Monthly archives: July 2006
Ryan Shealy and Scott Dohmann out, Denny Bautista and Jeremy Affeldt in. Affeldt is a failed starting prospect who has showed some flair as a LOOGY in the past months. Clint Hurdle can now play matchups to his heart's content. Bautista is just pretty much a failure. Personally, I think Shealy for both of those guys might not have been a fair deal for Colorado. Dohmann has a lot of potential, and he has a rabid underground fanbase. It's not his fault he's righthanded. He will be missed.
I have a favor to ask you all. My parents and I are going to the Rockies-Brewers game tonight (Aaron Cook-Chris Capuano, pretty nice pitching matchup). My folks are deeply skeptical about my plans to make a living as a baseball/pop culture talking head. If you are coming to the game tonight, it would be great if you could walk up to me and say, "Hey! It's Mark Donohue, beloved Rockies expert and operator of Bad Altitude!" We'll be sitting in the rightfield bleachers and I'll be wearing my good-luck purple Helton jersey.
Having won 3 of 4 against the Padres, the Rockies seem to have settled all questions about whether they stand as buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. They're neither. Ray King seems to have pitched his way out of Clint Hurdle's doghouse. Unless you count the sale of Miguel Ojeda to the Rangers, Colorado isn't going to do anything this year. And that's fine. The team is on the rise (keep repeating that until you believe it), there's no one obviously on their way out like Preston Wilson and Shawn Chacon were last year, and the team will be in a good position to bring back every one of this season's contributors for next year. They may even be able to add a guy or two. Watch out, third-class free agent centerfielders and starters.
So does winning a series at home against the first-place Padres mean that the Rockies are division contenders again? No. Granted, the Dodgers are behind Colorado in the standings at the moment and seem to be operating as if they're going to gear up for a run this year, but the only reason for this seems to be that Bill Plaschke called Ned Colletti a chicken. That's always a good reason to mortgage your future. It's true that the Rockies, like every other team in the NL West, are just one winning streak away from seizing control of the division. The Denver Post argues that with the starting pitching the Rockies have, they ought to be good candidates for such a streak. Their starters are good. But their offense isn't, the defense has been shaky lately, and the bullpen still hasn't found its true level between playing above its head and below the water line. If they were going to go on a winning run, I think they would have done it by now. But maybe I'm wrong.
Did I say the Rockies would make no trades at all? That's not entirely true. Ryan Shealy will go somewhere. But the most exciting name I've read in connection with Shealy is oft-pounded Kansas City lefthander Jeremy Affeldt. Hard to get too amped up about that deal. The other teams listed in the Shealy section of ESPN's Rumor Central are Pittsburgh, Baltimore, the Yankees, San Francisco, and Toronto. In short, five of the most talent-deficient systems in the minors. Isn't that always the way.
I watched "Under the Lights: Todd Helton" last night. Not a lot of arc to that story. He gets drafted out of high school and doesn't sign, he plays football and he's OK, he almost hits .400 but he doesn't. There's no third act. The Rockies really need to make the playoffs one of these days so that a future television biography program on Helton won't be duller than the Huey Lewis "Behind the Music." I love Helton because he's one of the few true superstars in the game who honestly doesn't like to talk about himself. He likes hittin', huntin', and his baby girl. He has some amusing superstitions. Everybody likes him, but no one really has any great stories to share since basically nothing has happened in his career. The Fox Sports people tried to create some drama with the Wayne Hagin controversy and Helton's recent bout of ileitis, but, well, there's still no story there. Hagin was a self-serving muckraker and there was absolutely zero evidence supporting his claims about Helton's steroid use. Helton came back from the ileitis and it's not like it made him a better man or a better player or anything. He was already pretty good on both counts. Why is it that being decent and quiet makes for such bad TV? Why is Terrell Owens more famous than Todd Helton? These are major questions. Not that I'm saying Helton should start spitting on umpires or anything. But maybe he could take a cue from Darren Daulton and start discussing his out-of-body experiences during hitting streaks. At the very least he could play up the one thing about him that's at all colorful, his ridiculous superstitions. Did you know he sometimes changes shoes three or four times a game? One time he and Clint Hurdle visited the restroom together right before an at-bat where Todd got a hit. The next time he was due to be up, he made Clint go back to the bathroom with him. Sometimes he shaves off his beard in the middle of games. In a slump he'll try the bats of everyone else on the team. I think he should start a website where he details every bizarre thing he does for good luck in excruciating detail. Never mind the fact that he also studies film and prepares for games more than practically any other player of his stature.
The ESPN servers are going all wonky today due to the high number of people checking in on the trade deadline. What do I think about the big deals so far? Well, I'm not sure Sean Casey is that much better or indeed not a lot worse than Chris Shelton. Bobby Abreu will be very good for the Yankees, but his main role will be deflecting ignorant "non-clutch" criticism away from A-Rod. The Phillies did a good job making the Yanks take Cory Lidle's salary off of their hands. The number of average to very-slightly-below-average starters the Yankees are paying five to seven million dollars a year to is getting seriously out of control. They're going to hit a money wall eventually. Right? Right? Right?
Stop me if I'm wrong, but doesn't every trade deadline season proceed in more or less the same way? There's always the rumblings, early on, that this year is somehow different from every other. Which it isn't. Then there's some wild speculation about some guys who obviously aren't going anywhere written just because we kind of expect such behavior from baseball writers. A few incredibly unexciting middle relief and prospect-for-prospect deals go down. Then, without fail, the articles about how nobody interesting will get traded start. Then the next day guys start moving.
