Monthly archives: April 2007
Braves 6, Rockies 2
For the first handful of Rockies games I went to in person this season, I went all out with Colorado jerseys and hats, but I am feeling increasingly ambiguous about overtly supporting this unworthy team. I wore a Dismemberment Plan t-shirt and a throwback Brewers hat to the game this evening, a much more neutral ensemble.
Once again, the Rockies were sloppy and sluggish. They only scored two runs off of ten hits while the Braves managed six from six. Willy Taveras had another one of those centerfield specials where he played a ball hit directly at him into a triple. Troy Tulowitzki was pointlessly thrown out stealing with the Rockies trailing by three runs. Brian Fuentes once again came into a game in a non-save situation and gave up a run. Jason Hirsh failed to build on his nice Coors start from last weekend. And mostly, John Smoltz just left the Rockies' scoring attack helpless after Tulowitzki's two-run homer in the first.
Interesting new lineup from Clint Hurdle, who hit Tulowitzki second and Yorvit Torrealba and Jamey Carroll seventh and eighth. Torrealba and Tulowitzki seemed to respond, with two hits from each. The lineup is going to mutate again when Kaz Matsui comes back from injury, but for the time being I would flip-flop Carroll and the catcher's spot. That gives the Rockies kind of a whole second leadoff setup after their big boppers, with Carroll having a chance to run if he gets on base before the guys looking to work counts ahead of the pitcher's spot. Not that seemingly anything the Rockies can do will help them score runs.
It seems like I have been trying to deemphasize their importance since I first started writing about the Rockies, but this team seriously needs to hit some more home runs. After Tulowitzki's shot today they have 10. The Red Sox hit four back-to-back-to-back-to-back last week; the Rockies have hit 10 all season. That is not good. It's the lowest mark in the majors. Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday join Tulowitzki for the team lead with 2; Todd Helton, Steve Finley, Jeff Baker, and John Mabry all have one. Alex Rodriguez, I imagine I don't have to remind you, has 14.
For a team that loses three-game road series as axiomatically as the Rockies, it's hard to find many moral victories in a 1-2 trip. But, after the heartbreaking extra inning loss on Tuesday, they came back to pound the Mets 11-5 on Wednesday and salvage one game on the abbreviated road swing. That shows character, I guess. And how about that 5 for 6 day from Willy Taveras? I still don't think he's any good at all, but every dog will have his day.
I don't have much constructive to say about that loss on Tuesday. One nice thing I suppose you can find about the Rockies' pious clubhouse is that if Aaron Cook continues to be so even-tempered about getting this little run support, they can nominate him for sainthood. At least for the first time this season Cook pitched well enough to deserve to win. Brian Fuentes' failure to shut the door in the bottom of the 10th is disheartening, but perhaps if the Rockies got Fuentes more save chances, he'd be in better rhythm. It's funny, but on Tuesday night my friends and I were primarily paying attention to the Bulls-Heat game, flipping over to the Rockies during the commercials. We landed upon Fuentes with two outs in the bottom of the tenth, immediately before Damion Easley (!) took him deep. My remarkably poor channel-changing timing did not pass uncommented-upon.
So in a quirky bit of scheduling, after a whole month of NL West teams Colorado follows a road series in New York with a home series against the Mets' division rivals from Atlanta. The Braves are (surprise) good again. That rebuilding project took all of one year. Boy, fans of those East Coast franchises have it easy. You have to have special affection, or at least respect, for organizations that not only compete consistently but also do it year after year on the same basic model. Although most of the names have changed, the Braves still try to win chiefly with starting pitching and defense, and they're too good at it to try and demean their strategy as antiquated or charming. As usual, they have three really good starters with Tim Hudson having a lovely little bounceback year, John Smoltz the same as he ever was, and the young lefty Chuck James holding his own. The Rockies, as luck would have it, will avoid the nastiest of this trio in this series as Hudson pitched Wednesday at Florida. They'll get the wild Kyle Davies in addition to Smoltz and James in the three games at Coors Field.
The Rockies have their three best guys going: Jeff Francis, today looking to improve on his last poor home start in what should be a scintillating matchup of young southpaws against James, Jason Hirsh Saturday against Smoltz, and Aaron Cook Sunday vs. Davies. Are you ready for some quality starts and no-name relief pitchers? It's Braves-Rockies!
I'd like to thank my friends at Can't Stop the Bleeding. While ridiculing Woody Paige yesterday for calling Denver, during his "Around the Horn" appearance, quote "a good baseball town," they singled me out apparently as the one good baseball fan in the city. Well, thanks, I appreciate it, and I also would like to thank all of the visitors from Metsblog for their kind words while I am at it. Of course, I don't live in Denver, I live in Boulder, which is actually a great baseball town what with all of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs fans who have come west from their flat homelands to ski, rock climb, and take advantage of the world-class curriculum at the University of Colorado. I was in a sports bar in Boulder Sunday night during the capper of that over-the-top Red Sox-Yankees series, and the place was packed to the walls with loud and enthusiastic partisans for both sides. If the Rockies were ever any good, I bet a lot of these kids would go to games more than once or twice in their college careers.
Right after accepting accolades for being apparently the lone shining light in the vast hardball wasteland that is the Rocky Mountain states, you'll now have to excuse me if I take the rest of this New York series off from being a Rockies fan. The NBA playoffs are really compelling right now, high-def hockey is totally resurrecting the obsessive puck monkey in me I thought Bill Wirtz had killed off years ago, and I honestly can't bear to watch another dull one-sided beatdown like the fiasco last night. Let's face it, there are championship contenders, playoff teams, and also-rans, and even in April we know which group the Mets are in and which group the Rockies find themselves once again pacing. At least we didn't spend $300 million in the offseason to get to this point.
