Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Monthly archives: April 2006


Welcome Back BK
2006-04-30 09:33
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies won last night despite some sloppy defense and a bad case of Clint Hurdle. Their record in one-run games continues to shine, but honestly, the game last night shouldn't have been 9-8, it should have been 15-3. Nice game for Luis Gonzalez defensively at first, however. He better stop doing that or he's going to get stuck with the "super utility" label again. Which could mean regular starts for Jamey Carroll, a fate worse than death.

Clint: Just quit it. Quit trying to prove that the team is winning due to your genius. No more stupid bunt signals. No more running the team out of innings. Let the kids play. They can.

Miguel Asencio pitched in relief last night, alerting us all that despite what some of the online pitching forms have said Byung-Hyun Kim is indeed returning to make his 2006 debut tonight. He couldn't pick a better venue (Dolphin Stadium) or team (the Marlins) for his first big-league start of the season. The Rockies spent more money on Kim this offseason than any other free agent and it'd be nice to see him come out and prove worthy of it. I have a good feeling, since he will today be facing such luminaries as Reggie Abercrombie and Chris Aguila.

Let's all take a moment this morning to acknowledge the passing of Josh Fogg's sideburns.

Rockies 3, Marlins 2 (10 innings)
2006-04-29 08:38
by Mark T.R. Donohue

A rare Brian Fuentes blown save barely slows down the Rockies' road machine, as Clint Barmes gets a game-winning RBI in the 10th and Scott Dohmann notches his first career save. His fans must be going wild. Dohmann's success early this season (3.86 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 7.71 K/9, all of which would be even better had Scott not started the season cold due to, you guessed it, a viral infection) makes for an interesting comparison with Colorado's approach to building a bullpen last year. After trying and failing to sign a few third-tier free agent relievers, Dan O'Dowd allowed the Rockies to begin the 2005 season with a virtually all youth-movement bullpen, and the results were not pretty. Dohmann, Ryan Speier, and Chin-Hui Tsao all struggled, and the club dug itself an inescapable hole in April. This year, Dohmann is faring much better in a mismatched but effective bullpen group that features grizzled vets (Mike DeJean, Ray King, Jose Mesa), late starters (David Cortes, Fuentes, Dohmann himself), and only one genuine kid (Ramon Ramirez). I don't have the stats to back up the contention that this is "the way" to construct a bullpen on the cheap, but certainly it seems to have worked for Colorado. The Rockies are 7-3 in one-run games so far in 2006. There are articulate arguments for both the "luck" and "good bullpen" theories of overperformance in the close ones, but for now, I support the latter.

OK, who had "one month" in the When They'll Start Taking Us Seriously poll? "Don't underestimate the Rockies. April was no fluke, and they have a legitimate shot to win their first NL West crown." Hooray! Of course, they're still ranked 19th behind such powerhouses as the Reds, Giants, Twins, Rangers, and Tigers, but we're Colorado fans. Our expectations are low.

I'm not a big Chuck Klosterman fan or a huge NFL draftnik, but Klosterman's immediate response to Houston's peculiar Mario Williams signing seems worth repeating: "The only problem is that Gary Kubiak has failed to weigh these points against the opposing argument, which is that REGGIE BUSH IS IMPOSSIBLE TO TACKLE. HE IS WAY, WAY BETTER THAN ALL OF THE OTHER DUDES WHO ARE ELIGIBLE TO BE DRAFTED. WHEN REGGIE BUSH IS RUNNING WITH THE FOOTBALL, THOSE ATTEMPTING TO KNOCK HIM TO THE GROUND CANNOT SEEM TO DO SO. THIS QUALITY IS ADVANTAGEOUS WITHIN THE GAME OF FOOTBALL, AS THAT IS PRETTY MUCH THE TOTALITY OF THE SPORT." And here I thought I had the market cornered on pseudo-scholastic, vaguely self-mocking sports prose peppered with occasional usage of the word "dude."

Update: It's a four-game suspension for Jose Mesa and his epic grudge against Omar Vizquel. Mesa will appeal but I doubt he's getting a reduction given the entire league's awareness of his weird history with Vizquel. Rockies fans know what this means: more appearances for Tom Martin.

Rockies 6, Phillies 3
2006-04-28 07:31
by Mark T.R. Donohue

And the Rockies are alone in first place. Take that, sayers of nay. OK, it's April 28th. Let's not get overly excited, or start figuring out playoff matchups (oh, hell, I can't help it: Colorado would play Houston and the Mets would get the winner of a tiebreaker game between Cincinnati and St. Louis) quite yet. Instead, let's look at what the Rockies' record was the last morning of April 28th. It was 6-13. Colorado was taking a break from its second extended losing streak of the young season thanks only to heavy snows in Denver. They wouldn't tie their first road series (as the 2006 team just did with Philadelphia) until June 30-July 3 in St. Louis, and they wouldn't win a road series (this team has won two) until July 18-20 at Washington. So, they're better.

And here's why they're better: 1.428, 1.272, 1.065, and .976. Those are the road OPS figures so far this season for Brad Hawpe, Cory Sullivan, Garrett Atkins, and Clint Barmes. All four of those guys were rookies last year, and none of them hit like that away from Coors. Sullivan didn't hit like that at Coors. Now all of a sudden he's a triples-hitting machine. Combine the work of this group of super sophomores with a fine bullpen, not-entirely-horrible starting pitching, and a overperforming bench led by Eli Marrero, Jason Smith, and Miguel Ojeda, and you've got a recipe for .500-ness. Even with Todd Helton hurt, Matt Holliday and Luis Gonzalez badly slumping, and Danny Ardoin a complete offensive nonentity. Will Hawpe, Sullivan, Atkins, and Barmes continue at this pace? No. But the longer the Rockies keep their heads above water, the more heads are going to be turned towards Dan O'Dowd's latest rebuilding plan, and the more people are going to be thinking that maybe, this time, they're starting to get it right.

As the offense returns to earth, the pitching (and also, hopefully, Helton) ought to be able to keep the Rockies winning at least slightly more games than they lose. Aaron Cook and Jason Jennings have each had bad outings, but have been on more often than not. Jeff Francis looked like a new man in his last start. There's no guessing how long Josh Fogg's weird run of semi-effectiveness will continue for, but Miguel Asencio appears like a perfectly acceptable contingency plan. We have no idea what we'll get from Byung-Hyun Kim. If he pitches like he did last year, then the rotation flies right past acceptable and moves dangerously close to "good" territory. Freaky.

The Rockies have an excellent opportunity to prove they've graduated from the sub-basement class of the National League this weekend as they travel to Greater Miami for three games against the team still provisionally known as the Florida Marlins. Colorado luckily misses Dontrelle Willis and draws the unimposing trio of Sergio Mitre, Jason Vargas, and Brian Moehler. Neither Cook nor Jennings will pitch this weekend and yet with the Zach Day era naught but an ugly memory the Rockies get the best of all three pitching matchups sending Francis, Fogg, and Asencio in that order. Actually, Mitre and Vargas are not at all bad, but the Rockies' lineup is much better than the Marlins' and the same goes for the bullpens. I'm not the sort of raging optimist who goes around predicting road sweeps but I certainly think the Rockies ought to win two of three here. Assuming they can contain Wes Helms.

The Not List
2006-04-27 09:00
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Lowest OPS totals among batting title qualifiers, April 27th

156. Jose Reyes, .659
157. Lance Niekro, .658
158. Jhonny Peralta, .656
159. Doug Mientkiewicz, .653
160. Orlando Hudson, .653

No surprises among this group, except for Peralta. You could call it a sophomore slump, except he played in the majors for half of 2003 before coming up for good in '05. Hudson isn't a great hitter, but what's been really surprising about his season so far is how poor his defense has been, as a recent (free) Prospectus notebook pointed out.

161. Ichiro Suzuki, .649
162. Russ Adams, .646
163. Jeromy Burnitz, .638
164. Kevin Millar, .637
165. Preston Wilson, .631
166. Yuniesky Betancourt, .625
167. Juan Pierre, .620
168. Joey Gathright, .613
169. Mark Loretta, .613
170. Emil Brown, .613

A lot of "old player skills" types in this group. Kevin Millar's career sure fell off the table, huh? Not to mention former Rockies Wilson and Burnitz. The other trend is fast guys who don't walk: Pierre, Ichiro, "potential superstar" Gathright. At the time I thought Boston's deal sending Doug Mirabelli to San Diego for Mark Loretta was a huge steal, but look at Loretta's numbers. Then consider that Boston has absolutely nobody now who can catch Tim Wakefield -- Josh Bard has 10 passed balls.

171. Rickie Weeks, .608
172. Placido Polanco, .604
173. Mike Sweeney, .601
174. Jeff Kent, .601
175. Brady Clark, .596
176. Brad Wilkerson, .595
177. Cliff Floyd, .588
178. Jason Kendall, .578
179. Scott Podsednik, .573
180. Jason Michaels, .572

Some more usual suspects in Kendall and Podsednik, but some big stars, too. I could have sworn Wilkerson was going to take to Texas like a duck to water. Maybe his shoes are too tight. Jason Michaels is one of those guys with stats that you look at and say, "Geez, why has this guy never been an everyday player?" Then every time he gets an opportunity to be one, this happens. I don't know why. Regular readers of the site know I always have plenty of unkind things to say about Jeff Kent, but I'm not feeling it this morning. I want to save my "A" material for the first Dodgers series in Denver May 15-17.

181. Royce Clayton, .566
182. Juan Encarnacion, .566
183. Mike Matheny, .551
184. Pedro Feliz, .544
185. Jeff Francoeur, .540
186. Alex (Boston) Gonzalez, .540
187. Rafael Furcal, .535
188. Chris Duffy, .533
189. Ray Durham, .528
190. Mark Ellis, .498

My God, Royce Clayton is playing every day for the Nationals? Oh, the humanity. When you get down this low it takes a certain special kind of player to continue getting at bats while playing this badly -- guys like Encarnacion, Feliz, Gonzalez, and Matheny have it down to a science. I guess we know why the Dodgers haven't run away with their division yet. But how are the Giants possibly tied for first with Feliz, Matheny, Durham, and Niekro? I think Durham must be hurt, he's usually a pretty reliable performer. Obviously Ryan Howard and not Francoeur was the right choice for NL Rookie of the Year last season. Ellis takes the accustomed place of his teammate Eric Chavez, who hasn't started the season ice cold for the first time in recent memory. What is it with the A's and the first half of the season?

191. Aaron Hill, .479
192. Adrian Beltre, .462
193. Brian Schneider, .461
194. Yadier Molina, .406
195. Rondell White, .314

Three glove guys plus White and Beltre. Wow, look at Rondell White -- that's some separation. .147/.154/.160, impressive. He'll get every chance to play out of it as it's not as if the Twins are flush with options. Then there's Adrian Beltre. Of the many things in baseball for which I am glad, the excruciating obsolescence of Adrian Beltre is perhaps the one for which I most often give thanks. Why, you ask? Well, let me answer your question with a question. What's the worst free agent signing in history? At the moment, you might say it was the Rockies' deal with Mike Hampton, and you would probably be right. But Beltre and Seattle are gaining. Quickly. Keep up the "good" work, Adrian.

Phillies 9, Rockies 5
2006-04-26 21:18
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Acute terminal ileitis. Personally I would be happier if Todd Helton's illness turned out to be something the name of which I could pronounce or reliably spell, but at least we've moved from the scary waiting phase into the phase where KOA plays silly get-well-soon messages and optimists speak of Todd sliding right back into the lineup the first day he is eligible to do so, which would be May 5th. We'll see about that, but at least we know for sure that he doesn't have an alien growing in his digestive tract. Although that would be kind of cool, especially if the alien threw left-handed. (Helton does, so wouldn't the alien logically do so as well?)

Question: in order for a team to establish a knack for come-from-behind wins, does it first have to establish a pattern for falling behind big early? Colorado managed to make a 7-1 deficit briefly interesting again tonight in Philadelphia, but ultimately Jason Jennings dug the Rockies too big of a hole. Nice night for Cory Sullivan, though, who had four hits including his first homer of the year. Garrett Atkins walked twice. Jason Smith started at first base and had two hits, as did Clint Barmes. The back end of the bullpen was effective, except for David Cortes, who was kind of due to get scored on a bit. And the Giants lost, so San Francisco and Colorado remain deadlocked for first in the NL West at one game over .500, 11-10. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are a game and half a game back respectively, although they're the division teams with positive run differentials. San Diego is really bad.

Aaron Cook and Jon Lieber will start in the last game of the four-game Philadelphia series. I had no idea it was a four-game series, something I would have found out if I'd bothered to write a series preview, but didn't the Rockies just play the Phillies like five minutes ago? I guess I'll do one for the Florida series this weekend, but I don't know how much left to say there is about the Marlins, either. I know they're bad, you know they're bad, they know they're bad. Hey, who foresaw the Mets running out to the biggest early division lead in baseball? New York is at four and a half games while no one else has a lead of more than one and a half. Watch out, though, as the Nationals have claimed Zach Day off waivers. I wonder if Frank Robinson signed off on that move. (We also learn in that same article that the White Sox have picked up Eduardo Sierra, which I guess means it's only a matter of time until Sierra is closing World Series games.)

