens the mood in my living room, Alberto Castillo livens up the game by singling. My sources however tell me that Castillo is not somebody. Ben Folds kicks into âYou To Thankâ and we have Lima to thank as he fails to get a bunt down and the Royals mount no further threat.
Bottom of the fifth: By this time Iâm wondering if I turn the shuffle off and start picking songs manually I can affect the teamsâ play. Maybe next game. Closser singles and Kennedy executes his second sacrifice of the afternoon. The Replacementsâ âBent Out of Shapeâ is the song and Lima certainly looks so on the replay from the last half-inning, after he struck out bunting. For the second time this game, Colorado gets an infield single off of Jose Limaâs glove as Atkins sends Closser home. A long Todd Helton at-bat takes almost the whole length of Joy Divisionâs âDisorder,â but it ends happily as Todd doubles down the rightfield line to score Atkins. Momentary disorder ensues in the visitorsâ dugout as the Royals start getting some relievers up. âReconnez Cherie,â Wreckless Eric, starts going as Preston Wilson steps in. Hmm, maybe a trade to Washington, formerly from that French-speaking Canadian province? Preston draws the unintentional intentional walk. Brad Hawpe walks, too, and Elvis Costelloâs âThatâs How You Got Killed Beforeâ comes on. I hope this means what I think it does. Itâs the end of the line for Lima, at least. It looks like Andy Sisco will be the Royalsâ next pitcher. Heâll enter to Led Zeppelinâs âThe Immigrant Song,â which seems appropriate enough for a Rule 5 guy. Sisco strikes out pinch-hitter Dustan Mohr, but the Rockies have gotten Joe Kennedy his lead.
Top of the sixth: âBe Mine,â by R.E.M. Iâm not sure if Iâm ready to ask Joe Kennedy to go steady quite yet, but he keeps this up, who knows. With two outs, Joe gives up a single to Mark Teahen, and I burst out laughing as a song by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, of which two of the three words in the title are inappropriate, bursts out and Kennedy notches his sixth strikeout. Ha ha, Royals ainât [blank] but [blank] and [blank].
Bottom of the sixth: Kid Millionâs âUnwanted Toy.â Kid Million were a mid-â90s band from my hometown of Chicago, and this song could apply to Sisco, who the Cubs didnât want. Desi Relaford draws a walk and steals second. Closser moves Relaford over with a flyout, andâ¦whatâs this, Kennedy is going to hit for himself. OK, Clint. But hey look, the Rockies perfectly execute the suicide squeeze, and itâs 5-2. Itâs Dylan again, âMaggieâs Farm,â and Iâm not sure what to make of that. The relationship between Hurdle and Dan OâDowd, perhaps: âHe gives you a nickel and he gives you a dime, and he asks you if youâre having a good time.â The Rockies are playing like a pocketful of shiny quarters today, as Garabito and Atkins follow the sacrifice play with back-to-back singles. A coachâs visit to the mound is underscored by 2Pacâs âKeep Ya Head Up,â which is kind of funny. Either the coachâs words or 2Pacâs must have done the trick, because Sisco pops out Helton to end the inning.
Top of the seventh: Alejandro Escovedoâs âThe Last to Knowâ includes a phrase that could be applied to Dan Miceli, now up in the Colorado bullpen: âmore miles than money.â Apparently I am the last to know that Joe Kennedy has been replaced by a strike-throwing lefty cyborg from the future. Seriously, this is the best heâs looked all year. His pitch count is under a hundred, too -- he could finish this thing.
Bottom of the seventh: âTho Dem Wrappas,â by noted Cardinal fan Nelly. Heâs obviously referring to Kennedyâs curveball, which has wrapped nicely to the fringes of the strike zone all day today. On TV some kids areâthoâ-ing things from the press box into the stands below. Leo NuÃ±ez -- the Leo NuÃ±ez â" is on the mound for Kansas City. âAngelâ by Belly is the next song to come up and amazingly, Dustan Mohr, originally drafted by the Angels in 1994, hits a homer. OK, he didnât sign, but still, thatâs pretty cool. Superchunkâs âBecoming a Speckâ follows, obviously regarding the Royalsâ chances of pulling out a victory in this one. Poor NuÃ±ez is getting brutalized out there as Desi Relaford smokes one to right for a triple.
Top of the eighth: The title track from Nick Drakeâs Bryter Layter plays over the commercials and the very beginning of the inning, as Jay Witasick takes the bump for the Rockies. Like any good Colo-blogger would, I will take this as proof of the Rockiesâ bright future. Next track is Elvis Costelloâs âGirls Talk,â for which I have nothing. If youâre a girl and were talking about the Rockies during the top of the eighth of todayâs game, please let me know. I must be hitting a cold streak, because as Witasick is walking Tony Graffanino, âThe Abandoned Hospital Shipâ by the Flaming Lips starts up. I donât have any idea what any of the Flaming Lipsâ songs are about, let alone what their tenuous connections to Colorado baseball may be. Maybe something about the disabled list somehow?
Bottom of the eighth: âAfter This Time is Gone,â by Eleventh Dream Day, which is just a flat-out great song. Letâs see -- after this game, I will probably watch another baseball game. I may have a bowl of cereal. And I will almost certainly go get another Diet Coke. Mike MacDougal enters to pitch for the Royals to another classic, Yo La Tengoâs âAs the Hour Grows Late.â Itâs the bottom of the eighth -- the hour could hardly be later. Ooh, and MacDougal pegs Eddy Garabito, right in the small of the back. That looked like it hurt. The Clashâs âThe Guns of Brixtonâ is the soundtrack for the Rockies piling it on, as Atkins doubles to score two. Heâs having a nice little game. I would have to say he and Kennedy have been the biggest beneficiaries of the iPod experiment thus far. Nirvanaâs âPennyroyal Tea" hmm, that one stumps me. Good song, though. Still nobody out as Helton walks and Wilson steps up again. Letâs see, whereâs he going to be traded this inning? Well, his song is The Orbâs âPomme Fritz,â so to England, I guess. Or to A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Center of the Ultraworld. Wilson walks and thereâs still nobody out. The Royals finally get a force at home on a Brad Hawpe ground ball. Ooh, and new reliever Jonah Bayliss plunks Desi to force in another run. Rockies 9, Royals 2.
Top of the ninth: I swear upon all that is holy that I am not making this up: Entering the triumphant final half-inning of this convincing sweep, the iPod coughed out Princeâs âPurple Rain.â Really. No, really. I havenât made anything up so far, so why would I now? I was hoping that that Orb song was BjÃ¶rk, because Preston Wilson being traded to Iceland is much funnier than England, and I really couldnât tell at first. But I stuck to the truth. And itâs all paid back in spades. Come to think of it, why donât they play âPurple Rainâ after every Rockies home win the way they do âDirty Waterâ in Boston or âNa Na, Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbyeâ on the South Side of Chicago? I guess all of those extended lighters would constitute some kind of fire hazard. Great, great song though. And a pretty nice win, too. Remember, the Royals swept the Yankees earlier this season. Anyway, David Cortes comes in to mop up for Colorado over the funkin' strains of OutKast's "Player's Ball." Bring on the Astros! Oh, wait, Matt Anderson is coming in with two out and nobody on. Well, I supposed it can't hurt for him to pitch to a batter or two in a low-leverage situation. To Superchunk's "Tiny Bombs," Matt Stairs hits a pinch-hit two-run homer. Terrence Long singles, and finally Anderson induces a lineout to end it. Well, that could have could have gone a little more smoothly. We'll take the W's any way they come.
Rockies 4, Royals 2
Jeff Francis pitched another excellent home game, the Rockies' offense coaxed out some runs in the most torturous possible fashion, and the Colorado bullpen turned in another effortless performance in dispatching the Royals. Runelvys Hernandez walked three straight in the second, two with the bases loaded, and Garrett Atkins added a sacrifice fly as the Rockies scored all the runs they would need early. An Atkins double in the eighth added Colorado's final run.
Francis allowed six hits and one walk leading to two earned runs in seven solid. Jay Witasick and Brian Fuentes pitched the eighth and ninth, setting down all six batters they faced. Sure, it's only the Royals, but it still warms the heart to see the Rockies pitch this well. Too bad about Jason Jennings, Joe Kennedy, and Jamey Wright.
Mike DeJean is coming back to Colorado, and it's by choice. As Tracy Ringolsby notes, DeJean is the third pitcher after Jay Witasick and Dan Miceli to be pursued and lost by the Rockies during the offseason, only to sign with them after being released elsewhere. Clint Hurdle is under fire (although not from upper management). In Hurdle's defense, his team is not good. It's not as if Lou Piniella, a terrific manager, has had much success making a silk purse out of the Devil Rays. Wait until Hurdle starts losing with good players, then fire him.
Rockies 12, Royals 4
I seem to recall several years ago the Cubs began a season with a home losing streak so profound that they eventually elected to try wearing their road grays at home. It didn't work, but it's a shame that the Rockies can't try a reverse ploy (road teams are never allowed to wear white), because as soon as they put on the white-and-purple-stripes, they're like an entirely different club. It's eerie.
Byung-Hyun Kim wasn't magnificent -- he allowed a lot of baserunners and threw a ton of pitches for 5 2/3 innings -- but he got the job done as Colorado scored early and often against D.J. Carrasco. Dustan Mohr got it going with a two-run homer in the second, and Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe added three hits apiece. It didn't affect the outcome, but Todd Helton looked great going opposite field for an RBI single in the seventh. Helton added two of the Rockies' eight walks as well. 13 hits and 8 walks is good.
Kansas City, on the other hand, despite the best efforts of the munificent Mr. Kim, only managed to draw two bases on balls. What's more, they garnered only one extra-base hit the whole way. That's not just bad, it's freaky. Jimmy Gobble, just returned from AAA, pitched pretty well for the Royals (4 strikeouts in 1 1/3) but was hung out to dry by Leo NuÃ±ez, who relieved him and promptly allowed all of his inherited runners to score. Colorado by contrast received encouraging work from Marcos Carvajal, Dan Miceli, and Bobby Seay who combined to allow only one run over the last 3 1/3. Seay struck out the side for a perfect ninth.
The "perfect night" I had going yesterday didn't quite turn out as planned, as the Angels and Mariners both ended up winning pretty big. Still, I watched parts of four games yesterday (Cubs-Sox, Mets-Yankees, Rockies-Royals, and A's-Giants), and my preferred team won in each case. I'm feeling lucky.
Of course, luck is often the residue of design. Just ask Liverpool, my favorite Premiership Football side. I wrote earlier in the year about the weird situation the Reds found themselves in regarding next season's Champions League tournament. See, Liverpool won this year -- beat AC Milan in Istanbul on penalty kicks, in a thriller -- but technically failed to qualify to return to defend their title by finishing fifth in the English league. (They were edged out by regional rivals Everton, which is sort of like the Mets ousting the Yankees, only Liverpool is not completely evil as far as I know.)
To avoid the embarrassing situation of having their defending champions out of the running before the games even start, UEFA have bent the rules and allowed Liverpool in. However, no first round bye is in effect. While AC Milan, Real Madrid, and fellow English teams Arsenal and Chelsea get to skip the three qualifying rounds, the Reds have been thrown in at the very bottom of the draw, in a bracket that includes clubs from Luxembourg, Azerbaijan, Malta, and the Faroe Islands. Yes, the Faroe Islands. I don't know where they are either.
Curiously, though, Liverpool will play Total Network Solutions (their real name), a club from Wales. I know European geography is not the strong suit of many Americans, but Wales is pretty close to England. A lot closer than Kazakhstan, anyhow. Qualifying rounds involve two-game home-and-home series, so rather than having to fly to Armenia or Belarus, Liverpool gets a two-hour bus ride to Llansantffraid (still not making these names up). It's funny how these things work themselves out.
The Once Over Twice
It's been a really good day for baseball. The Rockies are up big against Kansas City. The White Sox thrashed the Cubs. The Mets set a dubious record while beating the Yankees. The Orioles finally fell out of first place. Just as I was writing this, Bobby Kielty hit a homer to extend the A's lead on the Giants. It's just one of those rare days where all the teams I like seem to be winning and all the teams I hate seem to be taking it on the chin. If the Brewers and Padres hang on and the Dodgers break their tie against Anaheim, it'll be a miraculous clean sweep. How often do all the non-A's AL West teams, the Yankees, and the Cubs lose on the same day?
Since I'm feeling so chipper, how about an unscheduled trade winds update? I don't believe we've linked CBS SportsLine's trade rumor ticker before, so there that is. They list Preston Wilson and Joe Kennedy, as you'd expect, but dig this: "Wilson may be the best player available right now...the Rockies might have to eat some salary to make a deal, but not as much as originally expected." Well, that's nice to hear. Listed as Wilson possibilities: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Washington, Texas, and the Cubs. Listed as Kennedy destinations: Oakland, Texas, Los Angeles, San Francisco.
