Monthly archives: July 2005
Rockies 9, Phillies 2
The Rockies avoid the sweep thanks to a 9-run inning off of Jon Lieber and another solid home start by Jeff Francis. Omar Quintanilla was 1 for 3 in his first game with the big club. Ryan Shealy was 2 for 4. Dustan Mohr had a double and a homer but sadly was not traded. J.D. Closser responded to his near-demotion with a 2 for 4 day including a double.
The big news today is no news at all. The Rockies were unable to move Larry Bigbie, Mohr, or Desi Relaford. The official site has a bill of sale to present to you on this issue. Don't believe the hype. Colorado bungled this trade season badly and if there was any justice in the world heads would roll for it. Zach Day, J.J. Davis, Bigbie, and miscellaneous Yankee "prospects" are not building blocks for the future. Quintanilla is going to be a good one (and even right now, he's approximately a million billion times better than Aaron Miles), but whatever happened with Boston, the fact is the organization is now saddled with more singles-hitting tweener outfielders than they could possibly have any use for. They still don't have a catcher. And, extraordinarily, they've failed to add even a single acceptable starting pitcher candidate (Day doesn't count) even while sending off Shawn Chacon and Joe Kennedy.
I watched ESPNews all day today and not a mention was made of the shoddy handling Boston made of their "agreed-upon" deal with O'Dowd. The sad fact is nobody cares when a successful team with a national following reams one run by gibbering idiots. They expect it, actually. Still, would you rather be a fan of the Rockies, who gave up a roll call of popular players for basically nothing, or Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay, who refused to back down on their demands for solid returns and ended up doing not much at all?
Except for Mohr, whom I suppose is not too long of a shot for a waiver deal, the Rockies' lineup today reflected the youth movement that we've been promised since before spring training started. About time. With Shoppach off the board, there is no defensible reason for not giving J.D. Closser the bulk of the starts at catcher the rest of the year. Atkins-Luis Gonzalez-Q-Ryan Shealy isn't a bad little infield. Matt Holliday should stay a fixture in left. Bigbie, Jorge Piedra, and Cory Sullivan will have to work it out amongst themselves who will grab the other spot after Brad Hawpe returns. Still, and I can't emphasize this enough: We already had options for the infield. We already had a bunch of slap-hitting outfielders. We already have demonstrated that a decent to good Coors bullpen can be assembled using smoke, the Rule 5 draft, and mirrors. Where's our catcher? Where's our strikeout starting staff? For whom does the bell toll, Dan O'Dowd? It tolls for thee.
Phillies 8, Rockies 7
Aaron Cook dug the Rockies a hole they couldn't get out of, even with a pair of Matt Holliday homers. The Colorado bullpen was really good (again), but even a rare 11-hit performance by the offense couldn't overcome Cook, who gave up 11 hits himself (and 7 earned runs) in four and a third. Did they rush him back? Does it matter?
Meanwhile, Dan O'Dowd looks stupid (surprise, surprise) as he ends up stuck with Larry Bigbie as the Boston deal falls apart. The Red Sox grabbed Jose Cruz, Jr. from the Diamondbacks so they don't want Bigbie even if they can't send Shoppach to Tampa Bay for Aubrey Huff. What does it say about O'Dowd that the Red Sox would rather work with Chuck LaMar, who's like a "South Park" character when it comes to negotiating trades (and I'm not just talking about the overextended run): "Han-LEY! Han-LEY! Han-LEY! Hanley."
The Rockies will try and create the illusion of progress by designating Desi Relaford for assignment (as they should have done in, oh, April) and calling up Omar Quintanilla. Make no mistake, though, if they don't move Bigbie before the deadline, this trade season has been a spectacular failure. The Rockies' shopping list was not iffy relief prospects, more tweener outfielders, and a second baseman. Not only haven't the Rockies gotten any of the pieces they needed (besides Quintanilla), but they burned off two of their best offseason trading chips in Byrnes and Chacon. The Rockies are going to be awful the rest of this year with the starting pitching they have, and they're going to be equally bad next year. No more second chances, Dan.
I want to believe the best about what the team is trying to do but the end result of their manuevering thus far strains credibility past its breaking point. This isn't Pittsburgh or Kansas City. The Rockies' attendance woes are their own fault and I fail to see how trading Preston Wilson,Shawn Chacon, and Eric Byrnes for buckets of dirt (thrifty dirt) gives them any chance whatsoever of improving the product on the field.
So, Oakland looks pretty good, huh? Think the Brewers have a shot at .500? What are the White Sox going to do in the wake of the Frank Thomas injury? There's too much good season left to waste much time thinking about Colorado baseball.
Update: For what it's worth, ESPN's Rumor Central (subscription required) says four or five other teams have an interest in Bigbie and he could still be traded before the deadline, which is in less than three hours.
Down to the Wire
Boston.com reports Bigbie for Shoppach/Stern is dead. On the other hand ESPN says Tampa Bay is now out of the Man-Ram discussions and the Red Sox and Mets will work it out by themselves if it gets worked out at all. Apparently Chuck LaMar wanted Jon Lester and Hanley Ramirez. Is it any wonder the experts say LaMar "doesn't know how to trade?" I doubt Shoppach is going to be involved in a Mike Cameron-for-Manny deal, so the Bigbie trade may well be resurrected at the last moment.
Shawn Chacon pitched well in his Yankees debut, helping defeat the Angels (and move the A's to a mere 2 1/2 back). Aaron Cook unfortunately has not been so great in his first major league start of the year.
Still Mo' Trades
Now, this is more like it. Hours after the Eric Byrnes-for-Larry Bigbie trade was announced, Colorado flips Bigbie to Boston for a younger, cheaper lefty-swinging outfielder who hits for average and can play some center, and a potential long-term solution at catcher (link courtesy of Purple Row). Bigbie for Kelly Shoppach and Adam Stern (or, in the long view, Jay Witasick and Joe Kennedy for Shoppach, Stern, and Omar Quintanilla) is a deal that improves the Colorado organization while costing them little.
Kelly Shoppach is the prize here, so let's do him first. Kelly is 25 (born 4/29/1980) and is regarded as a fine defensive backstop. More pleasing to mine eyes are his high walk numbers and 22 homers for the PawSox last season. He's killing 'em in repeating AAA this year: 21 jacks, .260/.360/.527. And the Prospectus says Pawtucket is a pitchers' park! BP projected him to have a higher (major league) VORP than either Closser or Ardoin this year so the Rockies ought to plug him! right in. Any trade that brings an end to the ugliness of the Danny Ardoin era is sunshine and posies to me. The Baseball America book has him as the #8 guy in the Red Sox system and notes that he was voted best defensive catcher by International League managers last year. He strikes out a lot, but if he can hit homers and draw walks, who cares? Shoppach was a second-round pick by the Red Sox out of Baylor in 2001. He's 5'11", 210 in case you were planning on buying him a suit. He swings righty.
Adam Stern is more of a sleeper, but his line in AAA is sweet: .303/.365/.474 in 76 ABs. Stern was only in Pawtucket because he was recovering from a broken right thumb he suffered in spring training; he's a Rule 5 guy originally from the Braves' organization. He's 5'11", 180 and was born 2/12/1980 (the same month as me, incidentally). Unlike most Atlanta prospects, he went to college. The Braves took him in the third round out of Nebraska in '01. It's easy to see what attracted Theo Epstein to Stern: a .378 OBP in AA Greenville last year. Stern has no home run power whatsoever (14 on his career) but he'll hit some doubles and he can steal a base. John Sickels says Stern "has a solid lefty swing and should hit for average at all levels." BA has him at #23 in the Boston system. If the slight uptick in walk rate Stern has showed this season isn't a fluke, he's going to be a real useful player.
A starting lineup next Opening Day of Hawpe, Stern, and Holliday in the outfield, Atkins, Barmes, Quintanilla, and Todd Helton on the infield, and a battery of Jeff Francis and Shoppach isn't awful for the price the Rockies will be paying. Aside from the vexing question of who's going to pitch the second, third, fourth, and fifth games.
Update: As of very early Saturday morning the Boston Herald was reporting that Shoppach was among the prospects to be included in a package sent to Tampa Bay as part of a three-way Manny Ramirez deal also involving the Mets. ESPN is calling that same deal as good as dead. The Boston Globe seems more sanguine about a Manny deal going through but is less certain that Shoppach will be included. It's possible that Man-Ram will get his way (although how New York is going to offer him greater privacy is beyond me) and the lesser Bigbie deal will occur as here described. The Denver Post seems a beat or two behind but does note that Anderson Machado is gone (Anderson, we hardly knew ye) and Desi Relaford will follow him by the trade deadline one way or another. The future is now!
Phillies 8, Rockies 5 and Phillies 5, Rockies 3
Hey, in all the trade excitement, I kind of forgot that the Rockies continue to go out and do the work involved in losing ballgames, which they have set to with aplomb the past two days. Thursday's game featured multihit performances from Garrett Atkins and Eric Byrnes and an about average outing from BK Kim, who gave up five in 6 2/3. The loss was charged to Mike DeJean, who was bled for 3 runs in the top of the ninth. Randy Williams struck out both guys he faced, if that counts as a silver lining. Philadelphia's Chase Utley had two doubles and a homer.
Today poor planning on the part of management cost the Rockies a game as Jose Acevedo got smacked around on short rest, allowing a four-run second and lasting only three innings total. Matt Holliday continues to hit well (3 for 4 with a double and a homer) but the rest of the team combined for four hits. Danny Ardoin was 0 for 4 with four strikeouts. Byrnes went right back below .200 with an 0-for-4 outing. Farewell, Eric. I can't say you will be missed.
Eric Byrnes for Larry Bigbie. Ah, yeah. Bigbie is lefthanded, and cheaper. The Rockies still have way too many outfielders who don't hit home runs.
Meanwhile, the expected crazy stuff is going down right before the deadline. The Padres found a team to trade Phil Nevin to that he couldn't veto, the Rangers. For their trouble they get Chan Ho Park. It's like bad contract-palooza. Torii Hunter could be out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. That could be it for the Twins' playoff chances. Meanwhile the Mets, Red Sox, and Devil Rays are working on a super-colossal Man-Ram deal. Who knows, trading franchise players has suddenly become good luck for Boston. I'm watching Oakland and Detroit as I'm writing this and it honestly looks as if the A's may never lose again. Kirk Saarloos is their fifth starter and he's better than anyone the Rockies have now or in fact have ever had. That's kind of depressing.
Word On the Trade
ESPN's Trade Scorecard: "Low quality" for both sides. Dan O'Dowd in the Denver Post: "We just didn't feel like Chacon and Kennedy were part of the core." On the subject of O'Dowd, an ESPN fan poll ranks him 26th among current general managers, just ahead of luminaries Dan O'Brien, Dave Littlefield, Allard Baird, and Chuck LaMar. Has anyone ever held a job longer for doing less than Chuck LaMar? Interesting stat from SI's power rankings: the Rockies are 1-17 against lefthanded starters on the road.
Hey, Baseball Prospectus is having a free preview, so you can read what they have to say about the trade from the Rockies' and Yankees' points of view until August 3rd. Chris Kahrl: "Two live arms are, I suppose, a market-appropriate price for a pitcher you don't like having around, and who on top of that is due for another big arbitration raise. It's probably too much to expect or to wish for something that might change the franchise's fortunes." Also: trade reports from Baseball America, the New York Daily News, and the New York Times (reg. required), which notes that the Yankees have used an ML-leading 12 starters so far this year. Chacon and potentially Hideo Nomo could make 13 and 14. The irony of the mighty Yankees looking to Colorado for pitching help is not lost on the New York Post. The Rocky Mountain News plays up the angle of the local kid being thrown to the wolves in the big city. Seriously, what do people think the over/under should be on starts made by Chac in New York the rest of this year? Four? Five?