News Items, Here and There
2006-04-25 12:22
by Mark T.R. Donohue

If you haven't signed up for Baseball Prospectus Premium yet, maybe your concern for Todd Helton will convince you to do so. Will Carroll's invaluable "Under the Knife" column has been all over the Helton situation, laying out all of the possibilities while remaining as soothing and anti-alarmist as journalistic integrity will allow. I'm not going to undercut Carroll and BP by quoting any of what's there been written, but I feel close enough of a bond with Will (in the sense that I feel fairly confident that he maybe knows who I am) to relay that one upside of Todd's stomach pains being so severe is that it probably rules out a chronic condition. But, on the downside, his being out of the hospital doesn't necessarily mean he's on the road to recovery, either. Helton remains without a diagnosis, but when he gets one, you'll hear it here first. Well, maybe at UTK first, but we will be the first to steal it.

Where are we sending the embarrassment ninjas this week? Will it be to Cincinnati, where it took GM Wayne Krivsky 20 whole games to realize that Tony Womack can't play anymore? Could it be Arizona, where the awful Russ Ortiz finally lost his spot in the rotation after one win in his last 16 starts (and with three years, $23 million remaining on his contract)? The chat rooms of are disqualified as they're not in fact a physical place, but just today I read there Joe Morgan continuing to insist that no one who didn't play baseball could ever teach him anything about the game and someone informing Rob Neyer that Joey Gathright is a "potential superstar." Sometimes I wonder about this country.

But England, on the other hand: Liverpool made it to the FA Cup final. Hells yeah. They ought to be prohibitive favorites May 13th against the Hammers of West Ham. Plus, Steven Gerrard claimed the Premiership's version of the MVP. That ought be enough soccer coverage for this month. I promise I won't bother you again with it until the eve of the big game at Millennium Stadium.

2006-04-24 22:01
by Mark T.R. Donohue

April 3rd vs. Arizona. Starter: Jason Jennings. Uniforms: standard home (white with purple pinstripes and sleeves, "ROCKIES" insignia). Result: W, 3-2.

April 5th vs. Arizona. Starter: Aaron Cook. Uniforms: second alternate (sleeveless black with silver trim and black undershirt, "COLORADO" insignia). Result: L, 2-4.

April 6th vs. Arizona. Starter: Jeff Francis. Uniforms: standard home. Result: L, 5-12.

April 7th @ San Diego. Starter: Josh Fogg. Uniforms: standard road (grey with purple pinstripes, "COLORADO"). Result: W, 10-4.

April 8th @ San Diego. Starter: Zach Day. Uniforms: standard road. Result: W, 12-4.

April 9th @ San Diego. Starter: Jennings. Uniforms: standard road. Result: W, 10-4.

April 11th @ Arizona. Starter: Cook. Uniforms: standard road. Result: W, 6-5.

April 12th @ Arizona. Starter: Francis. Uniforms: standard road. Result: L, 4-5.

April 13th @ Arizona. Starter: Fogg. Uniforms: standard road. Result: W, 5-3.

April 14th vs. Philadelphia. Starter: Day. Uniforms: alternate home (sleeveless white with purple pinstripes and black undershirts, "CR" logo on left breast). Result: L, 8-10.

April 15th vs. Philadelphia. Starter: Jennings. Uniforms: standard home. Result: W, 10-6.

April 16th vs. Philadelphia. Starter: Cook. Uniforms: standard home. Result: L, 0-1.

April 17th vs. San Diego. Starter: Francis. Uniforms: standard home. Result: L, 2-5.

April 18th vs. San Diego. Starter: Fogg. Uniforms: second alternate. Result: W, 3-2.

April 19th vs. San Diego. Starter: Day. Uniforms: standard home. Result: L, 4-13.

April 21st vs. San Francisco. Starter: Jennings. Uniforms: standard home. Result: W, 9-8.

April 22nd vs. San Francisco. Starter: Cook. Uniforms: alternate home. Result: L, 4-6.

April 23rd vs. San Francisco Starter: Francis. Uniforms: standard home. Result: W, 3-2.

April 24th @ Philadelphia. Starter: Fogg. Uniforms: second alternate. Result: L, 5-6.

The breakdown: The Rockies are 4-4 in their home whites, 0-2 in the sleeveless home alternates, 1-2 with the black second alternates, and 5-1 in the road grey. They should obviously wear the grey all the time on the road. They haven't worn the first alternates (solid purple, "COLORADO") at all this year, a trend I'm hoping first-time starter Miguel Asencio will take the initiative to buck tomorrow. Do it, Miguel!

Jason Jennings and Jeff Francis like sleeves (each have gone with the standard home or road every time out). Aaron Cook will mix it up a bit (home, road, second alternate, and alternate home each once). Fogg wore the greys his first two starts and seems to have switched over to the sleeveless black. Zach Day, not that we care, tried the home, the road, and the alternate home before getting booted out of the rotation. We'll have to wait and see whether the solid purples and the other option for the second alternates (purple undershirts, ghastly) are still in the mix this year.

I don't know what the point of all of this research was, but it sure was a relaxing way to while away an hour on a snowy April night.

Tom Martin?
2006-04-24 21:42
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Geez, I take one day off to concentrate on watching the Bulls game (nice little team, too bad they have absolutely no chance against the NBA's relentlessly star-hyping playoff officiating system) and things just keep happening. First and foremost, Todd Helton is out of the hospital. No word on a diagnosis yet, and it's far too early to even think about when he might be rejoining the team, but we do know that's he's feeling better, and that's a load off.

The Rockies managed to pull off their first home series win of the year Sunday against the Giants, but not without stupidly risking some costly suspensions by having Jeff Francis and then Ray King throwing at Giants' hitters. Words of wisdom for Clint Hurdle: he who manages best, manages least. Whenever Clint tries to prove his strategic acumen, the Rockies run themselves out of innings or start sacrifice bunting in the first inning of games at Coors. When Clint tries to be a disciplinarian, he takes good players out of games and their less talented replacements end up making the same mistakes on the field. When Clint tries to be a tough guy, he threatens to take wins off the table. The Rockies bullpen needs King and the rotation needs Francis. Tom Martin cannot be depended on to regularly throw two scoreless innings in tight games, as he did in the loss to Philadelphia tonight. Are we sure that was really Martin out there?

I liked Cory Sullivan's defense in center tonight. I also liked Eli Marrero's hitting (homer, single) subbing in for Helton at first. I like that Rockies pitching only walked one Phillies hitter all night. I don't like that the offense struck out 10 times against Cory Lidle. Strikeouts aren't that much worse than the other varieties of out in the grand scheme of things, but it may be time to start rethinking the lineup. I think the guys hitting in the middle of the order could stand to benefit from seeing more pitches taken than Sullivan and Clint Barmes usually look at. Anyway, Josh Fogg got hit early and often in this one yet the bullpen kept Colorado within hailing distance and the offense mounted a pretty convincing comeback attempt. One thing this Rockies team doesn't do is lay down and die. Another thing they do is copiously give up runs in the first inning, two more tonight. That needs to stop. Let's start blindfolding our starting pitchers, spinning them around until they get really dizzy, pushing them towards the mound and telling them it's the second, okay?

There's Some Serious Doings A-Transpirin'
2006-04-23 12:34
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Forget the game last night -- well yes, Barry Bonds hit a home run, that's somewhat significant, but ultimately indecisive, as it was a solo shot and the Rockies lost by two, anyway. There is a lot of news surrounding Colorado all of a sudden and it's going to take a rare midgame post to cover it all.

First and foremost is Todd Helton's mystery illness. At the tail end of the week for which he was fan-voted "player of the homestand," Helton complained of a headache after Wednesday's game, was hospitalized Thursday with a fever and stomach cramps, sat out the game Friday, and finally hit the DL today. Helton has yet to receive a definitive diagnosis. Quite few Rockies, including Scott Dohmann (who also spent time on the DL), Eli Marrero, Garrett Atkins, and Sun-Woo Kim, have battled viral infections in the early going this year. (Is this the altitude's fault, too?) The clubhouse reaction is equal parts confusion and fear. Todd Helton never gets sick. He never complains. Colorado can survive a few weeks without Todd's numbers, but will they be able to maintain focus while concerned about the long-term well-being of their obvious leader and unofficial captain? More news as soon as we have any.

Ryan Spilborghs returns from Colorado Springs to serve as Helton's temporary replacement, his recall necessitating the release of Eduardo Sierra ("When it's said that a player was traded for 'a warm body,' Sierra is what they mean" -- Baseball Prospectus 2006), the other pitcher along with Ramon Ramirez acquired in the Shawn Chacon deal. Chacon hasn't been very good for the Yankees thus far this year, and Ramirez has been the biggest among any number of pleasant surprises in the Rockies bullpen, so maybe we won that trade after all. Not that Dan O'Dowd's goal was net talent improvement in that deal -- the Rockies just really wanted Shawn Chacon, his attitude, and his salary somewhere else.

Speaking of pitchers we can't wait to see pack their suitcases, Zach Day is contesting his release, claiming that he belongs on the disabled list with a shoulder issue. Day has barely been healthy for a moment of his Colorado tenure, but he's simply never been an effective pitcher during that time, so however this ends up being resolved (and it's possible the Rockies could respond to Day's grievance with their own), let's just hope he doesn't further damage the franchise by ever pitching for it again.

There's old school, and then there's stupid. Matt Morris threw at two Rockies in the first inning of the game today, apparently in retaliation for a Jose Mesa beaning of Omar Vizquel Saturday, and consequently the umpires ejected Morris, Felipe Alou, and even pitching coach Dave Righetti. This may well end up costing San Francisco the game, the series, and an uncontested share of first place. Though Colorado has yet to capitalize, Morris's sub Kevin Correia has walked four in two and a third.

Jeff Francis looks excellent today, showing fine command of his curve and pounding the lower half of the zone for strikes. I think most Rockies fans felt like it was only a matter of time before Jeff got back on track, but now is as good a time as any. Of course, now that I've gone and written this while he's still on the mound, he'll probably get chased with a patented six-run Coors inning. But that will be my fault and not Francis's.

It's a True Thing
2006-04-22 10:43
by Mark T.R. Donohue

So I'm watching the Red Sox-Blue Jays game and Trot Nixon hits a grounder slightly to the right of second base. Aaron Hill goes deep in the hole to field it, double-clutches on the throw, and short-hops it past Lyle Overbay at first. Nixon overruns first base, is jogging into right field when he sees the ball get past Overbay, and makes the slightest little move towards running to second -- more of a head fake, really. Ben Molina, backing up the play at first, fields the ball and tosses it to Overbay, who tags out Nixon as he's nonchalantly strolling back to the bag. He's outta there. Sez Remy: "This is not called very often at all.... I'll bet you don't see that play twice all season long." And he's right. Isn't that why we keep going to baseball games? What makes baseball at once so enchanting and frustrating? The chance that we might see something we've never seen before and will never see again. The one night I decide that what I really need is not another Helton t-shirt but a nap and to save the last $30 in my checking account turns into the comeback of the year. I'll probably end up going to something like 50 baseball games this year and I assure you what I'll remember is not attending this one. Unless I catch another home run ball, or Josh Fogg pitches a no-hitter or something. That would be rad.

Cue the Standard Joke About Our Long National Nightmare
2006-04-21 18:22
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I didn't go to the game tonight. I got home from work, sat down to watch "Around the Horn," and the next thing I knew I was asleep. It happens. In any event, I woke up in time to catch the beginning of the contest on TV, and it turns out Zach Day was designated for assignment, with Miguel Asencio being recalled to take his roster spot. Hooray!

Series Previews: Giants and Clippers and Stars (Oh My)
2006-04-21 08:37
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies play the division-leading Giants in three games at home starting tonight, but I think I already went over most of what you need to know about this series in passing yesterday. Watch out for Moises Alou. If Barry Bonds plays, people will boo him. I'm probably going to go to the game tonight because it's the Todd Helton t-shirt giveaway date. If there's anything I need more of, it's articles of clothing with other people's names on the back. I'll be in the right-field upper deck in my purple #17 jersey if you need anything.

Two of Denver's somewhat more successful pro sports franchises begin first-round playoff series this weekend. Tonight will be my fourth Rockies game attended in 2006, not including the spring training games I went to this year. I went to two NBA games and two NHL games all season. I saw a Bulls-Cavs game in Chicago and a Nuggets-Bulls game in Denver. My hockey games were Avs-Stars early in the season and Ducks-Coyotes while I was Phoenix. I'm honestly too fixated on baseball to develop any sort of expertise in the winter sports, and as I've disclosed and been ridiculed for before, my second-favorite sport is English soccer. Being an American soccer fan is sort of quixotic but also very relaxing. The scores are never on ESPNews or anywhere accessible on the Internet so you're free to TiVo games and watch them at your leisure. Most of the folks playing FIFA '06 on XBox Live are European and extremely polite even when they're handing you your ass. Actually, the Canadians playing the EA hockey game are pretty low-key as well, but who wants to get beat by a Canadian? Pretty decent domestic season for my side, Liverpool, who will be back in Europe next year and have a decent chance to claim major hardware for the second campaign in a row assuming they can get by Chelsea in the FA Cup semis tomorrow. (The best thing about being an American soccer fan, of course, is getting to write sentences like that knowing that the vast majority of addled baseball fans reading this site will have no idea what it is I'm going on about.)