SI.com's trade block pictorial features Wilson (listing the Orioles as the frontrunning suitor), Kennedy (with scads of possibilities: the Yankees, Baltimore, the White Sox, Atlanta, Florida, the Mets), and one of the least flattering photos of Todd Helton you'll ever see, which is saying something. The Red Sox and Yankees are said to be the teams after Todd.
Who else, contemplating a matchup between the two worst teams Major League Baseball has to offer, thought immediately of the immortal words of Bubblegum Tate: "Nothing! There is nothing at stake and no threat...beyond the shame of defeat." The Royals rank 27th in OPS, 27th in ERA, and 29th in winning percentage. They're also tied for first in manager firings. Kansas City's roster is a lot like Colorado's: a lot of rookies, a lot of quadruple-A guys, a few veterans no one else wanted, and a great first baseman waiting to be traded.
Mike Sweeney of course is the first baseman, and like Todd Helton, he's the classy face of a terrible team. He's having a better year than Helton, though. He'll miss this series (registration required) with a torn ligament in his left wrist. Matt Stairs is having the best season among the veteran nomads of the Royals roster, and career minor leaguer Emil Brown is doing a decent impersonation of a major league regular in right field.
The Kansas City pitching staff is built on the Detroit model of calling up pitchers too soon, then jerking them randomly and rapidly between starting, relieving, and the minors. 21-year-old Zack Greinke is taking a beating in the majors this year for no particularly good reason. D.J. Carrasco and Runelvys Hernandez, who will start the first two games of this three-game weekend series at Coors, are two lesser products of the KC-Omaha connection. The always entertaining, though seldom effective, Jose Lima will take the mound in Sunday's game.
No fewer than 21 pitchers have put in at least an appearance for Kansas City this year, including luminaries like Steve Stemle, Jonah Bayliss, Leo NuÃ±ez, and Ambiorix Burgos. Andy Sisco, a gangly Rule 5 pickup from the Cubs' organization, is having a very good year out of the bullpen. Other than that, they've got nothing.
The Rockies are a different team at home than on the road; the Royals are just generally not very good. Granted, Byung-Hyun Kim and Joe Kennedy will start in this series, so no guarantees. Jeff Francis, who goes on Saturday, has an awfully good chance to get back on track. You know what everybody knows about the Royals -- you just can't let Emil Brown beat you.
Beset with trade possibilities on all sides, the Rockies are exercising restraint, which is admirable. Their scouts seem to be paying attention, too. They've asked the Cubs for Todd Wellemeyer, a potential starter whose good changeup could be useful at Coors. They're also asking for the Marlins to send back Guillermo Mota in a Brian Fuentes deal -- about that I'm not so sure. Mota might be one of those LaTroy Hawkins types who just doesn't have the head for closing. Dan O'Dowd seems to be of the opinion that no one save Preston Wilson has to go, which hopefully means that as we get closer to the deadline, and teams like Baltimore and the Cubs get more desperate, the Rockies wring some really good prospects out of their serviceable veterans.
Astros 6, Rockies 2
I don't really have anything to say about this one. I could make something up about having boycotted the game in protest of the Rockies' sublime ineptitude, but you guys are smarter than that. I was watching the "X-Files" marathon on Sci-Fi.
The Post this morning has a real depressing piece about Todd Helton's struggles. Dan O'Dowd: "I really don't know why it's happened." Troy Renck notes that there's no obvious flaw in Helton's swing or approach. Nonetheless, three of Helton's eight worst offensive months ever have come this year. He's hitting .149 against lefthanders. He's still not asking for a trade (registration required), though.
Todd Greene and Aaron Miles aren't quite ready yet, so Ryan Shealy will get a couple more major league swings.
The Marlins have interest in Brian Fuentes, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Shortstop Josh Wilson and righty Yorman Bazardo are what they're offering. The Rockies almost certainly don't want to deal Fuentes, but Florida might have interest in one of Colorado's starters, Jennings, Chacon, or Kennedy. Keeping that in mind, Wilson is an OBP-friendly guy with a bit of speed and not a lot of power. His future in the big leagues might be as a second baseman. Bazardo is young (20) for AA but his strikeout rates are teeny for a guy said to throw 98. I wouldn't sacrifice Fuentes for that combo but anything the Rockies could get for Jennings or Kennedy would be a positive.
It doesn't have anything to do with the Rockies or baseball, but it's Joss Whedon's birthday. Well, it matters to me.
Astros 6, Rockies 5
Clint Hurdle stupidly pressed his luck with Jamey Wright, and the Rockies went down in ignominious defeat once again. Wright got through six innings allowing four runs, and despite the bullpen being the Rockies' sole strength this year and recent acquisition Dan Miceli being eminently available, Hurdle left Wright out there even with two men on base to give up the inevitable, obligatory game-losing double to Lance Berkman. But at least Hurdle saved Jay Witasick and David Cortes for the next time the Rockies have a late-inning road lead, a month or so from now.
Brad Hawpe's homer, Todd Helton's triple, and Luis Gonzalez's 2-for-5 night were wasted as the Rockies were at least able to bunch together their baserunners for once. After Wright fell behind 4-0, Colorado came back with a four-run sixth marked by Jason Lane's case of brain lock. Helton knocked in Gonzalez in the seventh to give the Rockies a short-lived lead. Jamey bleepin' Wright!
Moving on, mercifully: Todd Greene and Aaron Miles should be back (see Footnotes at the bottom) before the end of next week. It will be interesting to see what this will mean for Danny Ardoin, who I will begrudgingly admit has played well, and Luis Gonzalez, who again has demonstrated something many of us closer Rockies observers already knew: he's better than Aaron Miles. My best guess is that the Rockies will temporarily send Ardoin down to give Greene the starting job so they can showcase him for a potential trade. Whatever they do, they won't jeopardize their fiendish plan to eat up a year of J.D. Closser's major league service time without actually giving him a significant number of at-bats against big league pitching.
In the infield, Eddy Garabito will certainly be sent back down to the minors while Miles will probably supplant Gonzalez on the depth chart. Maybe he'll even go back to hitting leadoff. Shudder. It's indicative of how poorly the Rockies' roster is constructed that Gonzalez, a useful middle infielder, may make the bulk of his starts the rest of the season at first base and the corner outfield spots. They obviously have a few better options (we just saw two of them, Ryan Shealy and Jorge Piedra), but they spent good money on Dustan Mohr and Desi Relaford and seem disinclined to release either or both of them if they can't be traded. Imagine if they'd elected not to spend free agent money on replacement-level players and instead taken a flier on a last-chancin' starter/middle reliever type (like Esteban Loaiza, who is cleaning up in my MLB 2K5 season). Yeah, they'd still be pretty bad. But perhaps Clint Hurdle wouldn't have to sacrifice winnable games on the altar of Jamey Wright's fragile psyche.
Reds Fire Miley
The Cincinnati Reds today canned manager Dave Miley, making them the second team this year not as bad as the Rockies to fire their skipper. The Reds were at least supposed to be within hailing distance of competitive this year, but instead they're 27-43, even farther back in their division (18 1/2 games) than Colorado are in theirs (16). This is entirely a product of the Cardinals being quite a bit better than the Padres, but nonetheless, neither team is in line for a sudden reversal of fortune.
Miley doesn't really deserve the blame for the Reds' failures. That would be GM Dan O'Brien, who added Ramon Ortiz and Eric Milton to a team that won 76 games last year and claimed that this made them contenders. Cincinnati has been headed backwards for a while, a trend masked by a rather lucky first half of 2004 (their Pythagorean record was 66-96). Their management tendencies in the past few years have been marked by some hideous contracts (Sean Casey, the out-for-the-season Paul Wilson, in hindsight Ken Griffey) and a peculiar inability to develop anything but corner outfielders (Adam Dunn, Ryan Freel, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo PeÃ±a).
As the Cincinnati Post's Lonnie Wheeler wrote earlier today in a prophetic column, it's the pitching that sealed Miley's fate. Milton has been astonishingly bad, running up a 7.82 ERA and allowing an unreal 25 homers. Ben Weber, brought in to shore up the bullpen, allowed 11 runs in 12 1/3 and promptly went on the disabled list. Brandon Claussen and Aaron Harang have been the only thing approaching major league starters the team has, as Ortiz has been crummy (6.51 ERA) and none of the group of Matt Belisle, Luke Hudson, and the musically named Elizardo Ramirez has distinguished themselves. And then there's the Danny Graves debacle....
All this adds up to is a badly-run franchise giving a good baseball man his walking papers as an excuse for their own incompetence. Jerry Narron takes the reigns from Miley. The former Rangers manager will have his work cut out for him keeping this sinking ship from beating the Rockies to 100 losses.
Please Just Trade Somebody Already
Preston Wilson to the Cubs (registration required) rumors persist, as Chicago came dangerously close to falling to .500 this week and their unloved crosstown siblings continue to win as if it's going out of style. Meanwhile (and although our interest in them died out with the Venison Incident), AL and NL All-Star Voting results show that most of the major oversights are on their way to being corrected. Do go vote for Paul Lo Duca and Mark Texeira if you get a chance, as Mike Piazza and Tino Martinez certainly don't deserve to start in their places.
We haven't taken a look at the NL West race for a while, seeing as we've been out of it since the first road trip of the season. The Padres beat the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks fell to the Giants as one of those periodic divisional round-robins began yesterday. As it stands today the Padres are in first at 39-31, while Arizona is 4 1/2 back, the Dodgers 5 1/2, and San Francisco an even 9. The Giants have already written off their season, and early overachievers Arizona, losers of five in a row, are working their way off the map as we speak. I expect it'll come down to the Southern California teams, and younger, healthier San Diego has the edge. Eric Gagne could be lost for the year to Los Angeles, who also have a finger injury to Milton Bradley with which to contend. The LA Times' Tim Brown writes about the confusing state of the trade market, mentioning that "for prospects, one could have just about any Colorado Rocky." That's not exactly true, Tim, and please: there is no correct singular form of "Rockies," like "White Sox" or "Heat."
Reluctantly, we return to the local beat. With the Devil Rays' victory in New York, the Rockies are now officially the worst road team in baseball, although thanks to the exchange of some young relievers for old, they are no longer the youngest...Joe Kennedy has an option left, meaning he could well be sent down to Colorado Springs after Shawn Chacon completes his rehab assignment there...Ryan Shealy will not return with the big league club to Denver, but he appreciated his brief stint in the Show. Also: The Rockies want Ronny Cedeno (misidentified by the News as "Johnny") from the Cubs in a potential Wilson trade, have signed Aquilino Lopez to a minor league deal, and may pursue Mike DeJean, released by the Mets.
Astros 7, Rockies 0
This one wasn't as close as the score, as they say. The Rockies' bats seemed to have missed the team plane as Andy Pettite sleepwalked through seven innings, allowing five hits, walking one, and striking out eight. Joe Kennedy gave up six earned, and Colorado didn't bother trying against John Franco in the eighth and Chad Qualls in the ninth. Pretty miserable, except for another two hits for the suddenly frisky Preston Wilson and doubles for Atkins and Relaford. Watching Matt Anderson pitch the eighth (two walks including one with the bases loaded, an infield hit, and a hit batsman) was like painful cranial surgery without anesthesia. Please, no more last chances for this bum.
The Astros got some charge out of their offensive stars of yore, as Craig Biggio, Adam Everett, and fresh-off-the-DL Lance Berkman had two hits each. All they really needed was Berkman's solo homer, as the Rockies didn't threaten against Pettite for even a minute.
But tomorrow: Wandy!
The Astros Minute
The Astros have a lot in common with the Rockies -- a miserable road record, a scuffling offense, a wacky home park. Their offense ranks dead last in the NL in OPS to Colorado's ninth. They're also 15th in homers, last in batting average, last in OBP, and last in runs scored. Their pitching hasn't been great either (9th in the league in ERA, although second in strikeouts per nine innings). They've played better after an ugly start, though, and the overall attitude in Houston seems more hopeful than it is here in Denver.
Essentially the team has been carried, such as it is, by the performance of three starters you may have heard of, Roger Clemens (1.53 ERA, 0.95 WHIP), Roy Oswalt (2.72, 1.09), and Andy Pettite (3.76, 1.21). They still rank only 8th in the NL in starters' ERA, however, because Brandon Backe and a whole bunch of stiffs haven't done much of a job in the fourth and fifth spots. The Rockies will see Pettite and Clemens Monday and Wednesday but draw Wandy Rodriguez (yes, his real name) for the Tuesday contest.