Out in the blogsphere, RDR is fightin' mad, and Purple Row has a more measured take. What do I think? Well, on a team as bad as the Rockies, no one is untouchable. I don't think Chacon is either as good as some have it or as truly awful as he was last year. He's not a number one starter in anyone's book but the Rockies weren't paying him to be one. The question is whether moving Chacon will improve the team either directly through the performances of Sierra and Ramirez or indirectly through how the team spends the money that otherwise would have been earmarked for Shawn's 2006 salary. I doubt two average middle relief prospects will be as valuable to the organization as the starter with the highest VORP on the major league team this year. The other question is more complicated. Will the Rockies go out and spend money on a difference-maker (logically a catcher) next year? Well, they really shouldn't, because when you look at the talent they have available for '06, how much difference can a difference-maker make? Maybe push them into fourth place?
If the Rockies really couldn't do anything better than two Yankee arms for Chac, they should have held on to him. They're not going to be able to sign a better starter for the money they'll have available, and they don't have an ML-ready guy to step in for him next year. At the very least they could have waited until the offseason when more teams are willing to move players around. This deal does nothing to make the team better short- or long-term and with a franchise in as dire straits as Colorado, that's pretty hard to do.
Ramon Ramirez is a little (5'11") guy with a weird career path. Born 8/31/1981, he was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Rangers as an outfielder in '96 and ended up starting his pitching career with the Hiroshima Carp in 2002. He's still only 23 and his strikeout numbers are pretty good, so we shall see. He does tend to allow home runs at a pretty good clip and therefore hasn't posted real impressive minor league ERA numbers. He has good numbers at Dayton so far this year (good K/BB, only 3 homers in 81 innings) but he's old for Single-A. He's spent most of his time starting this year but the experts say he's middle relief material in the bigs. Baseball America has him at #23 in the Yankees' system. John Sickels doesn't list him at all this year (or in '03 or '04).
Eduardo Sierra is taller (6'3") and younger (born 4/15/1982). He's a Dominican as well, originally in the Athletics' system until they flipped him to New York for Chris Hammond a year and a half ago. You can sum Sierra up in one word: walks. And lots of them. He's at 5.93 BB/9 this season with AA Trenton and was at 8.3 last year with Tampa. High walk rates and Coors Field go together like Shaq and Kobe. This guy hasn't started since low-A and was obviously not long for the Yankees, who can't bear to pay a middle reliever the minimum when they could possibly pay him $5 million. BA ranks him #16 in the New York system based solely it seems on the fact that he can throw mid-90's. Sickels, again, demurs.
I'm not excited about either of these guys, and you shouldn't be either. The only reason either of these fellows even appears in the prospect books is you have to put some names under "New York Yankees."
What's the deal with the Phillies? They've easily had the most talent in their division every year since Atlanta's Big Three broke up, yet they always seem to have to scuffle to stay in third place. Every year I seem to pick the Phillies to go to the World Series or at least win their division and they make me look silly. What's their problem, exactly?
Well, one problem might be management. Larry Bowa seemingly did everything but salt the outfields at Citizens Bank Park on his way to being shown the door. Charlie Manuel is no Earl Weaver. Another thing is a slight tendency to hyperventilate about how close they are and overpay for guys they don't need that badly, like David Bell, Kevin Millwood, and even Jim Thome. Bobby Abreu is a terrific player, one of the best in baseball, but if you ask any serious Philadelphia fan they will give you a long speech about his inability to do anything worthwhile in the clutch. They can't beat Florida to save their lives. And while their rotation is usually pretty solid overall, they haven't had a shutdown, #1, money-in-the-bank guy since Curt Schilling went to the desert.
This year, injuries and questionable team construction may doom the Phillies to yet another almost-but-not-quite year. They're over .500 (52-50) and hardly out of it in the tooth-and-claw NL East, but the omens don't look good. Jim Thome is breaking down (.207/.360.352) and blocking the fine Ryan Howard (.264/.339/.491) while he's at it. Thome is hardly the only Phillie signed to an epic-length contract that looks done right here and now. Mike Lieberthal is plodding along at .236/.325/.400. Bell stands at .246/.298/.355. Jimmy Rollins, who just got a colossal extension this year, is at .276/.317/.409. The Phillies play in one of the most extreme examples of the new generation of brand-named bandboxes yet they're only 9th in the NL in slugging percentage. They do get on base though (tied for first in OBP) and they're third in total runs scored. A middle of the lineup with Chase Utley, Abreu, and Pat Burrell will do that for you. Centerfielder Jason Michaels is very quietly having a great year (.303/.407/.404) as well. If Manuel was smart enough to hit Michaels leadoff instead of Rollins, the Phillies would lead the league in runs. Obsessed with the outmoded concept of "good speed" in the leadoff slot, Manuel is subjecting his "contending" team to the seventh-worst OBP from the leadoff slot in the majors. (Colorado is 27th. Et tu, Cory Sullivan and Aaron Miles?)
On to the pitching. You can lay some of the blame on the ballpark, but Philly's pitching has taken somewhat of a step backwards this year. Their staff is 12th in the NL in ERA, 11th in opponents' OPS, and second in home runs allowed. Their strikeout and WHIP numbers are good but when they get hit, they get hit hard (13th in slugging allowed). For this four-game series the Rockies will draw Robinson Tejeda, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, and Jon Lieber. (They will face Byung-Hyun Kim, Shawn Chacon, Aaron Cook, and Jeff Francis respectively.) Tonight's starter Tejeda actually has the best numbers among the group, posting a 2.90 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and only two homers allowed in 49 2/3 innings pitched divided between starting and the bullpen. Lidle and Lieber have been basically the same guy this year -- 4.63 to 4.69 ERA, 5.68 to 5.64 K/9, and identical WHIPs of 1.32. Myers has been better (3.24, 8.51, 1.17). Like any team they have some soft touches in middle relief, but you don't want to mess with the back end of their bullpen, which features two guys with sub-1.00 WHIP (Billy Wagner and Aaron Fultz) and strikeout machine Ugie Urbina.
Success in this series for the Rockies will depend on knocking the likes of Cory Lidle and Jon Lieber out of their games early and continued good performance from Colorado's own middle relief corps. I hardly like to make a prediction after being so dead-on with the Mets, but I think a split is probably in order with Philadelphia claiming the first two games and Colorado taking the second. Fans should pay particularly close attention to Aaron Cook's start on Saturday. A good performance could mean Jamey Wright getting tossed out of the rotation (finally) and the Rockies going with an acceptable Kim-Francis-Cook-Acevedo-Chacon fivesome for the rest of the year.
Mets 9, Rockies 3
Hey, how 'bout that Jamey Wright? He's...not very good. After giving up solo home runs to Marlon Anderson (twice) and Ramon Castro, Wright began the 5th by allowing a bunt single to Mets pitcher Victor Zambrano. Zambrano would come up again in the inning as New York scored six runs, all charged to Wright. Marcos Carvajal ended up striking out the side (and six total in three innings) but did allow both of the runners he inherited from Wright to score. The Rockies loaded the bases against Danny Graves in the ninth, possibly giving him flashbacks to his historic meltdown against St. Louis earlier in the year while he was pitching for Cincinnati, but it wasn't happenin' for Colorado tonight.
With Todd Helton unavailable, look at the lineup the Rockies fielded: Sullivan, Miles, Holliday, Atkins, Byrnes, Shealy, Relaford, Ardoin, Wright. That's not imposing. Zambrano had a good night for the Mets, striking out five and walking a couple as he usually does. But despite a high pitch count, the Rockies let Zambrano through the crucial sixth and seventh innings and then could hardly mount a comeback against one of the worst relief pitchers in baseball. Just another one of those games.
Apparently Doug Mientkiewicz was ejected for arguing balls and strikes with an 8-run lead. I didn't notice while I was at the ballgame, thanks to that ever-alert Denver P.A. announcer who only occasionally mentions pitching changes. Wouldn't want to distract anyone's focus during the jumbotron baseball cap shell game, now would we?
Rockies 4, Mets 3
Thanks to Jeff Francis and Dustan Mohr for making me look smart. Now, I have to get going if I'm going to catch the first pitch of the game tonight. I don't know where I'm going to sit, but like I said, Cliff Floyd jersey. Look for me.
Rockies 5, Mets 3
Well, the Rockies win at home, at they quite often do. Sadly the story is not a solid performance by Jose Acevedo or an out-of-nowhere 3 for 3 night from Danny Ardoin but a possibly serious injury to Todd Helton. I mean, this is a bad joke, right? I'm not laughing.
Some fellows were talking on the radio about how had it not been for the injury bug, the Rockies could be "right in" the race in the plodding NL West. I don't know whether that's technically true or not. If Colorado was "contending" at this point, it would be a bad thing, giving management the false impression that the team is much farther along than it actually is. No, the ridiculous rash of injuries that has struck the Rockies is sad for another reason. For a team that knows from Spring Training it's a loser, the hopes are in individual storylines. A grindin' blue collar shortstop who wildly exceed expectations both inside and outside of the organization. Well, that was Clint Barmes, but he got hurt. A second-year player who builds upon his promising rookie season to emerge as one of the league's rising stars. Could have been Matt Holliday, but he got hurt. A relief pitching prospect from an exotic locale with undeniable raw stuff. Chin-Hui Tsao, hurt. If you were following the Rockies this year because of an allegiance to one of their veteran players, too bad for you. Preston Wilson was hurt and then got traded. Shawn Chacon, hurt. Jason Jennings, hurt. Todd Helton, awful slump, now hurt.
And the final insult is, with all that's gone wrong, they're not even bad enough to challenge the all-time futility mark. And I was going to write a book!
Well, it's coming down pretty good in Boulder, I don't know whether they'll be able to get a game in tonight or not. If there does end up being a doubleheader in the next two days I'm dropping everything and going. I love doubleheaders. I realize I said I wasn't going to any Rockies games until Dustan, Danny, and Desi got the heave-ho but look at it this way: I'll wear my Cliff Floyd jersey. I'll buy a ticket from a scalper. And I'll sneak in my own sunflower seeds.
The New York Mets are finally starting to get their act together. After a not-all-that-great 2000 team snuck into the World Series as a wild card, the Mets operated for several years as if they were on the verge of a championship. They weren't. Constantly overshadowed by their older AL siblings, the Mets consistently overspent for old, fragile, and expensive talent. It's true that the Yankees were able to afford whomever they wanted during their late-90's dynasty, but it's not insignificant that their core was homegrown.
The Mets looked they were starting to figure things out last year, putting together better results on the field and actually harboring a big-deal prospect or two. Then they misread how good a team they had, panicked, and made two misguided trades for Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson. They could have waited and signed either of these guys in the off-season, and the trades cost them cheap young pitching talent that they could desperately use now.
The offseason went much better. Look, if you have a lot of money to spend, it's a good idea to go the extra mile and get the best guy available. The Mets have sunk a lot of money into guys like Mo Vaughn, Cliff Floyd, Mike Piazza, and Tom Glavine that due to injuries and late-career declines didn't deliver performances anywhere near in line with what they were making. This year, they added Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. There were risks involved with both of these signings, but for once, there was some serious upside involved too.
The Mets have aggressively pursued international free agents, which is to their credit, but they've been terribly unlucky. Tsuyoshi Shinjo couldn't play and neither can Kaz Matsui. Jose Reyes is still a very young man, but he has a long way to go. With all of these expensive flops, David Wright has been a godsend. Only 22, the third baseman is tied for the team lead in OPS (with Floyd) and performing the equally valuable function of taking pressure off Beltran (a disappointing .271/.320/.446 thus far).
The other big free agent name has been money well spent. Pedro Martinez has his detractors (he's a colossal flake and he doesn't work deep into games), but he's done more than any other Met to steal the Yankees' thunder this year. Petey is 12-3 with a 2.79 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and is striking out more than a man an inning. Sadly, he won't see any action in the series at Coors this week. A past his sell-by date Tom Glavine (4.62 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, a practically invisible 3.99 K/9), filler guy Kaz Ishii, and Zambrano (who has been decent, albeit not trade-Scott Kazmir-for-me good) draw those honors. Mets fans are eagerly awaiting the return of Steve Trachsel, and that's really all you need to know about both their pitching staff and their playoff prospects.