The Avalanche meet the Stars in a 2 vs. 7 Western Conference series and the Nuggets match up with the L.A. Clippers in a 3-6 showdown. In my limited exposure to the Avs this year, I've found the team more endearing than the Yankee-like All-Star teams Colorado fielded pre-salary cap, but also not quite so good. The Avs are very good on special teams thanks to Joe Sakic and Rob Blake, but they only have one reliable scoring line and have been hard-hit by the injury bug. What really dooms them is the peculiar decision management made several weeks ago to cut bait on goalie David Aebischer and bring in Jose Theodore, who was barely healthy long enough to learn where the home locker room is located at the Pepsi Center. The Stars have answers for Sakic and Blake in Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov, and they pose a question the Avs can't respond to with Marty Turco. I like the Stars in six, with my apologies to the many Avs diehards out there who are Rockies fans as well.

I have followed the Nuggets a little more closely this year, but my basketball loyalties still lie largely with the Chicago Bulls, who are probably the least talented team in the NBA playoffs this year. (It's probably not a coincidence that the two Chicago teams I continue to root for are the ones that won championships while I was living in Illinois. And the one I'm most fiercely devoted to is the one that provided my first concrete sports memory, of William "The Refrigerator" Perry awkwardly spiking the football in the end zone during Super Bowl XX. I'll wear a Nuggets hat or even a Carmelo jersey to a game assuming they're not playing the Bulls, but I'll be cold and dead in the ground before I betray the legacy of Ditka by rooting for or even acknowledging the Broncos.) Anyway, the Nuggets like the Bulls have a distinct lack of interior beef, which will be a huge disadvantage against MVP candidate Elton Brand and the Clippers. I think L.A. will win in 5, but I do want to take a minute before his season ends to recognize the development of Carmelo Anthony. 'Melo isn't a ridiculous physical specimen like his draftmates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. In fact he's a little bit chunky, which is kind of endearing. But sometime between his dreadful rookie-season playoff performance and this year's All-Star Break, Anthony morphed into an absolute assassin at the end of games. He's a legitimately great player and he deserves better than a team whose second-most reliable scorer is Earl Boykins. If only Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, or Nene could stay healthy long enough so that Denver could trade them.

As for the Rockies and the Giants, my guess is that Colorado takes two of three, with the reasoning being that they have to win a home series one of these days. Having Aaron Cook and Jason Jennings pitching helps. I'm cautiously optimistic about Jeff Francis finding his footing in his next start, too.

Break Out the Tinfoil Helmets
2006-04-20 16:58
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I get a little crazy on off-days. Today is particularly bad because Zach Day kept the game yesterday from being at all satisfying. I was watching the Baltimore-Cleveland game and thinking about how much I dislike the Orioles. I resent them for signing Miguel Tejada, who was my favorite player when I was living in Berkeley, and dooming him to a Todd Helton/Ernie Banks career path. I resent their spectacularly ugly orange-and-black third jerseys. Mostly, I hate their ornithologically correct-hat-wearing guts for their incredibly greedy, short-sighted, and territorial attitude with regard to the new Washington franchise. Their owner is an obnoxious power lawyer who made his millions off the misery and suffering of others (specifically, through asbestos litigation) and now is extorting money from a team it's in all of baseball's best interests to help thrive. This while running out a subpar product on the field and evidently lying about the money he's making all the while. Also, Corey Patterson is on the O's now.

Sure, I could think of mean things to say about Peter Angelos all afternoon, but my point (and I do have one) is a bit broader than that. The point is, steroids. That's all anyone in the press, on ESPN, or on the radio is talking about, but there are at least two things going on in baseball right now that are vastly more unconscionable than the steroid controversy. I mean, people have every right to be as incensed as they care to be about players juicing, but it happened. Nothing we do can change it. The steroid era is largely over with now (he said hopefully), and the statistics seem to indicate that just as many pitchers were juicing as hitters, so the wild claims made about the tainting of statistics may be something that dies down in time. Certainly unseasonably warm April weather has done just as much this season to boost power numbers. It's hard to see what further consequences another season of hand-wringing about performance enhancers can have. What, is MLB going to make the penalties for positive tests even harsher? Are they going to instigate public floggings, or worse, celebrity show trials with Jose Canseco as a witness for the prosecution and Mark McGwire weeping rivers of crocodile tears? I'd just as soon not, thanks. The current direction of the inquisition seems to be focused entirely on one player, which is absurd and unfair. And, as we've touched upon before, the Barry Bonds quagmire seems to be working itself out quite nicely, with the great man himself unable to so much as swing a bat without random loose pieces of bone and cartilage flying free from his body like space debris.

If anything, the most recent series of "revelations" about Bonds and who injected whom with what when has made me have more sympathy for the guy, not less. I'm not defending Bonds' cheating, I'm just saying that the timeline the most recent tell-all books have established has Bonds' steroid use beginning as a reaction to less physically gifted players passing him in the record books and the public imagination through rampant and seemingly consequence-less chemical augmentation. I don't forgive Bonds his decision, but I certainly understand it. If the other Rockies websites were flying ahead of me in quantity and quality of posts through the rumored use of blog-enhancing drugs, I'd be pretty conflicted about it. And as of right now, the Toaster doesn't test -- what would I have to lose, really?

But there I go proving my own point. Even people who are sick of hearing about the whole thing can't help but be drawn into the steroids debate. It's too high-profile, too dramatic, too mythic. It's like that Greek guy with the melting wings or something. And while it's a terrible embarrassment for baseball, it's also a perfect smokescreen. While the debate rages on in the public spectrum, as far as the lords of baseball are concerned, the steroid controversy is a dead issue. The penalties now in place will be the rules for a while. All the hot air blowing regarding amending or annotating the record books is merely hot air, as it doesn't take a meteorologist to tell you that this is flatly impossible and in fact ridiculous. In five years or so there will be much sound and fury regarding the Hall of Fame candidacies of many of the accused juicers, but five years is an awful long time. The Marlins could win two more championships and hold two more embarrassing fire sales in five years' time. And anyways, steroid controversy notwithstanding, lots and lots of people are still going to baseball games and paying greater amounts than ever for the honor of so doing. The steroid thing is a black eye for baseball, for sure, but they're already holding a steak up to it and it's going to clear up right fine before you even know it.

In fact, the continued media static over the steroid issue is tremendously convenient for Major League Baseball at the moment, because without much noise radiating beyond the affected areas fans in Washington, D.C. and South Florida are getting hosed like the kid in the "fire hydrant" scene from UHF. In his deepest heart of hearts, do you really suppose Bud Selig is broken up over all the mental energy national commentators are investing on pointing fingers at retired or near-retired Jurassic sluggers? Nuh-uh. Not while the Marlins franchise is pocketing something like $50 million in revenue sharing while fielding a AA lineup and trying to extort an additional $400 million for a new stadium from whichever region's taxpayers are stupid enough to give it to them. Not while the long-running ExpoNationals farce is tap-dancing on the ashes of democracy and free-market capitalism in the District. Selig and his henchmen (not least influential among them the reviled Mr. Angelos) are so determined to make a colossal profit on their looting and plundering of a once thriving baseball community in Montreal that they don't particularly care whether the Nationals retain any vestiges of competitiveness when they are finally redirected into the hands of private ownership. The entire Nationals situation has been brutally stage-managed, between the payouts to the Orioles, the endless petty feuding with the local government over yet another free stadium, and the current baseball brain trust's obvious preference for politically connected potential ownership groups over buyers who might actually have the money to make the team, you know, good.

Has MLB really allowed the steroid mess to spin out of control at this specific time in order to grease the wheels for their shady operations in the swamplands of Florida and D.C.? No, I'm not that paranoid, plus I don't think they're that smart, plus the obvious straw that broke the camel's back on the steroid wall of secrecy was the threat that Congress might come along and clean up the mess for baseball if baseball didn't take steps to clean it up itself. But it is very convenient the way the timing works out. The few dozens of fans buying tickets for the next Marlins-Nationals series in Miami (July 17-19) aren't getting directly screwed by all of the steroids players were using in 1995. But they are getting well and truly done over by the media powers' decision to dedicate every spare moment of baseball coverage not dedicated to the Red Sox, Yankees, and Chris Shelton to Bonds, BALCO, and bulging biceps. (See what I did there, with the alliteration? Pretty good, huh?)

You know what we need? We need embarrassment ninjas. I don't know if all of you are big enough fans of John DiMaggio, "Even Stevens," and teenaged cartoon breasts that come to perfect right angles to watch "Kim Possible" as regularly as I do, but here's a concept introduced there that deserves exposure on a broader scale. See, they're these ninjas, right? And they specialize in embarrasing people. Right now, I don't think the lords of baseball are nearly as embarrassed about the Marlins and Nationals situations as they should be. Hence, ninjas. I think there are probably a lot of figures in baseball, on the field, in the front offices, behind the microphones, and churning out columns, who need a visit from the embarrassment ninjas. I smell a regular feature. Maybe even a theme song.

But it's not all doom, gloom, and the outlawing of human triangles today. Clint Hurdle: "Zach Day's next start is doubtful. I don't know where we will go, but we will go somewhere." It won't be Byung-Hyun Kim, or at least not yet, at BK has one more scheduled rehab start with the SkySox on Monday. Miguel Asencio and Mike Esposito are the most likely suspects, although both are not at present on the 40-man and would require some roster wrangling. Maybe they could, I dunno, release Zach Day. Just throwing it out there.

Padres 13, Rockies 4 Plus: Bottom Feedin' with the Fish and the Blue Wave
2006-04-20 05:18
by Mark T.R. Donohue

All right, what do we have here? Zach Day is unspeakably bad. I'm not sure why this didn't occur to management last year, but if a pitcher can't get anybody out in Washington, there's a fairly good chance that his fortunes will not improve much at Coors Field. (Although for a time at least, it seemed as if that very thing had happened to Sun-Woo Kim, but that's neither here nor there.) Day allowed a remarkable 15 baserunners in 3 2/3, and did his best to end the Rockies' chances of winning the game before they'd even come up to bat with an awful first inning that only ended due to an outfield assist and the pitcher's spot in the lineup. Zach, I have two words for you: unconditional release. Thanks for coming out. If Byung-Hyun Kim isn't ready the next time Day's spot in the rotation comes around, the Rockies still have better options: David Cortes, maybe. Or Ramon Ramirez, who still hasn't allowed a run on the young season. There's always unofficial BA mascot Mike Esposito. Can Eli Marrero pitch?

The Rockies have an interesting divide with their pitching staff as of this writing: they have no pitchers with an ERA that begins with a 4 or a 5. The good half of the bullpen, plus starters Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook, and Josh Fogg, are all under 4.00. Tom Martin (who, oddly, leads the staff in appearances along with Jose Mesa), Sun-Woo Kim, Day, Jeff Francis, and the rusty Scott Dohmann are all 6.00 or over. Martin was again miserable in garbage time yesterday, and Dohmann got hit a bit in his first start of the season after beginning the year on the DL with a viral infection. (With the return of Dohmann, Sun-Woo Kim takes his place on the disabled list. Kim has had a variety of complaints this season, including an unspecified illness and a hamstring pull, but this time around it's a sore right shin, which may or may not translate to "didn't pitch all March and now can't get guys out.") Clint Hurdle hasn't had his ideal staff all together at any point so far this year, with Mike DeJean, Dohmann, and BK unavailable, but his fixation on Martin is, to put it mildly, really weird. Martin is indeed lefthanded, but it doesn't seem to be doing him much good, as lefties have hit .308/.357/.538 against him this year. Nearly everyone else on the staff, save Day, Sun-Woo Kim, and Mesa, has done better. Thankfully, Ramirez seems to be forcing the issue, much as Marcos Carvajal did last year, and Hurdle will eventually figure out that you gain no platoon advantage employing a reliever who can't get anybody out. Of course, whenever Zach Day starts, all of these arguments are merely academic.

So what's the ETA on our unlikely sidearming Korean savior? BK has a 4.91 ERA and an encouraging 8 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings through his two strict-pitch count starts with Colorado Springs. Kim needs to be able to qualify for a minor league win before we can consider him for major league starts, so give him another week. The Rockies have a stretch of 20 games in 20 days coming up after the off-day today, so they'll have to think of a plan for the game against the Phillies next Tuesday. It says here they'll give Day one more chance, for which he will reward them with another brutal beating. But with any luck that will be the last one.