It is funny that after weeks of speculation about Alfonso Soriano a Carlos Lee deal takes place with little to no preface. The Brewers sure didn't get very much for El Caballo, which must be supremely disheartening to the Nationals brass. Rent-a-player or not, Lee will make a big difference in the Metroplex for the Rangers and I'm surprised that not a single high-profile prospect type went Milwaukee's way in this trade. What happened to those DVD guys I have heard so much about? Did the Brewers decide to wait for the Blu-Ray format?
So if the Brewers are sellers, that means they're not in the market for the apparently available Greg Maddux, right? So where will he go? It seems to be that absent the family connection in Milwaukee the teams near his home in Vegas all eliminate themselves somehow. The Diamondbacks are not going to deal any of their young dudes. The Dodgers have played their way out of it these last few weeks, and I suspect Ned Colletti is smart enough to see as many have that Maddux is on his last legs. The Angels don't need pitching. San Diego maybe? What have they got that the Cubs would want? As a Rockies fan I have no problem with the other teams in the division giving away bits of their future for incremental advance this season. The closer we get to zero hour, the more this trade deadline looks a lot like all of the other ones -- the real winners are the teams that just give the whole thing a pass.
Choo Slides in There
I know I wrote a few days ago that I wasn't going to bail out on the Rockies in disgust. I meant the season. I didn't mean that I wouldn't, from time to time, turn off a game in the middle in order to watch 40-Year-Old Virgin again because I'm tired of watching Colorado's bats flail impotently. Well, OK, every time the Rockies fall behind now, in goes that DVD, because the ol' ball club won an important one last night, spotting the Padres a 5-run lead only to win in the 10th.
The Rockies' recent losing streak is hardly anything new, but it has been disheartening for some novel reasons. The fringe guys on the team are beginning to produce. Yorvit Torrealba's offense is coming around, and his control of the running game continues to be top-notch. Clint Barmes is no longer mired in Cristian Guzman territory OBP-wise. When the team's stars produce and the not-so-starry pitch in a bit, good things happen. Last night, Atkins, Holliday, Hawpe, and Helton all had hits. It seems bizarre to be describing Jamey Carroll as a team star, but he's been far and away the most reliable guy on the team as far as getting his job at the plate done. He had two more singles. But Jorge Piedra (remember him?) had a pinch hit. Freeman had a pinch hit, a double in the tenth. Then on Carroll's single he scored the winning run on a balletic slide around Rob Bowen.
Extra time was made possible by Torrealba, who capped off a 3 for 4 night with a home run in the bottom of the ninth off of Trevor Hoffman. You know, as little as I've made of Barmes' resurgence during the team's recent period of futility, I don't think I've said a single nice thing about Yorvit. Let's fix that right now. Dan O'Dowd made the right move when he sent Marcos Carvajal to Seattle for Torrealba. While Yorvit never really got it going during his time in San Francisco and completely bottomed out last year with the Mariners, he's been much better than Danny Ardoin and still has limitless potential as a 28-year-old who's never been a regular before. He's not a great hitter, but he is a hitter, unlike Ardoin, and his defense has been beyond reproach. He's thrown out more guys (eight) than have successfully stolen against him (seven). All right, Yorvit.
Before the losing started, when we were talking about the possibility of the Rockies making a trade or two, the three positions in most obvious need of an upgrade were catcher, shortstop, and center field. Barmes has looked like a new man as of late. Torrealba is no All-Star, but I highly doubt there's anyone better readily available. So what about center field? Cory Sullivan hasn't hit up in the order or at the bottom. Freeman and Piedra are bench players. Is there a deal to be made? Eh, probably not. The team as presently composed is highly unlikely to win a division title, even in this division. But it will remain around at the periphery of the discussion into September, which I think was probably above and beyond O'Dowd's wildest dreams when the season began. However -- the franchise doesn't have an easy answer for the center field hole going into next season, either. Something to think about if teams call enquiring as to the availability of Jose Mesa and Ray King.
A word to Dodger fans, who I know come by here every now and then: Yeah, I know you guys have it pretty bad right now. This recent run, I read the other day, is the worst in (Los Angeles) Dodger history. But here's some perspective. The Rockies go through a stretch where they lose 11 of 12 once or twice (seemingly) every year. So suck it up.
Let's Have Some Links
It seems like ages since I've done a good-old fashioned linkfest, doesn't it? It shouldn't be hard to imagine why. The Rockies' poor play since the All-Star break greatly diminished my taste for looking around the web for news about the team, and pretty much killed my interest in sharing it. But it's a brand new day. Thank you, Francis Channel.
If you're like me, one of the first things you like to look for after a pitching performance like Francis's last night is the reaction from the victims' side. Scott Rolen on Jeff: "He hides the ball well. I guess you could call him sneaky. More important, he threw all of his pitches for strikes tonight. He mixed the ball well. He threw his fastball, his breaking ball, and his changeup for strikes." The St. Louis paper notes that Francis has started throwing a sinker this year in addition to his four-seam fastball, and repeats the same quotes from Tony La Russa all the Denver reporters happily used: "He just worked us over. He probably doesn't even need to take a shower. I'm not even sure he sweated.... Probably could pitch tomorrow. Hope he doesn't." Hah! Eat your heart out, Francisco Liriano.