The loss of Jeff Bagwell, a stalwart in Houston since 1991, certainly hasn't helped the Astros' offense. Even Bagwell, who may be done for good with a degenerative shoulder condition, wouldn't have made this sad bunch much better. Third baseman Morgan Ensberg (16 homers, .271/.369/.538) is the only guy on the whole team putting up major league-starter numbers. Craig Biggio, with a career OBP of .373, is down to .322 on the season. Willy Taveras has some speed, but no pop, and he doesn't walk. Mike Lamb, Jason Lane, Adam Everett, and Chris Burke are all regulars with sub-.300 OBPs. In short, you can pitch to these guys.
The Astros' bullpen can be touched. They have an aggregate ERA of 4.47 and WHIP of 1.44. The top two guys, Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler, are strikeout machines, but Chad Qualls, Chad Harville, Russ Springer, and the 145-year-old John Franco are hittable. The Rockies have not been real impressive this season when it comes to getting into the fleshy part of opponents' bullpens; they probably won't against Clemens or Pettite. Wandy?
The Rockies will start Joe Kennedy, Jamey Wright, and Jason Jennings, in that order. You know the story on these guys. They'll get hit a lot, and if the stars align properly, maybe they'll go six innings and give the Rockies a chance to be in the ballgame. Against the Astros' anemic attack, the chances are a little better than usual. Kennedy in particular could really use a good outing, so that Colorado can hurry up and trade him. I know Joe had a good year for the Rockies last year, but the sudden plunge in ERA and spike in strikeout rate from last year seem more and more like big, hairy flukes with each 2005 Kennedy appearance.
Orioles 4, Rockies 2
Just another road loss marked by complete offensive ineptitude. Jeff Francis struck out eight in six innings but gave up a homer to Rafael Palmeiro that turned out to be the difference in the sixth. Preston Wilson homered for Colorado, but the Rockies managed a sum total of five hits off of Hayden Penn and nothing against the Baltimore bullpen. I really have no suggestions at this point, besides Get Better Players. And take some more pitches.
In the midst of the Brendan Donnelly imbroglio, former Rockies reliever Curtis Leskanic admits many pitchers, at least at altitude, were guilty of the same sin: "I think you should be fined if you don't use pine tar when you're pitching at Coors Field"...Shawn Chacon feels that three rehab starts in his comeback from a strained left hamstring are excessive...Tracy Ringolsby notes that a Jason Jennings trade may be a longshot, Brad Hawpe is a gamer, and the Rockies' poor attendance numbers are a matter of perspective.
Nothing exciting on the trade-rumor front today, unless you count idle speculation about Preston Wilson to the White Sox. Later: Astro-nomics.
I Couldn't Think of a Clever Punning Title
As penance for my not realizing he was even back with the big club until he had several at-bats under his belt, here's your Jorge Piedra Naming the No-Names report.
Jorge Moises Piedra is a rarity, an American high school player who went undrafted and yet made his way to the major leagues. Born 4/17/79 in California, Piedra signed with the Dodgers organization in 1997. After hitting well for average but not much power in single A, Piedra was traded to the Cubs for Ismael Valdez mid-2000. His career in the high minors has been somewhat erratic. He began to hit for power in AA West Tenn in 2001, but his on-base skills abandoned him. A poor start in 2002 saw him traded to the Rockies and demoted to High-A Salem, where he managed to consolidate his power (13 homers) and average (.301).
A third go-round in AA proved to be the charm, as Piedra connected for a career-high 18 home runs and put together a .275/.342/.513 line. The rarified air of Colorado Springs helped to continued improvement (.334/.372/.557) and a first audition with the parent club (3 homers, .297/.340/.484 in 91 ABs) in 2004.
Cory Sullivan beat Piedra out for a roster spot entering this season, although Jorge managed a pinch hit during a brief cameo in Denver after Dustan Mohr's April injury. A further setback came April 11th when Piedra was suspended for 10 days under the terms of the new performance-enhancing drug agreement. He accepted the suspension and responsbility for taking painkillers he claimed he was unaware would cause a positive test result.
His season has since proceeded without incident, as he's compiled a .312/.372/.527 line at Colorado Springs with 6 homers and 45 RBIs. The experts are divided on Piedra, as you would expect from his inconsistent minor league record. "I've seen him twice," writes John Sickels in The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, "and one time he looked like a future batting champion, and the other time he looked like he couldn't hit himself out of a wet paper bag." The 2005 Scouting Notebook expresses confidence in Piedra's offense (seeing him as a fourth outfielder or even the lefty half of a platoon) and defense (believing him to be able to play center in the majors, which the Rockies apparently don't). The tools hounds at the Baseball America Prospect Handbook haven't seen fit to rank him in their top 30 for the Rockies' organization three years running, although he doesn't fit the profile of the sort of players they like.
Piedra's biggest asset at this point is his age (26). He's probably not going to edge out Sullivan, Hawpe, or Holliday for a starting job, but his versatility afield and left-handed bat could make him an extremely useful bench player. He'll get plenty of opportunities to prove he belongs in the majors later this season after Preston Wilson (certainly) and Dustan Mohr (probably) are traded. At the moment, his existence in the system begs the question of why the Rockies are periodically playing Luis Gonzalez in the outfield. Who knows why this team does anything they do.
Orioles 7, Rockies 2
Well, it would have been another 2-1 victory had it not been for those eight consecutive baserunners who reached in the fourth. "He couldn't change speed or direction, and he didn't locate the ball that well," Clint Hurdle said of Byung-Hyun Kim. But what do you really think about him, Clint?
Eddy Garabito hit a two-run shot, the first of his career, Todd Helton had two doubles, and Luis Gonzalez and Ryan Shealy had two hits apiece. Marcos Carvajal was impressive in an extended bullpen appearance, allowing one run and striking out five in three and two-thirds. Rockies pitchers only walked two. Matt Anderson even pitched a scoreless inning, although the mercy rule may have been in effect at that point.
The Rockies managed nine hits but only two runs against Sidney Ponson, which is really not very good. He didn't walk anybody, which is just terrible. Hurdle was very slow to pull the trigger in the 4th when it became painfully clear that BK had batting-practice stuff, but the Rockies offense rolled over as it usually does on the road. Et tu, Preston Wilson? 0 for 3 with two strikeouts?
A friend of mine in the Bay Area instant messaged to say he had seen the SkySox playing the Sacramento River Cats in a rare AAA TV game, and he wondered how Colorado Springs could be so inept, striking out ten times against career minor-leauger Jimmy Serrano. Because their starting lineup is in Denver, I replied. Starting in Denver. The Rockies weren't going to be good this year anyway, but with injuries to Chacon, Greene, Barmes, Holliday, Tsao, and Miles it'll be a minor miracle if they avoid losing 110. Now if they'd stop fooling around with Garabito and Ardoin and Dustan Mohr and take their medicine like it's coming to them, I'd be much gratified. I'm giving them a mulligan on this year. If they're this ghastly against next season, heads are going to roll.
Hasty News Post, U.S. Open Edition
As a lifelong bad golfer, it's a real treat to watch all of these big shots completely airmail green after green.
Here's a surprising stat (third item): Slightly more than half of the Rockies' games have been decided by two runs or less, and their record is 7-11 in one-run games and 6-9 in two-run games. From this I suppose you could gather that they've been a little unlucky and could have come out on top a few more times in these close matches, but they'd still be 9-23 in games decided by three runs or more.
I'm not entirely sure, but I don't think "offensively flirtatious" means what Troy E. Renck thinks it does...Eddy Garabito never got his shot in his Baltimore...this notes column has a lot of interesting tidbits. Dan Miceli is in and Blaine Neal is out, not surprisingly. Aaron Cook is set to return after the All-Star break, it'll be interesting to see if the Rockies can go with a modified four-man rotation until then. Jay Payton for Dustan Mohr is under discussion, although Payton is raising quite a stink in Boston about not playing every day. There's no reason to assume he would do so in Denver, either. Tampa Bay's Alex Gonzalez and Pedro Astacio, late of the Rangers, are acquisition possibilities as well. As far as Gonzalez goes, the Rockies would do just as well sticking with Relaford, Garabito, and Luis Gonzalez at short, as Alex Gonzalez is a) more expensive and b) not better than any of those guys. As far as Astacio or any other pitcher with a modicum of big-league credibility goes, hey, step right up.
Rockies 2, Orioles 1
I don't put a of stock in a lot of baseball's superstitious mythologies, but one thing that I do think is true is that the ninth inning is just different. Not every pitcher has the makeup to take the mound in the final inning of a close game and take care of business. Tonight was the biggest test of the season for Brian Fuentes. After "Jason" Jennings and Jay Witasick combined to dominate the Baltimore hitters through eight, Fuentes came out to hold down a 2-0 lead in the most difficult conditions imaginable. 50,000 Baltimore fans were screaming for his head. The Rockies' road woes, and his blown save in Cleveland earlier in the week, must have weighed heavily upon his shoulders. He risked permanent eye damage from the blinding ugliness of the Orioles' black-and-orange alternate jerseys. And somehow, the happiest surprise of the Rockies' pitching staff this season came through.
Fuentes overcame a leadoff triple, a walk, and a close play at the plate on a Brian Roberts sac fly that didn't go the Rockies' way to strike out B.J. Surhoff and pop out Melvin Mora to seal down the win. Cory Sullivan pitched in with a great diving stop of Roberts' fly ball and the throw that very nearly caught Eli Marrero at the plate. For once Jennings actually deserved to get a win (7 innings, 6 hits, five walks, seven strikeouts, including three of Scammin' Sammy Sosa). Witasick continued his unconscious work, striking out one in a perfect eighth.
Todd Helton had his first homer in what seems like two or three seasons, while Eddy Garabito and Jorge Piedra combined for six of Colorado's eight hits. Impressive, especially since I hadn't even noticed Piedra was on the big league roster. Daniel Cabrera pitched well for the O's in taking the tough loss as no one besides Mora had a multihit game for Baltimore.
The Rockies can't expect to win too many 2-1 games, at home or on the road; the offense is going to have pick itself up if we don't want to be left in the dust by the streaking Royals. For one night though, this is one to savor, and hopefully a game that will breed more winning ways on the road. That's another goofy baseball truism I kind of believe -- winning is contagious.
The Orioles are on the brink of oblivion. I have been saying this for two months, to anyone who will listen. "They're a mirage! There's three better teams in that division! This can't possibly last!" My conviction in this has only grown as the Orioles have tenaciously clung to first place. I'm beginning to take their success personally, actually. It's like they're just doing it to spite me.
There's a lot of reasons not to like the O's. There's their owner's selfish attitude towards the Nationals, for one thing, which may end up damaging the long-term health of a franchise all MLB needs to thrive. There's surly, out-of-shape "ace" Sir Sidney Ponson. There's Miguel Tejada, who's a great player and a wonderful guy but as a longtime A's supporter about whom I can't help but feel deeply bitter. Then there's Sammy Sosa, recently public enemy #1 in Chicago, now just another grotesquely overpaid faded star. If it wasn't for little-engine-that-could Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora's quints, this team would have no sympathetic angles at all.
The Orioles' offense must be considered for real. They lead the majors in OPS, slugging, batting average, and total bases. Roberts' home run pace (12 for his career before '05, 11 so far this year) has slowed but he's still leading the AL in average. Roberts is .361/.439/.613 this season compared to career numbers of .264/.328/.360. He's 27, which is a good age for peaks, but this is ridiculous. Far less surprising are MVP-like numbers of Tejada, who's .326/.373/.640 with 18 homers. He's not just the best shortstop in the American League, he might be the best player. Baltimore's third big threat is Mora, who'd be a lot of teams' best at .307/.364/.529. Find me a better second-third-short combo anywhere else in the majors and I'll buy you a shiny new donkey.
The Orioles have some mortal guys, too. Javy Lopez wasn't having a great year (7 homers, .316 OBP) and he's hurt besides. Sammy Sosa is a shell of his former self (.262/.335/.454, 8 homers). Rafael Palmeiro is fading a bit too (.257 BA, 8 homers). The complementary hitters in their lineup, guys like Jay Gibbons, B.J. Surhoff, Larry Bigbie, and David Newhan, all share OBPs around .310 or worse. The return of centerfielder Luis Matos, out since mid-May with a broken finger, should help in that area. Except for Roberts and Palmeiro, the Orioles don't walk very much. They're 20th in the majors in that category. Rockies pitchers would do well to avoid cluttering the bases with guys for Tejada, Roberts, and Mora to pound in.