Offensively, New York has holes. They're stuck playing Doug Mientkiewicz, Reyes, and either Matsui or Miguel Cairo, which is a lot of starters hovering around the .300 OBP mark. Beltran hasn't been as advertised. But Mike Cameron has been terrific since returning from injury, and Cliff Floyd is having a late-career renaissance. Victor Diaz and Chris Woodward give the Mets a surplus of good-hitting outfielders, which certainly wasn't true last year. Even Piazza isn't embarrassing himself with the stick, although he simply can't throw out anybody as a catcher anymore. Well, he really never could.
Relief pitching is a sore spot. They signed Danny Graves after the Reds let him go, if that gives you any idea. Braden Looper has Dan Kolb-like save and strikeout numbers. Converted starter Aaron Heilman has been better than his 4.25 ERA suggests. Guys like Heath Bell, young gun Royce Ring, and Dae-Sung Koo have been average. And 40-year-old Roberto Hernandez is simply having an amazing year in the setup role -- 1.61 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.66 K/9. Who knew. One thing the Mets do have in the bullpen is a lot of guys who can get a strikeout, except for Looper.
Glavine-Jose Acevedo tonight (weather permitting), Ishii-Jeff Francis Tuesday, Zambrano-Jamey Wright Wednesday. Seeing the guys New York has starting, the Rockies really ought to take the first two games here.
Pirates 3, Rockies 0
VORP for Rockies' pitchers, 2005 (with ML rank):
Brian Fuentes, 12.6, 116th
What's my point? Well, I think the fact that the Rockies have played a fair share of close games this season (and seemingly more than a few like today's) gives people the false impression that they have enough pitching to compete, or even close to it. Yeah, Shawn Chacon has been a victim of terrible run support. But Jamey Wright has been unbelievably bad. Byung-Hyun Kim's numbers would probably look a better if you filtered out his disastrous relief numbers. Jeff Francis's season has been very rookielike in that he's had a few starts where he's just gotten pounded right out of the box. Of the six guys who have started for Colorado this year, only two have consistently contributed to making them better, and one of those guys is out for the year.
The run support, and the midseason injury, have masked just how good Shawn Chacon has been for the Rockies this season. I keep going back and forth on whether it would be a bad idea to trade him or not. I think it would be a mistake to declare him untouchable, because you never know when a deal might come along to blow you away. But it would be a real mistake to flip him for appearances' sake as the Rockies did Witasick, Kennedy, and Preston Wilson.
The other thing that this little list makes clear is that bullpens are not difficult to field. Five of the the Rockies' top seven pitching contributors are guys they essentially got off of the scrap heap. None of them are making serious dollars. You can pull relievers out of a hat. Starters are not so easy. The Rockies have yet to improve their organizational depth in starting pitching one iota with any of the moves they have made so far this season. Zach Day is, best-case scenario, Jason Jennings-lite.
Since it's clear that signing starters as free agents is a bridge well and truly burned, what's this team to do to make itself any better for next year? Well, they might want to hang on to Chacon. Perhaps missing the balance of this season will be a blessing in disguise for Jennings, whom they now can't trade and will return for next year nice and rested. Byung-Hyun Kim is the only real "swing-and-miss" guy the Rockies have among the starters. Maybe they bring him back next year at a greatly reduced salary and he rewards them for their loyalty with a more consistent season. Aaron Cook remains an intriguing question mark.
Maybe it's not impossible for the Rockies to inch closer to .500 next year with Jennings, Chacon, Cook/Day/Kim, and a maturing Jeff Francis. I would just feel so much better if they had a single starter who could crack the top 100 in VORP.
Pirates 5, Rockies 3
We lose again. I certainly hope Desi Relaford and Dustan Mohr are being showcased for trades. As for Danny Ardoin's continued playing time, there is no earthly explanation. It's an X-File. Jason Jennings is out for the year. If you notice any difference in the quality of the Rockies' starting pitching in his absence, let me know. They'll have a lot of trouble finding another guy who walks five every nine innings, I'm sure.
The trade deadline draws near and I grow weary of it. The market this year seems such that Phil Nevin for Sidney Ponson might be as exciting as it gets. My only interest in seeing Colorado make a few moves is to guarantee some playing time for guys they already have. No one whom the Rockies would trade is going to bring anything interesting in return. No, not even Eric Byrnes.
What Colorado really needs to combat my boredom and yours is a nice long homestand against some NL West teams, but for that we'll have to wait until September. At least there will be nice big crowds for the Cubs August 19-21. Derrek Lee and Coors. That could be interesting.
Rockies 5, Pirates 3
Well, I caught the highlights on ESPNews after returning home from Colorado Springs. Todd Helton hits game-winner in extras! Jack Wilson makes outlandish shovel-scoop relay play! That was all they showed. It was a good night for highlights, however, as the Cardinals beat the Cubs on an 11th-inning squeeze play and the Rangers-Athletics game ended up being decided by a footrace. Glancing at the Colorado box score real quickly to make sure I don't overlook anything, I see that Helton and Matt Holliday were the stars with multhit games and a homer apiece. The 6-7-8 spots were ice cold with only one Luis Gonzalez single in 13 AB's. Jamey Wright had one of his not uncommon good road starts. Brian Fuentes blew a save but also struck out three guys and vultured the win.
My evening in Colorado Springs was fun. Mike Esposito pitched for the SkySox. He could be a minor league legend one day, but I doubt he's ever going to amount to much in the majors. He has no stuff to speak of. In contrast Tacoma's Clint Nageotte, a prospect whom I've been hearing about for seemingly forever, still can't throw his marvel of a slider for strikes. Colorado Springs' bullpen made it more exciting than it needed to be thanks to Bobby Seay. You know about him. What is it about me and baseball games at altitude that when I go out to the ballpark, a 2-1 pitchers' duel always ends up breaking out?
Omar Quintanilla and Jeff Salazar didn't do much that I saw. J.J. Davis made some solid contact. Tacoma's Jamal Strong made a couple of fine plays in center, which is in keeping with what I was led to believe about him by my prospect books. Ryan Speier looked good, better than Seay anyway. I have the sinking feeling that the two best hitters at AAA for the Rockies are Spilborghs and Shealy, both well and truly blocked.
Jeff Pickler on the other hand is the kind of player you only see in the minors, a slap-hitting second baseman with an odd tendency to double-clutch on routine ground balls and a strangely nonchalant lefthanded batting stance. He holds the bat loosely against his chest until after the pitcher begins his delivery. It looks, for all the world, like Barry Bonds. Except Pickler is a skinny white guy who is generously listed at 5'10". The fans seem to love him though.
Pirates 8, Rockies 1
The big young lefty duel never materialized as the Buccos batted around in the first off Jeff Francis. Zach Duke looks pretty good. I can see why he draws comparisons to Barry Zito seeing as he's a medium-sized lefty with a low-'90s-ish "deceptive" fastball and a big blooper of a curve. In what I've seen of his starts, though, Duke likes to throw his curve low and away, as a chase pitch, while Barry starts his breaking ball above batters' heads and has it plunge down into the strike zone at the last minute. Francis as I've noted before is more like a lefty Greg Maddux, throwing nearly all average-speed fastballs and depending on precise placement to get guys out. When Zito doesn't have it, he can't throw the curve for strikes, when Francis gets tagged like he did last night, he throws the fastball for strikes that are too good.
I plan on going down to Colorado Springs tonight to the see the SkySox tangle with Tacoma. I've picked this of all games to go to as my first-ever minor league contest because when I was little, my dad used to loudly yell at guys on the Cubs and White Sox he didn't like (which was most of them), "Send 'em to Tacoma!" I always thought that was hilarious. I have done some research and plan on heckling some Rainiers players with "Send 'em to Inland Empire!" Unfortunately Felix Hernandez pitched yesterday and won't go again until Monday night, and he'll be on a pitch count then. I guess if I have a really good time tonight I could go back.
After a four-game sweep at home at the hands of the hot Astros, the Pittsburgh Pirates are 40-55, tied for last place in the National League Central. The Rockies stand at 33-60. Would you trade organizations with them for those extra seven wins? I don't think so. On the most basic level, the competition in Colorado's division is far less scary. The Cardinals are a juggernaught, the Cubs have all that young pitching and ownership newly interested in the benefits of contention, and Milwaukee is very quietly assembling an extremely competitive young team. The Astros at the very least have a clutch of starting pitchers who give them a chance to win every time out. Cincinnati...Cincinnati is really bad.
A poor showing by the Reds in an earlier series against the Rockies may have been the final straw in the firing of manager Dave Miley. If the whispering winds can be held to speak the truth, Colorado could do their part in finishing off longtime Pittsburgh skipper Lloyd McClendon this weekend. It's not McClendon's fault that the Pirates are bad, no more than it was Miley's that Eric Milton became the Amazing Human Whiplash Dummy this season. The Pirates haven't been good since before the Rockies were in existence, ever since they made the famous decision that Andy Van Slyke was more worth building around than Barry Bonds.
And yet Baseball America ranks Pittsburgh's minor league system 18th of 30 despite their having high first-round picks for more than a decade. They don't have a single guy on Baseball Prospectus's list of the top 50 prospects this year (tonight's starter, Zach Duke, was an honorable mention). The Rockies have two and an H.M. The Braves, who have been pretty good at the major league level, have three including the top guy, Andy Marte. The A's have four and two H.M.'s, although you could argue that happens to be a product of their leadership and the guys who write BP using similar evaluation techniques. Or it could just as well be that Billy Beane figured out who to trade Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for by flipping through last year's Prospectus. One of their honorable mentions, Omar Quintanilla, belongs to Colorado now.
Jeff Francis (#11) and Garrett Atkins (H.M.) are already paying dividends for the Rockies at the major league level. (The third guy is Ian Stewart at #6.) The Pirates' organization on the other hand is full of low-ceiling guys and busts. It doesn't help that two of their established guys whom they thought were going to be affordable stars this year, Jack Wilson and Oliver Perez, have cratered. Jason Bay (.911 OPS) was a deserving All-Star, and lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez (9.3 K/9) is one of my favorite inexplicably unknown great players.
(Hey, I digress, but after Bobby Abreu's performance at the Home Run Derby, who is now the unofficial official Most Underrated Player in the game? Isn't this one of those weird titles like golf's Best Player Never to Win a Major that doesn't come with a trophy or a t-shirt or an official declaration or anything, yet everyone agrees that it belongs to just one guy? My vote goes to Miguel Cabrera.)
Back to the Pirates. After the guys I mentioned, Pittsburgh has a lot of regulars who are not bad players but will never be the centerpieces of a contending team. Craig Wilson, Rob Mackowiak, Daryle Ward -- these guys belong in the major leagues, but they're all complementary players, six or seven hitters. Matt Lawton is having a good year in the leadoff position but there's no one to hit on either side of Bay. The Pirates are getting a .277 OBP out of the two hole. Bay could walk 100 times this year, which is good for Canada but bad for Pittsburgh.
You find the same sort of reduced expectations in the pitching staff. There's nothing individually objectionable about Josh Fogg, Kip Wells, or Mark Redman, it's just none of these guys would be any higher than a fourth man in a good rotation. The bullpen is full of vaguely familiar names like Salomon Torres, John Grabow, and Brian Meadows. Their closer is Jose Mesa. If you make a list of all of the guys in the majors whom you consider to be "proven closers," Mesa will be on it, but he'll be the last guy. The Pirates have a bad case of too much of an okay thing, and if they continue trading their old OK players for younger OK players, they're going to tread water for all eternity. They need a housecleaning far more than the Rockies do.
Wow, that was a lot to write about a matchup between two last-place teams. Pitching matchups: Duke-Francis, Wells-Wright, Dave Williams-Kim, Redman-Chacon. Yeah, I've never heard of Dave Williams either. Wonder what his story is. I can tell you he's left-handed.
Rockies 3, Nationals 2
Raise your voices, Rockies fans! It just doesn't get any better than this! Well, not this year, anyway. J.D. Closser homers (take that, Danny Ardoin)! Jason Jennings dominates (take that, trade rumors)! Livan Hernandez plunks four (take that, sundry exposed Rockies parts)!
While the local pressmen will no doubt make a big deal out of Colorado taking two of three from a first-place club, it's important to remember the caliber of the lineup the Nationals ran out tonight. Jamey Carroll, Brian Schneider, and Carlos Baerga are hardly intimidating presences. Washington hardly looks like a team long for playoff contention. Well, it was nice while it lasted.