The Denver Post has the time-tested optimistic columnist/pessimistic columnist dichotomy working on the Rockies right now. Thomas George pulls out every rhetorical trick in the book in trying to invest last night's win with greater import than the 1/162 of the season it actually represents. He's got to regret writing this last sentence: "A bubbling blend, warts and all." What is this, the NL West or MacBeth? I hate to call Jim Armstrong the voice of reason but his Tuesday notes column leads with the factoid that the Rockies haven't hit a three-run homer in a calendar month. This is what Clint Hurdle's league-leading sacrifice hit strategy has wrought.
Pirates blog Honest Wagner is conducting a running campaign to convince the Buccos to deal for Ryan Shealy. This post specifically indicates that the Rockies would be looking for a young middle reliever in return. Further sleuthing reveals that Colorado's target was righty Matt Capps. According to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Pirates were unwilling to pay that price and are now no longer involved in the Shealy conversaton. See what I miss when the Rockies go on a losing streak? All kinds of stuff. Capps (3.38 ERA, 6.58 K/9, 1.13 WHIP) would be a nice pickup for Colorado but Shealy is going to be a major league starter somewhere, and everyday players are worth more than middle relievers. For my part I have no idea why Pittsburgh has been so determined to first bench and now apparently trade the perfectly good Craig Wilson, but Shealy would be a worthy replacement for Sean Casey and a nice guy to slot into the lineup behind Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay. Plus he's going to be cheap for years to come. Well, Pirates management is profoundly stupid. Their loss.
It's old news by now, but a potential relief pitching swap of Ray King for Boston's Julian Tavarez is dead. The Boston Globe reports that Colorado didn't want to assume responsibility for Tavarez's $3.1 million 2007 salary, but I will freely speculate that volatile Tavarez probably wouldn't have fit in with Dan O'Dowd's Bible study-group vision for the Rockies clubhouse. He's also not young and not having a very good season. After the Rockies' tough road trip O'Dowd might be considering a longer-term vision for any deals he may make this season. Rather than trading lefty King for a righty reliever (since Tom Martin has claimed King's role as the principle lefthanded matchup guy), perhaps he will be dealt for prospects instead. I wouldn't be all gung-ho about sending out for a veteran reliever since 1) their contracts are usually bad and 2) they seldom make any difference whatsoever in pennant races. And the Rockies even while losing still don't have a lot of relief innings to go around since the starters have been both good and durable.
If you're a Rockies fan and have been feeling bad about the last few weeks, think about how Dodgers fans must feel. The idea of Colorado winning the division before the break was mostly wishful thinking. The Dodgers were the favorites, at least in my book. They had the best offense in the NL and a seemingly limitless reserve of talented minor leaguers. Suddenly they can't do anything right. What happened? Well, getting swept in two straight series with the Cardinals hasn't helped. Then there's Nomar Garciaparra's .215 average in July. While the Rockies were losing a lot of close games during their recent dry run, the Dodgers were getting beat up. Since the break they have been outscored 64-21. I know a lot of Dodger fans wander over here every now and then, and they know all of this already, so I'll stop. But for Rockies fans, there's a little perspective.
OK, Jason Jennings and Chris Carpenter. That's a pretty nice matchup. It's starting now, so it's time to wrap this up. Let's hope the Rockies continue to win, continuing to inspire me to blog better.
Rockies 7, Cardinals 0
Fastball, curveball, changeup. Sometimes it doesn't get any more complicated than that. Jeff Francis was magnificent last night, allowing two hits and only one hard-hit ball (to Albert Pujols), striking out eight and walking none. Francis threw mostly fastballs (home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi was very generous with the outside corner all night) but had his curveball really moving and threw a few good changes, especially to righthanders.
Francis's game score for the complete-game shutout was 91. That's the highest in the National League so far this year. With Jason Jennings' shutout against the Padres in May, the Rockies have two of the top ten starting pitching performances of 2006. So how about that?
Rockies 9, Diamondbacks 7
Oh, man. We needed that one. After Bob Melvin (of all people) thoroughly outmanaged Clint Hurdle in the middle innings to scuttle the Rockies' 5-1 lead, Colorado finally had a big late-game rally, the bullpen bailed out an obviously ineffective Byung-Hyun Kim, and Brian Fuentes got some righthanders out for the save. Forget losing eleven of our last twelve, now it's 12 of our last 14! We're surging!
I have no idea what Hurdle was thinking leaving in Kim for as long as he did in a brutal six-run Arizona fourth. It was clear by the third double of the inning that Kim was done, but Hurdle dallied in calling for a reliever to warm up and Kim promptly gave up another double, turning what should have been a tie game into a two-run Rockies deficit. Then something weird happened. The Rockies going three-up and three-down in the fifth, sixth, and seventh was all in line with the teams' recent performance, but they went nuts in the ninth, scored four runs off of overworked closer Jorge Julio, and won the game. After his great decision to pinch-hit for Juan Cruz with Stephen Drew in the fourth, Melvin went to Julio for the fourth day in a row and he got burned. Hurdle made a smart move pinch-hitting Jamey Carroll to lead off the ninth. Instead of having to write a miserable post bemoaning the manager's stupidity in the fourth inning, I get to write a celebratory one lauding his intelligent use of the bullpen (Fuentes, Ray King, Manuel Corpas, and Tom Martin didn't allow a run between them) and good substitutions (pinch-hitters Carroll and Jorge Piedra both got on base in the ninth). Also, let me just say: Brad Hawpe. His throw to nail Stephen Drew trying to score from third on a Cruz fly ball was awesome. He made another terrific catch in the ninth going deep into the corner at Chase Field to give the recently struggling Brian Fuentes a much-needed helping hand. His offensive line was 0 for 5 with two strikeouts, but he played a huge part in the win. Clint Barmes had four hits.