Update: With LaTroy Hawkins now going on the disabled list, there remain only three active bullpen pitchers from the group that broke camp with the Rockies. Taylor Buchholz went to the rotation and Hawkins, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Ramon Ramirez all got hurt. The current group Clint Hurdle has at his disposal consists of Jeremy Affeldt, Brian Fuentes, and Tom Martin from the left side and Zach McClellan, Ryan Speier, Bobby Keppel, and Manuel Corpas from the right. Since this happens every year, why do the Rockies continue spending money on free agents like Hawkins and Jose Mesa who are inevitably ineffective on the rare occasions when they do pitch? The young guys are going to get to play no matter what, so you might as well give them a vote of confidence by giving them first crack at it. I suppose Colorado is still gun-shy from the first six weeks of 2005, when an all-kid bullpen featuring Speier, Scott Dohmann, and Chin-Hui Tsao caused the night sky over Coors to get lit up like the end of Return of the Jedi.
Are We Good Yet?
The Rockies were on the verge this weekend of completing their first sweep defeat at home and inspiring a number of soul-searching entries on this site. Even in April, it's hard to look at the NL West standings and see Colorado as the only team under .500, second to last in runs scored and dead last in runs allowed. That's too much like... most other seasons for comfort, and This Season Was Supposed to Be Different. Only it really wasn't. That's what really bothers me about the two-year extensions frivolously given Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd. That removed the last existing condition by which you could truthfully say this Rockies team was under more pressure than the uncompetitive rec league teams the franchise has fielded the last several years. The team is still counting on too many unestablished players to simultaneously see the light. Until Chris Iannetta and Troy Tulowitzki start hitting, the offense is no better than it was in 2006, when it was pretty awful, and counting on Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook to anchor the pitching staff may have been premature. A slow start for Francis might come as a bit of a surprise, but that's countered by the utter shock of Rodrigo Lopez's dazzingly effective first couple chances. I don't see how anyone could have expected that.
Point is, most of the Rockies are doing exactly what you would expect. Their best four hitters have been, you guessed it, their best four hitters, Helton, Holliday, Atkins, and Hawpe. The home runs haven't been there, but that was a problem last year. Clint Hurdle has been kind of tone-deaf about which relievers to use when, plus injuries to Ramon Ramirez, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Lopez have kept him from developing a pattern. But that was a problem last year. What I'm saying is, this is another 75-win team, maybe, and with the pressure off of the brain trust and all of the rookies who are bound to get playing time no matter how bad their slumps get (since there aren't any better options) their chances of underachieving seem better than their chances of winning several more games than their talent dictates they ought to.
This is sad, because as with all teams on the (exceedingly gradual) rise, on isolated days you see everything work as it is supposed to and you wonder why the Rockies can't be that team day in and day out. On Sunday, Jason Hirsh outpitched Greg Maddux, the middle of the lineup was not to be denied, and Manny Corpas and Brian Fuentes faced the minimum in completing the eighth and ninth. It was a crisp, entertaining game well-played by both sides and I felt proud to be accompanied by my father, visiting from Chicago, on a perfect day for baseball at Coors Field. The night before, when my dad also tagged along to the game, I felt like my whole choice of vocation as Rockies blogger was a pathetic sham. How do you get fourteen hits and seven walks and score only three runs?
The Rockies can only win if the three guys in the middle of the lineup all have good games, they get a quality start, and the bullpen functions. Given the law of averages, it's unlikely that the first condition will be met more than two or three times a week. Given the roster of pitchers that O'Dowd has assembled, the second two conditions should come together somewhat less even than that. If you make adjustments for luck and human free will, even the most optimistic projections will tell you that you're going to win somewhat less than half of your games. This is just like the last several years. If you are tired of hearing about this, or if you have somehow convinced yourself that a team with rookies, non-hitters, or Kaz Matsui at every position up the middle and 40% of a settled rotation is any different, it is time for you to pick another team to support. I suggest the Twins.
Me? I may be wrong, but I think the Rockies can and will be competitive in the next three years. However, a winning season this year would be a shock, and I hope that doesn't make me a bad fan for saying so. I think uncritically accepting every stupid decision that Colorado makes and assuming that glory is just around the corner would be the thing to make me a bad fan. Or Tracy Ringolsby. On the other hand there's no use in singing the same old tune April after April. Is this lousy Rockies team pretty similar to the lousy Rockies teams of 2005 and '06? Yes. But it is worlds different from the bad teams of 2000 and '01. One thing you have to accept if you've decided against all logic to become (or remain) a Rockies fan. This franchise is messed up. Everything they could have done wrong their first decade in existence, from stocking the minor league system to choosing the uniform colors, they did wrong. If they were in the sort of market where they could carry an $150 million payroll every year, they might have found a way to fix things more quickly, but they aren't and they haven't and it might be a couple more years still.
The argument used by Kiszla and other Denver sports personalities like him who have set their minds to the idea that the Rockies are hopeless incurables and will remain so without regime change is dangerous. Why? Because it gets them off the hook of having to do their jobs. Mark Kiszla doesn't have to watch any Rockies games to know he's right, he just has to look at their record, see it's below .500, and that saves him from actually having to learn the names of any of the young players or heaven forbid watch a complete Colorado baseball game. That would cut into valuable Broncos draft research time.
Here's my main problem with Kiszla's argument. He writes that "the going rate for a roster stocked with hitters and pitchers who have a realistic shot at a championship is $75 million." Tell that to the A's, Indians, Twins, and Brewers, Mark. All of those teams have spent the last several years developing a young core, identifying and re-signing the players they absolutely couldn't afford to lose and moving the ones who could bring more value in trade. Now the A's and Twins have payrolls right around the $75 million threshold, but the spending came after success on the field, not before it. With the Rockies playing in the unique environment in which they do, and with Denver being a modestly populated and rather isolated MLB city, they need to be absolutely sure that all of the players to whom they commit for the long term are the right ones.