To inject a little positivity into another grim homestand, it's worth mentioning that the division-leading Giants haven't exactly taken advantage of the Rockies' sluggish play. They've lost two in a row to the Diamondbacks in Arizona and have allowed nine, seven, and ten runs respectively in the three games of the series. For what it's worth Colorado has its three best starters lined up to throw in the upcoming home series against San Francisco, although Jeff Francis has hardly looked the part in his first couple of outings. Jason Schmidt, Brad Hennessey, and Matt Morris will go for the Giants. Schmidt's days as the ace of the NL West seem like a distant memory. Hennessey didn't make the team out of spring training but pitched well in his first start after being called up to take the rotation spot of Noah Lowry (right oblique). Matt Morris has poor numbers in limited exposure to Rockies hitters and fits the classic profile of a flyball pitcher who will struggle mightily on Planet Coors. But, I do like his beard.

Zack Greinke has reported to extended spring training, which is happy news, but let's not gild the lily. The Royals are unspeakably bad. They've lost ten in a row and went 0-9 on their first road trip. Their offense is bad, their pitching is bad, and their defense, although better than last year, is still bad. They still have to play the White Sox, against whom they have gone 11-26 (.297) the last two seasons, thirteen more times. They don't even get to face the Rockies in interleague play this year, although they do get St. Louis twice, plus Houston and Milwaukee. You can be poor and still win in major league baseball. You can be stupid and win. But you can't be poor and stupid. Look at how their big free agent signings are faring in VORP: Mark Grudzielanek is the only guy with a positive number. It's 1.3. Reggie Sanders is at -1.6. Doug Mientkiewicz is at -5.1. Joe Mays is at -8.6. (Rockies part-timers Jason Smith and Eli Marrero are at 7.1 and 2.9.) I feel for Royals fans, I really do. But this team isn't even entertainingly bad. They're more the excruciating variety.

On the other hand, I've been making a point of watching the Marlins whenever I get the chance and this is an intriguing team. Yes, they are 4-10. Yes, they make the youthful Rockies look like the Giants. But unlike the Royals, they have any number of players who are worth watching. There's Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, of course. But it looks like their fire sale landed them a number of other keepers, even if many of them should by rights be playing in Double-A right now. Hanley Ramirez is the real deal. Josh Willingham and Mike Jacobs are going to hit. Miguel Olivo is a young catcher I've always liked who was bewitched by the deep alleys of Safeco Field last season but will get every opportunity to play for Florida this year. He hit a pretty convincing upper-deck shot yesterday. Granted, in Cincinnati, off of Aaron Harang, but it still impressed me. The air of ex-Cub hanging off of this team is impressive. Sergio Mitre! Todd Wellemeyer! Joe Borowski! Joe Girardi is the manager! The trouble I foresee for the Marlins is a problem the Rockies had early last year. Young hitters are one thing. If they're at all talented, they'll eventually hit wherever it is you put them. But young pitchers are considerably more fragile. Kansas City and Detroit have been running a clinic for several years on how not to promote young starters. The psychological effects of being an awful team seem to run down pitchers, and starters in particular, far more than they affect position players, whose counting stats don't depend on run support and reliable defense. Operating within the constraints of their (admittedly ridiculous) $20 million budget, the Marlins have made every effort to reinforce their kiddie corps with a veteran here and there, but the trouble is that Borowski, Matt Herges, and Brian Moehler have been worse than the rookies. I don't know what the answer for that is. In any event, you should make every effort to watch Florida games on TV when you can, if only because their in-game promos are hysterical. "Cabrera! Willis! WES HELMS! Marlins baseball -- get hooked."

I Suspect Bill Wirtz is Somehow Involved
2006-04-19 12:01
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Can anybody explain to me why Fox Sports Rocky Mountain is rerunning yesterday's Rockies-Padres game right now...instead of showing today's Rockies-Padres game, due to start in a few minutes but apparently only on radio?

Down Here, Where We're At
2006-04-19 01:05
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Monday: Padres 5, Rockies 2. Francis hittable, offense absent. However, Chris Young only struck out four to Francis's seven so maybe it was just a bad-luck BABIP kind of game. Continued good work from the lesser lights of the bullpen, in this case Ramon Ramirez and David Cortes, is encouraging. Tuesday: Rockies 3, Padres 2 in 11. You may recognize this final from Opening Day. Again, no offense, but a fine overall performance by the Colorado pitching staff, with no one dominating particularly but the game being there to win against Jon Adkins in the 11th. Tom Martin looked shaky in the 10th, but the unheralded David Cortes was there to bail him out. Cortes has really spotted his fastball well the last two games. The Rockies' TV crew was making a lot out of the fact that if you leave Sunny Kim and his awful numbers out of the equation, Colorado would have a league-leading bullpen ERA. Believe it. The Rockies certain to appear have gotten the better end of the Ray King-for-Bigbie-and-Miles deal, Jose Mesa has been better than in my wildest dreams, and Brian Fuentes continues to excel. Cheers to Clint Hurdle for using Fuentes in a non-save situation last night.

After 14 games played, the Rockies are 8-6, half a game back of the Giants for first place in the division. They've scored 80 runs and allowed 67. About half those runs came in the three-game series in San Diego, but never mind that for a moment. The Giants are 8-5 despite having scored only 58 runs while allowing 67. The NL West is fairly bunched up in the runs-allowed category, with every team falling between 65 and 69. Also, every team is at least .500 on the road, with only San Francisco at or above .500 (4-2) at home. What does all of this mean? Well, it seems that competition in both leagues is flatter than ever, with the National League in particular looking up for grabs. There are only three really good teams at the moment in Boston, Houston, and the Mets. The Red Sox and Mets may be for real, but I really don't think the Astros are a good bet to keep hitting the way they have begun the season. Likewise there are only three really bad teams, Florida, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. The Marlins may not be as bad as their record. The Royals, however, are truly awful. They're last in the majors in runs scored and trail the Pirates for last in runs allowed by one. I have been hearing many talking heads on the radio raging about how baseball needs a salary floor, but the Royals at $53.7 million are a lot worse than Florida at less than $20 million, and have far less chance of improving in the next two or three years. Of course, the Marlins had some talent to begin with. Kansas City has suffered from organizational paralysis for more than a decade.

In the middle are the Rockies, who will spend $10 million less than Kansas City this year and probably win 30 more games. Unlike the Marlins, Colorado didn't have a large talent base to trade off when the decision to rebuild came down. The Rockies didn't get much or anything when Larry Walker, Preston Wilson, Shawn Chacon, Denny Neagle, or Mike Hampton departed, and they have no one to blame but themselves for handing out so many bad contracts. However, when it comes to free talent acquisition, this organization is beginning to excel. They've done very well for themselves in the draft the past several years, as the current lineup reflects. Matt Holliday, Garett Atkins, Clint Barmes, and Cory Sullivan were all drafted by the Rockies, and if they don't quite provide for a title-contending offense yet, they're a great deal better than the third-class free agent talent that the Rockies trotted out during the late 90's. While we're at it, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, and Jason Jennings were all developed in house as well. To build a winner on a shoestring budget, you need to draft great, not just good, as Florida did and Kansas City glaringly hasn't. The Rockies may win the division this year, or they might win 75 games. (Or, they might win 75 games and the division. In this group it could happen.) What's important is that with the notable exceptions of Todd Helton and Jennings, the current roster will return for next year at a barely increased cost. It's not a surefire thing, but with a few extra millions to spend (dear Rockies fans: please keep going to games) and a couple of talent-maximizing trades (Garrett Atkins and Ryan Shealy, perhaps a reliever or two) the Rockies could be division favorites going into 2007. Of course, Diamondbacks fans could now be making the same argument. Their blue chips are definitely bluer than ours. But: the bulk of our core system guys will have been playing in the majors for two years. That has to count for something. That's one advantage stripping everything bare as the Rockies have done and Florida is now doing has over trying to improve incrementally every year as Pittsburgh and Kansas City have tried and failed to do.

Series Preview: More San Diego
2006-04-17 15:25
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Oh, but I am weary of these early-season divisional matchups. A few days ago in a roundup I wrote that San Diego isn't very good. I stand by that. What else is there to say, really? You've heard all the little speeches about how miserable the division was last year. You've heard the little pep talks regarding the Rockies' opportunity to make a cheap playoff run given the continued weakness of the NL West. If you're a glass-is-half-full type, you've already concluded that the long sting of divisional games means that many extra opportunities to heckle Barry Bonds. Me, I'm looking at the schedule and dreading how long it is until the Rockies have home games against the Mets, Cardinals, or even the A's. Do we really have to wait until midsummer to see whether the team is any good or not?

The Padres are 4-7 and they're in last place in the NL West. They're isn't a hot hitter in their lineup right now besides rookie first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Khalil Greene has a couple of homers but is hitting .190. Brian Giles is off to a .242/.435/.364 start, with only two extra base hits on the young season. New old guys Vinny Castilla and Mike Piazza are not hitting. Three of the five NL West teams fill the three bottom rungs of the major league OPS table, with Arizona 28th, San Francisco last, and San Diego at 29th. The D-Backs and Giants have gotten a litle bit of pitching, though. San Diego is 23rd in ERA. Bruce Bochy gave the hapless Dewon Brazelton the quick hook out of the rotation after two disastrous starts, but the Padres profoundly lack better options. Colorado will see three guys they can definitely hit in this Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday series: Chris Young, Clay Hensley, and Chan Ho Park. The Rockies will counter with the also unremarkable, but more affordable trio of Jeff Francis, Josh Fogg, and Zach Day. With Aaron Cook and Jason Jennings pitching as well they have, a resumption from Francis of his first-half 2005 form would go a long way towards legitimizing the exotic concept of an over-.500 Rockies season. Fogg has given Colorado more than they could have asked for in his first few outings. Zach Day is merely marking time until Byung-Hyun Kim rounds into form in Colorado Springs. However, he is not making more in salary this year than the entire Florida Marlins roster, as Chan Ho Park is. So there's that.

The last time the Rockies faced the Padres, they creamed them in three straight games at PetCo Park. They've yet to show such offensive consistency in their home schedule. San Diego pitching could be just the panacea. I have little to no faith in Zach Day, but the other pitching matchups are favorable enough for me to tab this matchup for Colorado's first home series win of the young season. And really, if the Rockies could just start winning home games one of these years, all their problems would be solved.

I've read in a few places that Jason Jennings credits his unusually hot start to beginning his offseason workout program far earlier than was his custom. If you want proof by negative example, look at Sun-Woo Kim, who became ill early on in the World Baseball Classic and scarcely pitched at all this March. Whatever Jennings did, so far so good, but I feel compelled to note that due to his finger injury Jason didn't pitch at all in the last few months of the 2005 season. How's he going to look in the second half? Oh, no, I freaked myself out.

Phillies 1, Rockies 0
2006-04-17 09:10
by Mark T.R. Donohue

From Baseball Between the Numbers: "In 2005, major league teams went 446-40 (.918) in games in which they allowed only 1 run."

Oh Yeah I Forgot
2006-04-15 23:11
by Mark T.R. Donohue

KC Star: Greinke eager to pitch again. That's great news. Great, great news. Royals fans really deserve something to look forward to this season and a happy, healthy Zack Greinke could be just the ticket. All the article will divulge regarding Greinke's peculiar Spring Training walkout is "emotional issues," but perhaps it's just as well that the whole story isn't being spilled out all over the sports pages.

Also, after all I wrote about the Rockies game earlier tonight, I forgot to mention that the Rockies committed yet another boneheaded baserunning play, Brad Hawpe getting caught wandering off third after a would-have-been successful Choo Freeman steal of second. Yeah, they still won by four, but this getting silly. Clint Hurdle can't bench the whole team. This after the earlier Holliday and Ardoin benchings and the Jason Smith play at third ending the game on Friday night. Kids: it's Coors Field. Stay at your base. Pretend it's beer league softball and leads are illegal if you have to. The way the offense is clicking right now one of these big innings would still be going on if only certain baserunners had remained alert. Colorado isn't talented enough to play sloppy fundamental baseball, no matter what all of these 10-run games might have you thinking.

Rockies 10, Phillies 6
2006-04-15 20:56
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Lots of thoughts on this one, which I attended in person. First of all, let's hurry up and get Mike DeJean and Scott Dohmann back healthy. Tom Martin and Sunny Kim are not good for much besides turning blowouts into cheap save opportunities for Brian Fuentes. Fuentes, Ray King, and Jose Mesa have looked very impressive so far this season. It would be a shame to ruin their effectiveness through overwork.

I missed the pregame festivities because I was parking, but it seemed to me that during the ballgame at least the Rockies did too little to recognize Jackie Robinson Day. There were two trivia questions on the scoreboard about Robinson during one half-inning and that was it. It's true (and unfortunate) that major league baseball has seen diminished involvement by African-Americans in the past several years, but Robinson's importance transcends race. Nobody can give any baseball fan static about being obsessed about a trivial sport because of Robinson. Baseball and this country's long struggle to improve itself are inextricably linked now and forever because of what Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey accomplished. I don't have a problem with the little kids sitting in front of me in the rightfield upper deck not knowing that you can tag up after a fly ball. I have a big problem with them not knowing who Jackie Robinson is. After the Preston Wilson trade, the Rockies went a considerable amount of time last year with no black American players, but that's not the case anymore. I would have liked to see King and Choo Freeman up on the big board sharing their thoughts on Jackie.