When this team wins, they're a lot of fun to watch. They really do seem to eke out total team victories rather than depending on one slugger or one starter to take them on his back. Today they were moving runners over, hitting cutoff men, getting big hits. The trouble is we never seem to see the good version of the Rockies in more than occasional cameos. Where were these guys in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and the first two games in Phoenix? It's a quandary. Coming back to Coors for the longest homestand of the season may not be such a huge boost, since the Rockies have lost their usual home swagger this season and they face the Cardinals and Brewers, who are better than they are, and the Padres, who play in the NL West. The Rockies have had a lot of trouble winning in the division this year. It's yet another sign that they're not quite ready for prime time. They are, however, completely capable of getting on to enough of a warm streak (I'm not prepared to say "hot streak" until we see the bullpen situation stabilized) to get back to .500 and remaining around there for the rest of the season. That would be more than I expected going into 2006, and a good sign for next year.
On the subject of next year...I need to stop underestimating the Diamondbacks. They're short on pitching, for sure, but if they can move Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green it would make sense for them to overpay for middle relievers next offseason as the Cubs did (quixotically) before this season. That's because Chad Tracy, Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin, and Conor Jackson are going to be extremely productive and very cheap for the immediate future. That's enough offense to propel even a slightly below-average pitching staff to 90-win territory. Which would obviously be plenty good to win the NL West, presuming the Dodgers don't decide to get really spendy next year. Also, Brandon Webb is The Man when it comes to NL West aces right now, and I guess I don't see that changing for a while. They need a #2 starter, and a real closer, and to clear out some of the old dudes, but they're closer than I thought. Hopefully next year the NL West will be as tightly packed as it this season, only with the winner on pace to win 94 games, not 84.
So We're Playing Arizona Again
The way the National League schedule works, it's hard to excited about writing a series preview. It's all boring team, boring team, divisional "rival," divisional "rival," boring team, same two "rivals," and then twice a year, the Mets. But we do need to go over something about the Diamondbacks. Their most valuable position player this year has been Eric Byrnes. By a lot.
Shawn Green is having an OK year. He might be traded soon. You know he's only 33? He seems much older for some reason. Perhaps it's because he has always been on teams that play the Rockies often. He's a very old 33. Not quite as old as Cliff Floyd, but up there. Catcher Johnny Estrada was an astute offseason pickup from the Braves. Other than that, Arizona has had some trouble settling upon a consistent lineup and maintaining it. Part of the problem is that no one in the organization seems to know when the youth movement is set to begin. It may have happened already, while everyone was distracted by the D-Backs' various staff switcheroos. They're not out of the woods yet:
JOSH BYRNES: Hi, is this Bob? Bob the manager of the Diamondbacks?
BOB MELVIN: Yes, this is Bob. Who is this?
JB: This is Byrnes, the GM. Wait, Bob Brenly? I have your baseball card only it's spelled with an "m," "Bremly." Do you sign a lot of those?
BM: No, I'm Bob Melvin. Bob Brenly is in the broadcast booth in Chicago, where he is conducting a none-too-subtle stealth campaign for Dusty Baker's job by inserting frequent uncalled-for references to his World Series win in his color commentary. You're not Eric Byrnes, our sparkplug centerfielder and briefly last year a member of the Colorado Rockies?
JB: No, although that would be pretty cool if I was.
BM: That would be cool.
So I don't think either Byrnes or either Bob has any idea whether the D-Backs youth movement has begun. On one hand, they traded Troy Glaus so Chad Tracy could play third every day. He played better when he was blocked. Conor Jackson is playing. On the other hand Craig Counsell and Damion Easley have 400 at-bats between them and Tony Clark continues to siphon away PT from Jackson. They've called up Carlos Quentin for seemingly no reason other than to annoy Luis Gonzalez, which is silly. They didn't tie Gonzalez down and force him to sign that enormous misguided contract extension.
The big problem is the same thing I've been trumpeting for years, not that anyone listens to me. All the hitting prospects in the world are of little use if you can't season the mix with a young pitcher here and there. Arizona and young pitchers, not so much. Brandon Webb doesn't count as young anymore. He's an established star. He could win the Cy Young this year. I hope he doesn't, because if so, that makes two really dumb preseason predictions I made, Webb backsliding into middle-rotation status and Detroit winning 75 games. I should stop making predictions. 23-year-old righthander Enrique Gonzalez counts as a prospect, although not a very good one. The rest of the rotation is retreads: Miguel Batista, Claudio Vargas, and Juan Cruz, that bad penny (or whatever the currency equivalent in the D.R. would be) from Chicago, Oakland, and Atlanta. I don't know what the plan is for next year. They're going to have to get some starters and relievers from somewhere. A Coors-esque 16 guys have pitched in relief for the Diamondbacks this year, and Jason Grimsley's is only the second saddest name in the stack. That's right, Terry Mulholland. I went there.
The Rockies aren't very good. I admit it. The Diamondbacks are also not good. Their sweep of the Rockies in Denver immediately before the All-Star break might have put paid to every hope of pennant-stretch relevance Colorado ever harbored. Or maybe this is where the Rockies overcome their recent extended speed bump run and assert that they're one of the less mediocre teams in one of baseball's more mediocre divisions. The pitching matchups are highly favorable: Vargas-Aaron Cook tonight, Gonzalez-Josh Fogg Saturday, and Cruz-Byung-Hyun Kim on Sunday. Dare we hope?