It seemed to me like Jason Jennings was the test case for the new model for the Rockies franchise. Here was a guy they developed in-house who was a starting pitcher, could win at Coors, and didn't have a pitching-related injury his whole time in the majors. The way Colorado tried to spin things after his trade, there was absolutely no way he was going to sign an extension with the Rockies. The way Jennings and his agent explain things, there was absolutely no way the Rockies were going to pay him anything even approaching the going rate for experienced free agent starters. Well, it's too early to tell, but in this case it seems like moving Jennings for the younger, higher-ceilinged Hirsh was the right move. (If something actually useful, say a life-sized Jell-O mold of Gary "The Rat" Gaetti, had been included along in the trade with Hirsh instead of Willy Taveras, it wouldn't be too early to tell, we could go ahead and call the trade for Colorado.) It shouldn't be taken as a defining sign that the Rockies are now and always will be cheap, even though Kiszla sure does and I have tended to lean that way myself from time to time. The test case, it is growing increasingly more obvious, is Matt Holliday. If the Rockies think they can replace Holliday without blinking the way Hirsh has stepped in for Jennings, they're crazy. At the moment Matt is the only dividing line between being merely a mediocre offensive team and a truly wretched one. It's true he's a corner outfielder, not the hardest offensive position on the diamond to field. That ought to work in the Rockies' favor, since most of the funny-money teams have few low-end positions to fill on the defensive spectrum.
Metsblog tossed me a few questions on the subject of the Rockies this weekend in anticipation of their series beginning tonight in New York. You can read my answers here. Tonight Taylor Buchholz, who moves into Rodrigo Lopez's rotation spot, will face John Maine. Tuesday's scheduled starters are Aaron Cook and Orlando Hernandez. Then for Wednesday's day game you got Josh Fogg and Mike Pelfrey, a real barn-burner for sure.
I'm So Bored with the NL West
It would be presumptuous (and mighty self-important of me) to say that the game Tuesday was a major turning point for the young Rockies season just because I happened to attend it in person. Building on the slim evidence of another win yesterday, it does seem as if things have picked up since the doldrums of that first intradivision road trip. By the way, are there any other teams in the majors that haven't played any games out of their division yet? Immediate followup: Do I care enough to take the time to check? And here are your answers, in reverse order: Yes, once I figured out that I didn't need to actually look at every team's schedule; and no, there are not, even with all of those snowouts.
Denver always feels a little bit like MLB Siberia. There's no other teams in the Mountain Time Zone* and there's no history of winning or deep connection between the team and the fans here. Plus the Rockies are stuck playing the bulk of their schedule every year against the other NL West teams, which all have problems of their own. Since Colorado entered the league in 1993, the five present NL West teams only have three pennants and a lone World Series win between them. (The AL East, by contrast, has eight pennants and six championships in that time span.) It's no wonder that after Opening Day we have to wait for the Cardinals or Mets to come to town before it feels like real major league baseball. Well, seat coverage is part of the problem too. But I wish baseball would reconsider the unbalanced schedule.
What I'd really like to see is expanded interleague play in concert with realignment to six divisions of five teams apiece, but Bud Selig seems to find the concept anathema. Would the world really come to an end if the Pirates were scheduled to play the Devil Rays on October 1st? You would think they could work something out based on the past year's records that would mostly keep teams in contention from having to play out of the league down the stretch run (the NFL already does this), but even so, what would the big deal be? It's not like when National League teams play in AL parks the batters swing at wiffle balls with cricket bats and all the fielders have to wear snowpants. In fact, a system where every team in each division played identical interleague schedules (again, NFL) would be vastly more fair than the current arrangement where St. Louis gets five free wins against the Royals every year. As an added bonus, such a scheme would allow additional scheduling flexibility to address the currently relevant topic all of these early-season postponements in cold-weather cities.
Rockies roster movements of which you should be aware: Kaz Matsui and Byung-Hyun Kim are on the disabled list; Clint Barmes and Zach McClellan have taken their places. Should you know who McClellan is? Well, he made his major league debut Monday against the Giants. One inning, two hits, one run. He's right-handed. He's pushing thirty, so he's not a prospect. He pitched four scoreless innings in three appearances with Colorado Springs so here he is. Matsui (back spasms) should be back as soon as he is eligible to come off of the DL. As for BK, well, therein lies the question. He was all out of sorts about the Rockies pulling him out of the rotation, and then when they gave him a spot start, he fouled it up. Dan O'Dowd couldn't find any trade destinations for Kim during spring training and I imagine he was only kept on the roster in the vain hope that Clint Hurdle might find a few opportunities to showcase him in relief in the early going. So much for that plan. Colorado isn't the sort of organization that will just eat a multi-million dollar contract, unless BK gets caught in a prostitution sting. But I think Hurdle and O'Dowd alike think they have a good thing going in the Rockies clubhouse with so many decent hardworking young citizens. Will they hang on to a malcontent? Not if he can't pitch. Kim has either been hurt or ineffective thus far in 2007 so how many more chances he will get will be dependent on how the rest of his Rockies pitching brethren fare.
Yorvit Torrealba, who is an RBI machine all of a sudden, is going to get more starts ahead of the slumping Chris Iannetta, at least until those trends reverse. Steve Finley started in center and hit leadoff last night and I suspect we should get used to him in that spot for the immediate future. Rodrigo Lopez has a sore elbow and the list of candidates to replace him is a fine indication of how far this franchise has progressed. Probably in the pole position is Taylor Buchholz, who picked up right where Rodrigo left off when he (Lopez) had to leave the game yesterday. Could also be Brian Lawrence, whom the Rockies had to expose to waivers after the set period of his minor league rehab stint expired. I have absolutely no idea where you would go to check on such things, but today would be the day if any other big league team was going to claim him. If no one does Colorado wants him back. It's a little early to be thinking about Ubaldo Jimenez, but I'll use just about any excuse to get the name "Ubaldo" in a sentence. And theoretically Byung-Hyun Kim could get another start, but he is genuinely the fourth-best option. He sure wasn't as low as ninth on the starting pitching depth chart last year. Hooray for change.