The good news for the Rockies is Matt Holliday appears all the way back (2 for 4 with a double), Cory Sullivan is reacting positively to getting regular starts in the leadoff spot (two hits AND a walk), and Closser looks like a new man (a single and a walk in addition to the homer). Nearly the whole Rockies bullpen got a look after Jennings left early with a baserunning injury, and Acevedo, DeJean, Miceli, and Fuentes did not disappoint, going four scoreless with four hits and three strikeouts. Hooray, road series win! I'm so happy I could almost forget we're still 33-60!
Nationals 4, Rockies 0
I guess you have to tip your cap to John Patterson, he really had it in this game. Shawn Chacon didn't hurt his trade value any by allowing only two earned in seven innings. Zach Day, on the other hand, was terrible, retiring not a soul in the eighth. It is possible to take starters out of their routine and convert them to relievers in midseason, but it's not always a good idea. Also, Zach Day isn't very good to begin with.
No offensive highlights to report, as Patterson, Mike Stanton, and Chad Cordero combined to four-hit the Rockies. Danny Ardoin is now at an even .200. Eric Byrnes at least looked as if the taste for winning hasn't completely been sucked out of him. Just you wait, kid.
Did anybody else notice that Cordero's jersey says "C. Cordero" on the back? I mean, who even knew Wil Cordero was still playing? And for the Nationals of all teams! That has to be a sign they're not going to the playoffs. Wil Cordero! What is it, 1994?
As contending teams far and wide begin looking over their shoulders at the out-of-town scoreboards, general managers' eyes turn to the rosters of teams like ours, visions of October dancing in their eyes. Somebody, somewhere, is going to make a trade that "makes a difference," and I don't mean Jody Gerut-for-Jason Dubois. Will someone wearing purple and grey today be seeing playoff action in a few months' time?
Brian Fuentes. Despite past assurances from Dan O'Dowd that All-Star Closer Fuentes will be staying with Colorado for the foreseeable future, SI's Tom Verducci lists Brian as his #8 guy "on the block." As reported by Purple Row, the Angels are sniffing after Fuentes. The Marlins were asking a while ago, but now seem to be looking at Jorge Julio and/or Steve Kline from the Orioles. I don't think the Rockies should trade Fuentes; he's cheap and decent and their bullpen would be an utter fiasco without him. Of course, "fiasco" is relative, it's not like there's going to be a ton of leads to hold from this point onward anyway.
Shawn Chacon. Although some of my colleagues will be sorry to hear it, Chacon is probably gone sooner rather than later. The Yankees have lost interest after Al Leiter fell into their laps (wait a week, boys), but the Denver Post mentions the Giants, Padres, Rangers, and Devil Rays(?) as possible suitors. I've never thought Chacon was that good, and his plunging K/9 and K/BB ratios suggest the Rockies might want to get something from him while the getting is good. Frankly, after his performance last year it's extraordinary he's managed to raise his profile to its current lukewarm level.
Eric Byrnes. Good thing I haven't ordered that #35 jersey yet. The Yankees would like to plug Byrnes in at center, according to the New York Times. I personally wouldn't deal with the Yankees on general principle but the few young guys they have that are worth a toss are either playing (Robinson Cano), hurt (Chien-Ming Wang), or a third baseman (Eric Duncan). Hopefully the Rockies won't rush into making a deal just for the sake of appearing to be doing something as they arguably did with Preston Wilson. Byrnes is no superstar but he's not a bad player and unlike Wilson he's not ridiculously overpaid. Plus, the hair.
Bobby Seay is gone, probably for good. Jose Acevedo takes his place. Also Matt Holliday is back, so that's it for Ryan Spilborghs for the time being. Spilborghs had two singles in his lone major league start.
They're Still the Expos, People
They last played baseball in Washington, D.C. a long time before the Rockies saw the light of day, so this series will make minor Colorado history. The light-hitting, heavy-pitching Nationals have been the feel-good story of the NL so far this year, but I think most experts and knowledgeable fans suspect that the second half will not as kind to them. Washington is 53-39 but only a game and a half in front of the Braves, who are apparently as unkillable as the T-1000. Baseball Prospectus's handy third-order winning percentage standings have the Nationals at 44-48 and in last place in the East. They still have a good shot at the playoffs because of all the wins they've already piled up, but make no mistake, this team still has a lot of Expo in them.
Mostly in the offense. The Nationals rank 14th in the National League in OPS, are tied for last in runs scored, and are last in home runs. They're getting it done partly with pitching and partly with smoke and mirrors. (24-11 in one run games, and if you think that's ridiculous, the White Sox are 23-9.) Nick Johnson is hurt, so Jose Guillen (plus Ryan Church if he's playing) is the guy to pitch around. Preston Wilson is 4 for 15 with a homer and a double since the Rockies sent him over. Marlon Byrd, Junior Spivey, and Carlos Baerga have all been terrible. Brian Schneider, the catcher, is known for his defense. Cristian Guzman is one of the worst players in this era of the game.
Among the starters, Livan Hernandez (3.41 ERA) has the gaudy record but it's John Patterson who has the best numbers (2.92 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.37 K/9). It's a telling sign of Washington's offensive ineptitude that in 16 starts Patterson has only earned three wins in five decisions. The other guy the Rockies will see in this three-game series is Tony Armas, who has been average (4.97 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.97 K/9). The Rockies counter with BK (vs. Armas, tonight), Shawn Chacon (scheduled to oppose Patterson on Tuesday), and Jason Jennings (vs. Livan on Wednesday).
While they're a lot closer to 10th place than to 1st, Washington's bullpen does rank 4th in the NL in ERA at the moment. Chad Cordero (1.11 ERA, 32 saves, 1.01 WHIP) is the standout in a group that has a lot of anonymous names having decent years, like Hector Carrasco, Gary Majewski, and Luis Ayala. Mike Stanton came on board recently from the Yankees and balked in a winning run in his first appearance.
If the Rockies win one in spacious, pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium, I'll be pleasantly surprised. The Nationals aren't terribly good, but they are playing for something, and their sterling home record (30-13) sure says to me that they're awful juiced to have a home city that wants them. Miles, Mohr, and Ardoin are all starting tonight, so it might be a good evening to catch up on your reading.
Reds 7, Rockies 6 and Reds 9, Rockies 4
OK, the Rockies get swept on the road, no big deal, happens all the time. Still, the Reds are a lousy team and losing back-to-back games started by Eric Milton and Ramon Ortiz is pathetic. Saturday's game, a back-and-forth affair, was at least entertaining to watch. Despite taking the lead four times, the Rockies seemed destined to lose from the outset. Sunday's game was just ugly, although Cory Sullivan and J.D. Closser both homered.
At this point, the rest of the season seems a foregone conclusion. This team isn't good enough to make a surge for fourth place, nor quite bad enough to make a race into the history books. I'd make a plea for the immediate release of Aaron Miles, Desi Relaford, and Dustan Mohr, but I think I already did. Colorado doesn't really have any better candidates for the rotation, so it has to be more of the same on that end. Perhaps Zach Day and Aaron Cook will be better than Joe Kennedy and Shawn Chacon (if he gets traded). Maybe they won't. Anyway I'm not going to any more games until Danny Ardoin and Closser's roles are reversed and Mohr is safely off of the 40-man. There are too many more interesting stories going on on TV to rationalize an expensive trip to the Ballpark Winning Baseball Forgot. I finished the Harry Potter book today instead of watching the A's, and look what happened. Joe Kennedy got a win!
Pun Not Required, Name Already Silly
You probably all about Ryan Spilborghs if you frequent the more prospect-centric Rockies sites, but I like to take the nobody-cares-until-you-make-the-majors approach befitting someone who has attended hundreds of MLB games and exactly zero minor league games. (I swear I'm going to make it to Colorado Springs sometime this year. Maybe.) Spilborghs forced his way into AAA with a .341/.435/.525 line at Tulsa and didn't slow down at the Springs, hitting .355/.412/.581 to earn a promotion to the major league team. Well, nominally major league.
You won't find much about this guy in any of the major prospect books, probably due to his age (25). Also he hit .259/.357/.385 in a full season at Visalia last year, which is pretty bad for a corner outfielder. The last time he even managed to show up on Baseball America's depth chart for Colorado right fielders was 2003. Sickels granted him a writeup in 2004, grading him a C and commending his walk rate. "There's a chance he'll hit at higher levels, but it's less than 50/50...Rockies fans should watch him on the off chance he does develop." Maybe he did develop; maybe he's a minor league player having a career year thanks to some very friendly hitting environments. Either way, he'll get some looks this year.
Spilborghs was drafted in the seventh round in 2002. He played college ball at UC Santa Barbara (a very pretty campus, by the way, my college band played there several years ago). He's 6'1", 190, and was born 9/5/1979. He's never been much of a home run hitter (career high of 15 in '03 at Asheville) but has seen his doubles total explode this season. One thing he definitely knows how to do is walk, posting high OBPs wherever he's gone. What the Rockies really need is an outfielder who can hit home runs at sea level, but if this guy takes playing time away from Dustan Mohr, it can't be a bad thing. Best of luck to you, Ryan.
Reds 4, Rockies 3
Well, this could be a problem. With Jay Witasick in Oakland (where incidentally he couldn't get a single man out in his first appearance), Bobby Seay took the ball in the eighth inning of a one-run game in Cincinnati and promptly delivered the game safely into the Reds' hands. Adam Dunn hit a two-run shot to give Cincy all the runs they would need. Jorge Piedra's homer in the top of the ninth went to waste as David Weathers was able to earn an extremely cheap save. Ken Griffey had a homer and made a great throw to the plate. Remember when he used to have that sort of game all of the time? Those were the days.
Jason Jennings pitched really well (perhaps Hurdle's vote of confidence in having him start the second-half opener paid immediate dividends). Danny Ardoin had a weakly struck RBI single (I still think Closser should be playing). Both teams had six hits. These are bad teams.
Weird lineup tonight, with Miles leading off and Dustan Mohr in center. (Dustan Mohr in center? Isn't Byrnes a little more suited for that job?) Ryan Spilborghs is making his major league debut, I guess I'll get something up about him later. Hopefully Jeff Francis will be at the top of his game because the offense isn't doing anybody any favors. If Clint Hurdle has been assured his job is secure, why is managing against the stated plans of his superiors? Could it be he doesn't know what he's doing? Do I hear an echo?
The Reds sure have a lot of guys with good hitting stats, but then again, they play in a bandbox that's garnering a reputation to rival Coors. Ken Griffey (not horribly injured and it feels so good), Adam Dunn, Wily Mo PeÃ±a, Felipe Lopez, Joe Randa, and Ryan Freel all have OPS's on the sunny side of .800. Indeed, they're first in the National League overall in that stat. Also second in runs, second in slugging, and tied for first in homers. Rich Aurilia and Austin Kearns aren't having great years, but the Reds could be doing a lot worse. (They're fourth in road OPS, now that I check. So, not all the ballpark.) However, they only have 35 wins to the Rockies' 31.
Trouble is, about half the time, your team is on defense, and you have to send somebody out to the little bump to throw "pitches" to the other team's hitters. Here things hit a snag. The Reds are dead last in the NL in ERA, even behind the Rockies. They're also last in OPS against and 15th in WHIP. They don't strike out a lot of guys (12th in K/9) and when they get hit, they get hit hard (last in allowed slugging). At least they don't walk a lot of guys, probably because they can't sneak anything by anybody. The poster boy for Cincy's pitching futility is Eric Milton, who made our Negative All-Star Team with his 6.92 ERA, 29 homers allowed, and .305 batting average against. It doesn't stop there. Ramon Ortiz has quietly been nearly as terrible, 6.35 ERA, 20 homers, .318 BAA. The Rockies get to face both of these guys this series, in addition to "ace" Aaron Harang, who has been average to slightly above average (4.12 ERA, but a decent 1.24 WHIP and good 8.40 K/9 mark.