Hall of Spit
OK, I went to the soccer store near my apartment, because I was sure there was going to be a post-World Cup clearance sale (there was). I ordered an Arjen Robben Netherlands jersey and I bought a nice-looking Steven Gerrard poster. Or at least I thought I did. When I got home and unrolled it, it actually featured an image of El-Hadji Diouf with the same "You'll Never Walk Alone" motto printed across the bottom. There are less appealing ex-Liverpool players I can think of with which to adorn my walls (this means you, Michael Owen), but not many. Diouf is not only one of a long line of high-profile failed Liverpool striker transfers, but he's also described in his Soccernet player bio as a quote "pathological expectorator." That's quite a label to carry around with you.
So, the store was nice enough to give me the Gerrard poster, but since I'd already taken Diouf out of his plastic tube and unrolled him, they figured I might as well keep that poster as well. I had wallspace already cleared out for Stevie G, but I now face a rare and unexpected quandary. What on earth am I going to do with a free El-Hadji Diouf poster?
And then it struck me. I'll shuffle around the posters in the hall leading to my bathroom (a Big Lebowski one-sheet and some of the most choice selections from my bottomless collection of Hanniganalia) and start my own Hall of Spit! I'll need Roberto Alomar, obviously, French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Hernandez. Rasheed Wallace has to have spit on a ref at some point or another, right? What about Randy Moss? If you google "referee spit" the majority of the first several pages of results are incidents from soccer. "Umpire spit" is Alomar's exclusive province.
If you can recall an incident of a player in any sport hocking a loogy at an official, opponent, teammate, coach, or fan, please share! My bare hallway walls await your counsel.
Your 2006 Rockies: Not Ready for Their Closeup
It's a day off today, pretty much the only thing that can stop the misery for the Rockies. They lost again to Pittsburgh yesterday. That makes them 1 for their last 10. Do you want the details? Do you care? If you're like 99.8% of the greater Denver metropolitan area, you don't. The Broncos start training camp this week, and that means that once again, for all intents and purposes the Rockies season is over. They could have seized momentum after a suprisingly unawful first half, but instead they've elected to suck this year. Again. I wrote every day last year about a team that was worse than this one, so I'm not going to be a baby and stop watching the games and stop writing about Colorado, but I am going to be mean and bitter. I might even resort to sarcasm. You have been warned.
Technically the Rockies are still only five games out of first place in an NL West race that no one team seems particularly excited about winning, but let's face it: they're not good. Their hitting is still really bad, and their bullpen has undergone an all-too predictable pumpkinization. Their starting pitching is great, easily the best in franchise history, but none of their starters are dominant enough to win games all by their lonesome, so until the bullpen and offense decide to start arriving for games again, they're going to lose. A lot. It's sad, because there's only one good team in the National League this year and a team with surprisingly effective starters and Brian Fuentes could win a division series against someone besides the Mets, but the Rockies seem determined to continue mailing it in against teams they should beat like the Pirates and Diamondbacks. I hope that Dan O'Dowd has realized what I've realized this week and is shopping Jose Mesa, Josh Fogg, Byung-Hyun Kim, and all other non-essential personnel as hard as possibly can be done in a pitching-deficient market. Ray King is obviously already available. I was pleased that the Rockies didn't spend any money on useless replacement-level veteran fill-ins this year as they have for the last several, but now that we face another trade deadline as a seller, I kind of wish that we did. Did you see what the Nationals got for Gary Majewski and Royce Clayton? Unbelievable!
It's going to take me a few more days to work through the acceptance cycle and switch from looking around the rumor pages to see for whom the Rockies might trade to whom they might trade away, but I didn't start a Rockies page for Broncos fans. I'm in it for the long haul. Those of you who are left with me, let's huddle together ever more closely for warmth.
The Rockies lost again in Pittsburgh last night, and I remain at a loss to write anything at all helpful or interesting. The team isn't hitting and the bullpen is terrible, which is where most long losing streaks are born. The nice thing, if there is one, about a cold snap where your starters are getting cuffed around is, well, at least somebody different will be starting the next game. The Rockies' starters have been excellent all year. They're getting better, if anything. But the offense and bullpen from 2005 have reappeared, and it's bleak indeed. Creatively, Dan O'Dowd's first attempt to correct the problem involves reducing the number of active arms in the bullpen. Scott Dohmann and David Cortes, neither of whom have even pitched very much, are out and Ryan Shealy is in (back in, in point of fact) and Manuel Corpas will get a look as well. I don't know how much of a difference Shealy will make since he still can't play the outfield, but Corpas ought to be useful if he continues throwing as well as he has in the minors this year. On the whole, the Rockies don't have a solution for when Matt Holliday, Todd Helton, and Brian Fuentes don't do their jobs. Those are the teams' stars. Clint Barmes and Cory Sullivan will have their moments, but it's unfair to expect them to carry the load. They're not that...well, you know. Good.
But you know what? I'm not thinking about the Rockies tonight. It's becoming increasingly clear that this is the season of tentative, incremental progress we all expected going in and not the surprise leap into contention for which we secretly longed. Around the trade deadline, we can start thinking about what they're going to do to keep getting better next year. For now, my eyes are on the Detroit-White Sox series.