Speaking of smoke-tossing Far Eastern righties, it was great to see Chin-Hui Tsao on the mound at Coors again last night, even if it was for the wrong team. It's been a long, long way back for Tsao, almost two full seasons, but he looked good, throwing hard. I've been impressed both by Tsao and the size and loyalty of his fan following ever since I started Bad Altitude. I wish the best for him and his career, except of course for when he is facing Colorado. It bodes well that he's managed to get on the field so quickly for the pitching-rich Dodgers.
I know I just promised no more unkind words about... a certain benchwarming outfielder, but I didn't say I wouldn't link to Woody Paige getting it done for me.
*Because Arizona doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time.
Rockies 5, Giants 3
Boy, we needed that one. I haven't gone to many games at Coors Field that were as emotionally satisfying as the Rockies' late-inning victory last night. I suppose others' mileage may vary. Probably the fact that my group was sitting in right field contributed to the good vibes. Thanks to Barry Bonds, that was the only full section in the joint. But after seven ugly innings of woeful defense and Matt Cain's mastery of Colorado hitters, the bottom of the eighth was about as good as it's gotten (or is likely to get) for Rockies baseball this season. It had an immediate high (a pinch-hit homer for Steve Finley, who was due) followed by an extreme predictable low (Willy Taveras unconscionably being picked off between first and second with a two-run deficit). Then after Jamey Carroll lined out that most unusual of Rockies phenomena began, a two-out rally, with the middle of the lineup loading the bases and producing a run without hitting a ball out of the infield and Yorvit Torrealba picking up the team with a bases-clearing Coors Field special of a double down the left-field line. Yorvit didn't really catch his ball squarely, but it kept carrying, and the unexpected roar of energy was more than enough to sustain team and crowd for a perfect Brian Fuentes ninth. Boy, it sure would have been nice if more than 18,207 had made the trip, but I would have been hard-pressed to head home any happier.
Two Coors Field technical notes from only my second trip of the young season. First of all, this was the first occasion on which I took the bus from Boulder, and while I justifiably bag on Denver's overly expensive and inefficient public transportation system, as far as taking the express shuttle directly from the Boulder bus station to Coors is concerned, things went smoothly. Of course, traffic and parking around the stadium at game time are presently so sparse that there's no real cost or time benefit to taking the bus, but on the off chance that the alternator in your '98 Volkswagen is busted, it's nice to have options. The second thing I wanted to mention about going to a game in person this year is something that has come up in Bad Altitude comments a few times. The new announcer is terrible. He simply cannot be heard under even weak one-third capacity Coors Field crowd noise, and he somehow managed to forget pointing out the single most important substitution in the entire game. How could you possibly not announce that Matt Cain, who absolutely stifled the Rockies to the tune of two weak singles, was removed to begin the eighth in favor of Vinnie Chulk? Finley hit his homer and my first thought was, "Wow, Cain is finally tiring, we have a chance to knock him out here and maybe win this game." Then my second thought was, "Vinnie CHULK?" How could the PA guy possibly overlook mentioning this change, possibly even a little gleefully? Was he even watching the game? There should be a recall election. Maybe he did make the announcement, but I didn't hear it, which is pretty unusual since I watch games with intense monklike focus and keep score in a plain notebook using an elaborate system that leaves no game development unrecorded while filling two college-ruled pages to the margins with intense, obsessive left-handed scrawling. I can forgive not announcing that Todd Linden was coming in to pinch-run for Barry Bonds or laying out the double-switch with Fuentes and Finley in the ninth, but Bruce Bochy's decision to take Cain out in favor of Chulk after 110 pitches lost the game for the Giants.
I was pleased by yet another awful game by Taveras, who in addition to the brain-dead pickoff play also managed to turn a ball hit right at him in center by Rich Aurilia into a costly RBI triple. I spent most of the runup time to the game explaining to my various companions and anyone else who would listen that Taveras is a hideous festering canker sore on the lower lip of the Colorado franchise. I would have felt less than vindicated if he'd managed to just quietly go 2 for 3 rather than so visibly cost his team runs seemingly every time he was involved in a play. What can be done? Finley, obviously, isn't the answer as center fielder/leadoff hitter either. I would like to see the Rockies shake it up and give Taveras a chance to get out of his slump in the eighth spot, but doing something as logical as putting Todd Helton and his .467 OBP in the leadoff spot would probably make Clint Hurdle's head explode. Did I predict this was going to happen the moment the Rockies acquired Willy T? Yes, yes I did. Am I going to continue to gloat about this up until the very minute Colorado puts him out of his misery and then continue for long after? Yes, yes I am.
I thought the Nationals thing with the Virginia Tech caps was super cool; I'll bet you did too. I watched the whole Cubs-Padres extra inning game yesterday afternoon. Boy, talk about a team trapped in a recursive loop. I swear I listened to Pat Hughes and Ron Santo call this same game on a portable radio on the swingset in my parents' backyard in 1996, complete with the repeated "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for the 14th-inning stretch. How did the Cubs manage to go from having so many outfielders that they couldn't find a roster spot for Felix Pie to calling up Pie and still having to play infielder Ryan Theriot in right, where he made a costly misplay to pair with one in left by Jacque Jones? I didn't think there was much point in doing a Hastily Assembled Preview on the Cubs because it seems intuitively obvious to me that the team is broken and Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, and Lou Piniella are not the sort of individuals who fix broken teams, and titanically overpaying them does not promise to correct this. I didn't predict it would get this dreary this fast, though. Like a lot of Extra Innings subscribers, I suppose, I end up watching the Cubs a ton because they're often the only team playing weekday afternoons. I wish I could quit them. I still think somebody like the Devil Rays are missing an opportunity hooking up with some low-budget national cable network and putting a bunch of games they're not going to sell any tickets to anyway on during weekdays. They could become a new hybrid between the Braves and the Cubs, the team of choice in far-flung regions without franchises of their own and among weird obsessive types who don't work regular business hours. This is a coalition just waiting to be built.