Danny Graves was made the scapegoat for the bullpen's poor performance, but things have hardly perked up since his release (5.08 relief ERA, good for 14th in the league). Thanks to the starters' awfulness, the Reds also lead the NL in bullpen innings, which isn't helping matters any. Kent Mercker, Matt Belisle, and David Weathers have been the best of a bad lot. They've tried a number of guys, among the notable stiffs still on the major league roster are Todd Coffey and Randy Keisler. Brian Shackelford, recently recalled from Louisville, has been pretty good in his first six appearances.
For your new-look Colorado Rockies it will be Jason Jennings (vs. Harang, tonight), Jeff Francis (vs. Milton, Saturday), and Jamey Wright (vs. Ortiz, Sunday). This is it right here. This is where we win a road series. No fooling.
Lineup for tonight:
Not completely different from what I hoped to see, although it makes my flesh crawl a little that Miles and Ardoin are in there. I like that the Luis Gonzalez-at-short experiment is to continue. Interesting that Clint is choosing to move Atkins from the two spot, where he's been very comfortable, to be Helton's protection at the four. We'll see how that goes. Eric Byrnes is wearing number 35, for all those of you who want to be the first on their block with a Rockies Byrnes jersey.
The Future is Now
The Rockies should take four days off more often. Seriously, there's been more exciting news this week than the whole season to this point. Of course, when your team is as bad as Colorado, the trade deadline is what passes for the postseason. Despite their bumbling, I'm looking forward to the game against Cincinnati tonight. I missed these guys! I'm also looking forward to how Eric Byrnes will look in a Rockies uniform. If it were up to me (and assuming Brad Hawpe is indeed unavailable), I would try a lineup something like this tonight:
Not...terrible. Of course, Dr. Clint in his infinite wisdom will probably run Dustan Mohr, Desi Relaford, Aaron Miles, and Danny Ardoin out there. Mohr and Relaford should just be released if they can't be moved before the end of the month. They're only blocking guys who might as well play seeing as the win-loss record from here on out is immaterial. Luis Gonzalez deserves a look as an everyday player, and if not now, then when? As for Ardoin vs. Closser, I'm tired of arguing about this. I know Danny has his defenders, but the guy is 30 and can't hit a lick. Closser has a chance to be a contributor; the Rockies need to maximize his PT to see if he can rediscover his form from late last year. If Colorado is to pursue a catcher in free agency next offseason, they should know what they have already in the organization first.
The rumor du jour has Shawn Chacon packing his bags for the Bronx. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, Chacon is no great shakes as a pitcher and the oft-disparaged Yankees farm system has proven a lot deeper than expected so far this year. Pitchers Sean Henn and Scott Proctor are the names mentioned by the Post. On the other hand, Chacon seems a true rarity: a pitcher who appreciates the unique challenges and opportunities offered by starting at Coors Field. It never hurts to have a relatively inexpensive known quantity or two at the back end of your rotation. More about Proctor and/or Henn when and if we acquire them.
Quickly, some more morning reading: a new Troy E-bag, MLB.com's NL West midseason report, Mark Cuban wants to buy the Cubs. If you have MLB.tv and access to the archived game telecasts, I highly recommend viewing Rich Harden's performance from last night. Harden threw only 81 pitches in two-hitting the Rangers. Boy, if they ever get this Baseball World Cup thing off the ground, Team Canada is going to have a heck of a pitching staff.
The Wasted Money All-Stars
To cut the tension during Rich Harden's near-perfecto tonight, trusted colleague/official TGTBATB fact-checker Ali and I went down the rosters of every major league team and picked ourselves a 25-man roster of the most glaring underperformers. These are guys making seven or eight figures and struggling to play at replacement level. These are the guys who are going to cost GM's their jobs.
Sources for this bit of research were ESPN.com for basic stats and salaries, MLB.com for injury news, and Baseball Prospectus for VORP figures. I checked Hardball Dollars a couple of times to confirm contract lengths as well. All salary figures are rounded to the nearest $100,000.
Catcher. This was a hard spot to fill seeing as MLB's current standards for offense from a catcher are not very high. There are a few guys making big money and earning it, and there a lot of guys making nothing and deserving less. Philadelphia's Mike Lieberthal is the obvious starter for our team, making as he is $7.5 million to hit .240/.323/.400 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging). Lieberthal's VORP is 6.7, which is on the high side for this group. As backup we went with Houston's Brad Ausmus, perennially one of the worst hitters in baseball. Ausmus's numbers are .241/.327/.294, and his VORP is barely positive at 1.1. He's a relative bargain at $3 million this year.
First base. Hopefully it's due to injury and not permanent decline that the Phillies' once-great Jim Thome makes this list as our everyday starter at first. Philadelphia certainly has to hope so seeing as they're paying Thome $13.2 million this year and have three more comparable years left on his deal. The numbers are pretty awful: .207/.360/.352 for a 2.8 VORP. And he's now hurt (again).
Second base. We've assembled a dynamite platoon combination to handle the second base job. The New York Mets' Kaz Matsui, making $7.1m this season and more next year, has a negative VORP (-2.7, to be exact) and a mind-boggling .234/.284/.321 line. He'll be partnered with Bret Boone, recently acquired by the Twins after a disastrous half-season in Seattle. The Mariners are still on the hook for Boone's $9m salary. For their trouble they received a stat line of .227/.295/.379. A 4.3 VORP makes Boone one of the stars of this team.
Shortstop. Thanks to all of the good vibes coming out of Washington this year, the historically bad play of Cristian Guzman has somehow gone under the radar. Guzman is making $4.2m in the first year of a four-year deal. For that money he's been the worst position player in the big leagues by a wide margin, hitting .198/.236/.288. His -13.1 VORP would be an incredible figure for a full season, let alone not quite half of one. We want Cristian in the lineup every day, but in case he gets hurt, Matsui is the backup.
Third base. An embarrassment of riches. There were so many great candidates for the hot corner spot that we could only pare them down to three, rationalizing that some of these guys can DH or back up at second and first. Florida's Mike Lowell is a fine player having an inexplicably awful year; he's at .226/.281/.353. That's good for a -4.5 VORP. Lowell's salary is $7.5 million this season. That's nothing compared to Seattle's Adrian Beltre, who gets paid $11.4m this year and more going forward in recognition of his one good season for the Dodgers. Beltre's 7.1 VORP is easily the highest on the team, but for $11.4 million (according to Hardball Dollars, $17 million) you should really be able to do better than .262/.303/.403. Finally, if you detect the distinct scent of cheesesteakemanating from our infield, you're not imagining things. David Bell is the third Phillie to crack the roster, earning $4.7m for his .252/.302/.359 numbers. We just couldn't overlook a regular with a -1.8 VORP.
Left field. A personal anti-favorite of mine since his days in Oakland, the remarkable Terrence Long continues his careerlong parade of ineptitude in front of the long-suffering fans of Kansas City. T-Long is "only" getting paid $4.9 million, with San Diego assuming some of that burden, but for a team with a total payroll of around $47 million, it's pretty hard to stomach this guy, who unlike more than a few of his "teammates" has never been good. .266/.304/.371, VORP of 0.1, meaning he's just this side of being a guy off the street. Billy Beane still has nightmares about Terrence Long.
Center field. While Darin Erstad and Orlando Cabrera came close, our lone Anaheim representative is the eminently deserving Steve Finley. While being compensated $6 million on the button, Finley has compiled a .230/.290/.414 line. That computes to a VORP of 1.9. Finley probably should have retired after last year, but hey, if someone was willing to give him this much money to be this bad, more power to him.
Right field. Another loaded position. Sammy Sosa, now of Baltimore, although the Cubs are paying a good chunk of his $17.9 million salary, is going on the cover of our media guide. The erstwhile Slammin' Sammy has been the black cloud spoiling the Orioles' otherwise resurgent season. Double-check if you wish, but it says here that Sosa is at .222/.300/.377. The former MVP has a -1.0 VORP. That's bad. Willie Mays-with-the-Mets bad. Our fourth outfielder is Texas's Richard Hidalgo, who could easily be a starter. Hidalgo's -3.7 VORP is one of the worst among all outfielders in the bigs. He's making $5m to go .211/.284/.405.
Starting pitchers. The competition was fierce indeed to crack our rotation. There were enough deserving candidates to staff three teams, really. Therefore the five guys we've picked, three righties and two lefties, are made of really sterling stuff. Our "ace" is Eric Milton. Perhaps you've heard a little about the struggles Milton is having in his first, $5.3 million year of a long-term deal with Cincinnati. His numbers bear closer appreciation. Eric Milton is truly the Cristian Guzman of pitchers. The number on the tip of everyone's tongue is Milton's 29 homers allowed, but he also boasts a 6.92 ERA and .305 batting average allowed. His VORP is a team-low -18.6. Joining Milton in the rotation will be Baltimore's Sir Sidney Ponson ($8.5m, 5.93 ERA, .331 BAA, -8.2 VORP), Florida's recently released Al Leiter ($7.2m, 6.64, .292, -9.7), and Arizona's Russ Ortiz ($7.4m, 5.88, .299, -4.0). The Rangers' Chan Ho Park will have to be our fifth starter, as he boasts the only positive VORP in the group (3.9). What distinguishes Park, besides his numbers (5.64 ERA, .293 BAA), is his salary -- $15 million. And he works for every penny!
Bullpen. Hey, if you thought the starters were nasty, it doesn't get any better in the late innings. We opted for balance, choosing four righties and three lefties, although certainly many deserving candidates just missed the cut. Danny Graves, late of Cincinnati, now of the Mets, is our closer. For $6.3 million, Graves has a 7.81 ERA, .341 BAA, and an inconceivable 2.06 WHIP. That adds up to a tasty -9.8 VORP, which is extraordinary for the limited number of innings a relief pitcher sees. Complementing Graves from the right side we have Boston's Keith Foulke ($7.5m, 6.23 ERA, .289 BAA, -1.9 VORP), Atlanta's Danny Kolb ($3.4m, 5.56 ERA, .286 BAA, 0.6 VORP), and the Tigers' Troy Percival ($5.9m, 5.76 ERA, 7 homers in 25 innings pitched, 0.1 VORP). Our southpaws are Yankee/National Mike Stanton ($4m, 7.07 ERA, .298 BAA, -2.0 VORP), Boston's Alan Embree ($3m, 7.93, .287, -9.1), and Baltimore's Steve Kline ($2.5m, 5.57, .252, -1.2). Bonus points go to Kline for badmouthing his own team and saying he wished he was still a Cardinal.
Disabled list. For fun, we also picked four guys, an infielder, outfielder, starter, and reliever, for the honorable distinction of being included on the team's DL. What we were looking for here was players who got off to horrible starts, then got lost for the season or a big chunk of it with catastrophic injuries. All while making gobs of money. Ladies and gentlemen, Bobby Higginson, .077/.111/.077 in 10 games for the Tigers, out since mid-May with an elbow injury. Higgy "makes" $8.9 million this year ($11.85 by HD's reckoning). Nomar Garciaparra, for $8.3m, was at .157/.228/.176 for the Cubs before going down with a groin injury you may have heard about. Oakland's Octavio Dotel, earning $4.8m, actually had some decent numbers -- 3.52 ERA, .185 BAA, 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings. But he blew 4 of 11 save chances and then elected to have elbow surgery despite the advice of no fewer than four expert doctors. Finally, we have Yankee Jaret Wright, he of the $5.7 million salary. Wright hasn't pitched since April, but thanks to small sample sizes he has some hysterical stats. 9.15 ERA. 2.29 WHIP. .400 BAA! For a starter! Wow!
Total payroll for our All-Stars? $205.1 million. Still less than the Yankees!
Feel the Byrnes
A day after, reports on the trade are coming in from all sides. A's assistant GM David Forst on Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick: "The two pitchers we got were exactly what we were looking for in terms of improving our pen. [Kennedy] is a long-term acquisition for us. He certainly has a chance to get back in the starting rotation. We have control over his contract for the next 2 1/2 years." Eric Byrnes is heartbroken but classy about leaving his home in the Bay Area: "Hey, I gave Ken Macha a big hug today.... I'm not upset, not at all. I didn't always see eye to eye with Billy [Beane] or Ken, but that's part of the relationship. I'm thankful the A's gave me the chance to play major-league baseball."