I wrote before the season began that the Tigers were trapped for the forseeable future in an endless dearly-bought cycle of 75-win seasons, and now they have the best record in the majors. I don't like being made to look stupid. It does seem a little suspicious that they have played the Royals approximately 20 times already this season, but their team is running too well on every imaginable cylinder to suggest they're entirely a fluke. Still, it would make me deeply happy if the White Sox went into Detroit and crushed them like irritating little bugs. I can't remember the last time I was rooting this hard for the South Siders outside of their interleague matchups with the Cubs. They're off to a good start, leading 1-0 in the third.
Not So Good
The Rockies have now lost seven games in a row. Their bullpen is suddenly a disaster. They've fallen rapidly from a tie for first to sole possession of last place, their freefall only pausing for the All-Star Break.
And I'm in another state, only checking boxscores sporadically. Good timing on my part. If they're still in a death spiral by the time I return to Colorado on Wednesday, I guess I'll have to address things more thoroughly. I don't have to tell you, I imagine, that my hope is that they'll turn things around with their series in Pittsburgh and I'll be spared that unpleasantness.
Listening to Ron Santo on WGN during the Mets' 11-run inning in Chicago tonight, now that was a rare joy.
I didn't watch a minute of it; I went to see the pirate movie. Brian Fuentes pitched a perfect sixth. Matt Holliday was 0 for 3. As for the pirates, good stuff. I highly suggest you watch the first one immediately before going as I did, because otherwise you're going to have no idea what's going on. It's not really the sort of movie where that's important, but if you're going to make a day of it, you might as well. The ending was a lot like Empire, I thought. I totally wasn't expecting Lando to freeze Captain Jack Sparrow in carbonite and turn him over to Boba Fett.
I'm travelling to Chicago tomorrow. You know what this means? Yes, it means at least two more opportunities to boo the Cubs. Hooray!
What a terrible day for sports. The Wimbledon final ended up a letdown, the World Cup game was a dull summary of every legitimate criticism Americans have for soccer, and the Rockies got swept at home by a team they ought to beat.
As far as the World Cup is concerned, the better team won, but it was no fun to watch. There was a blatant, game-changing dive right in the first ten minutes. The supposed breakout star of the tournament got ejected for an inexplicable act of senseless violence. And then there were penalty kicks. I was as excited for this World Cup as I've ever been for any major sporting event, but it ended up a complete disappointment. I read one veteran commentator saying he wouldn't rate this tourney in his top 10, and he's seen eleven. I've only seen three but I agree. What a lousy way to finish a month that had far more hideously ugly dive- and foul-fests than transcendent moments. In the end, we're left with that Maxi Rodriguez goal, a couple plays by those "German" Polish strikers, and that one Beckham spot-kick. On the other hand, I watched my first complete MLS game in ages the other day, Houston-Chivas USA, and the quality of play there seems to be steadily improving. And the players don't dive like it was going out of style, either.
I don't have much to say about the Rockies-Diamondbacks series. What happened to our bullpen? Ugh. The game yesterday set a National League record for runs scored in the ninth inning after Brandon Webb and Jason Jennings pitched each eight innings, allowing one run apiece. I wish I could say it was tremendous fun to watch, but from my perspective, it was just another one-run loss to a bad team. I sound like a broken record, but every time the Rockies put together a solid run of play, win some series on the road, and generally look like they're getting their act together, they come plunging back down to .500 as if connected by a tether. It's disheartening. You can't say that the bullpen needs rest, because the starters have been throwing seven innings every time out lately. They need less rest. And now here's the All-Star break, the worst three days of the whole sports year. Three days of pointless, boring, loudly overhyped meaningless spectacle staged for people who maybe watch three other baseball games all year. I hate it.
A silver lining: the Mariners are wearing Seattle Pilots jerseys and caps today.
Only You Can Prevent Bad Trades
OK, let's make something clear: I'm only reporting these trade rumors so more intelligent people than I can ridicule them. Let's not encourage Dan O'Dowd to actually go out and make any of these deals. The general attitude most of the serious Rockies fans I spoke to at the ballgame last night held was that the team is a year ahead of schedule, and it would be foolish to trade anyone besides the obviously blocked likes of Ryan Shealy and Jeff Baker in an attempt to make this year's squad marginally better. I haven't even seen yet the trade rumor that would accomplish even that. Most of the guys with whom Colorado has been named in connection would make the team worse, just considering where they'd play and whose time they'd be taking over. This is not even bothering to calculate what we might have to give up in trade to acquire them.
Let's start here: the Rockies are indeed looking to add some talent for this year. At least Clint Hurdle says so, and you would think that he of all people would know. Two of Hurdle's quotes in this Denver Post piece are worth repeating. You decide whether they are contradictory or not. First: "If we are going to look for somebody, it will probably be along the lines of an experienced player. We are not looking for a stopgap guy or a specialist by any means." Then: "We are not going to sacrifice future impact players that can take this organization further forward, for somebody who can help us a little bit now. Anybody we get has got to make the club better."
Right. The one name that has been mentioned that had any interest for me at all, indeed the only name that didn't send me into an outright panic that the Rockies might actually give up talent in exchange for, was Carl Crawford. That's almost certainly not going to happen. A lot of teams are after Crawford, and the price is too high for (apparently) all of them thus far. They want two can't-miss pitchers. Sounds like a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss in Tampa Bay, where the old regime was legendary for wildly unrealistic trade demands. Doesn't it? Well, there are mitigating factors in this case. Crawford is under contract at supremely affordable rates through 2008, then has about market-level club options for the two years thereafter. Making an unnecessary trade for no reason other than trying to prove you're more competent than Chuck LaMar would be silly. Especially when I imagine just managing to wear matching socks every day does the trick just as well. Aside from the fact that Tampa doesn't really have to trade Crawford and probably shouldn't, there's another specific problem that Carl presents to the Rockies. He doesn't want to play centerfield. He wants to play left, and the Rockies already have an All-Star playing left field. Forcing guys to play unfamiliar positions isn't always a bad thing -- Alfonso Soriano certainly seems to have adjusted -- but given the gains the Rockies' pitching staff have forged backed by increased confidence in the team's overall defensive performance, it seems to me like that's one applecart that Colorado needn't upset. The prohibitively high price of doing business with the Satanfish seems to preemptively moot the point anyhow.