A team I did preview about whom I may have been wrong: The Pirates, who have been road warriors of late, sweeping the Cardinals in St. Louis. I criticized Pittsburgh for assembling a whole rotation of low-ceiling young arms, but I didn't consider the possibilities inherent in having a whole starting staff of young healthy guys all of whom have reached their low ceilings or close to it. Tom Gorzelanny was extremely effective in the game I was watching yesterday. Ian Snell has been very good in the early going, too. Paul Maholm and Zach Duke have yet to get untracked, but both have pitched effectively in the majors for at least short stretches before. I don't think the Pirates are a playoff team, not with that offense, but they're not a joke either. No use baiting them, as the Cardinals announcers repeatedly did every time Adam LaRoche was at the plate. LaRoche has started slow, but the StL TV guys were abusing their privilege to kick a guy when down. The color guy was in the middle of a ridiculous sentence about LaRoche's body language indicating he wasn't even trying to break out of his slump when LaRoche promptly roped a three-run homer that effectively won Pittsburgh the game.
Giants 8, Rockies 0
Not much good to say about this one. Jeff Francis simply didn't have it, and the Rockies offense is in the doldrums still. Hopefully my presence in the stands will help them out tomorrow night.
This was a good night to have the Extra Innings package in effect, because the Rockies were out of it almost right out of the gate and there were some interesting games in far-flung locales. That Baltimore-Tampa Bay game sure wasn't a clinic of fundamentals but it didn't lack for excitement. And the Florida-Houston game went right down to the wire as well. All this, plus a couple of grand slams and a Washington win. Any time the Nationals win, it's a special night in Major League Baseball.
The Rockies, who got off to a relatively hot start last season, need to stop the bleeding on the current homestand. Tomorrow it'll be a battle of big-ticket pitching prospects as Matt Cain faces Jason Hirsh. Come on, let's at least try and make some appearances above .500 after the first week of the season.
Update: Who had April 17th in the "first Denver columnist announces that the season is over and nobody cares" pool? A winner is you.
Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 4
Sometimes late score changes are a burden for the bloggers of the world, other days, not so much. Had the Rockies held on to their late lead over Arizona and won this game, I think the same topics would be on my mind now. What was supposed to be an improved offense is quickly turning into an even more painful perfected version of the baserunner-stranding machine that was last year's Colorado hitting attack. The team's fundamentals are not good, particularly defense and baserunning. It seems almost beside the point to mention the fact that it was LaTroy Hawkins who lost the game for the Rockies (again), because believe it or not Hawkins is not the Rockies' biggest problem.
How can you score only four runs off of ten hits and seven walks (and one reached on error)? It takes some doing. Colorado is struggling with slow starts from players at the top of the lineup (Willy Taveras) and the bottom (the Chris Iannetta/Troy Tulowitzki combination has yet to arrive), but Holliday, Atkins, and Hawpe have looked like different hitters with runners on in front of them. Maybe they look across the field and see Hawkins getting loose in the Rockies bullpen and they figure why bother.
As for the fundamental issues, I don't know what to make of that. I can understand why Taveras and Kaz Matsui are having some adjustment issues in the field getting used to new teammates at the surrounding positions, but with the bad baserunning it's been guys like Jamey Carroll and Todd Helton who have been just as likely as the kids to make bad outs trying to take the unnecessary extra base. I don't recall the Rockies being this bad at the small stuff last season. I blame Clint Hurdle's new-contract complacency.
But also, there is more at stake this year. We've seen most of the teams in the NL West now (with the Giants coming to Denver at the beginning of next week), and none of them are particularly good. The Rockies lost a lot of games last season because they weren't as good as the team they were playing. I don't think that's been the case in any of the series so far. The team is already establishing a knack for not doing the little things necessary to win close games, a problem that unquestionably starts with the bullpen but can spread to the mentality held by hitters and starting pitchers alike.
Given the condition of their starting rotation when the season began, I'm a little surprised that the Rockies have been in every game so far. I figured we were due for one or two outright pastings by now. Byung-Hyun Kim will get a spot start tomorrow in place of Rodrigo Lopez (elbow), so maybe here it is. It'd be a fitting end to the first NL West road trip of the year, one that like so many west coast swings past began with promise and then went south scary quick.
The Road Again
I honestly thought that this season would early on be the reverse of the losing pattern from last year, with the Rockies' offense doing its fair share and the pitching disappointing. Well, it's just like before. Can't any of these guys hit? We'll get another look at Arizona starting tonight. Pitching matchups are Webb-Fogg, Cook-Hernandez, and Lopez-Davis.
I'm supremely grateful for the eleventh-hour agreement that got the Extra Innings package back on digital cable. Otherwise I wouldn't have been watching the Twins-Rays game from the other night and I would have missed one of the worst baserunning plays I've ever seen.
Tuesday Night's Game
So, how 'bout them starters?
The Rockies' surprising run of excellent starting pitching won't need to continue for Colorado to get another win against the Dodgers tonight. Brett Tomko isn't their most dominant starter. Rodrigo Lopez, much maligned by me entering the regular season, gets a good ballpark to try and build on his fine first start of the season at Coors. It'll be all the usual starters for the Rockies save for Chris Iannetta, who gives way for Yorvit Torrealba.
The Dodgers won't have Matt Kemp after the incident yesterday. Andre Ethier takes his place in right. L.A. still counts on those old fellas, plus Russell Martin, for most of its offense. The Rockies looked younger and faster and less likely to hurt themselves playing in the first game. Let's see if the trend continues.