Speaking of little kids, there was an adorable family of Phillies fans sitting in my section. The kids, some of whom were quite little, sat and paid rapturous attention to the game for the full nine innings, even staying to cheer their team on after the Rockies blew it wide open in the seventh. That's good parenting. I'm an extreme loner -- I work from home, go to games, concerts, and movies by myself, and often go days at a time without physically speaking to other human beings -- but seeing parents and their children at ballgames always makes me reconsider my misanthropic stance. I may have to bite the bullet and get married one of these days, just so I can sit little Voros or Alyson down upon my knee and explain to them the intricacies of the double switch.

Charlie Manuel faced a double bind in the seventh inning tonight. What was he to do, leave a clearly gassed Jon Lieber out there or make the call to the Phillies' little bullpen of horrors? There was no right choice. In the end, he stuck with Lieber, who promptly gave up the lead. Then he called to the bullpen, who really got down to business making sure Philadelphia was well and truly out of the game. Jason Jennings was really quite effective aside from the titanic home runs he allowed to Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell. Abreu troubled the Rockies all night, but when the game was really on the line tied in the top of the seventh, Ray King came on and induced the Phillies star into a rally-killing double play groundout. Maybe Philadelphia fans are right about Abreu. Didn't I once say they could have Matt Holliday for him any day of the week? Maybe I spoke too soon. Holliday was huge in this one, coming a single short of the cycle and knocking in five, including a decisive triple off of Geoff Geary in the big Rockies seventh. Clint Barmes was 3 for 5. Jason Smith and Choo Freeman had big pinch hits in the five-run inning. And Danny Ardoin surprised even himself by clubbing a triple leading to an insurance run in the eighth. Pretty sweet stuff from both sides of the ball for the Rockies.

And hey, the defense is looking pretty good too. Luis Gonzalez, who has started cold at the plate but did have a single, made three nice plays at second. Holliday laid out for a fine catch in left. Todd Helton continues to be so smooth at first that it's a surprise when he doesn't make a play, as happened when Jimmy Rollins lined a rocket off of his glove for a single. Clint Barmes made a poor error on a routine play at short in the ninth, but his earlier work with the bat more than made up for it.

I don't know if this is physically possible anywhere other than Coors Field, but it seemed like there were more people in line for walk-up ticket sales out in front during the first inning than actually in the seats for the rest of the game. The lines were very long and very slow. If the Rockies staff is going to be this unprepared for people actually wanting to attend their games, maybe this new knack for winning isn't a wholly positive thing. Oh yeah, and I got my magnetic schedule. Very handsome, with a little "R" that pops out on the top. Eye-caching. On the fridge it goes.

Phillies 10, Rockies 8
2006-04-15 11:03
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I just had to go and give Chase Utley bulletin board material, didn't I? Zach Day gets cuffed around, Sunny Kim does himself no favors making an argument to replace Day, and the Rockies go down in defeat despite continued sparkling play from Garrett Atkins (4 for 5, Ian who?) and Brad Hawpe (2 for 5). Matt Holliday eased back into the lineup with a meaningless late bases-loaded double. For what it's worth, former random Yankees "prospect" Ramon Ramirez made his Rockies debut with two scoreless innings of garbage time.

I'm not super worried about this loss because I haven't exactly been laboring under the misapprehension that Zach Day is any good at all. Byung-Hyun Kim is making a rehab start today for Colorado Springs and if all goes well there Day and his extreme hittability needn't bother us ever again. Now it's time for our front-of-the-rotation starters to go out there and look like it. If guys keep hitting like they're hitting, all Jason Jennings and Aaron Cook have to do is stay in there and keep the ball down.

Coors vs. Ted
2006-04-15 10:10
by Mark T.R. Donohue

This is what it takes: I watch ESPN's afternoon chat shows, "Around the Horn" and "Pardon the Interruption," nearly every single day, and yesterday was the first time anyone talked specifically about the Rockies this calendar year. It was infrequent panelist and Denver Post writer Jim Armstrong who brought them up, he was only able to do so because he "won" yesterday and therefore had thirty seconds to pontificate on a topic of his choosing, and his comments boiled down to "they're not actually good, but isn't it great that it's April and they're 6-3," but still, there it is. National awareness. I'll take it. Meanwhile, most of the print coverage that notices the Rockies' unusually good start dismisses them in the same breath, often while praising the Tigers. Apparently Chris Shelton is for real while Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, Cory Sullivan, and Todd Helton just had a good week. Well, it's a long way to the top if you wanna rock & roll. Weekly power rankings update: Fox #21, ESPN #20, CBS #20.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers' season is going down the tubes ahead of schedule, with Yhency Brazoban and Brad Penny joining Eric Gagne in the M*A*S*H unit. Kenny Lofton is back, for what it's worth. Familiar face Jamey Wright was dazzling for the Giants last night. Go figure. Of course, the only Giant anybody wants to talk about, ever, is you know who. Kind of unfair to Moises Alou, who's started the season .348/.385/.783. The 3-6 Padres have already begun to panic, replacing Dewon Brazelton (the stat that will follow Brazelton until it doesn't continues to be his remarkable 0-16, 8.59 road record) in the rotation with Clay Hensley, also pounded by the Rockies in their recent series. This is not a good San Diego team. Arizona is an unsurprising 5-5, but they're doing it with pitching, which is a bit weird. They're 22nd in the majors in OPS, even with six of their ten games played at Coors or Chase Field. But they're second in ERA. Didn't see that coming.

Amidst the constant drumbeat of grousing about Barry Bonds, there's one mitigating factor I hear too seldom. Would it be a tragedy if Bonds passed Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list? What about Hank Aaron? I don't know. I can see arguments either way. But what difference does it make, really, when Alex Rodriguez is almost certainly going to obliterate the records of all three? A-Rod is 30. He has 431 career home runs. If he plays for eleven more years, which he will, and hits 30 a year, which he will, he will lap Aaron with Sadaharu Oh within shouting distance. Rodriguez has been accused of many things, from being "unclutch" to grinding children's bones to make his bread, but he's never been called a juicer. As they so often do, these things have a way of working themselves out.

OK, but here's another famous record under serious attack that no one's talking about: the .400 barrier. Rob Neyer mentioned in passing a few days ago that it's only a matter of time until the Rockies luck into a player with the talent level of an Albert Pujols or a Miguel Cabrera (hey, maybe it's Ian Stewart) and Ted Williams' fondly remembered Last .400 Season becomes as much of a relic as the Curse of the Bambino. Hell, if Todd Helton decided to take an Ichiro-like approach at the plate and swing at everything he could reach, he could probably do it right now. When this happens -- and Rob's right, it's going to happen -- will people be as angry as they are about the steroids thing? In one sense it's an apples and oranges comparison, but baseball traditionalists are hardly rational about the numbers and players they hold dear. Is it Coors Field's "fault" that it's a mile above sea level? Will MLB's expansion to Denver be viewed as a greater sin by the tireless minions of baseball orthodoxy than the 15 years of nudge-nudge wink-wink steroid policy?

Series Preview: Philadelphia
2006-04-14 16:34
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Finally the Rockies play an opponent from outside of the NL West, and conditions are favorable for the hot play demonstrated on the recent road trip to continue. We knew entering the season that the question for the Phillies (3-6 entering tonight's game) would be pitching, but an unexpected problem with their offense has created some daylight between Philadelphia and the division-leading Mets. Most of Philly's reliable offensive stars are performing as you would expect, with Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell all off to good starts. But with Chase Utley in a bit of a slump, at least in the batting average department, the rest of Philadelphia's hitters have been awful or worse, and as a result the team isn't scoring runs at the pace they need to win. As for the pitching, it's as you would expect -- the staff is firmly positioned right in the middle of the majors with an ERA right around 5.00.

I said when I previewed the Phillies' season that David Bell might be a good candidate to bounce back after a horrible 2005, but I could well have been wrong. Mike Lieberthal isn't getting any younger. Aaron Rowand isn't "really" a .300 hitter, and at the moment he's struggling to post a .300 OBP. Philadelphia added a useful part right before the season began in former Texas outfielder David Dellucci, but with Abreu and Rollins entrenced at the outfield corners, where's he going to play? There's not much for Philadelphia to do except hope Utley picks it up (a safe bet) and dream wistfully of the day when Lieberthal and Bell's contracts come off the books. If they were an NL West team, they'd be as in it as anybody, but at this early juncture it looks like New York is the class of the National League, and Philadelphia will be hard-pressed to put up a wild card-contending number of wins with its pitching staff as presently constituted.

In this series the Rockies will get a look at Ryan Madson (0-0, 1.50 ERA) who has been tough to hit in the early going (1.17 WHIP) but is not in the running for a strikeout title (4.50 K/9). Putative ace Jon Lieber (0-2, 8.71) takes the mound in Saturday's game, which I'll probably attend in person, being as I am completely unable to resist the lure of a giveaway magnetic schedule. On Sunday it'll be Brett Myers, who can strike guys out but also leads the staff in walks and home runs allowed. Madson, Lieber, and Myers will face Zach Day, Jason Jennings, and Aaron Cook respectively. The jury's still out on Day as a Rockies starter, but you have to like the fellows taking the bump in the other games. If the Rockies' offense can continue its recent trend of jumping on starters in the early innings, the good times ought to roll at Coors Field this weekend. I feel very confident about the Lieber-Jennings and Myers-Cook matchups, so the game tonight is the tough one to pick. Let's see if the rampaging Rockies bats can stake Day out to a comfortable lead and pave the way for a weekend sweep.

Rockies 5, Diamondbacks 3
2006-04-14 00:51
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies finish their first road trip 5-1, which is a little freaky. Garrett Atkins was NL Player of the Week last week and Brad Hawpe (four homers in four games) is making a strong bid to make it two Rockies in a row claiming the award. Josh Fogg is 2-0. Think about that for a second.

The really interesting story coming out of Rockies camp is the sudden authoritarian turn Clint Hurdle has taken, benching Matt Holliday and Danny Ardoin for dopey baserunning in the loss Wednesday. Of course, Holliday and Ardoin are the two Colorado batters not red hot at the moment, and Miguel Ojeda and Choo Freeman needed to play anyway, so who knows how real a phenomenon New Stern Clint really is. If he yanks Hawpe out of a game for failing to run out a pop-up this weekend, I guess we'll know for sure.

Other offensive stars from Thursday's win: Clint Barmes was 3 for 5 with two doubles. Don't look now, but last year's Mr. April is now over .300 with a long homestand looming. Todd Helton had a single and three walks. The team is winning, so they're happy walks. Look at the batting averages for the Rockies' 1-5 hitters: .350 (Sullivan), .308 (Barmes), .379 (Helton), .385 (Atkins), .382 (Hawpe). And this is after a six-game road trip. All of the people jumping off of the Detroit Tiger bandwagon, there's plenty of room for you over here.

Seriously, a nine-game sample size is as close to insignificant as makes no odds, but better 6-3 than 3-6 (or, as last year began, 1-8). The offense's lofty performance is almost certainly unsustainable but the pitching staff's quiet competence (a 4.32 staff ERA so far, good for 9th in the majors) might be something people will have to get used to when they think of Colorado. That anyone might be thinking of the Rockies at all at this point is one of the minor blessings those of us who follow the poor bastards religiously will be happy to accept.

Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 4
2006-04-13 13:14
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I didn't catch a minute of this one because my band was practicing for a show tonight, but you know, one-run games. Essentially a crapshoot, unless the Royals are involved. Two hits for Cory Sullivan, another homer for Brad Hawpe, a bounceback start for Jeff Francis, but the bullpen couldn't make a one-run lead stand up. It happens. At least Colorado's four-game winning streak didn't go quietly, as the Rockies jumped on Miguel Batista early and tied Arizona in walks (with three) and struck out fewer times (six versus ten). Danny Ardoin managed to push his average up to .100 with one single and one walk, so there's that.

Rockies 6, Diamondbacks 5
2006-04-11 21:52
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Well, yeah, they can blow people out, but can they win the close ones? This one they did. The Rockies jumped out to an early lead thanks to Todd Helton's first homer of the year and a homer and a triple by Brad Hawpe. After getting out of trouble in the first and cruising through the rest of the early innings, Aaron Cook coughed up most but not all of the lead in the fifth. A Hawpe RBI groundout provided an insurance run in the seventh that would turn out to be pivotal, as Brian Fuentes gave up a Shawn Green homer before finishing off Arizona for his first save of the young season. And that's four in a row on the road.