Mark Kotsay on Byrnes' future with the Rockies: "You saw it coming over the offseason. There were definitely teams that pursued Eric Byrnes. I think this is the best situation for Eric. He can play every day, possibly in center field, in a hitter's environment." Numerous articles reflect on Byrnes' popularity in the Bay Area, a cult of personality quite disproportionate with his on-the-field skills. Hey, nothing quite perks up the second half of a lost season like an inexplicable fan favorite. Just ask Bucky Jacobsen or Augie Ojeda.
Over on the other side of the country, Jim Bowden giggles about fleecing the Rockies. "Let's lay out what this deal is. We protected all the organization's top prospects, and we traded a pitcher that I think is very good, but in reality, he had a 6.75 ERA for us, wasn't on the major league roster, and didn't look like he was going to help us win this year." The Nationals also signed Mike Stanton, by the way. Wilson hit a solo home run in his Washington debut today, in a road loss to the Brewers. Let's face facts: Washington is not as good as its record. Somehow the Braves have managed to stay right on their tail despite three-fifths of their rotation and Chipper Jones being out of commission. Florida is still hanging around as well despite useless first halfs from Juan Pierre, Mike Lowell, and Al Leiter. The Nationals aren't going to the playoffs, although just finishing in contention should be a good story for Washington and MLB. An even better one if the team gets, you know, an owner.
Finally, to our beloved local press corps. The Post has some good parting shots from Kennedy ("I was part of the youth movement, then I wasn't part of any movement, unless you count getting traded") and Wilson ("When a team is winning that's a good situation"). The News has still yet another apology for the youth movement and their own spin on the trades. Only thing interesting there is the photo accompanying the latter, which makes Zach Day look about 14 years old. Go, youth movement.
Wasn't sure where to fit this in, but Albert Chen has a column on SI.com with a good All-Star quote from Brian Fuentes ("Yeah, I've never met anyone here") and a funny dis on "Angel" star David Boreanaz. It's since been fixed, but Chen's original piece pilloried Boreanaz for calling Mariano Rivera "Mariano Riviera," yet misspelled his name "Boreanz." I don't know, it was funny to me.
The more I read about Omar Quintanilla, acquired along with Eric Byrnes from Oakland for Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick, the more I like him. Quintanilla's reputation in Oakland might have been tarnished somewhat by the fact that he doesn't walk a lot and he put up his best numbers in extremely offense-friendly environments. Well, now he has a shot to play every day in the best hitter's park this side of the Mexican League. The results could be interesting.
Omar Quintanilla, 5'9", 190, was born 10/24/1981. He played his college ball at Texas and was selected in the supplemental round of the 2003 draft by the Athletics. Quintanilla swings lefty and has played short his whole college and pro career. All of the prospect books project him as a major league second baseman, however, due both to his perceived lack of range and the presence in Oakland of Bobby Crosby. This fits in right with Colorado's plans, as we have a gaping void at second compared with a rather long list of shortstop candidates.
Quintanilla started hitting -- .341 at Vancouver in '03, .315 at Modesto and .351 at Midland in '04 -- as soon as he became a pro. This year at Midland (AA) his average has gone down but he's increased his walk rate. The number that stands out with Omar is 64 doubles in about 1000 at-bats. The experts say that he makes up for his lack of selectiveness by making ringing contact with nearly everything he swings at. This could translate very well to Denver baseball, although thinking pessimistically it could also mean brutal home/road splits.
The authority most bullish on Omar Quintanilla's future prospects is John Sickels, whose Baseball Prospect Book 2005 provides a qualified rave: "The sort of player who can get away with a mediocre walk rate due to his high batting average.... I am extremely confident in his bat.... My bet is that Quintanilla will be ready for a Major League job in 2006. He could see action sooner than that if there are are injuries in the infield. He looks excellent to me and should be near the top of your list if you're looking for a second baseman for the future." Baseball America has him 10th in the loaded A's system (ranked 8th overall): "he would profile as a solid second baseman."
The doom-and-gloom Prospectus is the least excited about his prospects, likely due to that walk rate: "Making contact in Midland is bound to make you look pretty good, and his power in the Cal League is pretty pedestrian afer you make allowances for it being a high-octane hitting environment." Of course, they had no way of knowing this spring that Quintanilla's future would hold even more high-octane environments in Colorado Springs and Coors. I like this guy's chances a lot. If only Todd Helton could take Aaron Miles out ATV-riding so we can see him sooner rather than later.
After weeks of discussion, two trades involving the Rockies went down today, each in pretty much the form we expected. The Preston Wilson to Washington deal was finally completed, with J.J. Davis accompanying Zach Day to Colorado. The Nationals and the Rockies have been haggling about who would pay what portion of Wilson's salary for a month now, and in a sense they still are. Officially the trade includes a player to be named later or cash considerations to be sent to the Rockies, I imagine that this will end up being simply a valve for the ex-Expos to send some of Colorado's Preston money back the other way. But maybe if Wilson leads the Nats to the playoffs, they'll be so grateful that they'll send a real prospect. Otherwise this deal means nothing for Colorado after this year.
The other trade moves Jay Witasick and Joe Kennedy to Oakland for Eric Byrnes and Omar Quintanilla. Quintanilla is the only surprise here. I'm not at home right now so I will crack my books on the middle infield prospect later. Byrnes is a likable personality but not a terrific player; he's a tweener who's not enough of a hitter to start in a corner outfield spot and not quite enough of a glove to play center full-time. He does have a knack for web gems, though, often produced when he completely misreads fly balls off the bat. He's not any better than Matt Holliday and a step down from Brad Hawpe. I guess the Colorado plan is to let him and Cory Sullivan duke it out for the centerfield job. Maybe, just maybe, it means they'll put Dustan Mohr out of his misery. No guarantees.
With the return of Shawn Chacon and potentially Aaron Cook, the Rockies have no use for Joe Kennedy. I, for one, won't miss him. Witasick on the other hand will leave a void. Hopefully Dan Miceli will continue pitching as well as he has recently, because the last thing we need is a return to the insanity of early April's bullpen.
More on these deals when I get home to my research library.
AL 7, NL 5
Well, so much for Game 7 of the World Series being at Coors Field. Brian Fuentes didn't get in the game. I made it through an inning and a half of Fox's obnoxious graphics, screaming animations, and hype-crazy announcers until I flipped on the new Sealab DVDs. Please, back to the real games.
The Silly Season
I hate the All-Star Game. It's not real baseball. If you've ever tried to keep score of one, you know what I'm talking about. Real games don't see two or three substitutions at every position. The All-Star Game, and the surrounding festivities like the Home Run Derby, are for casual baseball fans, people who maybe only watch the World Series and two or three other games all year. These are the people who voted for Mike Piazza and Nomar Garciaparra. These are the people who buy replica Yankees jerseys with the names on the back. Makes my flesh crawl.
As a diehard, the guys I like never make All-Star Games. I like middle relievers. I like superutility guys. I like pitchers with reverse platoon splits and guys who are near the league lead in pitches per plate appearance. I like Doug Glanville and Steve Kline and Yorvit Torrealba. I get to see the Yankees and the Red Sox more than enough when they play meaningful games. No one has to tell me that Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero are good. I know.
Due to the vagaries of the selection system, it just so happens that my favorite middle relief pitcher, Oakland's Justin Duchscherer, is an All-Star this year. Thanks to the every-team-gets-a-player rule, so is Brian Fuentes. I will watch and hope that these guys get in, realizing most of America will be wondering what happened to Jeter.
This alt-rock combo that is "warming up" for the Home Run Derby is horrible. Let Peter Gammons sing!
Rockies 1, Padres 0 and Padres 8, Rockies 5
See, look what happens; I decide at the last minute not to go to a game and history ends up being made. If you haven't already heard, Saturday's win for Colorado was the first 1-0 final ever at Coors Field. Still, I don't regret staying home to watch the second game of the Oakland-Chicago series, which really has far more bearing on how this season might end up being remembered. The one run in that game scored on a double by Luis Gonzalez, who got a rare start at short. I've been advocating trying Luis "N.R." at shortstop for a while, so, good for you, Clint. Of course Gonzalez made a fielding error.
Who knows what got into Jason Jennings, who pitched eight scoreless. Whatever it was, Jeff Francis didn't have it today, as the Rockies will go into the All-Star Break with something they've seen plenty of this year: a series loss. Gonzalez started at short again and had three hits, as did Garrett Atkins. A total of 14 Colorado hits did not lead to victory, however. And the beat goes on.
It appears as if those weird rumors about a six-man rotation were indeed just rumors. Joe Kennedy will be the odd man out, according to MLB.com. It's not clear what other use the Rockies will have for Kennedy. They could always just release him, as they did Denny Neagle, who was making more money than Joe. Of course, Kennedy has not had any recent run-ins with the ladies of the night as far as we know.
Terry Frei had some words with Dan O'Dowd, who is apparently backtracking on using the altitude as an excuse...Preston Wilson: it's about the money...Troy E. runs down the midseason skinnny on Colorado's kiddie corps...Tracy Ringolsby was on the radio this morning saying he'd be happy with a rotation of Francis/Cook/Jennings/Chacon/Kim next year. I politely disagree.
Fun With VORP
Smart baseball people have tried for years to concoct a grand unified statistic, a single number that will quantify a player's total ability both in the abstract and in comparison to other players both contemporary and historical. From linear weights to win shares to TPVR, none of these numbers is perfect. However, they're all useful as tools, which is the whole purpose of stat-keeping.
Baseball Prospectus has a neat number they call VORP, for "value over replacement player." I like VORP because it has a concrete cutoff. You can make an argument for keeping any player with a slightly positive VORP and a single skill, like playing a good defensive shortstop or stealing bases. Anyone with a negative VORP, though, is playing worse than literally a guy off the street. If that guy is Oscar Robles, considerably worse.
Right now the top five guys in VORP (among position players) are Derrek Lee, Albert Pujols, Brian Roberts, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada. All of these guys are legitimate MVP candidates in their leagues. The bottom five are Cristian Guzman, Miguel Olivo, Tony Womack, Roger CedeÃ±o, and Chris Burke. The system takes into account position, since corner outfielders generally produce better stat lines than catchers or second basemen. It's worth noting that the metric isn't balanced in the sense that the very worst players aren't as far away from zero in absolute value as the very best players. If there was a guy hurting his team as much as Derrek Lee is helping the Cubs, I would hope he'd have been put out of his misery by now.
A "replacement player" isn't precisely a guy off the street, but rather readily available minor league or free agent talent to whom you can pay a minimum salary. Some guys within a point of zero VORP this year: Terrence Long, Rey Sanchez, Royce Clayton, Gary Matthews. Also Cory Sullivan, Danny Ardoin, and Jorge Piedra. And Aaron Miles. (Keep in mind that park effects are taken into consideration here.)
The Rockies only have two hitters significantly below replacement level. Can you guess who they are? Not J.D. Closser, who actually comes out a tick above positive and well ahead of his rival Ardoin. Not Eddy Garabito or Tim Olson or Jeff Baker. Nope, it's Dustan Mohr (-4.8) and Desi Relaford (-3.7). What do these guys have in common? Well, neither of them is particularly young. And, damagingly, both of these guys were signed as free agents in the last offseason by Dan O'Dowd. The Rockies are voluntarily paying two guys to make them worse.
Well, a bad signing is one thing. But why do Mohr and Relaford continue to play? Seeing as Colorado's season is essentially over, why can't O'Dowd cut his losses and just give these hunks of dead weight their unconditional release? Why give the fanbase a bill of sale about young players taking their lumps and maturing as a team, then give their at-bats to guys who have had ample time in the major leagues to prove they have no place on a winning club? As the season staggers on, it's becoming abundantly clear that the reason is O'Dowd and Clint Hurdle have no idea what they're doing.
I was going to go to game tonight, but this research put me right off of Rockies baseball. I'm going to stay home and watch the White Sox and A's on TV instead, while waiting for news of a Preston Wilson trade that will sacrifice the opportunity to add future contributors for the sake of saving a few million dollars which O'Dowd will certainly waste on next year's Mohrs and Relafords.