How early is too early to look at the MLB standings and say, "Yeah, that's representative?" After one week, with each team having played two series (and some fewer, thanks to the cold & snow), no record means very much. For example, you have to adjust the numbers for anyone who has played Washington. Washington has been outscored 45-18. They are 1-6 and not playing as well as their record. The Diamondbacks' 6-2 mark is less impressive than it seems because they swept a four-game series against the hapless Nationals. The 5-2 Marlins should be chastened for losing even one game in Washington. The Nats are going to get punched around in their division this year the way the AL Central treated Kansas City last season. That's a factor to be aware of when assessing the race for the wild card in the National League.
The other one-win teams are the Giants and Philadelphia. In the American League, even the Devil Rays and Royals have two wins apiece. No team has more than five wins or five losses. It's even harder to draw any conclusions there. I am pleased to see that the Twins (4-2) have pitched well (20 runs allowed) and at 4-2 are ahead of the Tigers (3-3), who have not pitched as well (30 runs allowed).
Once again, we have the odd spectacle of Colorado's starting pitching being ranked among the league's best. Enjoy this early-season respite. The only teams in the majors with lower rotation ERAs than the Rockies' 2.64 are the A's, Angels, Diamondbacks, and Mets. Not so surprising for the first two, but a bit of a shock in the case of the second pair. Remember though that Arizona got to play four games against the Nationals -- and that the Mets have many games against them to come.
Rockies 6, Dodgers 3
Why is it that all of the tautly played, exciting games so far this season have been Rockies losses while Colorado tends to win the sloppy games? Today the Dodgers could hardly keep themselves on the field as player after player executed badly enough on defense to hurt themselves. The Rockies narrowly missed an injury afield themselves as Willy Taveras nearly collided with Brad Hawpe out in right-center. Jeff Francis continued the Rockies' run of inexplicable yet magnificent starting pitching with a 6 2/3 IP, 5 hit, 3 walk, six strikeout performance. Brian Fuentes has yet to show up for the regular season, however, as he was shaky in a non-save situation ninth.
The Dodgers (and the Cubs) have put the names back on their home jerseys after removing them last year. I don't know why they changed them in the first place, but I am glad things are back to normal.
Cheers to the Rockies' situational hitting (three sacrifice flies provided the winning margin), Jeff Baker (3 for 4 with a triple starting at first for Todd Helton), and those young bullpen guys (no hits and no walks allowed by Manny Corpas and Ramon Ramirez). Jeers to Fuentes throwing 27 pitches in the ninth and Willy Taveras batting with runners in scoring position. Still waiting on that first RBI, Willy.
Padres 3, Rockies 2
The Padres' bullpen was better than the Rockies' tonight, but with Josh Fogg matching up against David Wells Colorado was lucky to be in the game in the late innings in the first place. If San Diego is going to have another playoff season, they're going to have to get this kind of performance from their pen and their starters day in and day out. Their lineup is not terrifying. The Rockies didn't help their case any with some bad baserunning. Todd Helton got caught trying to stretch a clear single into a double, and Jamey Carroll wandered too far from first after his RBI single in the third. This was the first Rockies game so far this season in which LaTroy Hawkins didn't pitch. Todd Helton's career dominance over Trevor Hoffman continued with a single in the ninth. Willy Taveras followed up a bunt single by getting caught stealing by a mile in the top of the sixth. Willy is hitting a crisp .125 to begin the season.
Here is a strange one: Scott Miller's season preview of the Rockies for CBS SportsLine makes a startling claim that I haven't seen repeated anywhere else. "A few things are new at Coors Field," Miller writes. "A new announcer in 25-year-old Reed Saunders and no more humidor. The MLB has banned the practice that the club used since 2002." Says who? The last I heard, Major League Baseball was pressing for more teams to store their game balls in climate-controlled conditions, not fewer. One of the new Rockies TV commercials features Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis sitting in the humidor dividing balls into "Rockies" and "visitors" piles (clearly a very funny dig at Jeff Cirillo). Thomas Harding's preview for MLB.com strongly implies that the status quo remains at Coors Field: "Even with the baseballs being stored in a humidor to keep them fair, it's realistic to wonder if Garrett Atkins, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe can reproduce the power the Rockies showed in the mid-to-late 1990s."
So where did Miller get the idea that the humidor had been banned? Did this preview run on April Fools' Day or something? What am I missing? I'm pretty sure it's just another example of the complete disregard for fact-checking that national baseball journalists commonly display when writing about the unloved Rockies franchise, but I'll keep an eye out to see if this report has any merit to it.
Saturday Night's Game
Well, I don't know about you folks, but I am completely ready to watch a Rockies game tonight. The rotation has been way better than advertised in the first several games, the lineup is exciting, and the bullpen comes to play. Colorado never had a streak of longer than four wins in a row for all of 2006; they have a chance to match that in their fifth game of 2007.
Can Josh Fogg follow on the heels of fine starts by Jason Hirsh and Rodrigo Lopez and beat David Wells and the Padres? The Rockies had their best road series of the whole year last season early in April against San Diego. Colorado seems to be able to hit at Petco Park for some unexplained reason. Well, I'll be checking in every few innings with my comments, feel free to join in.
Did anybody with Comcast order Extra Innings already? I can't figure out where they're hiding all the games, since the end of hockey season is taking up most of the channels baseball uses. Any help would be appreciated.
The Padres are wearing their military fatigue jerseys tonight. It seems like they slightly alter the design every year (maybe to represent different branches of the service, I don't know, you tell me) and every year they look ugly. The Rockies are wearing purple, again. If they keep playing this well, are they going to wear the purple jerseys all year? I hope so on both accounts.