The Orioles rank 7th overall in the AL in ERA, sixth in starting and eighth in relieving. They've been getting by with average pitching thanks to the dominance of their offense, clearly. It's not likely they'll be able to keep throwing as well as they have been. Their best starter, Erik Bedard, is out with a strained ligament in his left knee. Bruce Chen (3.31 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) is having as fluky a year as Roberts. Rodrigo Lopez and rookie sub Hayden Penn have been mediocre, Ponson and Daniel Cabrera have been somewhat less than that. Closer B.J. Ryan has been lights-out (1.93, 1.04, 17 saves), but the bullpen takes something of a dip in quality after that. John Parrish has quite a line: 17 1/3 innings pitched, 19 hits, 17 walks, 25 strikeouts, 7 of 15 inherited runners scored, a 2.08 WHIP, and a 3.12 ERA. Jorge Julio, named a possibility for the Rockies in trade, has been less wild and the O's second-best pen guy at 3.24, 1.05, 0-for-7 with inherited runners. Also, his middle name is "Dandys," no fooling. The rest of the pen names you need to know are recent acquisition and former starter James Baldwin, who's been wondrous, Todd Williams, who's been OK, and Steves Reed and Kline, who've been crummy.
It'll be Jason Jennings and Daniel Cabrera, a real clash of the titans, tonight, followed by BK and Sir Sidney on Saturday and youngsters Hayden Penn and Jeff Francis for the Sunday day game. The Orioles are really due for a right thrashing, why not us?
Indians 2, Rockies 1
Here We Go
Well, I don't know about you, but last night's crushing defeat kind of soured me on dreams of fourth place. It's '62 Mets or bust now. That means it's time to take stock of who's leaving town and where they're going.
Before you do anything else, you should bookmark the other excellent Rockies blogs that are out there: Purple, RDR, Rox Head, DBO, Up In, Tap, and Diamond. (If I forgot anybody, I'm really sorry, e-mail me or comment and I will remedy the oversight.) It's quite remarkable that such a lousy baseball team has such a rabid Internet following; I think it speaks to both the untapped potential for wildly successful baseball in Denver and the unsolved mystery that is "winning at altitude." I'm going to go ahead and steal links like it's going out of style now, because there are a lot of rumors going around and I'd rather be thorough than original.
I'm sure I missed a few, please let me know if you've spotted any good rumors. We strive for excellence here at the Venison Lodge, formerly the Good, the Bad, and the Barmes.
Indians 7, Rockies 6 (11 innings)
Another road game, another "learning experience." The Rockies get out to a five-run lead and the bats go silent. The Indians crawl back into it off of a no-worse-than-usual Joe Kennedy. As soon as Brian Fuentes starts getting some positive attention, boom, here comes the game-tying, save-blowing ninth inning home run. Then Aaron Boone of all people touches Blaine Neal for the game-winner. This team is just hexed on the road, and by hexed I mean they have a bunch of players who aren't very good.
Garrett Atkins continues to be red hot (3 for 6, 2 runs batted in), and Ryan Shealy made his presence felt with a single, a double, and two RBIs of his own. Eddy Garabito was 2 for 4 hitting leadoff and Desi Relaford had two hits as well. It doesn't mean much now, but Jay Witasick was great for two high-pressure innings, striking out four. No fewer than six relief pitchers shut the Rockies' offense down after C.C. Sabathia failed to make it out of the fourth.
I "watched" most of this game on ESPN GameCast while hanging out at a Boulder coffee joint, so my pain was somewhat lessened. A text popup simply doesn't have the impact of a good radio call or the sight of an outfielder craning their neck at a long gone one. Who else is really ready for trade season to begin in earnest so we'll have some new things to write about besides bad starting pitching and ghastly road trips?
It's interesting that I chose this week to begin a discussion of stadiums around the league, because this has been a big week for new park news. There will apparently be not one but two new fields in New York City before decade's close, as the Mets have a deal in the works (registration required) for a new park in Queens and the Yankees will announce detailed plans for a new Yankee Stadium right next to the old one tomorrow. Meanwhile the long, strange trip towards a new ballpark in Oakland seems to be making some tentative progress. Interestingly, all three of these new ventures are to be privately funded, with city governments pitching in for help with transportation and area improvements. Bud Selig must be miserable now that there are no obvious cities left into which teams can be relocated.
And as long as we're on the subject, you can see how the new stadium in St. Louis is shaping up over here. The news is less good for the other team passing the hat around for a new playground, as the Marlins and Miami-Dade are still at an impasse when it comes to the $45 million remaining to be accounted for in the budget for a gleaming new Fish Tank adjacent to the Orange Bowl. I don't know where the Marlins think they are going to gain any leverage from; they can't stay at Dolphins Stadium and Vegas is a pipe dream. They should ask the Diamondbacks for some cash, since they seem to have that money press stashed in the bowels of the BOB. It couldn't be a worse investment than Russ Ortiz. Or, like I've suggested before, they could just ask Shaq.
Indians 11, Rockies 2
One of the most boring games of the season so far. Jeff Francis didn't have it, the Rockies didn't seem particularly interested in bailing him out, and for Matt Anderson I have but three words: designated for assignment. Ryan Shealy was 0 for 3 with a walk in his major league debut. Atkins, Helton, Hawpe, and Closser had two hits apiece, but the rest of the Rockies' lineup had one total, and that's not going to get it done.
The Indians offense must have been happy to see Colorado, as everyone in the lineup got at least one knock. Travis Hafner hit about a five hundred-footer off of Anderson in garbage time. Even Aaron Boone got in on the fun. Jake Westbrook wasn't dominant but the Rockies couldn't string anything together against him past a pair of RBI singles from Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe in the 3rd.
During the innings I managed to keep awake for I found some more links for y'all: here's SI.com's John Rolfe on the Barmes quagmire, and for those of you high rollers with ESPN Insider, Rob Neyer on horrible road teams and Gary Gillette on future All-Stars, including Jeff Francis: "unless he gets hit by lightning, a true All-Star in the making."
If you'd told me before this season began that the Indians would rank second in the majors in bullpen ERA, I would have responded that that would give them a pretty good shot at a division title, or at least a long run at one. Add to that the fact that Cleveland is receiving excellent work from three starters (C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Kevin Millwood), and I would have pretty much guaranteed postseason play for this team.
However, two things could not have been foreseen: the dominance (at least recordwise) of the Chicago White Sox and the mysterious disappearance of the Indians' offense. In 2004 Cleveland ranked fifth in the majors in OPS, fourth in OBP, and fifth in runs scored. This year those numbers are 26th, 29th, and 29th. There's no fathoming what brought about this change. The Tribe are fielding basically the same offense as they ran out last year, and injuries haven't been a big problem. There shouldn't be any reason for good hitters like Ben Broussard (.261/.312/.463), Victor Martinez (.207/.271/.338), and Casey Blake (.195/.278/.355) to be this awful, but awful they have been. The Indians' two big additions have been hurt (Juan Gonzalez) and worse than hurt (Aaron Boone, .181/.235/.314). If it wasn't for Travis Hafner, who started slow but has picked it up (.849 OPS, although only seven homers) and the surprising play of Coco Crisp (seven homers and an .821 OPS), you'd think the Jacobs Field batting cages had been invaded by body snatchers.
The Rockies will face Jake Westbook, who has an ugly record and ERA but some decent peripherals, in the first game. C.C. Sabathia, the team's young ace and a fun guy to watch pitch, takes the ball in game two. Jason Davis, bumped up to the rotation while Millwood recovers from a strained groin, will go in Thursday's contest. Colorado counters with Jeff Francis, Joe Kennedy, and Jamey Wright in that order.
I'd like to finish with some sort of coherent analysis of the Indians' bullpen, but one eludes me. As odd as it is that the Cleveland offense has vanished, the stellar performance of their relief pitchers is bizarre on an entirely different level. How can Arthur Rhodes, who singlehandedly cost Oakland a playoff berth last year, have a 1.07 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP? How could David Riske have walked only six guys in thirty innings? Who is Matt Miller? Says here he played for the Rockies (4 games in 2003) but since when does a right-handed sidearmer hold lefties to a .158 BAA? A bunch of random guys like Bobby Howry, Bob Wickman, and Rafael Betancourt are all having good years. In fact, the only guy in the Indians' pen who isn't having a good year is Davis, who's now starting. This does not make sense. I think I'm going to go have a little lie down now.
The MLBlogs homepage is encouraging us to write about our favorite ballparks, so I thought I might jot down a few thoughts about the parks which I've visited. First, though, it's not every day that the New York Times (registration required) runs a feature on the Rockies, so that's worth a link. It's nothing you haven't heard before (ballpark wacky, pitchers sad), but it has that classy Times sheen. On to the ballparks, rated off the top of my head from best to worst:
I've also visited four parks that aren't in service any more -- Old Comiskey, Candlestick Park, whatever they called the old park in Milwaukee, and Tiger Stadium. None of them was particularly memorable, except for Candlestick's extreme cold and the proximity to the players offered at Comiskey the First. You could yell stuff at the guys in the on-deck circle and know they were hearing you, which the south side fans took full advantage of, I assure you. This year I hope to make it to Kansas City and Minneapolis for games.
There's no one perfect place to go to a baseball game. if you could combine Wrigley's atmosphere with Coors' amenities, Fenway's history, the BOB's air conditioning, St. Louis's fans, and Oaklands'...Oaklandness, you might have it, but why would you want to? The frustrations of going to the ballpark, whether it's the mosh pit bathroom lines on the North Side of Chicago or having to go down a whole level because the upper deck is out of dollar dogs in Oakland-Alameda, only add to the whole experience. And people costumed as sausages running a footrace would be truly bizarre anywhere other than Milwaukee.
Rockies Road Trip: Now With DH
Before you do anything else, hit the Disaster Report for their response to my response to some stuff they wrote earlier. Also my fact-checker went over my piece from yesterday and wanted to add that the Rockies don't technically lose draft picks by not offering a departing free agent arbitration, but rather sacrifice the opportunity to gain some. He also suggested I clarify the concept of "service time," so quickly: first, second, and third year players are bargains. Fourth, fifth, and sixth year players' salaries ramp up rather rapidly. Anything after that, if they're any good, is going to cost you.
The Post trails behind me as usual, this time in profiling Brian Fuentes: "I know I am the closer and I am starting to think of myself that way." Dan O'Dowd also confirms that Colorado has no plans to trade the lefty. The next guy up on the shuttle from Colorado Springs is Ryan Shealy, first baseman and temp DH. In the same piece, trade winds are continuing to blow for Preston Wilson and Joe Kennedy and beginning to whirl for Dustan Mohr (really?) and Todd Greene. If Greene goes, one hopes it will be sooner rather than later, as his return from the DL will probably mean AAA for J.D. Closser.
Buster Olney in an ESPN chat (subscription required) writes that "right now, the best starters available are the Colorado pitchers." No fooling! He mentions that Philadelphia might be a good landing place for sinkerballer Jason Jennings and there's a lot of interest in Joe Kennedy because he's left-handed and "tough-minded." Speaking of starters, Byung-Hyun Kim is one for good now, however that ends up working out...Aarons Cook and Miles (third item) will each get a step closer to returning to the big leagues this week...let's hear it from an old favorite of mine from his days in Chicago, current Dodger Hee Seop Choi, who hit six homers in a three-game series against the Twins this weekend.
How to Get Better
It's amazing how many different ideas there have been over the years about How to Fix the Rockies. It seems the Dan O'Dowd regime has had a different theory every year. It occurred to me, reading some of my old posts today, that I have made a lot of claims without necessarily supplying the reasoning behind them. I don't want to be Chuck LaMar, so I thought I might spend some time rambling about my personal philosophy of baseball and what it has to do with Gen R.
First of all, there's a larger concept I throw around a lot that has specific application to my opinions about Preston Wilson. The words to remember are peak performance. Generally, major league hitters peak around age 28. Pitchers are a little funnier, due to the common occurrence of injuries that cost them a year early in their careers, they can be at their best any time between 28 and 31. Of course, every now and then there are guys like Jamie Moyer or Barry Bonds that just completely blow this theory apart, think of them as the exceptions that prove the rules.
Most of the time, due to arbitration and the savvy nature of player agents, after a guy peaks, teams end up paying for that peak for the rest of their productive years. Salary structure most often ends up with the biggest payouts towards the end of the deal. Wilson is making $12 million in the last year of a 5-year, $45 million deal he signed with Florida after the 2000 season, when he was 25. Florida and Colorado got a pretty good player for the first three years of that contract. In 2003, of course, he hit 36 home runs for the Rockies.