It was interesting to watch the Rockies' change in approach at the plate after their loss to Orlando Hernandez last week. Colorado still didn't do a lot of walking, and they struck out six times against El Duque, seven total, but part of the problem against Hernandez and Miguel Batista last week at Coors was that the young Rockies hitters were being too patient -- the D-Backs' starters were getting ahead 0-1 and 0-2 just by throwing weak fastballs to the outer half of the plate for called strikes. Then Colorado would give up the third strike chasing. In this game, the Rockies appeared to attack El Duque much more than the other way around, and Ray King and Jose Mesa did fine work passing the lead from starter Cook to closer Fuentes. Nice little win, really. Hawpe and Helton were the big stars, but Garrett Atkins (NL Player of the Week Garrett Atkins) reached base twice and backup catcher Miguel Ojeda took advantage of his starting assignment with a hit and two walks. Jamey Carroll, starting in place of Clint Barmes, was 0 for 5. Matt Holliday had a double and an outfield assist. Clint Hurdle let the hot bat of Jason Smith ride with another start at second base, but Smith was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. Let's not bail out on Luis Gonzalez quite yet.

If you want to look for things to be worried about, and we do, Colorado did a poor job against Arizona's dicey middle relief corps, managing just one run against Terry Mulholland while earning not a hit off of Juan Cruz, Jason Grimsley, and Brandon Lyon. It's nice to have setup guys and a closer who can get the job done with a one-run lead, but it's even nicer to make sure it's not even an issue by pounding in runs against the worst part of every team's pitching staff. In any event, every starter in the rotation except for Jeff Francis has a win under his belt now, and Francis will get his chance tomorrow. The Rockies hitters get another look at Miguel Batista, who made them look very bad his last time out. With Colorado's hot start just beginning to get noticed nationally, let's not surrender the momentum.

Series Preview: More Arizona
2006-04-11 16:35
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Feels like we just played these guys. Seriously, the unbalanced schedule in baseball has got to go, or at least be slightly less unbalanced. I believe that if there's going to be interleague play, you might as well go all out and have everyone play everyone. That way you could even out the divisions (by moving Houston to the AL West) and get rid of the annoying discrepancies between everyone's interleague schedules. Of course, you'd still have to allow for the "rivalry" series, meaning the White Sox and Cubs, Mets and Yankees, Dodgers and Angels would still get their home-and-homes. So it wouldn't be perfect. But it'd be better than playing San Diego and Arizona each 20 times a year.

The story hasn't changed for the Diamondbacks at all in a week. They're still curiously constructed, but dangerous if you don't take them seriously. Oddly it may be in everyone else in the division's best interests for them to continue plugging along at .500, delaying a full-blown youth movement and preventing the trade of a veteran hitter for young pitching that would make them really nasty a year or two down the line. In the meantime, to beat them, you don't beat yourself. Their pitching can be hit if you're patient, and there's holes in the lineup if you take your time and exploit them. Arizona is a team that Colorado should take series from regularly if they really want to scale to the heights of .500-ness.

In the game tonight Colorado again draws Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who bedeviled them a week ago at Coors Field. The Diamondbacks (3-3) have played the same number of games as the 4-2 Rockies so Aaron Cook will be pitching for Colorado in a rematch of last Wednesday's 4-2 loss. This is a big game as we'll get a chance to see if the ridiculous offense produced in the San Diego series carries over any. Arizona's middle relief is certainly as much if not more vulnerable than the Padres' group. The Rockies couldn't score off Hernandez last time around, but they did manage to get him to throw a lot of pitches and leave the game after only five innings. Then their big sin was allowing the likes of Greg Aquino, Brandon Lyon, Luis Vizcaino, Jose Valverde, and Terry Mulholland to run roughshod over them. Never again! Miguel Batista struck out a ton of guys in his start against the Rockies last Thursday and he will draw the assignment against Jeff Francis on Wednesday, another rematch. Francis needs to rebound after a miserable season debut. The Thursday night game this week features Russ Ortiz, who is terrible, and Josh Fogg, who ought to again receive plenty of run support. At 1,090 feet Chase Field has the second-highest altitude in the majors, so the Rockies' staff ought to feel right at home.

Who's hot for the Diamondbacks: Luis "O.G." Gonzalez (7 for 24, two homers, three doubles), Conor Jackson (5 for 14, 7 walks), Damion Easley (a homer, a double, and two singles in 11 ABs). Who's not: Orlando Hudson (.174 average, one extra base hit), Johnny Estrada (.393 OPS), Shawn Green (two singles in sixteen ABs). Who's hot for the Rockies: everybody except Danny Ardoin. Colorado ought to win two of three here, especially with the gift-wrapped Russ Ortiz start. If Jeff Francis can find his way, then we can start getting really excited.

Rockies 10, Padres 4
2006-04-10 21:01
by Mark T.R. Donohue

A road sweep. Eight earned runs off of Jake Peavy. Cory Sullivan with two triples in one inning. Sure, why not? The Brewers and the Tigers are getting the talk radio airtime, but Colorado's start has been no less improbable. Are they really fourth in the majors in runs scored? Are they really top ten in starters' ERA? Are they really tied for first in the NL West with San Francisco? Well, as of right now, yeah. Enjoy the moment.

I'm sure all of the real Rockies fans out there have already savored the box score from Sunday's win. It looks a lot like the other two wins over San Diego. Everybody who played got a hit and scored a run, it seems. Jason Jennings was not dominant, but doggedly effective (though the positive strikeout rate trend from his Opening Day outing was, I guess, a mirage). The bullpen, except for Sun-Woo Kim, didn't allow the Padres to make an issue of it in the late innings. Brian Fuentes had to come in for a non-save situation just to get some work. I love it.

Brad Hawpe had a homer, a triple, and three RBIs, Jason Smith had two homers and four knocked in. After the home series I was agitating for Sullivan to be moved down in the lineup; now he's hitting .400. Garrett Atkins is on fire. Smith is threatening to take poor Luis "N.R."'s job. If it wasn't for bad luck, Luis would have no luck at all. The only part in the Colorado offensive machine that's looking a little worn is Danny Ardoin, but we knew he couldn't hit coming into the season. Of course, if the Rockies are going to keep scoring ten runs a game, they won't particularly need Ardoin's ability to control the running game either. Let's get Eli Marrero back there and go for 15 runs a game against Arizona!

Rockies 12, Padres 4
2006-04-09 06:05
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I'm glad I went and looked up how many times the Rockies scored 10 runs in a road game last year (three) yesterday, because today I had to look something else up: the first time Colorado won a road series in 2005. It was after the All-Star Break -- July 18-20 at Washington. ("It is an accomplishment," said Clint Hurdle at the time. Someday someone less averse to hard work than I is going to put together a best-selling book of Clint's zingers.) This is the first road series of the year, and the Rockies have it won with a whole game left to go! The sky's the limit! The 2005 Rockies didn't sweep a single road series all season, and that is something that good teams occasionally do. It's certainly something teams on hot streaks do.

Let's talk about that for a second. Last year, the Padres essentially won the NL West by going 22-6 in May. The rest of the season they went 60-74. Conversely, the Rockies went 6-15 in April '05, giving up any hopes they might have held for the division title right there at the season's outset. The very early signs seem to indicate that in 2006 the division will not be very much if at all better than it was last year. That's great news for Colorado. This year it might very well be the one team in the NL West that manages to go on a sustained winning binge at one point that gets a cheap playoff berth. Or the team that avoids a big losing streak. Last year's Rockies club was too flawed to get any kind of winning streak going with all the dead weight in the rotation and negative-VORP guys getting starts in the field. Now? As for the offense, well, our margin for error is still razor thin. At this early point it sure looks like Eli Marrero was a shrewd pickup, however. Not to mention Jason Smith. We still have yet to see how Yorvit Torrealba will react to Coors Field, too -- though it is an absolute certainty that Danny Ardoin will not see a huge upward spike in his hitting numbers this year, Torrealba's days of being considered a legit two-way catching prospect are not far behind him. The rotation's a little better. Byung-Hyun Kim's imminent return will help things along in that department. Remarkably, both Josh Fogg and Zach Day have stated in their regular season starts claims to the permament fifth starter's job that they failed to make in spring training. Thank goodness for small favors. If someone gets hurt or washes out, the options are better than they were last year. No one like Jamey Wright is going to hang around for the whole year guaranteeing one loss a week for lack of any other reasonable candidates. Sun-Woo Kim is around. Miguel Asencio is around. There are worse guys starting in the major leagues now than Mike Esposito, many of them for the Reds. There are worse guys than Esposito starting for the Padres!

Which brings us around to the game. I was at another show, but it doesn't seem like there's much to say about this one -- you know, just another run of the mill blowout by the Rockies' Murderers' Row-like lineup. Everybody in the lineup hit, everybody in the lineup scored. Clint Barmes and Miguel Ojeda homered. Day, to his credit, was handed a seven-run lead, frittered away much of it in the bottom of the first, and then settled down and threw six shutout innings. Clint Hurdle used Tom Martin in the exact right situation (five-run lead) for once. We're tied for first place, you know. You don't have to look up when that was last true. After the famed Barmes homer/Mohr injury Opening Day 2005 win, the Rockies promptly lost eight in a row to effectively end the season before the first Coors Field snowout of the year.

Rockies 10, Padres 4
2006-04-08 16:56
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Well, of course, I could have told you that. All the Rockies needed was to get away from the mean ol' rally-killing confines of Coors Field and its simply unfair (to hitters) dimensions and every Tom, Dick, and Jason Smith would start slamming homers like gangbusters. Voila. The Rockies looked real bad in the early innings Friday, but they still play nine in these here parts, and what happened in the second half of this game defies easy explanation.

First of all, a tip of the cap to Eli Marrero, promoted from "best hitter...on the bench" to starting left fielder in the event of a sickly Matt Holliday. Luis Gonzalez was scratched as well (right wrist inflammation), so the Rockies were left with a short(er) bench. Didn't seem to matter. After Josh Fogg (by the way, early fan returns are unanimous: the Roman-column sideburns have got to go) was victimized by spotty Colorado defense in the first, substitutes Marrero and Smith connected for long balls of off Padres starter Chris Young. This sudden power production, doubling the Rockies' home run count for the three-game opening series at Coors, went a long way towards stablizing the Colorado offense and defense alike. Fogg looked like he wasn't long for the rotation or even the 40-man as he coughed up two more runs in the bottom of the second but surprisingly he settled down, posting a respectable final line of six innings pitched, three earned runs allowed, five hits, one walk, and three strikeouts. Hey, tell me you weren't expecting a total meltdown from the getgo when Fogg strode out to the mound wearing Joe Kennedy's number from last year.

In the sixth, a parade of Colorado doubles knocked out Young and sent reliever Clay Hensley (four batters faced, four hits allowed) scurrying to collect signatures in the San Diego bullpen for a petition to move the walls at PetCoors back out. That left the score 6-4 in the Rockies' favor, but the team's hitters kindly kept the pressure off of the bullpen by another run in the eighth on a Garrett Atkins smash and three more in the ninth thanks to a Cory Sullivan triple, another Todd Helton intentional walk (Barry who?), and RBI safeties from Atkins and Marrero. Since I'm feeling expansive due to the win, I will say one nice thing about the Padres: the World Baseball Classic might have presented the key to a Chan Ho Park career revival. He was very effective in a multi-inning relief appearance.

The Rockies tied San Diego in total walks (three to three), but the strikeout numbers are scary: 11 for our side, three for theirs. Well, a win's a win. The box score holds a lot of good news: Atkins, Smith, Marrero, and Cory Sullivan (who was due) all had multi-hit games. Brad Hawpe had an off-night (1 for 5, three K's) but I can't be the only one impressed with his continued approach at the plate. About the only guys in the lineup who aren't hitting are Clint Barmes (who may be miscast as a #2 hitter, call me crazy, but I'd like to see the count-controlling Hawpe moved higher in the lineup) and the absent Holliday and "N.R." Gonzalez. And on the road, too. Well, it's just one game, but how often did Colorado score in double digits away from home last season? Three games that I can find. Three games in eighty-one. In 2006, we're one for one!

In the news: Diamondbacks hitters, notably the O.G. Luis Gonzalez, were overheard complaining about the new humidor practices at Coors Field. Oh, c'mon. You don't like it when there's too much offense, now you don't like it when there's too little. And you were an extra-inning game from sweeping the first series there. Cry me a river. I watched the Reds-Pirates game this morning, as winless Pittsburgh is shaping up to be a bottom feeder par excellence for 2006. Cincinnati won in a slugfest, but one has to ask: How did this team go from having hulking first base/corner outfield sluggers coming out of their ears to having Rich Aurilia starting at first and hitting cleanup in a single offseason? Well, yeah, Aurilia hit a big early homer and the Reds won, but that seems weird to me.

Series Preview: San Diego
2006-04-07 15:26
by Mark T.R. Donohue

It's the second series of the year and I am already weary about writing about the NL West. I was holding on to the hope that the Dodgers would stay healthy and restore some dignity to the division this year by winning 88 games or something, but look where that went. Hey, maybe El Duque and Miguel Batista are really as good as they looked against the Rockies that first series and the D-Backs' mix of diaper dandies and wizened veterans will do the trick. I don't think so, I think it's more likely that the Rockies' offense is just as bad as it was last year.