I suppose I should be happy about MLB and Comcast finally working things out, but their timing could have been better. After stewing over it for a few days, I finally decided that it wasn't going to happen and I paid all of my bills and bought groceries. Now I'm going to have to go play guitar in the street like, every day this month if I want to afford Extra Innings. And this means my chances of getting an mlb.tv rebate are shot, too. Stupid Bud Selig and his eight-figure salary.
Willy Taveras has nine official at-bats and has struck out six times.
I don't think I've given him a moment's thought before yesterday, so we might as well ask now. Is Rodrigo Lopez any good? He lost 18 games and led the American League in earned runs last year. He's 31. He was very good in 2002 and 2004; otherwise, not so much. But he pitched beautifully yesterday. The Rockies have had such an endless procession of last-chancin' starters over the years that they tend to all blur together. Whether it's prospects who never arrive or veterans who we only wish hadn't bothered to show up, Colorado isn't where pitchers find themselves, it's where they go to die. Time will tell on Rodrigo L., but the historical record is overwhelmingly against him.
It's way too early to start combing the Astros' box scores for stats from Jason Jennings' starts, at least until Jason Hirsh gets a chance to go in a real game for the Rockies, but go back two paragraphs for a second. Savor it. Yes, that's our leadoff hitter. I knew this was going to happen.
Series Postview: Arizona Diamondbacks
It's normally my habit to write some sort of brief summary of what a team's been up to before they play the Rockies for the first time on a season, but things have been more chaotic than usual on the Colorado beat lately and I'm only getting to the Diamondbacks after their three-game series in Denver concluded with an 11-4 pounding today. Now I'm going to be occupied writing that, so I won't have time to properly enjoy the rare feeling of an over-.500 Rockies team. Good thing they have a day off tomorrow.
I'm a little annoyed by this year's Arizona team, to tell you the truth. It's nothing they have done. Indeed, this Diamondbacks team is barely old enough to have done anything, starting as they are so many first- and second-year players. As for the veterans, I don't have strong feelings either way about the likes of Randy Johnson and Livan Hernandez. What bugs me about the D-Backs this year is how many experts on both sides of the scouting/stats divide love this team. How can anybody pick a club with this old and fragile of a rotation, a completely unimproved bullpen that was ghastly last year, and no proven offensive stars to win a division, even the NL West?
Nothing against Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, and Chris Young. All of those guys will be good players, and maybe all of them will be stars. But the irrational exuberance about this young Arizona lineup irks me. Why is nobody exhibiting the same optimism about the Rockies? Colorado has a young, mostly homegrown lineup as well, only some of their hitting stars have actually had entire productive seasons in the majors. What's more, the Rockies have developed the beginnings of a good rotation and a number of very exciting bullpen arms. Arizona has developed...Brandon Webb. That's it, that's the list. Their bullpen, as the eighth inning of the game today elegantly displayed, is horrific. I've always felt Webb to be overrated (probably without any good cause), but even assuming he wins back-to-back Cy Youngs this year the rest of the rotation is a shambles. Randy Johnson is done, Livan Hernandez is 87 years old, Doug Davis is just a guy, and I don't even really know who Edgar Gonzalez and Micah Owings are. Arizona won a World Series not long ago with an average to average-plus lineup, a very good bullpen, and two dominant starters. This year they have...an average to average-plus lineup. How can you possibly construct an argument that they're going to even finish .500, let alone win the division?
The only reason I can think of that so many people irrationally like Arizona this year is the same reason that folks pick Anaheim over Oakland every preseason in the AL West despite the fact that the A's invariably play .800 ball down the stretch and leave the Angels in the dust every single year. Arizona won the World Series. The Rockies haven't done that. Assuming that Arizona's prospects will develop and Colorado's won't because a completely different group of Diamondbacks players won a championship at the beginning of this decade makes no sense at all, but there you have it.
Back on the Francis Channel
I assume that Jeff Francis must have appealed the five-game suspension he received for throwing at Kevin Kouzmanoff, because there he is, pitching. Clint Hurdle on the other hand is sitting this one out. It's nice to see the purple jerseys again, isn't it? First time since 2005. But this isn't 2005, so Fox Sports Rocky Mountain has some explaining to do. The first prime time baseball game of the season, and it's not on in HD? I'm against this.
Tonight, the Rockies attempt to get back to .500 against Livan Hernandez. Let's hope they have a good night, because I for one sure don't want to wait another two years to see those sexy purple unis again.
See What I Miss When I Actually Go to Baseball Games?
It's worth pointing out that the extensions begin after this season; ownership has not torn up the last year remaining on both Hurdle and O'Dowd's current deals. Apparently it was O'Dowd's decision, after receiving a guarantee he would be the general manager through the 2009 season, to extend Hurdle as well. That's pretty classy of him, I suppose. On the other hand, there isn't another manager/GM team in baseball that has received so many repeated assurances of job security after so little improvement on the field. Hurdle is 352-437 with the Rockies after the loss to Arizona today. Since his first full season as manager in 2003, Hurdle has averaged 71 wins a year and has yet to get the Rockies any higher than fourth in the NL West.
O'Dowd replaced Bob Gebhard, who himself was allowed seven seasons to try and bring winning baseball to Denver, after the disastrous 1999 season, about which a very depressing made-for-TV movie could be made. (With James Cromwell as Jim Leyland.) In seven full seasons since, the Rockies are 440-621. That's a .415 winning percentage. They've finished over .500 once (by two games, and in O'Dowd's first year with mainly Gebhard's players).