Now, the next group of guys is available real cheap, because their current teams are aching to be rid of them. Have you ever heard it said that you get what you pay for? You get what you pay for. The scariest name, in the sense that it's one the Rockies could certainly feel realistic about listing on their roster seeing as it's already haunted it in the distant past, is Juan Pierre. Pierre is having a terrible season for the terrible Cubs, and his upside is...what exactly? No power, no walks, a high batting average? Pretty much the same as Cory Sullivan, who's younger, cheaper, and miles better defensively. I'm not yet convinced that the Rockies couldn't solve their "problem" in center by merely employing a creative platoon of guys they've already in the system, Sullivan plus Jorge Piedra and Ryan Spilborghs. If that seems too complex, just moving Sullivan out of the two hole would probably help his confidence a bit. Being asked to bunt each every and time a runner gets on base ahead of you has to grind down a guy after a spell.
There are basically three positions where you're willing to trade offense for defense -- short, center, and catcher. If you're putting guys who can't hit in all three of those spots, however, you run in trouble. This is why shortstops who can hit, centerfielders who can hit, and catchers who can hit are premium investments. This is why the Rockies have been so patient with Clint Barmes. As of right now, Colorado has some time and some wiggle room to let Sullivan and Barmes show improvement. They're already seeing better production from their catchers since the Torrealba/Closser pairing supplanted the nightmarish Ardoin/Ojeda duo. It's harder to see how they could get better at shortstop using guys in the system. It's not Troy Tulowitzki's time yet. Omar Quintanilla is probably never going to hit. I suppose as a last gasp you could try Jamey Carroll at short and see if Luis Gonzalez can get it going at second, but it's too early for such drastic measures. The Carroll thing is so obviously a weird quirk of baseball fate that it seems like it would be a fool move to do anything to disrupt it.
Here's another really scary name: Mike Lieberthal. The Phillies' longtime catcher hasn't been good since 2003 but has soldiered on thanks to a poorly-considered long term contract. You know, I'm not going to waste a lot of time talking about Lieberthal because he used to be one of my favorite players. He's old, he's hurt, at this juncture of his career he's no better than Closser or Torrealba. Probably worse, because you know Clint Hurdle would insist on playing him all the time rather than riding the relatively hot hand as he has done with the Rockies' current no-name catching corps. He is absolutely not worth trading even a Yankees-level prospect to get. Getting guys for no other reason other than that they used to be vaguely famous is something I really thought this organization had grown past.
What else have you heard? Send me your rumors and I'll pick 'em apart. No game today, so what else am I going to do?
First Place, Day Two
OK, the Rockies won again. So did San Diego, so did the Dodgers. For another day, at least, the three-way tie persists. But on to more important matters.
I have two Rockies jerseys: a white one with purple stripes which doesn't have anybody's name on it, and a purple Todd Helton one. So far this year, Colorado is undefeated (4-0 I think, including one spring training game) in games which I attend in the purple jersey, but an unimpressive 1-2 when I wear the white. Unfortunately, the Todd Helton jersey has Burger King's excellent sweet and sour sauce on it at the moment and I lacked quarters for laundry this afternoon. I had to go to the game in the white jersey. Clearly, I was going to need some pretty strong mojo to counter the bad luck my incorrect shirt choice was sure to bring the home team. Here's what I came up with: rather than keeping score for the visitors with my left hand and the Rockies with my right hand, like I normally do, I switched to keeping score with whichever hand was the opposite of the one being used by the guy on the mound to throw. This meant that I didn't go to my right hand until Steve Kline came in for the Giants in the seventh. You can't question results: the Rockies allowed nothin' but for three solo home runs (all of which came within twenty feet of my seat in the leftfield bleachers) and scored enough to win the game in one big inning against Jamey Wright. I'm going to continue keeping score in this method at home until the Rockies lose one. Then I guess I'll have to do my laundry.
Of course the Giants travelling to Denver means the Barry Bonds sideshow drops by as well; while Bonds did play in this game San Francisco got much more offensively out of someone named Eliezer Alfonzo, who hit two of the three homers. I don't think I'm ready to jettison Joe Mauer from my fantasy team in favor of Eliezer, but he is hitting .311/.333/.595 in 74 at-bats so I guess I should know who he is. I do now. In any event the crowd in the bleachers didn't seem very enthusiastic about booing Bonds. As you know I save all of my best heckling for Jeff Kent's visits to Coors Field but I did ask Barry whether he was planning on sending any more of his friends to jail this week and may have also offered a comment or two about his enormous head blocking my view of the pitcher's mound. For his part Bonds offered the crowd no overt acknowledgement but did crack a smile a couple of times. Well, at least someone thinks this whole travesty is funny.