The first series of the year in score-depressing PetCo Park ought to be a good litmus test. San Diego's scheduled starters are Chris Young, Dewon Brazelton, and Jake Peavy, so Colorado ought to have a chance to score some runs in the first two games at least. Jason Jennings gets a chance to build on his terrific Opening Day outing against trendy NL Cy Young pick Peavy for Sunday's getaway game. It's not an original sentiment, but patience at the plate is paramount in this series. Colorado looks again like they're not going to hit a ton of homers on the season, so it's vitally important to get runners on base via the walk, and not give away outs swinging at crummy pitches. This means you, Matt Holliday!

Sun-Woo Kim suddenly looks a lot less appealing as a rotation option, so Josh Fogg and Zach Day's starts in the first two games of this series will go a long way towards deciding whom takes the fifth starter's job permanently after Byung-Hyun Kim's return from the disabled list. Fogg and Day are singularly unexciting pitchers, but Colorado still has a plenty good chance to win both of their starts in this series, which reflects again on the NL West's overall paucity of talent. For what it's worth, the Padres' lineup is equally power-deprived as Colorado's. Termel Sledge and Dave Roberts are two of the three starting outfielders, along with Brian Giles. Vinny Castilla is way past his sell-by date at third (to say nothing of Mike Piazza). Khalil Greene gets a lot of nice pub for his flashy glove and general surferness, but the guy has a career major league OBP of .321. Josh Barfield is unproven but already in the negative column in my reckoning for inspiring the stupid Mark Loretta-Doug Mirabelli trade. The best news the Padres have had so far this year was an injury to Ryan Klesko, since backup first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has raked in the two games so far. Gonzalez was the key element of the Adam Eaton/Akinori Otsuka trade which also included tonight's starter, Young. Padres fans have to be pretty happy with the very early returns from Gonzalez, previously best known for his glove.

Well, I was perhaps too optimistic about the first series at home, and given how pathetic the Rockies' bats looked against the Diamondbacks' wishy-washy second and third starters, I don't see how they're going to make this the year they reverse their awful road record trend. Particularly against Jake Peavy, perhaps the last true ace in the National League West. That Day-Brazelton matchup on Saturday sure isn't going to set a lot of TiVos alight. I say we win the middle game and finish up the first week a disappointing 2-4, but I hope I'm wrong.

Diamondbacks 12, Rockies 5
2006-04-07 15:11
by Mark T.R. Donohue

OK, this thing with the strikeouts is getting a little silly. 11 strikeouts against Miguel Batista? Why? I didn't catch most of this game because I had band practice, but when I flipped on the radio in the car during a break I was just in time to hear Matt Holliday striking out with two men on. Holliday had a very good chance to be the subject of a long nasty post, but he semi-redeemed himself by hitting a homer (the Rockies' first of the year) long after the outcome of the game was settled.

Jeff Francis looked awful, Sun-Woo Kim far worse. What's frustrating about being a Rockies fan is that I remember acutely these guys being money for us, and I guess I'm blocking out the fact that one is 25 going on 16 and the other was released by the Nationals last year. Well, it's only one loss. The winnable game on Wednesday is the one that's really going to continue bugging me.

Diamondbacks 4, Rockies 2 -- Plus, an Exclusive Interview with Clint Hurdle!
2006-04-06 16:15
by Mark T.R. Donohue

So I went to the game again last night. After all that money I saved parking for free on Monday, I didn't really see how I had a choice otherwise. Plus I really wanted to see my boy Aaron Cook's first start of the year. Well, it was a bit of a disappointment. It's true that I sat 14 rows from the front instead of three rows from the back for the same ticket price as I paid on Monday, but Matt Holliday? Seriously, Matt. 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, twice choking after an intentional walk to Todd Helton, is bad news.

Aaron Cook looked like Aaron Cook. If you're a Rockies fan, you have to accept that he's not going to strike anyone out and will give up a fair number of bloop singles and the occasional two-base gapper. Still, he deserved to win. The Rockies lineup struck out eight times in five innings against Orlando Hernandez, which sucks. Seriously. Next time, suck less, guys. Cook pitched two more innings than El Duque, which means their game scores are about equal (54 for Cook, 55 for Hernandez) but Clint Hurdle did his best to undo Cook's good work by running Tom Martin out for the eighth. Look, the guy was terrible all spring and only made the team because four other guys were hurt. Whatever gave Hurdle the idea that Martin was cut out for anything other than extremely low-leverage LOOGY work? With a day off between Opening Day and this game, there's no reason why the call couldn't have been made for Ray King, Mike DeJean, or the Ongoing Jose Mesa Resurgence. Well, it gives me another question to annoy Clint with the next time I shell out the medium bucks to sit right near the Rockies dugout.

That's right, since it was a "value game" and I managed to park on the street for free again, I figured what the hey and got a seat right behind first base. Before the game, I went down to the field and got my ticket signed by Clint Barmes, Choo Freeman, Jamey Carroll, and Hurdle. When I had the chance, I couldn't resist asking the skipper why he pinch-hit Eli Marrero instead of a lefty against Brandon Webb in the seventh on Monday. To Clint's credit, he was only a little grumpy when he answered. "Marrero was the best hitter on the bench. The best hitter...on the bench...was Marrero." Well, I suppose there was no way for Hurdle to know that he was speaking to a quasi-legitimate Internet journalist and not just some obnoxious fan.

2006-04-04 14:13
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I do enjoy looking around at the various national websites' baseball power rankings once a week. It's an easy post for me to do -- I just put the links, complain about the lack of respect given the Rockies, and that's all there is to it. Seeing as it's the first week of the season, I can't really blame the experts for ranking Colorado dead last or very close to it. They were bad last year, and on the surface of things they haven't added much to a team that lost 95 games besides mediocre veteran middle relievers and Yorvit Torrealba. If the Rockies want to move up the charts, they're just going to have to win a bunch of games. In that department, I think they're better set up than the Devil Rays, Reds, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Marlins, Pirates, or Royals. It wasn't a noisy offseason, but at least the Rockies won't be paying premium salaries to veterans worse than the guys they're ostensibly replacing -- this means you, Sean Casey and Doug Mientkiewicz.

ESPN: 29th, ahead of naught but the Marlins. Ouch. No mention of all the guys who didn't play full seasons last year -- Cook, Holliday, Helton, Jennings, Hawpe, Barmes -- but the obligatory Mesa/Torrealba dis. Hey, Jose looked pretty good on Opening Day.

CBS SportsLine: A lofty 23rd, ahead of -- stop me if you've heard this before -- Kansas City, Florida, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay. CBS waited until after the opening slate of games to issue these rankings, so perhaps they're being irrationally exuberant about Jason Jennings and his 1.29 ERA. Of course, they had the Rockies 24th in the preseason rankings. There's definitely a divide between Colorado and the next cluster of teams, which includes Baltimore, Texas, the Dodgers, Washington, and Detroit. Is it better to be the best of the awful teams or the worst of the below average teams? 29th, with only Kansas City in the rearview. The logic here is that the Rockies are the worst team in the worst division in baseball. Well...that's true. Pretty much. Although I think time's going to tell on the Diamondbacks. But implying that Jeff Francis is the only homegrown pitching talent that Colorado has is pretty unfair to Aaron Cook, not to mention Jason Jennings. If Cory Sullivan qualifies as "young talent," then Cook (six months older than Sullivan) and Jennings (a year and change) qualify too.

Baseball Prospectus: 25th, ahead of Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Washington (interesting), Florida, and Baltimore (also interesting). BP's article (which is a free one, by the way, if you're not a cool subscriber like me) differs from the other lists in that it's actually based on statistical projections of player performance. These sort of exercises tend to flatten out the extreme ends of the spectrum as a matter of course (no teams are expected to break the 100-win barrier, and only the hapless Royals are pegged to lose 100), but the Rockies' win projection comes in at 74, one short of Bad Altitude's declared happy number. And in the faint praise department, we have this: "The pitching, with full seasons from groundballers like Jason Jennings and Aaron Cook, might not be as bad as you think."

Fox Sports: 27th, in front of Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Florida. Writer Dayn Perry rakes Dan O'Dowd over the coals three spots beneath "low-grade optimism" over the Superfund site that is the Cincinnati Reds organization. Well, Perry knows at least some of what he speaks, because he gets a dig on Jim Bowden in under the Nationals' heading. An unrelated Fox piece identifies the Rockies as a possible 2006 surprise team. Sort of.

If we want to move higher, we have to keep winning games. It's as simple as that. Fortunately for Colorado, the unbalanced schedule means a great deal of winnable games against the Giants, Padres, Dodgers, and D-Backs. And there's still plenty of time left to jump on the Jose Mesa Resurgence Bandwagon.

Rockies 3, Diamondbacks 2 (11 innings)
2006-04-03 18:14
by Mark T.R. Donohue

We're 1-0! Matt Holliday, who was identified in a Baseball Prospectus 2005 study as one of the best baserunners in baseball, went from first to third on a Jason Smith pinch-hit single in the 11th, then aggressively took home on Brad Hawpe's grounder to win the game for Colorado. Brian Fuentes faced four hitters and struck out three of them. Ray King, Mike DeJean, and Jose Mesa all predictably got themselves into jams, but surprisingly, got out of them (Mesa allowed an unearned run on a Todd Helton throwing error). Jason Jennings matched Brandon Webb's seven innings with one run allowed, and struck out an uncharacteristic six hitters while walking only one. Longtime readers of mine may remember that I obsessively tracked the Rockies' team walk totals versus their opponents' last year, and I am pleased to say that in this game Colorado "won" that category, 3-2.

Baseball is much beloved for its unpredictable nature. Who foresaw Scott Podsednik's inexplicable 2005 postseason power surge, or the out-of-nowhere run of the 2003 Marlins? But then again, there are some things in baseball as reliably predictable as San Diego weather. When Todd Helton came up to bat in the eighth against Terry Mulholland with a runner on, an inning after Helton's rare fielding gaffe gave Arizona the lead, the probability of Helton's clubbing a game-tying double was very near 100% (not exactly 100% only allowing for the possibility of Todd's hitting a game-winning homer). Likewise, when Jason Grimsley entered the game for the Diamondbacks after Mike DeJean successfully manuevered around some trouble in the top of the 11th, it seemed a foregone conclusion (at least to me) that the game wasn't going to last into the 12th. The Rockies bullpen beat the D-Backs bullpen, and that warms my heart. I'm not sure what exactly it was I did to offend the baseball gods to deserve having Jose Mesa pitching high-leverage innings for my favorite team, but I certainly can't complain about the end result.

I'd forgotten since last Opening Day how much of a nightmare parking around Coors Field is when people actually come to the games. Maybe it's selfish of me, but from a personal convenience standpoint things would (will) be much smoother if (when) the park goes back to its more customary half-empty state. In order to avoid paying $20 to park in a lot that's usually four bucks, I ended up walking about two miles through scenic east Denver. Consequently, I didn't get into the park until the fourth inning, but I did manage to psyche the scalper outside into giving me my upper deck (three rows above the purple) seat for face. Nothing scares a scalper more than the back of a guy looking for a single ticket in the fourth inning. Happily, I arrived just in time to see the Rockies score their first run of the year, on a single by none other than Jason Jennings.

Which brings me to the critical part of my game recap. Webb in his seven innings allowed eight baserunners, five hits and three walks. Helton, Brad Hawpe, and Luis Gonzalez were the recipients of the bases on balls. Holliday, Jennings, Hawpe (twice), and Cory Sullivan had the hits. So six of the eight guys who reached against the D-Backs' ace were lefthanders. (Jennings hits lefty.) Webb's platoon splits are a matter of public record. I belive I made reference to them just last night when I was typing up my series preview. So why, then, when it came time to pinch hit for Jennings in the seventh with a runner in scoring position, did Clint Hurdle send up righthander Eli Marrero to face Webb with lefty Jason Smith eminently available? You owe me two innings, Clint.

Danny Ardoin gunned down Craig Counsell trying to steal while I was fighting through traffic. Brad Hawpe (2 for 4 with a walk, plus the game-winning RBI) was the offensive star. If Cory Sullivan is going to stick hitting leadoff, he needs to take some more pitches. The Rockies outfielders as a group had a terrific game holding Arizona runners. Sullivan nailed the cutoff man with one out and a runner on third in the eighth. Hawpe held a pinch runner at second after a fly in the ninth. The man of the match, however, had to be Jason Jennings. The member of the Rockies' front three whom I am the least sold on outpitched Arizona's #1 guy and should have come away with the win if not for Hurdle's weird Marrero decision.

I savor Coors Field pitching duels, as rare as they are. That said, I'd like to see the Rockies put the hurt on Orlando Hernandez in game two and save me further Mesa-induced heartburn. One more thing: people who go to Rockies games, quit wasting so much food. Some of us are very poor and can't afford ballpark food or parking within a two-mile perimeter of the stadium. It's in very bad taste to buy six-dollar Cokes and eight-dollar hamburgers and leave them unconsumed all around a poor journalist who walked a long way to get to the game and has a long walk and a considerable drive ahead of him before he reaches the spicy buffalo wings in his freezer. Sigh. Trouble is, Opening Day isn't really for the hardcore. If there weren't 80 games left, I guess I would be more agitated about it.