The problem is Wilson is now 30. He doesn't play every day, his defense in center isn't adequate, and he doesn't steal bases. He leads the team in strikeouts despite playing eleven fewer games than the next closest guy. On the road, he's hitting .219/.288/.406. Eight of his eleven homers have come at Coors. Wilson and his agent are going to be negotiating for a new contract for the 2001-03 player, and whoever is foolish enough to sign him is going to get Ron Gant (thanks, similarity scores). If Wilson can't be traded, he will almost certainly sign somewhere else (although the chance of him accepting arbitration is dangerous enough that the Rockies might have to lose some draft picks by not offering it).
Even if Wilson has, let's say, two more good, healthy years (a long shot), the Rockies aren't going to be playoff contenders for three years even if everything breaks their way. Either they sign him to a two- or three-year deal and pay him a lot of money to "contribute" to further last place finishes, or they sign him longer and have an albatross when the team finally is ready to compete and could use some loose money to get the last few missing pieces of a division winner. Just say no to Preston Wilson, kids.
If players in their early 30's are getting paid for what they've done, players in their early 20's are getting paid for what they might do, and that's a lot more affordable. The biggest problem Clint Hurdle is having with the concept of a youth movement is a problem with sample size. Take J.D. Closser. The Rockies have benched Closser in favor of first Todd Greene and then Danny Ardoin because Closser is "lost at the plate." He's hitting .196 in 107 at-bats. 107 at-bats is nothing. If he had six more hits, he'd be hitting .252. Closser hasn't lost himself, as his 19 walks (amazingly, second on the club) indicate. He's just had a run of bad luck. He doesn't need to be send back to the minors, where he's already demonstrated he can hit AAA pitching (.297/.350/.478 last year at the Springs). He needs to play every day, or close to it, and if he's still hitting .196 in September, well, I owe you a cookie. Greene and Ardoin are both on the wrong side of thirty, and have shown clearly what their roles are -- one's a career backup, and one's a career minor leaguer. Closser is 25, and catchers generally peak slightly later than other position players. Benching him now for the sake of winning one or two more games this season is profoundly pointless.
The Rockies are horrible this year. We knew they were going to be horrible before the season started. They have a right to some patience, given O'Dowd's admission and prostration in the face of past sins. But if they're going to play Desi Relaford and Dustan Mohr and Wilson and Danny Ardoin every day, they're genuinely wasting our time. None of those guys are going to be on a winning Rockies team. Closser, Garrett Atkins, Cory Sullivan, Brad Hawpe, Matt Holliday, and Luis Gonzalez might be, so they're the guys that we've got to play.
It's not imperative that the young guys the Rockies play be products of their farm system in particular. It's just important that the young guys be, well, young. Brain Fuentes, who came up in the Mariners' system, is a good example. The Rockies got him cheap, let him play, and he's blossomed into a useful player who's still inexpensive and under thirty. Colorado unfortunately doesn't have a lot of good young players from outside the system, because in order to get other teams' best ready-for-the-majors prospects, you have to send veteran value in return. The Rockies haven't had any veteran values for a long stretch. This year, Wilson, Greene, Relaford, Jay Witasick, or even one of the floundering starters could reverse that trend.
Finally, another thing I hear a lot that annoys me is that pitching and defense win ballgames. Actually, it's a zero-sum game. Visiting team's pitching and defense equals home team's hitting. Therefore, defense equals hitting minus pitching, and (assuming pitching's value is nonzero) hitting is greater than defense. Does that make sense to everyone? It's nice to have guys like Andruw Jones and Torii Hunter who can get to seemingly anything hit their way, or a catcher like Mike Matheny who gobbles up balls in the dirt and controls the running game, but if they can't hit, they shouldn't play. The A's had a lot of success in recent memory by running out a beer league-softball defense behind a rotation that struck guys out like it was going out of style. I'd much sooner see the Rockies sweat over getting pitchers who strike hitters out than good-field, no-hit infielders or tiny little flychasing outfielders. And as for catchers who can throw guys out -- c'mon, it's 2005. Nobody steals bases anymore, except for Scott Podsednik, and he plays in the other league.
Trying to flip-flop the lineup, or call up quadruple-A guys, or overextending a veteran pen guy for the sake of a few wins now is silly. It's rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. This team is going down and it's going down hard. The thing to do is take our medicine, as the '03 Tigers did, figure out who we have who can play (Barmes, Atkins, at least a few of the young outfielders), and what we have to look elsewhere for (pitching, second base, pitching, pitching, pitching).
That's why anybody over 30 on the Rockies' roster is fair game for trade, with the limited exception of Todd Helton. Helton will decline as all older players do, but the decline from Hall of Famer to mere All-Star is much more tolerable than that of decent regular to whining, strikeout-amassing bench player. If anyone wants to send us the next David Wright or Scott Kazmir or Francisco Rodriguez, though, we'd have to think about it.
Rockies 7, Tigers 3
Well, the Rockies won another series at home, with Byung-Hyun Kim striking out a career-high eight in six innings and Preston Wilson cracking two home runs. Colorado did not have a tremendous amount of difficulty with Nate Robertson, managing eight hits and six runs off the Detroit starter. Eddy Garabito, Luis Gonzalez, and Danny Ardoin had multi-hit games. Gonzalez got his first start of the year at shortstop. Ardoin is apparently the starter at catcher now, which seems a little pointless. Is J.D. Closser's evaluation to be put on hold because the last-place Rockies desperately need to control opponents' running games?
In yesterday's Post Mike Klis ran a bizarre column which implied that it was somehow Major League Baseball's responsibility that the Rockies are floundering: "Shouldn't the industry take measures to ensure that arguably the world's best sports market doesn't slip through baseball's fingers?" This isn't Kansas City, Mike. No one is going to Rockies games because the team is awful, and the recent run of bad weather hasn't helped. The team isn't bad because of altitude, or a lack of revenue sharing, or ill-conceived alternate uniform designs. They're bad because management is bad. You didn't see MLB awarding the Mets bonus draft picks a few years ago because Steve Phillips was incompetent and Shea Stadium a tough place to hit. And New York City is a decent sports market. So are Chicago and Los Angeles, which like New York are at the moment each supporting two competitive baseball teams. Honestly, where do they come up with this stuff?
Todd Helton's position hasn't changed, but more and more voices in the media are prepared to see him go. What do I think? Well, the Rockies have three categories of bad contracts. They have guys who aren't even playing for them any more (many of them), guys who are but are not of much practical use (Preston Wilson, the entire non-Francis rotation), and Helton, who is egregiously overpaid but still a decent player. The Rockies aren't in a situation (as they are with Wilson) where virtually any Helton trade makes them better. They would have to weigh the benefits versus costs of any trade involving their franchise player. Trouble is, at the moment Helton is standing behind his complete no-trade clause. Were he to ask out of it, it would be the equivalent of demanding a trade. Either way, they're hardly negotiating from a position of strength. Under these circumstances there's very little chance of getting a beneficial deal done. Colorado ought to announce that no offers for Helton will be considered and ask Todd not to publicly agitate for a trade. This would send a message to interested trade suitors: don't bother unless you're really going to blow us away. With several divisions wide open, this isn't a far-fetched scenario.
Woody Paige works himself into a frenzy over the Clint Barmes venison "controversy." I just don't get what the big deal is here. So he said they were groceries. Isn't a bag of wrapped meats pretty much groceries? Denver sportswiters must be really grasping for things to write about. Who will take Barmes' All-Star spot? Who cares? What about the Arena Bowl, huh?
As if on cue, here's a profile of Dustan Mohr. "I wouldn't have come here if I didn't want to be here," Mohr sniffles. But why on earth did we want him? Mohr is demonstrably not better than any of the numerous hungry young outfielders the Rockies have on their 40-man, and he's also not good enough to be worth anything in trade. He hardly makes any money, but what exactly is Colorado gaining from his presence? Veteran leadership? So far his most notable move was hurting himself celebrating somebody else's homer. It's one thing to sign Desi Relaford, a useful player if used properly (which the Rockies are not doing, but that's a discussion for another day). It's another to spend perfectly good money on a guy who does nothing that four or five cheaper guys can't do better. Free-agent signings don't have to be for excessive years or dollars to do tangible harm to a bad team's development.
One of those cheaper guys is Brad Hawpe, who has been a pitcher and a first baseman but now is turning out to be a pretty useful right fielder. The second item at that same link notes that the Rockies are seeing the effects of letting Coors Field's grass grow a little shaggy. Elsewhere, Chris Nelson's feelings are not hurt that Colorado took another shortstop with their first-round draft pick. Another guy with a high ceiling in the low minors, Franklin Morales, is profiled by Jack Etkin.
Day off today. Next stop, Cleveland.
Tigers 6, Rockies 4
I barely watched any of this game, as Fox Rocky Mountain fuzzed out for some reason shortly after the regularly scheduled rain delay, and by the time it came back on I was engrossed in the Phillies-Brewers game over on Extra Innings. Rickie Weeks is just settling into his role as everyday second baseman after Junior Spivey's departure. His double-play partner, J.J. Hardy, hit his first major league home run. Also, the Brewers TV announcers were having a good game. In addition to their analysis of Weeks' Gary Sheffield-like pre-swing bat waggle, they divulged something I found fascinating. Apparently in the Milwaukee clubhouse they keep a chart of all the umpires for each series, their interests, and the names of their spouses and children. What a great idea! Does every major league team do this, or is Milwaukee gaining a small-talk advantage? Sucking up to umps could be the new Moneyball!
But you have to dance with who brung ya, and this is (sadly) still a Rockies site. So, as quickly as possible: Preston Wilson was 3 for 4, Garrett Atkins 2 for 4 (he's pushing .300), and the Rockies had nine hits overall, which is better than they've been doing recently but still not very good for a home game. They had no extra-base hits. That's really not good for a home game. Jason Jennings took another loss but he wasn't that bad, giving up four earned in six innings. Detroit's starter, Jeremy Bonderman, had a very similar line (eight hits to Jennings' nine, two strikeouts to Jennings' three, each gave up four earned, pitched six, and walked two) but got the win.
Further bright spots? Well, it may stop as soon as he moves up any higher in the lineup than the eighth spot, but J.D. Closser continues to draw walks with pleasing frequency. David Cortes struck out two in his one inning of work. Desi Relaford committed a costly error, so maybe someone will wise up and bench him or trade him soon. (Not that Luis Gonzalez playing out of position would be a huge upgrade defensively, but who understands the reasoning behind anything Clint Hurdle does?) Oh, and personal fave Kyle Farnsworth struck out the side in the eighth for the Tigers. I knew all he needed was to be traded to a city where all-nighters downtown aren't sexy fun, but borderline suicidal.
Rockies 2, Tigers 0
Your best guess is as good as mine. Coming off an ugly sweep at the hands of the White Sox, with the combustible Jamey Wright on the mound and a lineup featuring such last men standing as Garabito, Mohr, Relaford, and Ardoin, the Rockies effortlessly shut out the Tigers in a game that went by so quick viewers at home probably were unaware of the one-hour rain delay. OK, so the offense consisted entirely of Garrett Atkins (3 for 4 with a two-run homer). With Barmes and Holliday out and Francis fading, maybe now Atkins is the face of "Gen R." "The Good, the Bad, and the Atkins" doesn't have the same punch though. It's the lack of alliteration.
Jamey Wright looked like he was pitching anywhere but Coors Field, giving up six hits and walking one as only back-to-back Detroit singles in the eighth and the Rockies' lack of run support prevented him from going for the complete game shutout. Jay Witasick and Brian Fuentes were ruthlessly efficient out of the bullpen, striking out three, and there's your ballgame. If I was a negative sort of person I could note that the Colorado 1-2 batters went 0 for 8 and the lineup all in all was littered with easy outs for the Tigers' mediocre starter Mike Maroth, but that's just not me. Good luck to them today as Jason Jennings faces off against Jeremy Bonderman.
Detroit: Slightly Better Team, Much Uglier Downtown
A friend and I went on a road trip from Chicago to Detroit last year to see two games between the Tigers and the Orioles. Comerica Park is a nice place to see a baseball game. The gigantic stone tiger statues are a little much, but at least the outfield doesn't have any arbitrary indentations and there's no retractable roof. Comerica is surrounded by about two blocks of nice-looking shops and theaters, after which the urban blight starts in full force. Less than a mile away in mid-blight is the old Tiger Stadium, which hasn't been knocked down for the simple reason that nobody wants the land it's on. It looks very forlorn for a piece of architecture.
The Tigers are in sort of a bind as a team. They were so awful two years ago that they felt they owed it to their fans to add a few signs of life. Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen are good players, but a more patient GM might have waited until the farm system was better before pulling the trigger on expensive veterans. This year things got a little silly, as the Tigers misread their modest success last year as indication they were ready to contend for a title, and gave Magglio OrdoÃ±ez and Troy Percival big wads of cash. On cue, both got hurt, and Detroit has received 10 at-bats and 14 1/3 innings pitched so far for their investments.