Jamey Carroll had a big single (what else is new), knocking in two runs. Matt Holliday hit a line drive homer to right-center that had the trajectory of a Shaquille O'Neal free throw. Josh Fogg even added a two-out RBI knock for good measure. Typical Josh Fogg game -- two strikeouts, one walk, seven hits in seven innings, two runs. It sure was a blast from the past watching Jamey Wright give up a big inning at Coors Field. I feel a little bad for Wright. If he was playing for this year's Rockies, with the improved defense, the nice bullpen, and the magical humidor, his numbers would probably look a lot like Fogg's. Sadly, he signed with this year's Giants, and he's 5-8. It wasn't a textbook ninth inning for Brian Fuentes, who gave up Alfonzo's second screamer and a sharp single to Lance Niekro, both with two outs. Before that, though, he absolutely undressed Steve Finley with a three-pitch strikeout. It might be time for Finley to think about hanging 'em up. That's true of about seven San Francisco regulars.
In any event, I was able to record the final out, a groundout by former Colorado player Todd Greene, with my right hand and get home by 10:30. Also worth mentioning that I met a guy in the stands who went to the same suburban Chicago high school as I did, although not at the same time. Still, if he's reading this, hope you enjoyed Coors Field and go Trevians.
The Rockies are in first place. I don't really know how much that counts for given that at this exact moment there are more teams in first place in the NL West (three) than there are teams that aren't, but for a franchise that usually has its last look at first the day after the opener, it's a nice place to be. Last night's game against the Giants could be taken by hopeful fans as a sign that Colorado of all these teams has the best chance to be on top at the end. Their starters are good (one hit allowed in five innings by Jeff Francis). Their bullpen is good (three key shutout innings by Tom Martin and Jose Mesa). They still have this Todd Helton guy, who can play a bit (his tenth homer). And they're young, but not particularly inexperienced. Colorado has a very young team in terms of caldendar age, but most of their guys played all last season and they're unlikely to be intimidated by the likes of the Giants, Padres, and Dodgers. After a long rain delay last night, San Francisco looked for anything as if they would have just soon conceded the game and gone back to their hotel. They handed the Rockies a run in the bottom of the sixth with two throwing errors, the second coming with two outs and the hapless Martin at the plate. They managed four hits against Rockies pitching, and committed four errors in the field. That's not a winning combo.
I complain about the All-Star game as much as anybody, but I have to admit that the Final Vote thing is fun and a good idea. I have been voting for Francisco Liriano and Chris Capuano, because I love lefthanders, but you can vote for whomever you choose.
There has been a lot of notable movement in the Rockies' system in the last few weeks. Luis Gonzalez is back up with Ryan Spilborghs returning to AAA. Omar Quintanilla grabbed a start yesterday from slumping Clint Barmes and had a good defensive game, if nothing else. Joe Koshansky and Troy Tulowitkzi will be the Colorado representatives to the All-Star Futures Game. (I think Joe Mikulik should get an honorary coaching spot too.) Manuel Corpas and Ubaldo Jimenez have been promoted from Tulsa to Colorado Springs. The Rockies have also signed a big-deal 16-year-old Venezuelan pitcher, Ricardo Ferrer, that a lot of teams were apparently after. The guys in the Colorado broadcast booth were comparing him last night to Felix Hernandez, which is probably hyperbole but it's been rare that the Rockies have won negotiations like this in the past so let's take it as a good sign.
Jamey Wright faces Josh Fogg tonight at Coors. Pretty big game! I wasn't planning on going but now that we're in First Place, I may have to reconsider my thinking.
It's America's Birthday...Let's All Watch Soccer
Just dropping in during halftime of the Italy-Germany game to comment on a few things.
The Rockies are still attached to .500 with a ball and chain it appears. With their rotation you'd think they ought to be able to get a bit of a streak going one of these days, but what do I know. As of right now one game separates the top four teams in the NL West and last place Arizona is only three and a half games out. One good week seizes control of this thing. Why not us? There was even an ESPN Insider piece the other day which used "Colorado" and "contenders" in the same sentence. No, really. And see if you don't notice a certain trend developing in the various baseball sites' power ranking columns. "Don't underestimate the Rockies," ESPN. "Nobody expected the Rockies to be in this kind of shape," SI. "The [Rockies] now rank fourth (fourth!) in the NL in ERA, and fourth (fourth!) in the NL in opponents' SLG," Fox. "Who says the AL is better? The Rockies went 11-4 against them. OK, so there's an exception to every rule," CBS. Wait, that last one isn't so nice. Well, you can't expect to overturn the biases associated with a decade of crumminess in a single half-season. Rome wasn't burnt in a day.
Rockies 4, Mariners 3 (11 innings)
A nice, taut win to finish a fine road series victory. With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ichiro tripled. Ichiro had already homered to win Saturday's game for Seattle, and indeed, would homer again later in this one. I'm thinking, "Why don't we have guys like that?" You know these guys. Ichiro was doing his very best to win this series singlehandedly for the Mariners. As it turns out, we do. Brian Fuentes comes in with one out and the bases loaded, smokes Raul Ibañez (like a cigarette) and induces a weak groundout from Willie Bloomquist. Then for good measure he pitches a perfect tenth. Yay, Brian Fuentes.
He's an All-Star, in fact, as is Matt Holliday. Holliday was a no-brainer pick -- he should be starting -- but the choice of Fuentes is interesting. Has the way All-Star managers select pitchers changed now that they're expected to try and win the games? I think it has a little bit. There are guys with gaudier save totals and better stat lines than Fuentes in the NL at the moment, but is there a guy in the league you'd rather call upon to get one lefty out in crunch time? No, there isn't.
Not trying to win, but at least ticket prices won't rise (again)
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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