Series Preview: Arizona
2006-04-02 23:53
by Mark T.R. Donohue

It's quite lovely here in Denver, and promises to remain so for tomorrow's Opening Day game. Not so much in Chicago, though. I left home to go see a concert in Boulder right as the rain was beginning to fall on the White Sox and Indians, and when I returned after midnight the game was just drawing to a close. I saw Jim Thome's homer on the replay, however. That dude can still hit a bit.

It seems like an age has passed since I was last blogging during the regular season. Indeed one has. We have new digs and a new name now, and I won't be able to use the little team hats with my Rockies series previews like I used to when the page was an MLBlog. I assume if you're reading this you probably know what the teams' hats look like. The Diamondbacks' road hat is black with a little snake in the shape of a "D." It's pretty cool, actually, particularly in comparison to their hideous purple-and-green home caps. I don't know what the style gods have against the city of Phoenix, but all the pro teams there have pretty awful uniforms. Maybe I don't have a leg to stand on here, as the Rockies and Nuggets have pretty ugly uniforms themselves. I don't know if the Nuggets have ever played the Suns in a game where Denver has worn those electric blue monstrosities and Phoenix has gone with the solid orange, but the very thought of it is making my eyes hurt a little bit. Let's move on to the baseball, shall we?

If the Rockies are to vault into fourth place in the 2006 NL West, the team they're most likely to pass over is the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs are still working out the schedule for rotating in all of their scorching hot can't-miss prospects, and their pitching past Opening Day starter Brandon Webb is very, very bad. At the moment the only rookie in the lineup is first baseman Conor Jackson, but Carlos Quentin, Chris Young, and Stephen Drew are pounding on the door. Craig Counsell and Orlando Hudson make for a solid defensive pairing at short and second, although Counsell has shoulder issues and didn't play shortstop at all last year. In the outfield, veterans Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green flank former Rockies centerfielder Eric Byrnes. Chad Tracy played so well last year that Arizona moved Troy Glaus so he could be the everyday third baseman. Johnny Estrada is the catcher. It seems a little strange to say so, but offensively Jackson might already be the surest thing in this lineup. Luis Gonzalez is 38; Shawn Green is Shawn Green. Tracy's huge spike in home runs last year was pretty weird and he'll have to prove he can sustain it. Estrada already resembles one of those mysterious players who can only be effective when playing for the Atlanta Braves. Counsell, Byrnes, and Hudson are not good offensive players, but Hudson at least ought to see a power spike from playing his home games at the Park Formerly Known as BOB.

The Rockies won't be lucky enough to see the Diamondbacks' fourth and fifth starters in this series, but there's plenty more games left against Arizona on the schedule. Just wait. I guess I should save all of my funny Russ Ortiz jokes until he's actually facing Colorado. Curse the luck. As of this writing Claudio Vargas is the fifth starter, although that may not last long. The Rockies will get at least one crack at Ortiz next week when they visit Phoenix for the D-Backs' home opener and two more games. Oh boy, I can't wait. Well, here's who we do face this time around: Brandon Webb (versus Jason Jennings, Monday), Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez (versus Aaron Cook, Wednesday), and Miguel Batista (versus Jeff Francis, Thursday). Webb is perhaps the most unique righthanded starter in the game, living and dying with a marvel of a sinker. You just can't hit home runs off of this guy, but you can tag him for singles and doubles, especially if you're lefthanded. Hernandez's real age is as great and unknowable as the number of stars in the sky or sands on a beach, but would anyone be surprised if El Duque predated Castro's rule of Cuba? Or, indeed, the Spanish-American War? The White Sox must have figured that Hernandez had imparted all of the wisdom upon Jose Contreras that he had to impart, because they sent him off in the Javier Vasquez deal without blinking. Arizona doesn't have any fragile young Cuban psyches to be mentored, but maybe El Duque can teach his famous blooper to the bullpen as a collective, because they're certainly not having much luck with their current repertoire of pitches. Miguel Batista is a competent pitcher, but he only threw 72 2/3 innings last year as Toronto's closer, so the D-Backs best keep an eye on his pitch counts.

After Webb, Arizona's starters aren't good bets to work deep into games, and that's a real problem. Here's the bullpen: Jose Valverde (a suitable second-division closer), Greg Aquino, Brandon Lyon, Luis Vizcaino, Jason Grimsley, and Terry Mulholland. Yes, Terry Mulholland, all 43 years of him. They made a late trade of Brad Halsey for former Cubs problem child Juan Cruz, but Cruz despite his strikeout skills is one of those guys who seems best suited for starting, if he's ever going to make it the major leagues at all. Cruz is a little flighty and tends to walk guys left and right anyway. Bring him in with runners on base in a pressure situation, and the negatives seem to outweigh the positives. Arizona had an awful bullpen in 2005, and they're highly unlikely to match the '04/'05 Indians' accomplishment of going from one of the majors' worst relief corps to one of the best. You'd think that playing in a hitters' environment like Chase Field with a rotation that tends to give up its fair share of base hits, the Diamondbacks might have done something about the bullpen besides sign Terry Mulholland, but you'd think wrong. It's a glaring weakness, and more than anything it's what gives us fourth place-or-bust Rockies fans the most hope for this coming season.

I'd feel better about Colorado's chances to sweep this three-game series if Aaron Cook was opposing Webb in the first game. Jason Jennings is a better pitcher than his stats give him credit for, but not that much better, and he's highly unlikely to win a pitcher's duel with Brandon Webb if that's to what it comes down. Then again, if the Rockies keep it close against the starter and then get into the soft underbelly of the Arizona middle relief squad, watch out. Cook ought to thrash El Duque on Wednesday, and as for Thursday's game, it's hard to pick against Jeff Francis at Coors. Would it be too Pollyanna-esque to predict an opening series sweep for our boys, who are coming off of a very upbeat spring campaign? Yeah, I guess it would be. Still, I think the Rockies are better than the Diamondbacks, and ought to win two of three every time at home.

2006-04-02 15:59
by Mark T.R. Donohue

It's the eve of the Rockies' 2006 season, and as I sit here waiting for the White Sox-Indians game to come on the TV, I'm thinking about the bottom line. 75 wins. That's what I want to see. I don't think it's a lot to ask. I'm willing to accept another developmental season from the Rockies, but this time I want to see some, you know, development. Not a ton. Unlike James Brown, I'm not a greedy man. The Rockies were 67-95 last year, tying the franchise record for futility. This year, I want to see eight more wins, by hook or by crook. And there's a couple of other vexing questions I'd like to see settled.

Management. It requires a leap of faith, but I'm willing to give Dan O'Dowd a pass for the disastrous first four years of his regime. I'm operating under the assumption that the new farm system-building, penny-pinching Dan O'D is a completely different GM, and from the way he contradicts his former self in interviews, he may well be. The farm system definitely is better, and it would be gross and Dodger-like to not give O'Dowd's money kids the chance to prove him right. However, a decision needs to be made this year on Clint Hurdle. He's not a bad guy to have around mentoring the young players, but his handling of the pitching staff and his game management skills are questionable. If the team isn't willing to give him a long-term extension after this season, Hurdle should be shown the door. He has the excuse of not having had any good players on his team for his performance to date, but nothing he's done in his time in Colorado has convinced me that he is the kind of guy who can steer a team in the very difficult transition from 80 to 90 wins. Of course, the only Rockies manager ever to make the playoffs was Don Baylor, so maybe Baseball Between the Numbers is right and managers don't make any difference at all.

#4 hitter. The Rockies have The Guy -- Todd Helton, future Hall of Famer, at your service. Now they need The Other Guy. It could be Matt Holliday, it could be Clint Barmes. It could be Luis "N.R." Gonzalez for all I care. Colorado really needs someone who can consistently drive in runs and protect Helton in the lineup, and someone who can do it convincingly on the road as well as at Coors. The organization really seems to think Holliday is going to be the guy, and I hope for all of their sakes that they're right. But if Holliday doesn't have a breakthrough, All-Star kind of year in 2006, it's time to think about moving him before arbitration and age make his case one of diminishing returns. The Rockies system is noticeably devoid of power-hitting outfield prospects, and one way or another O'Dowd has to find the guys who are going to fill in the lineup around Helton, Ian Stewart, Chris Ianetta, and Troy Tulowitzki in 2008. Trading one or more of the Rockies' blocked first base prospects (Ryan Spilborghs, Ryan Shealy, Joe Koshansky) is another decision that O'Dowd is going to have to make this year.

The rotation. You can tell right away while reading the various 2006 season previews whether a writer knows what he's talking about when it comes to the Rockies or not. If they say something along the lines of, "of course, the Rockies have no pitching still and they never will," put the magazine back on the rack. Colorado arguably had their best starting staff ever last year, and that was with Jamey Wright laboring away all season. Last year, the offense was too terrible for it to be worth considering making a deal for veteran pitching. This year? Well, stranger things have happened, and the NL West is still a pretty poor division. Aaron Cook, Jason Jennings, and Jeff Francis need to stay healthy all year. If they do, they should all have double-digit win totals and the Rockies should continue their inexorable rise up the major league ERA table (27th last year, thank you, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay). For the relentlessly optimistic, imagine what might happen if Byung-Hyun Kim can build on his performance as a starter in 2005 and one of the group of Sun-Woo Kim, Josh Fogg, Zach Day, and Miguel Asencio can somehow muster league-average performance (in a Coors context) from the fifth starter spot. Well, we'd be looking at .500. And I wouldn't be crazy to say a division title as well, since .500 last year equated to winning the NL West. On the other hand, if Jennings struggles, that might mean the end of his Colorado career. If the Rockies were able to trade Joe Kennedy last season for marginally useful players, then Jennings ought to have real value.

The pen. It doesn't really much matter what Jose Mesa, Ray King, Mike DeJean, Tom Martin, and the guys of their ilk might do. That group won't be around when next the Rockies seriously enter a season with the postseason in mind. This is, however, a big year for Brian Fuentes. It's silly for bad teams to sweat much about having star closers, but Fuentes' emergence might dovetail nicely with the Rockies' return to relevance. If ever a pitcher could be said to have "figured out Coors Field," Fuentes is the guy. Colorado won a wild card bid in 1995 around one of the greatest no-name bullpens of all time. If they have the makings of another great, cheap pen around in the system now, then in '07 and '08 there will be money to spend on starters and hitters. Ryan Speier's injury is a letdown, but there's still Scott Dohmann, Manuel Corpas, Chin-Hui Tsao (at midseason), and Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra to evaluate. Better still, if some of these guys emerge and pitch like Marcos Carvajal and David Cortes did last year, some of the old expensive guys at the top of the depth chart can be flipped for yet still more prospects. Contending teams do tend to get a little hysterical about their bullpens around the trade deadline. And come on, when you think pitching, who doesn't think Colorado?

Attendance. Well, yeah. People aren't going to Rockies games, and there needs to be some sort of positive trend in that department one of these years if we're ever really going to consider contending again. The Rockies' payroll is going to be around $50 million for a few years, but the argument for that -- there's no particular wisdom is overpaying for veteran talent if they're only going to make the difference between 65 wins and 71 -- is a sound one. But if people don't start coming to games, then it's going to be difficult to maintain the team's growing core of young talent and impossible to add the missing pieces left after the farm system pays its dividends. If the team does get better, and they ought to, will enough of Denver still be paying attention that Coors ticket sales will tick a little bit upward? Just a little bit? Obviously, they'll pack the joint for tote bag night. (August 11th, against the Cubs. Mark your calendars).

National awareness. It would be nice if the Rockies entered the national conversation just a little bit in the coming year. It can't help the team's free agent recruiting efforts much that their highlights don't make the TV shows, their players besides Helton don't have All-Star arguments, and for a decade national analysts have simply parroted an outdated party line about pitching at altitude whenever the conversation turns to the Colorado club. Look, Texas has a goofy hitters' park too. Are they forever to be excluded from discussions of contention? The tools are out there for baseball writers to intelligently discuss what truly ails the Rockies, but before anyone's going to pick them up, the team has to win enough games to push on to the very periphery of people's radar screens. The Brewers are more broke than we are, and yet they're a hip pick to make The Leap this year. Why couldn't that be the Rockies in two years? Let's start inching our way towards respectability now, meaning minimzing the number of Jamey Carroll ABs, cutting bait sooner rather than later on pitchers who clearly can't get hitters out, and not playing small ball in the early innings at the most absurd offensive incubator major league baseball has ever seen. Conventional wisdom in baseball is hard to shake. We're going to have to meet these people more than halfway.

If taking a step backwards in 2006 to go two steps forward in 2007 is necessary, I can live with it. If trading Jennings or Holliday for real prospects (meaning, not the guys the Rockies got in the Shawn Chacon and Preston Wilson deals last year) happens, I'm willing to waive my 75-win requirement. But if the roster stays more or less the same the whole year round, save a veteran reliever flip or two, then 75 is the number to which I'm adhering. Simply managing to not be ghastly in April and May like last year would make it all possible.

I don't know where I'm sitting for Opening Day yet, but if you see a tall thin guy in a purple Helton jersey with a red beard and glasses, that's probably me. Say hello.