The Tigers have an $89 million payroll and are three games under .500. Their neighbors in Milwaukee are paying a lot less to be the same. Detroit aren't as good as the White Sox or Minnesota, and probably aren't as good as Cleveland, and they're shelling out more money than any of those teams. Granted, this is the last year of the ghastly Bobby Higginson contract (he'll make $11.85 million this year) but the Tigers owe a lot of money going forward to OrdoÃ±ez and I-Rod, two guys past their primes, one of whom is a 33-year-old catcher. Past Jeremy Bonderman, who's going to start games for a theoretical Tigers playoff team?
The Tigers' starters' ERA is a decent 4.31, but that's somewhat illusory given that Comerica is a pretty good pitchers' park and the two guys with the best ERA numbers, Jason Johnson and Nate Robertson, have K/9 ratios of 4.33 and 4.18 respectively. That means they're getting lucky on balls in play, and it's foolish to believe that that will continue. Bonderman, 3.90 with a much nicer 7.48, is the ace of this staff. Mike "Kingman" Maroth is plugging along with a 4.73 ERA, and fifth starter Wilfredo Ledezma has been hittable (1.71 WHIP, 7.07 ERA). The Rockies will get Maroth, Bonderman, and Robertson in this three-game weekend series. Jamey Wright, Jason Jennings, and Byung-Hyun Kim will oppose them.
The Tigers' bullpen has been pretty good, led by the unheralded Chris Spurling, Jamie Walker, and Franklyn German. Cubs discard Kyle Farnsworth has 33 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings. Percial has been pretty decent since his return to the DL, with a sub-1.00 WHIP. Offensively the guys to watch out for are former utilityman Brandon Inge, who's hitting .302/.383/.464 as the everyday third baseman, Guillen, and DH Dmitri Young (11 homers).
The Rockies should be able to get on base against the Tigers' starters and hopefully win two of three in this series. That's not too much to ask, right?
Seriously, What Have We Done to Deserve This?
Matt Holliday will miss four to six weeks with a broken pinkie on his right hand. "The last swing I took brought tears to my eyes," Holliday said. Matt joins Clint Barmes, Shawn Chacon, and Todd Greene as the fourth Colorado player to be placed on the disabled list this week. Cruelly, the four are all among the few Rockies playing really well this season. What next, honestly? Is Jeff Francis going to need Tommy John surgery? Forget I said that.
The positive thing about the Holliday injury is that Cory Sullivan, whose defense alone makes him a player worth giving an extended look, will get an extended look. Someone else will have to come up from the Springs, as Preston Wilson can't play every day for $12 million and Dustan Mohr just isn't very good. Sadly, it'll be Choo Freeman, who has already demonstrated his inability to tell the difference between major league balls and strikes.
Tracy Ringolsby has an interesting column up attempting to debunk Moneyball by claiming its research poor, then makes a completely unsubstantiated statement about high school players vs. college picks: "The bottom line is there are no certainties in the draft and anyone who tried to draw absolutes about evaluations is naive." This is a profoundly stupid statement. Did any of these Billy Beane haters read the book? The whole point of Moneyball was that there are no absolutes, only percentages, and the smart teams play the percentages.
Bill James' research of many years ago demonstrated that college players have a much greater chance of proceeding to successful major league careers, for two reasons. First, college stats can be somewhat indicative of future pro performance, in contrast to high school stats, which are practically if not quite entirely useless. Second, and more importantly, college players simply have fewer years between the draft and the big callup to hurt themselves seriously. Still, as Ringolsby points out, the question remains as to why the A's used six of their first nine picks on high school kids this year. Your guess is as good as mine, Tracy. But maybe not as good at ESPN's Rob Neyer, who wrote in a chat on Tuesday (subscription required): "When everybody else zigs, Billy Beane zags. It's the sort of thing he'd do just to mess with our heads. And I think it's working."
After covering the Joe Kennedy rumors yesterday, the Post today claims that Shawn Chacon and Jason Jennings are available as well. Hey, if anyone wants Kennedy or Jennings, that's fine with me. If we can just point a ferula-gemina (warning: geeky reference) at Jennings, or run him through a malfunctioning transporter, split him into his component Jeremy and Jason parts and trade just Jason, so much the better. But I'm not sure about Chacon. He did have a ghastly 2004, but he's pitched really well so far this year when healthy. He's not terribly old (27), and he seems to take perverse enjoyment in the challenge of pitching at Coors Field. Also, I don't think we'd get much for him.
This is kind of interesting (last item): the Rockies' recent stretch of 23 consecutive scheduled games actually broke the collectively bargained rules of the MLB. Twenty games in a row is supposed to be the limit. Colorado's players voted to let it slide figuring an off-day at home later on in the season was of greater value. In this site's humble opinion, it makes absolutely no difference...Matt Anderson: cautionary tale...the Rockies are seven of nine all-time against Detroit.
Overcoming Rockies-Related Ennui
Authoritatively, Clint Barmes' injury was not the result of drunken ATV carousing but rather deer meat. I don't know which is worse, unless you're with the ASPCA crowd. Is it more important that Clint wasn't in violation of the spirit of his contract, or unable to execute as simple an activity as the climbing of stairs? Apparently the Colorado team physicians have inserted nine screws and a titanium pate into Barmes to expedite the healing process. Good luck with air travel, Clint!
As reported elsewhere the A's are taking a look at Joe Kennedy. I looked around in the Bay Area papers for confirmation of this from the Oakland end, but I didn't see anything. I'll keep looking. Also, if this is the only Rockies blog you read (and why is that with so many good ones?) you may not yet have seen that Peter Gammons talked about Kennedy-to-the-A's, Jason Jennings-to-the-Red Sox, and Preston Wilson-to-the-Nationals in his column last week (fourth subheading, third item). Nothing new, really, but he's on TV so it makes it, you know, substantial.
The Orioles traded for Kansas City's Eli Marrero, who I believe was mentioned as an option for the Rockies at one point or another...Ozzie Guillen fuels Preston Wilson-to-the-White Sox rumors...Clint Hurdle is committed to remaining with the Rockies, for the moment...Troy Tulowitzki is a quick sign, which is good news...more about Tulowitzki from the San Jose Mercury News (registration required) in his home region...the Twins are bitter (registration required) about the White Sox getting to play the Rockies, who aren't on their interleague schedule...Joe Kennedy will get some time off as the Rockies skip his next scheduled start.
The Rockies finally have a day off before resuming interleague play against the Tigers on Friday. Good timing, as the first game of the NBA Finals is tonight. Not that my opinion is in any way expert, but I like Detroit in 6.
White Sox 15, Rockies 5
Everyone knows that in baseball you can ride high one week and be laid low the very next. The Yankees are running their entire season on the principle. But the retribution rained down upon the Rockies after sweeping one lousy series, at home, over a pretty crummy Reds team, seems completely out of proportion. First Barmes goes down, a cruel blow. The Clint Hurdle's daughter returns to the hospital. Jay Witasick and Matt Holliday get owies on their fingies. Then finally the White Sox breeze into town and obliterate Colorado by an aggregate 26-9. What have we done to deserve this?
Well, besides fielding a truly awful baseball club. Let's face facts. The Rockies had to take a bitter pill sooner or later after years of bad signings and neglect of the farm system, but the 2005 product regardless of its causes is bereft of offensive pop, missing a single dominant starting pitcher, and has a bullpen that past some decent one-inning, every-other-day guys (Fuentes, Cortes, Witasick, sporadically Marcos Carvajal) is a house of horrors. Not that it makes a difference, but I have serious questions about their manager's game-handling as well. (Why not double-switch in the seventh so David Cortes could potentially go more than one inning? He only threw six pitches in a 1-2-3 inning, and then Matt Anderson came in, game over.)
I attended this game in person, and it would have been four hours of misery if I wasn't a Chicago guy and a White Sox fan. Orlando Hernandez and Jeff Francis were both ineffective early but settled down, and a decent 5-4 game was going on in the middle innings. The Rockies' defense looked sharp early as Cory Sullivan leaped to take extra bases away from Tadahito Iguchi in the second and Danny Ardoin threw out Pablo Ozuna stealing in the first and second.
Then the Rockies' bullpen took over and all **** broke loose. Matt Anderson had a remarkable 0-inning, 4-hit, 5-run appearance in which the Rockies couldn't even make outs the White Sox were giving away, as Garrett Atkins fumbled a sacrifice attempt by Chris Widger. After Carvajal relieved him, allowed all his inherited runners to score, and sent in one of his own for good measure, Bobby Seay came on for a brutal 9th in which Joe Crede and Frank Thomas went back-to-back off the bench and four runs total crossed. J.D. Closser hit a pinch-hit upper-deck homer that brushed the right-field foul pole (sailing, actually, not 20 feet from where I was sitting) to reward Colorado fans who stayed until the bitter end, but it didn't make it any more than one run less bitter.
Francis took his first career loss at Coors Field with 12-hit, 2-walk, 5-run outing that certainly wasn't terrific but at least kept his team in the game. I'm always impressed when a Coors starter gets tagged early (three in the first) and manages to hang on for six innings. It shows something. I don't know what exactly, but I am grasping at straws here in case you couldn't tell. The Rockies only managed eight hits, two by Sullivan and two by Eddy Garabito. Todd Helton walked and was stranded three times; that clanking noise you hear coming from the Colorado dugout is Helton's batting-helmeted head being banged against the wall. Todd, demand a trade, it hurts to see you like this.
I normally don't focus too much on the opposing team's offensive numbers in my recaps (wouldn't that be depressing?), but it is too impressive not to note that among Chicago's 22 hits were four guys with 3-hit nights (Ozuna, Aaron Rowand, Carl Everett, and Jermaine Dye). Only six of the twenty-two were extra-base hits as the Sox nickel-and-dimed the Rockies to death. Carvajal and Anderson combined to allow six singles in the eighth alone. And that's all there is to say about that, really.
Brian Fuentes isn't a first-year player, but having spent nearly his whole career as a Colorado Rockie, he still maintains a certain anonymity. Given his recent performance (a 2.57 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched on the year), this shouldn't continue. Fuentes' unique motion makes him an effective pitcher even in the rarified air of Coors Field, and he's done an exemplary job filling in as closer after the injury to Chin-Hui Tsao (five saves in six opportunities). Fuentes will be a first-year arbitration player after this year, and is definitely a guy the Rockies want to hang on to as they look towards assembling a contender for 2007 or 2008.
Brian Fuentes was born August 9th, 1978 in Merced, California. He went to high school and junior college in the town of his birth and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 25th round in 1995. He spent six undistinguished years in the Seattle farm system, getting a cup of coffee with the big club in 2001 after being abruptly shifted to a relief role when he reached AAA. After that season he was traded to Colorado with Jose Paniagua and Denny Stark for Jeff Cirillo (who had a disastrous year at Safeco in '02). Fuentes finally made a big league roster in 2003, when he had his best year as a professional for the Rockies, posting a 2.75 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 75 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out 82.
2004 was a step backwards, as his ERA ballooned to 5.64 and he spent two months on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his back. While Fuentes was effective against lefties and righties alike in '03 (and has been again so far this year, with righties hitting .200 against him and lefties only .176), his platoon split in '04 was dramatic (258 points of OPS, as the 2005 Prospectus notes).
The key to Fuentes' effectiveness is a deceptive sidearm motion with a lot of moving parts. Fuentes **** his arm with his elbow bent at a right angle, freezes it, and begins rotating his body with his arm still held in place. At the last minute he flips his arm out and tosses the ball like a discus thrower. Fuentes hides the ball extremely well. I would not want to be left-handed hitter facing him for the first time. He also throws in the low 90s, which is amazing considering the apparent inefficiency of his motion. The 2005 Scouting Notebook indicates a weakness holding runners on with the peculiarities of his motion, but at the game last night Fuentes demonstrated a decent move to first, where his upper body mimics the beginning of his delivery to the plate while his feet stay still. All in all, things could be much worse -- he is still a lefthander.
If the '03 Brian Fuentes and the one we have seen so far this year are the genuine article and 2004 was an injury-fueled outlier, he's a guy we need to secure for a few years. We have the whole season to determine the truth. I'm not implying that Colorado should load up on guys with gimmick deliveries, but Fuentes has shown both a knack for pitching effectively at Coors and the killer instinct it takes to close. He could combine with Marcos Carvajal and a healthy Chin-Hui Tsao to be the anchor of a very good bullpen a few years down the line.
A Helicopter Ride for a Back Wax
When I got home from the game I watched the "**** Eye for the Straight Guy" episode featuring several Red Sox players. I had never watched the show before (although I had seen the "South Park" episode lampooning it), and I found it fairly entertaining, although a little obvious at points. The pink jersey with the shiny Red Sox logo was overdoing it just a bit.