Here's who I want on the Rockies next year: Jeff Francis, Todd Helton, Clint Barmes, Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Cory Sullivan, J.D. Closser, Marcos Carvajal, Brian Fuentes, and Shawn Chacon. Byung-Hyun Kim can come back, but only as a fifth starter, and only for a wildly reduced salary, which shouldn't be a problem. Miles has got to go. I refuse to settle for Jennings, Wright, and Kennedy in the rotation, and neither should you. Zach Day is not an acceptable substitute. If signing free agent starters is an impossibility, than somebody's going to have to make some trades.
I think a lot of Rockies fans want to rebuild the legacy of the Blake Street Bombers, building a slugging offense that will dominate at home and get lucky a few times on the road. I'm not having it. You win championships with pitching. The success of Francis is enough to start me dreaming of a day when Colorado has an entire rotation capable of winning games all by themselves. Such a fivesome mixed with an offense that works counts, draws walks, hits behind the runner, and gets guys on third with less than two outs home would be able to compete 162 games a season, not something less than 81.
Update: You know why I can't stand Kennedy/Wright/Jennings? Look at the walks. Jennings leads the majors with 57. Kennedy is 20th with 44. Wright is tied for 21st with 42. That's 143 between those three guys. The Minnesota Twins, as a team, have 166.
Prepare for De-Prestonization
A trade for Preston Wilson to the Nationals is imminent! Or maybe it isn't! Zach Day and New Orleans Zephyr J.J. Davis would be the Rockies' bounty, assuming Colorado assumes more of the burden of Wilson's salary than they currently seem willing. The Washington Post also mentions the possibility of a three-way deal involving the White Sox, who would flip prospects and cash to the Rockies for Day, presumptively. Not sure what Chicago would get out of that transaction, especially since they're in hard on Jason Schmidt. No one seems to be very excited about either Day or Davis, myself included, and with the news that Mark Kotsay seems likely to resign in Oakland, Colorado may want to wait the market out a little more. Plenty more shopping days until the end of the month. (And the trade "deadline" is probably meaningless when it comes to Wilson, as the Rockies would be tickled pink if someone put a waiver claim on him.)
Padres 12, Rockies 2
OK, the Rockies are not experiencing a midseason resurgence. They're still bad. Jamey Wright is not a good starter. They're better than Tampa Bay, but that's not saying much. Colorado is going to enter the All-Star Break without having won a single road series, and in general, competitive teams can hold their own on the road. Jeff Francis, Garrett Atkins, and (obviously) Todd Helton are good. Brian Fuentes is worth holding on to. Everybody else is either trade bait or needs to take the second half to prove themselves. I'm looking at you, J.D. Closser, Cory Sullivan, Marcos Carvajal, Luis Gonzalez, Brad Hawpe. If you can get Clint Hurdle to play you regularly. Good luck with that.
The less said about yesterday's game, the better. I realize Hurdle probably just wanted to give him some work with the break pending, but Byung-Hyun Kim is simply unfit for relief service. Bobby Seay looks to be the next sorta young guy exchanged for an older stopgap (Jose Acevedo). Although Seay is only six months younger than Acevedo, which probably indicates that Colorado needn't give him many more chances. Preston Wilson, with a homer, is being very cooperative with plans to trade him.
About that: the Denver papers had their chance to weigh in on the Zach Day rumors this morning, and it looks like they remain rumors for now. "Nothing is imminent," says Dan O'Dowd, and he would know better than I. The Rocky Mountain News offers conjecture about a competing offer from Texas, naming Ian Kinsler (.277/.342/.489, 16 homers in AAA) as a possible Colorado target. Further bulletins as events warrant.
Update: Mark Kotsay got his extension in Oakland. That means the Yankees and Cubs will look anew at Preston Wilson. In related news, the Chad Bradford-for-Jay Payton swap which some outlets had reported as a done deal is anything but. I love this time of year!
Your Division-Leading San Diego Padres
Man, the NL West is bad...how bad is it? It's so bad that the Padres, whose RS/RA suggest a record just a tick above .500, will have a nice cushion going into the All-Star Break. It's so bad that the five teams boast a 19-27 record against the NL East, a 46-53 mark against the NL Central, and a 32-55 interleague tally. It's so bad that the Rockies, Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Giants will only have one starter (Jeff Kent) and six players on the National League All-Star Team. The absolute minimum would be five.
Jake Peavy, a starting pitcher, got the All-Star nod, and despite their position in first it's hard to argue that any of San Diego's offensive players got slighted. They're 12th in the league in OPS, 15th in slugging, and 12th in home runs. Only part of that can be blamed on Petco Park. Brian Giles is having a very good all-around season (.296/.423/.510) but he doesn't have a lot of homers (9) for a corner outfielder. Ryan Klesko leads the team with 13 long balls but is hitting "only" .262. Two regulars, Geoff Blum and Sean Burroughs, are having brutal years. Burroughs is slugging .297. Celebrated second-year shortstop Khalil Greene has regressed offensively. A lot of the guys with good numbers are platoon players like Mark Sweeney, Robert Fick, and Xavier Nady. Dave Roberts has responded well to the everyday leadoff role, with a .346 OBP and 14 steals.
Pitchingwise the Padres are not as good as they could be. Considering their home ballpark and the talent they have assembled, a middling 7th in the NL in ERA is not very good. Peavy is the ace, with an ERA of 3.14 and blazing peripherals -- 1.01 WHIP, 9.99 K/9. Adam Eaton has been solid. Woody Williams has been Woody Williams-like. So, for that matter, has Brian Lawrence. If the Padres had the Cardinals' offense, this pitching staff would be more than acceptable, but as it is, they need more from the 3rd and 4th guys than steady innings-eating and mid-4.00 ERAs. The fifth spot, not uncommonly, has been a problem. Tim Stauffer and the departed Darrell May and Tim Redding are a combined 3-12, although Stauffer has shown some signs of life. Trevor Hoffman leads a very good bullpen that mixes warhorses like Chris Hammond and Paul Quantrill with younger guys like Akinori Otsuka and Scott Linebrink. It's a good thing San Diego is built for close games because they're going to be in a lot of them.
Lucky for the Rockies, they miss Eaton (who has a middle finger injury on his pitching hand) and Peavy this time around. It'll be Stauffer vs. Jamey Wright today, Lawrence and Jason Jennings on Saturday, and Dennys Reyes (not to be confused with Danys Baez) facing Jeff Francis on Sunday before all baseball shuts down for the interminable All-Star Break. At least we can check out Chris Iannetta and Juan Morillo in the Futures Game.
Dodgers 9, Rockies 5 and Rockies 8, Dodgers 5
It's a good thing Todd Helton has decided to join our season already in progress, because the Rockies' starting pitching seems to be getting worse. There has been noise about a six-man rotation after the break, which sounds like a terrible idea to me. Why would you do anything to take the ball out of Jeff Francis's hands? I imagine the Rockies are hoping that one of the group of Chacon, Kennedy, and Jennings will benefit from the added rest, string two decent starts together, and be out of here before the 31st. It's no weirder than what Lou Piniella has been raving about recently.
Wednesday night: Shawn Chacon made his first start off the disabled list and got slapped around. Oscar Robles only managed one hit for the Dodgers, his low for the series. Helton was 2 for 5 as his slow, inevitable crawl to .300 continued. Cory Sullivan had a very nice day in the leadoff slot with three singles, although he was stranded each time. 4-6, Wilson-Atkins-Hawpe, had two hits apiece. The bottom of the lineup, though, was 1 for 10. Danny Ardoin is going to meet J.D. Closser going the other way soon, and Closser hasn't exactly been tearing it up. J.D.'s already 2 points higher in OPS, but when the figures you're talking about .665 and .663, that's nothing of which to be proud. David Cortes had another terrible outing and earned a demotion (second item).
Thursday: Joe Kennedy made the starts and got slapped around. The Rockies' best relievers, meaning Marcos Carvajal, Brian Fuentes, and Jay Witasick, joined by new/old acquisition Mike DeJean, were lights out for the last four innings, giving up a single hit and one walk among them. Helton had two jacks, Brad Hawpe one. Closser had a hit and a walk. The Rockies were a little more lucky than good, scoring eight runs on seven hits and two walks, but so what. Sullivan hit leadoff again and had a single. Fuentes was particularly on, striking out two of the three guys he faced.
So seriously, who is Oscar Robles? It's a question I think we all asked ourselves many times throughout the four-game series with the Dodgers. The 29-year-old, a second baseman by trade, is hitting .343/.403/.400 through 70 AB's with Los Angeles splitting time between short and third. You won't find his name in any of the prospect books because he's a career Mexican Leaguer. He joined the Dodgers two months ago. Robles, who swings left-handed, put up a .382/.473/.552 line last year for Mexico City, which means something. He may well be a better hitter than Cesar Izturis. Of course, there are a lot of pitchers who are better hitters than Cesar Izturis.
Well, I just thought I'd write something quick before the end of the day so as to not break the little streak I have going. I'll take a look at the last two games tomorrow. Helton's back, right? Can our starting pitching (sans Francis, and, ulp, BK Kim) get any worse? WHO IS OSCAR ROBLES? These questions and more will be answered or at least addressed.
Rockies 6, Dodgers 1
Hey, what'd I say? Jeff Francis start, automatic win. This kid is saving our season (such as it is). Todd Helton homered (maybe his mental health is improving), as did J.D. Closser. Something old, something new. Somehow Francis managed to work around the unstoppable onslaught of Oscar Robles (WHO is Oscar Robles?) and 11 Los Angeles hits overall. He didn't walk anybody, though. Funny how that leads to good things.
The Rockies were back in double-digit hits, something we haven't seen often enough from them even at home. Helton and Rookie of the Month Garrett Atkins had threefers. Aaron Miles didn't play, but Dustan Mohr did, so that's a wash there. The Rockies, like their opponents, didn't draw any walks. I guess Odalis Perez is usually around the strike zone (you could say that: 10 walks on the year) but the Colorado lineup got three innings of Elmer Dessens and Scott Erickson too. Oh well, a win's a win.
Meanwhile the good team I follow, the A's, got back to .500 in extra innings in Toronto. That makes me really happy. Of course, the Angels have obnoxiously been almost as hot the last few weeks, keeping Oakland 9 1/2 back despite their winning 14 of their last 16. Stupid, rich, name-changing, having-their-nickname-on-their-road-jerseys Angels. It would be nice one day to hate some teams in the Rockies' division as much as I hate Anaheim and Seattle. I'm indifferent to the Giants and Dodgers, mildly dislike the D-Backs, and am kind of partial to San Diego. The Rockies need to help me out here by finding their way into some pennant races before I get too old. Also, as a few people have taken to pointing out lately, the NL West is a really poor division right now.
Trouble brewing: The team the Rockies really want to do business with, the Cubs, are playing so badly that they might fall right out of the wild card race and hence out of the Preston Wilson sweepstakes...I recommend you go vote for Scott Podsednik in the AL "Final Vote" poll, if only to keep that showboating jackaninny Jeter from taking any staged dives into the stands at Comerica and damaging his delicate features. The guy who deserves to win in the NL, Roy Oswalt, is out ahead in that contest, possibly because I voted for him (with Podsednik) like 90-something times last night...the Dodgers and Paul DePodesta may step in on Wilson bidding with the loss of J.D. Drew. Rockies brass will attempt to convince Preston to change his name to "Jason" to expedite a deal.
Dodgers 4, Rockies 3 (11 innings)
Clint Hurdle was really taking it on the chin on the radio this morning. Apparently the 20,000 people who only go to Rockies games on the 4th of July were real put out with his quick hook of Byung-Hyun Kim. Although I'm hardly a Hurdle apologist, it's hard to fault his logic here. Kim has hardly been a sure thing this year, his pitch count was at 97, and David Cortes was having a decent year until last night.
Cortes, who faced three hitters and retired none of them to begin the seventh, got credited with a hold for his trouble. What a great stat that is. Hurdle, who probably wanted to give his top relievers a breather, ended up having to lean on Brian Fuentes for two innings, Marcos Carvajal for 1 2/3, and Jay Witasick for an inning. Witasick took his second consecutive loss as Oscar Robles (who's Oscar Robles?) knocked in Jason Grabowski in the 11th for his fifth hit of the game. When it rains, it pours.