I don't know who could do a better job than O'Dowd, who has built a top-five farm system and stocked the major league roster with worthy homegrown players at almost every position. He has done a singular job repairing the massive damage caused by his own colossal mistakes, notably the twin signings of Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton before the 2001 season. There are many possible criticisms one could make of Dan O'Dowd, but it is true that he rarely makes the same mistake twice. Indeed, his biggest problem as Rockies GM has been that in his haste to not repeat mistakes he's changed philosophies sometimes as many as two or three times per season. Being a major league general manager is a really hard job, and it could well be that O'Dowd's apprenticeship period is through. Better he move into his golden years with the Rockies organization than go somewhere else and win. On the face of it though it's awfully hard to explain to the casual fan how this guy still has a job. If Colorado doesn't turn it around during O'Dowd's now-guaranteed 2008 and 2009 seasons, he's no better than Chuck LaMar. And it used to be a point of pride around here that no matter how bad the Rockies were, they were at least better than Devil Rays. In any event our stadium is still much nicer.
As for Hurdle, well, I guess I'll now have to find something different to harp about every week than the manager's contract uncertainty causing him to behave erratically and to the detriment of his team. He's not so bad, I guess. He really, really means it about bunting less this year, I take it. And now I know for sure that cute record store girl from last weekend is a reliable source.
What's the next move for our newly secure brain trust? I have a thought. It starts with "Willy Taveras" and it ends with "unconditional release."
Diamondbacks 8, Rockies 6
I'm, if anything, annoyed. It's long been one of the principal goals of my existence to know more about baseball than my father, and ask my dad right now, he'll tell you. LaTroy Hawkins isn't any good. The Rockies' first loss of the 2007 season will be placed squarely on Hawkins' expensive (in Colorado terms) free agent shoulders, as the new setup man came in with a one-run lead in the eighth and promptly allowed three to score. LaTroy only needed to get the seventh, eighth, and ninth guys in the lineup to hand the lead over to Brian Fuentes, and he didn't. In fairness to Hawkins, the Rockies did less than they could in capitalizing on the early wildness of Arizona's starter and Aaron Cook didn't have one of his best outings. But, yeah, it was mostly LaTroy's fault.
I get criticized sometimes for being too down on the Rockies, but listen, teams with bad players don't win a lot of games. The Rockies have fewer bad players than they did a couple of years ago, but they still have some. LaTroy Hawkins wouldn't be the eighth-inning guy on a real contending team. Willy Taveras wouldn't be the leadoff hitter. And let's face it, Aaron Cook wouldn't be the Opening Day starter. Cook gave up nine hits in six innings and walked four, yet he actually outpitched defending National League Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, who allowed five runs in five innings. It was the work of nearly the entire Arizona bullpen that turned the tide for the Diamondbacks, as Bob Melvin aggressively changed pitchers five times and the group of Brandon Medders, Doug Slaten, Brandon Lyon, Juan Cruz, and Jose Valverde allowed only a solo home run to pinch-hitter Jeff Baker.
What kind of team has three dudes named Brandon pitch in one game? Way to go with your naming, parents of the early to mid-1980's.
It's always nice to be at Coors Field for the requisite one sold-out day a year, and the game if not crisp was pretty entertaining. I noticed that the fans sitting near me, who had last attended a Rockies game last Opening Day, were pleased that most of the same names showed up in the Colorado lineup. Well, when you go to your next game in April 2008, you'll be pleasantly surprised again.
Chris Iannetta and Troy Tulowitzki are going to be good. Strike that. They are good. They absolutely should be the starters for the Rockies at their positions and it's a relief that there are no veteran curiosities around to distract them or Clint Hurdle. Tulowitzki had a double and a single and Iannetta reached base twice and gunned down Chris Snyder at second base after a failed bunt attempt. In a game where Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins were never able to get it going, the Rockies' offense still managed to score six runs. That's a good sign and something they were usually incapable of last season. However, Willy Taveras is horrible. Make him go away, please. Four strikeouts, a walk, and a meaningless stolen base from the leadoff slot? At least Steve Finley has magic veteran leadership power. Or maybe Jeff Baker can play center field. I've suggested it before. Manage to get his bat in the lineup instead of Taveras's (which I hesitate to even describe as a bat), and the Rockies are as solid from 1-8 as they've ever been. The defense might take a hit it can't afford, though. Colorado was a little lax fielding the ball today, as Brad Hawpe misplayed a single into a double, Matt Holliday had an E, and Garrett Atkins mishandled a ball that could have started a double play and was later charged with a throwing error. And they still have to pitch.
Maybe this is a good sign and not a bad one. The Rockies have had a knack for winning Opening Day games in dramatic fashion through the years, and little ability for winning many other ones afterwards. Still, this loss strikes me as a bit like the bad old days. Why did Hawkins enter the game when Manuel Corpas barely even broke a sweat pitching a 1-2-3 seventh and his spot didn't come up in the bottom half of the inning? Because Hawkins was acquired to pitch the eighth inning, see. Clint Hurdle had no choice.
Clint, if I may quote Clerks: Title does not dictate behavior. Just calling LaTroy Hawkins a setup man doesn't make him one. Same thing with the terms "Willy Taveras" and "leadoff hitter." Or "Willy Taveras" and "hitter," come to think of it.
I really like Kaz Matsui, if he can maintain his numbers from his Denver cameo late last year, as a number two hitter. In the eighth inning with runners on first and second after Taveras fouled up two bunt attempts and struck out on the third pitch he saw, Matsui put the ball in play to the right side of the infield. Of course Garrett Atkins followed this up by completing his 0-for-5 day with a flyout, but I still notice these things. You're all right by me, Kaz. I would worry about your timing being thrown by Willy T. steal attempts and hit-and-runs, but that assumes that Willy T. will ever get on base again, of which I am not so sure. Corpas and Ramon Ramirez look ready to pick up just where they left off last year in the bullpen. I could have told you this before Opening Day, but the Rockies' bench is miles better than was last year with Finley (who walked for Jeremy Affeldt in the eighth), Baker, John Mabry, Jamey Carroll, and Yorvit Torrealba.
Now, who's excited for the all the empty-seat Rockies games? C'mon, I know you're out there, I can hear you mentally constructing Willy Taveras jokes.
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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