What struck me about the program is how game Tim Wakefield, Doug Mirabelli, Jason Varitek, Kevin Millar, and (especially) Johnny Damon were to poke fun at the macho image of the male athlete. They didn't necessarily love dipping their feet in rose petals, matching stripes with stripes, and receiving manicures and pedicures, but they seemed at ease with the flamboyant "Fab Five" and handled jokes about balls, big muscles, and butt-slapping in a good-natured manner. It was a tad weird watching the Five prance around amidst Little League charity cases, but all in all it was good clean fun with a none-too-subtle subtext.
Despite the smiles all around on "**** Eye," baseball and pro sports in general still have a long way to go when it comes to their attitude towards homosexuality. A thoughtful article by the San Francisco Chronicle's Gwen Knapp addresses the subject at length. While Damon is eager to help any player brave enough to come out as ****, many others are not as sanguine. "If I had thought about it some more, I'm not sure I would have done it," Mirabelli says. No active baseball, basketball or football player in the professional ranks has ever revealed that he is ****, Knapp writes. That's amazing.
In much the same way that Jackie Robinson's entry into major league ball presaged the larger accomplishments of the civil rights movement several years later, baseball needs to lead, not follow when it comes to this issue. Even if the NFL has the bigger TV ratings, baseball is inextricably linked with this country in a unique way, and often has pointed the way to a better America. Gays and lesbians have a right to be treated as equals at schools and in the workplace. It shouldn't be any different on the baseball diamond. Trivial as "**** Eye" may be, I hope that the debate raised by this episode doesn't die out until the **** players in the major leagues now (you know there are some) feel safe in coming out.
This goes out to fans too. Hey, if you paid for a ticket, you can heckle. Jeff Kent knows I like to get on a guy's back every now and then myself. But keep it clean, and don't question a player's sexuality. It's none of your business, and it doesn't make any difference in how they play the game besides. Except maybe they have cleaner nails. Jay Witasick (very last item) should take note.
White Sox 2, Rockies 1
I went to Coors Field and a baseball game broke out! It's amazing how different people experience baseball games in person. I literally couldn't take my eyes off the field as Jose Contreras, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Neal Cotts mesmerized batters; the people sitting behind me kept loudly complaining about how it was the most boring thing they'd ever seen. Bunch of mouth-breathers. I bet they voted for Nomar Garciaparra on their All-Star ballots.
The performances of Kim and Contreras today, and Freddy Garcia Monday, illustrates something I've been maintaining since first I took an interest in Colorado baseball: superlative pitching is dominant at any altitude. Contreras consistently worked ahead in the count and forced hitters to go after his pitches. Todd Helton in particular looked miserable; Helton is in one of those slumps right now where if he goes up to the plate trying to be patient, he'll take two cookies, and if he goes up swinging, he'll ground the first pitch to the second baseman. He may rethink his position about being traded soon enough.
Desi Relaford, settling in as apparently Clint Barmes' long-term replacement at shortstop and leadoff man, had a good day with two singles and a terrific diving stop of an Aaron Rowand grounder in the first. Luis Gonzalez went 0 for 4 but did help Kim out with back-to-back defensive gems in the top of the third, skying for a Scott Podsednik liner and then sliding for a Willie Harris ball on the ground. Garrett Atkins' double off the top of the wall in right center drove in the only run allowed by the White Sox' dominant pitching staff.
Boy, are the White Sox' arms ever good. Neal Cotts was unhittable, striking out four of the six men he faced in a perfect two innings. Dustin Hermanson made quick work of Brad Hawpe, Matt Holliday, and Atkins in the ninth for the save. Contreras by comparison was merely good, striking out six and walking two. It's a huge asset for Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen (and something the Rockies should be thinking about) that he only needs starters to go six innings and guys like Cotts, Hermanson, and Damaso Marte are good for multiple shutout innings in relief.
Byung-Hyun Kim had his best outing of the season, striking out seven, but a Paul Konerko double followed by a Jermaine Dye base hit and an A.J. Pierzynski single in the fourth sealed his fate. A rogue's gallery of Rockies pen-men combined for three innings of no-run, two-hit ball. Jay Witasick oddly left in the ninth so that lefty Brian Fuentes could face righthanded-hitting Dye. One hopes that Witasick isn't injured. The Rockies' trainer was out on the mound with acting manager Jamie Quirk when Jay left the game.
Hey, go check out Rockies Disaster Report, a new blog. Isn't it amazing how active the Colorado fan blogging community is considering how terrible the team has been? I don't see this many people covering the Twins or the Padres, despite those teams actually being good. There must be some sort of inborn bloody-mindedness that comes along with wearing the purple.
White Sox 9, Rockies 3
I didn't catch much of this game but it doesn't appear as if I missed much. I heard Joe Kennedy give up a homer to Paul Konerko in the first and I had a pretty good idea of how the rest of the game would unfold. Freddy Garcia in eight innings illustrated a truism about Coors Field pitching: if you don't walk anybody, and you strike a bunch (10) guys out, you'll probably get pretty good results. Actually, that's true at most ballparks.
Besides Brad Hawpe's three-run homer in the bottom of the first, there were no offensive highlights for the Rockies, so that saves me some time. Colorado did not manage another baserunner against Garcia and only Desi Relaford's walk off of Shingo Takatsu in the ninth prevented the White Sox pitchers from posting eight perfect innings. Kennedy meanwhile was awful, giving up eleven hits, walking four, and getting touched for eight earned. I believe that now every starting pitcher the Rockies have except for Jeff Francis is one start away from being yanked, except where is Colorado going to get four new starting pitchers?
Meanwhile, things off the field are just not getting any brighter. Clint Hurdle's daughter is back in the hospital. The brothers Monfort don't want to sell the team, but want greater control instead. Dan O'Dowd doubts that Clint Barmes will be back in uniform this year. This season is rapidly transitioning from "trying" to "grotesque."
Well, the draft is underway as we speak. So far the Rockies have taken Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki #7, Winthrop outfielder Daniel Carte #52, and a brace of extremely young righthanders (Chaz Roe #32, Zachary Simons #55, and Kyle Hancock #87). Luke Hochevar's contract demands proved too rich for Colorado's blood and the pitcher went to the Dodgers at #40.
The draft is fun to watch, it moves much faster than the NBA or NFL drafts even if you have never heard of any of the guys getting picked. This is probably a product of baseball not allowing trades of draft picks. As far as the Rockies go, I would certainly like to see them add some pitching talent that is closer to the big leagues in the later rounds. At some point their development system has to link up with the positives they're running out there now.
You can read some more about the top picks in the draft at MLB.com...Purple Row knows way more about this stuff than I...the Post correctly predicted Tulowitzki as first pick...Baseball America has capsule descriptions of the top 200 prospects.
Chi Sox vs. Sky Sox
It is with somewhat reduced enthusiasm that I undertake my writeup for the upcoming interleague series with the Chicago American League club, proud holders of the best record in baseball at 37-19. I'm a Chicago native, and I'm happy to see the White Sox doing well. Better they than the Cubs, anyway. If you see a rail-thin guy wearing a Shingo Takatsu jersey in the right-field bleachers at Coors Tuesday or Wednesday night, that's probably me.
The Rockies are without Shawn Chacon, Clint Barmes, Todd Greene, and possibly Matt Holliday, and that's bad news as the White Sox will start Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras, and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, three-fifths of a rotation that ranks first in the American League in ERA. The combination of a great rotation, a solid bullpen, and good defense are putting the White Sox over this year, as they're only 9th in the AL in OPS. Chicago is overperforming slightly (their record in one-run games is a sterling 18-7), but the longer we go into the season the less chance there is that their success is a complete fluke. With the Minnesota Twins playing pretty well themselves, there's a better than even chance that the American league wild card will come out of the Central Division for the first time ever this year.
One Chicago batter the Rockies won't have to concern themselves with much is Frank Thomas. The two-time MVP, just off the disabled list, isn't able to play first base right now (some wags might say he never was), so he'll just be a pinch-hitting threat in this three-game series. That leaves slugging first baseman Paul Konerko (14 homers), Japanese "rookie" second baseman Tadahito Iguchi (.301/.350/.454), and speedy left fielder Scott Podsednik (.367 OBP, 30 steals) as the focii of the White Sox offense. Offseason acquisition Jermaine Dye has been heating up as of late too (1.070 OPS in the last week).
The White Sox' specialty is getting out to a lead early and hanging on to it. A very solid bullpen led by closer Dustin Hermanson (1.08 ERA), righty Cliff Politte (1.69), lefty Damaso Marte (2.42), and lefty Neal Cotts (2.79 ERA) has been helped by the starters' ability to go deep into games (their 504 2/3 innings pitched ranks first in the AL and fifth in the majors). Last year's closer, the junkballing Takatsu, is having a tough year (6.91 ERA, 1.95 WHIP) but crafty manager Ozzie Guillen will be unafraid to use him against National League hitters who haven't seen his gravity-defying 60 MPH changeup before.
The White Sox' commitment to smallball has been somewhat overstated (they're still fifth in the majors in homers), so Coors Field is unlikely to have a deleterious effect on the way they manufacture runs. Joe Kennedy and Byung-Hyun Kim are unlikely to give them much of a chance in the first two games, so it's up to Jeff Francis, the new official rookie face of the franchise, to keep the Rockies from getting swept on Wednesday night. They better show me something or I'm throwing in the towel and blogging the Padres.
Rockies 8, Reds 6
Well, it's difficult to be overly excited about the Rockies' first sweep of the season given today's news, but the recaps must go on. Jason Jennings wasn't Jeremy-like, but he did hang in long enough to get a well-deserved no decision. Brian Fuentes gets the first star (that's a hockey reference, for those of you who remember hockey) for his multi-inning "tough" save. Todd Helton had a nice game (3 for 5), and Todd Greene kept up his campaign to scuttle J.D. Closser's development with a 3 for 4 evening. Greene and Clint Barmes homered. Now both are hurt! And by the way, I see just now that Clint will be out for the whole year! We're having fun now!
As for Greene, he tripped scoring a run in the seventh and left the game with a strained hamstring. He'll be out 15 days, thank you very much. Clearly Barmes' bizarre triple-that-wasn't in the fifth (called a foul ball and do-over after Clint was thrown out between home and third) was some kind of hideous omen. Also Matt Holliday has a jammed right pinky. MAKE IT STOP!
Nominations for New Site Name Accepted Starting Now
Clint Barmes' disappointing showing in the All-Star voting is the least of our worries now, as the rookie shortstop will miss three months after breaking his collarbone in a grocery-related fall down the stairs at home. When will major league baseball players learn to stop messing with groceries? How many careers must brown paper Safeway bags claim before the madness ends?
Well, here are the upsides as I see them: Luis Gonzalez is going to get to play every day, which hopefully will convince management that he belongs as the everyday second baseman after Barmes' return over Aaron Miles. Jeff Francis's stiffest competition for National League Rookie of the Year honors is now out of the way. Jay Witasick could make the All-Star Game as the lone Rockies representative, raising his trade value. And Colorado has an excellent shot at the 1962 Mets' futility mark, meaning a #1 overall pick in the draft next year and quite possibly more attention for this weblog.
Still, what a terrible thing to happen to a team just beginning to creep towards the outskirts of dignity. Remarkable luck has to occur for a team to win scads of games, like the '98 Yankees or the '01 Mariners. Likewise, terrible unplanned things have to happen in order for a team to be truly awful. Things like Byung-Hyun Kim spot starts, for example.
Rockies 7, Reds 5
Three in a row for the first time on the year, and how about Jamey Wright? The game began with the news that Shawn Chacon was going on the DL. Threats of Wright's demotion to the bullpen have been in the air since his last start. Where, you have to ask yourself, were the Rockies planning on acquiring two major league starters? No, BK doesn't count. For five innings yesterday, Wright made it look like he belonged.
After a brutal first where four Reds scored and two of the outs came on the basepaths, Wright awakened, keeping Cincinnati off the board and not walking a soul. He did give up six more hits (eleven total), but we are talking about Jamey Wright here. What's important is after looking like he was going to roll over and die in the first inning, Wright managed to keep the Rockies in the game until the inevitable Coors Field Rec League Softball inning, where Todd Helton and J.D. Closser came through big in giving the Rockies the lead.
Aaron Harang, who looked like the anti-Wright for five solid, inexplicably melted down in the sixth. Clint Barmes singled twice in the inning, once off Harang to lead it off and again off reliever Todd Coffey. The late innings belonged to the Rockies' no-name bullpen, with Jay Witasick's solo homer to Rich Aurilia (bet he wishes he could play at Coors more often) the only damage done. Brian Fuentes, hiding the ball terrifically, struck out two on his way to a perfect ninth and his fourth save.