Don't blame Hurdle for this one, blame the Rockies' offense, which managed only five hits off Jeff Weaver and walked only three times the whole game. Aaron Miles was 3 for 5. Maybe he'll get terribly hot and Colorado can trade him! Minnesota is desperate for middle infielders...but probably smarter than that.
The Los Angeles Dodgers...of Los Angeles
The Rockies face the Dodgers for the first time since May 1st, when Los Angeles finished off a sweep at Dodger Stadium and kept the ball rolling on what would finish as a 10-game Colorado losing streak, the low point of their season so far. Before that, though, the Rockies won the first two games of a series at Coors, including the April 22nd complete game barnburner (which I attended) that introduced the world to Jeremy Jennings.
As hard hit as the Rockies have been by the injury bug, Los Angeles has even more reason to complain. The Dodgers won the NL West last year and were considered at least candidates to take the division this season. Instead, the club is below .500 and slipping, with Jose Valentin, Eric Gagne, Milton Bradley, Wilson Alvarez, and Odalis Perez all on the disabled list as of this writing. Gagne is out for the year. What's more, today brings the news (reg. required) that J.D. Drew will be out at least 6-8 weeks with a broken wrist.
Who's left? Well, mostly All-Star Jeff Kent. Kent, who shares the team lead in homers with Drew with 15, carries a unique distinction. He is the current wearer of the Paul O'Neill Memorial (Tossed) Batting Helmet, presented to the active major leaguer whose guts I hate the most. Sure enough, in that Jennings gem earlier in the year, it was Kent's long ball that prevented me from seeing my first-ever Coors complete-game shutout. Perversely, I'm glad he's playing well even into his late '30s, as things just won't be the same without him. I really loathe Bartolo Colon, but hating a guy every fifth day just isn't the same.
Unless Kent and Olmedo Saenz can somehow take the Dodgers on their backs, the Padres are going to win the NL West in a landslide. The rest of the Los Angeles offense looks very poor indeed. Hee Seop Choi has 13 homers, but half of them came in one freaky series against the Twins. Cesar Izturis had a nifty May but has been otherwise worthless with the stick. Jason Phillips has proved an inadequate substitute for Paul Lo Duca behind the dish. With Drew and Bradley absent, it'll be a challenge for L.A. to even field three outfielders. Ricky Ledee has been fair to middlin', but guess what, he's on the DL. The rest of the Dodgers OF's are 1) named "Jason" or some variant thereof and 2) can't hit to save their lives.
The Los Angeles pitching staff has been hit equally hard. Brad Penny, whom they acquired down the stretch last year to be their postseason ace (he then got hurt), has proven worth the risk. His 3.49 ERA and 1.14 WHIP are the best in the Dodgers' rotation. Big free agent signing Derek Lowe has been reasonably good (3.96, 1.36, 6.18 K/9). In the aggregate the Dodgers' staff ranks 11th in the NL with a 4.53 ERA, not a good number considering the hurler-friendliness of the Stadium and the organization's pitching 'n' defense tradition.
The Rockies will catch both Penny and Lowe in this four-game series, in addition to the average Jeff Weaver and Perez (scheduled to come off the DL). Today will see Weaver facing Byung-Hyun Kim, then it's Perez-Jeff Francis, Penny-Joe Kennedy, and Lowe-Jamey Wright. Thursday's getaway game is a day tilt; the rest are night games. Go tonight if you can as Coors Field will probably be fairly full for the postgame fireworks show, and it never hurts to get nostalgic for those halcyon days when it was full all the time. Given the Dodgers' injury woes (and a Francis start, which is happily starting to mean an automatic win), a split here is probably a reasonable assumption.
USA! USA! USA!
Happy 4th of July. This is a pretty good country and I'm glad I live in it. Except for those kids who were setting off fireworks behind my apartment all night last night, I hope they all lose an eye.
I'm not a big fan of the Seattle MLB franchise, thanks to my longtime affiliation with their divisional rivals in the East Bay and the Mariners' avowed policy of not improving their playoff-bound teams in midseason. That said, it was very difficult to watch the press conference announcing Bret Boone's release. Being essentially turfed out by the franchise with whom he secured his place in history had Boone choking back tears. Boone's not a great player, just a good one who had a freaky great year for a freaky great team, but it's hard to see why the Mariners, in the midst of a second consecutive lost season, couldn't let him play out the string and retire with dignity.
An example of how my brain works: Since it's America's birthday, I chose this morning to conduct an in-depth survey on how things are progressing with Canada's team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto is a well-run team with a lot of likable, under-the-radar players. One of these guys, Shea Hillenbrand, is an All-Star in a selection that the Toronto Star's Geoff Baker writes is an example of the flaws of the multi-tiered voting system. No one will argue with the selection of Roy Halladay, who beat the Red Sox yesterday to improve the Jays' record against the leaders of their division to 8-3. Two games over .500 just past the season's halfway mark, Toronto could go either way when it comes to the trade market. The Blue Jays are 22-13 in the AL East (15-11 if you don't count the Devil Rays, which you shouldn't). They've struggled with teams outside the division (except for Kansas City) and in interleague play. Reading between the lines of GM J.P. Ricciardi's recent comments, this is a team looking two or three years ahead. Any further success they may have this year will come as a pleasant surprise. Maybe they're not as far away as they think -- despite a pedestrian offense, Toronto's Pythagorean record wou ld place them first in the division.
The White Sox probably didn't expect to have the best record in baseball at the halfway point. That's no excuse for them not making improvements, Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. He's right. The White Sox aren't particularly young and they're getting career years from a number of pitchers (Garland, Cotts, Politte, Hermanson). Plus they have to deal with the constant specter of The World's Cubbiest 24-Hour Beer Garden over on the other side of the Red Line's y-axis. Were Chicago's unloved team to pull off the unthinkable and bring a World Series home, it'd be a dramatic reversal for the worst intracity inferiority complex in sports. (OK, well, yeah, the Clippers. But Clippers aren't even trying. The White Sox have always tried to win. Except for that one time.) The ChiSox lineup seems to somehow be productive beyond its individual stat lines, and besides maybe light-hitting third baseman Joe Crede, who are you going to send out? You can never have enough pitching, though, and the White Sox owe it to their 18,000 devoted fans to be in hard on Jason Schmidt, Brad Lidge, A.J. Burnett, Jose Mesa, and even Kenny Rogers, as Mariotti suggests. Kenny Williams needs to start scouting Boston and Los Angeles de Los Angeles now and go get exactly what it is going to take to beat them in a 5- or 7-game series. Legitimate championship shots come to Chicago about as often as mild summers.
Back to the Rockies (long sigh) later today. Oh, that reminds me, here's an interesting item courtesy of ESPN's Old Man AL East, Peter Gammons: the Rockies had the best record in their division (12-15) in June. Did you know that? I didn't know that.
Rockies 3, Cardinals 1 and Cardinals 5, Rockies 4
I didn't see any of the games this weekend (Saturday: band practice, Sunday: migraine) but it looks we came this close to actually winning a series on the road. Oh well, we'll get them next time. On Saturday Brian Fuentes notched his tenth save on his way to the All-Star Game. Congratulations, Brian. J.D. Closser, Dustan Mohr, Luis Gonzalez, and Preston Wilson had homers over the two games. Todd Helton looked great on Saturday and terrible on Sunday, which is becoming a nasty pattern with him this year. Jamey Wright must have pitched some game in the win. The bullpen, despite Jay Witasick's allowing a ninth-inning run on Sunday, was its usual stalwart self.
AL and NL All-Star rosters are out. Cliff Floyd is probably the biggest snub; he has only his teammates Carlos Beltran and Mike Piazza, who don't deserve to go, to blame. Oakland's Justin Duchscherer, a rubber-armed middle relief menace, made the AL squad. Derrek Lee will start for the NL, meaning Albert Pujols will more than likely be the DH. That's the way it should be. Awful lot of Cardinals and Red Sox, but hey, those teams are good. The White Sox have two deserving pitchers and Paul Konerko to represent them. The NL's darling Nationals have starter Livan Hernandez and closer Chad Cordero on the list. That's what caught my eye, go check them out for yourself.
Maybe it's just me, but I think the Post should stop running these stories where the Colorado management promises more of the same. Winning teams don't give their GMs 5-year mulligans. I can understand if the team simply doesn't have the money to sign overpriced veterans. Given past results in that arena, I really can't blame them. But why then don't we have a manager and coaching staff who are noted for their soft touch with young players, instead of Clint Hurdle and his bizarre obsession with resurrecting the "careers" of Dustan Mohr, Matt Anderson, and Byung-Hyun Kim? "I think Dan's a brilliant guy," says Dick Monfort. "I think he's got a great mind...he did a brilliant job of getting rid of some payroll." It's not just about getting rid of payroll, it's about what you turn around and do with the money you save. Ask the post-A-Rod Rangers, or the Delgado-less Blue Jays, or the Brewers after dealing Richie Sexson. It's not a two-step process. You don't gut the team and start over completely. You build as you go.
Cardinals 6, Rockies 0
The natural order of things returns, as Chris Carpenter effortlessly mowed through the Colorado "offense" and Joe Kennedy didn't strike out a soul in 6 1/3. The only Rockies hitter to have a good night was Aaron Miles, which is bad, because we don't like Aaron Miles. Why does Matt Anderson continue to be allowed to besmirch the good name of the Colorado uniform? Is it because he makes the rest of the team look talented by comparison?
Rockies 7, Cardinals 0
Lots of bests and firsts in this one. Probably the hottest game the Rockies have played thus far on the year. Their best showing on the road all season. Jeff Francis's best road start in his career. Danny Ardoin's first major league home run. Francis's first career extra-base hit.
Francis looked like the savvy vet and Jeff Suppan the rookie as five Colorado hitters had multi-hit games (leadoff man Cory Sullivan, Garrett Atkins, who also homered, Brad Hawpe, Ardoin, and Francis himself). The Rockies' bullpen, which isn't young but is at least cheap, was extremely efficient in maintaining the big lead with which Francis left in the sixth. Dan Miceli looks like a great midseason pickup, and Jay Witasick and David Cortes are having fine years. Colorado did hit into four double plays, but look on the bright side -- at least they regularly had runners on base.
I think this game should be taken as a reminder of what it is we need to be prioritizing going into selloff season. The Rockies' offense is not very good, but at least we have guys like Sullivan, Hawpe, and Atkins who have upside and plenty of years to develop it. Colorado has strung together a surprisingly efficient bullpen using spare parts, something that would be even easier if the club ever caught a whiff of contention. What we need is starting pitching. Francis is the only guy on the ML roster right now whom I expect to be in the rotation of a Colorado division title winner two, three years down the road, unless you consider the intriguing possibility of making Marcos Carvajal a starter. No making any deals unless there's at least one AA or AAA starter candidate in the mix.
One name I'd like to throw out there is Oakland's Juan Cruz, a guy who's been a bust as a middle reliever in the majors because it just takes him too long to get into game mode. Cruz throws hard and had limited success as a starter for the Cubs a few years ago. If the A's still want Joe Kennedy, Cruz recently was sent to Sacramento to start after a disastrous stint with the big club. Cruz's fragile psyche might be poorly suited for Coors Field, but you don't know until you try. The Orioles on the other hand aren't going to trade Hayden Penn, and they really have nothing interesting beyond him. The Rockies need to keep working on the Cubs (for Rich Hill and/or Todd Wellemeyer) or reestablish contact with Boston (for any one of a number of guys). Message to Dan O'Dowd: If you see Brian Cashman's name on the caller ID, hang up.
You can't vote for the All-Star Game any more, at least until the 32nd man poll starts after Sunday's selection show. Who will be the Rockies' lone representative? There are at least a few worthy candidates I can think of -- Garrett Atkins, Brian Fuentes, Jay Witasick, Jeff Francis as a longshot. What do the experts say? SI.com's John Donovan likes Atkins. How can he name six Yankees to his team though? Joe Torre's not even the manager this year. CBS SportsLine has Preston Wilson. What season are they watching?
Update: ESPN likes Fuentes.
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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