Closser's double was the highlight, but let it not be forgotten he also pegged Felipe Lopez stealing in the first. Desi Relaford was 2 for 4 with a double. Other than Barmes, no one else on the Rockies had a multihit game as the offense was mostly limited to the sensational 6th. Matt Holliday's double and Luis Gonzalez's sacrifice fly provided a much-needed insurance run in the 8th. In short Colorado is playing as well as they have all year, and they're going to need to keep it going with the White Sox heading into Denver this week. Let's go for four in a row against Brandon Claussen today.
Beaten By the Field
Off the Rockies beat for a second, because it's amusing: Octavio Dotel, erstwhile A's closer, is electing to have dramatic, career-threatening elbow surgery against the opinions of four medical professionals. "It's my elbow," Dotel is apparently saying. "Either you cut it open or I will."
Make sure you put those Todd Helton bobblehead toothbrush holders in the dishwasher before use lest you catch flu-like symptoms. Clint Hurdle on TGTBATB fave Cory Sullivan: "He definitely can play center field. He probably could hit enough to carry his part of the load if you've got some other big bats in the lineup. The Juan Pierres of this day and age are pretty special." Wait, what's so special about Juan Pierre? According to this same article Coors Field had its first in-game tornado warning yesterday, a fact I think Rockies brass should immediately interpolate into their advertising strategy.
Jamey Wright is one shelling away from demotion, what with the surplus of starting options the Rockies presently have...wait, wait, this is a new one: Preston Wilson expects to be traded...all about Luke Hochevar, who the Rockies will likely take Tuesday if Scott Boras can scare away the teams selecting first through sixth...ESPN has us 30th, moving the Royals up to 22nd just for sweeping the Yankees. Oh, come on, everybody is sweeping the Yankees these days.
Rockies 12, Reds 4
There's nothing better than a blowout. Particularly one that allows Preston Wilson to pad his home run total, gives Jeff Francis an easy win, and kicks Clint Barmes' average up a few percentage points. What's not to like about a game where everyone 1-6 in the Colorado lineup had multiple hits? The only folks in the lineup without a hit were J.D. Closser, who at least walked and scored twice, and the pitcher.
The Rockies, to my disappointment, only managed one homer off of Eric Milton (Wilson's solo shot in the fifth), but they made up for it with an endless six-run sixth off the unsuspecting Ryan Wagner. This was one of those amusing Coors Pinball innings with three infield singles, a double off of Joe Randa's glove, and two outs at the plate. After that the Rockies were only a disappointing Byung-Hyun Kim stint and a dominant Marcos Carvajal appearance away from their easiest win since Jeremy Jennings went the distance against the Dodgers in April.
The hope now is that the psychic damage inflicted tonight upon the Reds' bullpen will roll over into tomorrow's contest against a much better starting pitcher, Aaron Harang. And that Derrek Lee will slow down for ten seconds so the world can notice how hot Matt Holliday is. It's lovely when the Rockies manage to win laughers, because I can breathe a little bit and appreciate the finer points of the game. For example: the way Carvajal turns his left toe inwards like a ballet dancer's at the top of his motion. Beautiful.
More Rain Delays Ahead
At some point this weekend, the Rockies will begin a series against Cincinnati, who are 21-32 overall, 6-18 on the road. The Reds have nearly the exact same net payroll as the Rockies do ($67 million), but a farm system that Baseball America ranks 23rd to Colorado's 6th. You have to like the Rockies' chances going forward better. Todd Helton earns superstar money to be merely great until 2011, while Ken Griffey is owed star money to be mediocre (or hurt) until 2024. No, really.
Griffey isn't the Reds' only problem, but he is symbolic of the imbalance, personnel misjudgements, and straight-up bad luck that have beset baseball's first pro franchise since they last won it all in 1990. (Remember when the Reds used to play the first game every season? Wasn't that a great tradition? Was there any reason to stop doing that other than allowing ESPN an excuse to televise yet another Yankees-Red Sox game?) The Reds' biggest problem is that all of their best players are outfielders/first basemen, and the one they have the least reason to have faith in going forward is the one they can't bench or trade.
The Reds' best hitter is Wily Mo PeÃ±a, who conveniently is out hurt at the moment, allowing Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn, Ryan Freel, and Griffey adequate at-bats. It helps that Dunn can sort of play first base and Freel can apparently play anywhere. At some point or another, they're going to have to figure out a way to play PeÃ±a every day while turning Kearns into an infielder (not literally -- they already tried that). A second baseman would be of particular utility, as Reds' second-sackers rank dead last in the NL in aggregate OPS. Felipe Lopez is making inroads towards making Queen City-ites forget about Barry Larkin at short, hitting eight homers and compiling a .295/.352/.555 line.
While you can't really fault the Reds for Ken Griffey's transformation into a .267 hitter made of bone china, you can blame them all you want for giving lots of money to bad pitchers. Eric Milton (3 years, $25.5 million) is on pace to obliterate Bert Blyleven's single-season home runs allowed record of 50. Of course, Blyleven's ERA in that historic 1986 was 4.01; Milton's presently stands at 7.05. Ramon Ortiz (2 years, $8.1 million) has a 1.72 WHIP and a 5.23 ERA. Opening Day starter Paul Wilson ($3.6 mil '05 salary) is at 1.83, 7.77. If it weren't for the marvelous year that Aaron Harang ($440,000 '05 salary) is having (2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 7.7 K/9), the Reds' starters would be the worst in the league. (They're 15th, a handful of points ahead of the Rockies' rotation, which has a much better excuse.)
While statistically their bullpen has been better than some, the Reds have been plagued by bizarre occurrences like the Cardinals' 7-run 9th-inning rally May 2nd and the release of detested (and highly compensated) "closer" Danny Graves. From where I see it, the Reds are having one of those "scary" bad years, while the Rockies are having a "positive, growth-oriented" bad year. OK, maybe I am drinking the Gen-R Kool-Aid. Assuming the rain doesn't play havoc with the scheduled starters, we'll see Milton-Jeff Francis tonight, Harang-Jamey Wright Saturday night, and Brandon Claussen-Jason Jennings Sunday afternoon. If the Rockies send Jeremy in there on Sunday, this is a series we win.
Rockies 8, Cardinals 7
This game was a story of bases-loaded situations. In the seventh and the ninth, the Rockies barely missed turning double plays with Cardinals on every base, and in each case a single run was able to score. In the bottom of the eighth, Colorado loaded 'em with nobody out, then came away with nothing after Albert Pujols (keep an eye on this guy, he might be pretty good) started a nifty double play. It seemed somehow kismet that down two in the bottom of the ninth, the Rockies loaded the bases again. Todd Helton, their best hitter, the guy on the club most due for a big hit, came up to the plate. You have to love baseball for situations like this -- the Colorado announcers were practically speaking in tongues up in the broadcast booth.
Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen, who had allowed one run on the year up to that point, promptly gave up a game-tying two-run single to Helton, intentionally walked Matt Holliday (two homers and a double), and gave way to Randy Flores, who walked Brad Hawpe on five pitches to force in the winning run. What can you say? Isringhausen was obviously due for a bad outing. But the Rockies reacted to the walk-off win with jubilation quite out of proportion for a 16-36 team. They're still going to lose a ton of games on the road, but if they're going to develop some confidence at home, it'd be a beginning.
Shawn Chacon, after missing a start, was not real good (7 hits, 3 walks, 5 earned in 5 innings). Jay Witasick pitched a scoreless eighth to continue in his role as the unsung hero of the Colorado bullpen. Matt Anderson did an exemplary job working out of a bases-loaded jam allowing only one run to score, but it was he who loaded the bases in the first place with a hit and two walks. Cory Sullivan went 3 for 4, and his one hitless appearance was the shot that Pujols somehow stabbed on the fly. Clint Barmes started cold but had a big single in the ninth off of Izzy to get the tying run on base. Preston Wilson's pinch-hit single began the winning rally. It was a good day for the outfield corps all around as Holliday and Hawpe each made great catches going long into their respective corners.
Next up, the Cincinnati Reds. Eric Milton (20 homers allowed in 60 IP) at Coors Field? Could be incendiary. Back later with news and preview.
Filling Your Rain Delay with News. And Love
SI's John Donovan has Clint Barmes on his NL All-Star ballot. Good man. On the same site, Jacob Luft says Barmes doesn't deserve a bid when you take the Coors Field effect into account. CBS has him on their projected roster (although you might noticed they goofed by not including any Reds when each team has to have at least one representative). Barmes can only help his cause by putting up more three-extra base hit nights, home or away. In SI's power rankings (and CBS SportsLine's), the Rockies have the #29 spot more or less locked down.
Joe Kennedy struggles against righties...roster roundup: Dan Miceli will be the next arm to be tried in the pen, O'Dowd would like to add released Royals utilityman Eli Marrero, and the Nationals were going to trade Zach Day for Florida's Juan Encarnacion, not Preston Wilson, before his arm was found to be broken...David Eckstein on Barmes: "I like his game; he's fundamentally sound. And he's aggressive. You don't see that a lot in young players."
Cardinals 8, Rockies 6
Well, this one didn't lack for offense (17 hits for the Cards, 12 for the Rockies), but it also didn't lack for Byung-Hyun Kim, whose days of dominance in a D-Backs uniform are a distant memory indeed. Kim came in in the seventh with the bases loaded and nobody out and induced a run-scoring double play. But then he threw an ugly slider to the backstop, allowing pinch-hitter (Tony, you so crazy) Jason Marquis, who had singled off of Blaine Neal, to score and giving the Cardinals all the lead they would need.
Joe Kennedy didn't do much for the cause, allowing 11 hits in five innings and walking three for good measure. Desi Relaford and Preston Wilson committed errors in the first inning to allow St. Louis to jump out to an early lead. Matt Anderson bettered his first Rockies appearance with a scoreless ninth, but Clint Barmes and Relaford couldn't do anything with Luis Gonzalez on base and Jason Isringhausen pitching in the bottom of the inning.
Six runs and eleven hits is something, at least. Barmes had three doubles, perhaps motivated by his poor showing in the All-Star balloting. Relaford was 3 for 5 as well. Matt Holliday went 2 for 3 with a walk. J.D. Closser had a hit and a sacrifice fly. Todd Helton only had one single, but it came after a nice at-bat and knocked in a run.
Any way you look at it, the Rockies are not going to win a lot of games with starting pitching this poor. The offense is only going to improve as the season goes on; the bullpen (sans Kim) is amazingly becoming an asset. I don't think Zach Day is the answer. Maybe Aaron Cook, who knows. Drafting a bunch of college pitchers would not be a bad plan.
Well, a colossal miscarriage of justice is taking place in the NL All-Star voting, where the one bright spot of this miserable Rockies season is getting old-school jacked by the ignorance of the common baseball "fan." Look at these results for starting shortstop:
Justice must be served! Go to the ballpark, go to the website, and vote your heart out. This is probably the Rockies' first and only chance for glory on the national stage this season. Make it count. VOTE CLINT!
Celebrating One Month in Purple
Shawn Chacon will make his next start. Well, we won't be seeing an end to our offensive slump in that game. Interesting thoughts on umpiring from Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, ejected on Monday: "You can pull anybody off the street to call balls down the middle as strikes. What proves you can do it at this level is you have the ability to call strikes on the corners, at the borderlines of the strike zone. You can't take that away from the pitcher. Especially here, where a pitcher absolutely must have those corners."
Jay Witasick watches video of Albert Pujols' homer and shakes his head: "If I throw that 100 times, I don't think he would do what he did most of the time. It was an exceptional hit." Jason Jennings' name will go down in the Rockies record book, but some of us know better. News flash from the Post's crack investigative team: this Pujols guy is good. Bernie Lincicome compares and contrasts Buddy Bell's new club with is old one: "However awful the Rockies are, they do seem to like each other and take common joy in their infrequent success." He proposes we award whomever wins the series June 24-26 with a Cup of Ultimate Futility, which I think was a hidden item in Final Fantasy III. More on Bell from the News and the Post.
As we enter the second month of TGTBATB, I promise more of the same, and possibly some book reviews. I just have this sequence of Deep Space Nine novellas to complete, and then I swear I'm going to read this Tony La Russa book. As much as I admire Mr. Tony, the ultimate future of the Dominion is just more important to me right now.
Update courtesy of my TiVo: Peter Gammons said on "Baseball Tonight" last night that the Rockies will pick Luke Hochevar in the first round if they can get a deal done before the draft. And the early AL All-Star returns are in. Justin Morneau can't even crack the top five at first base? The NL numbers are released later today. Let's go Clint!
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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