Monthly archives: May 2007
Wins and Stuff
What the heck is going on?
The Rockies, demonstrating the kind of remarkably bad timing that's been a franchise hallmark since its inception, have reacted to the worst beating in the local press they've received for years by winning six games in a row for the first time since 2002. The team has been (gasp) fun to watch during the recent run of good fortune but it's still hard to find a case that this streak represents some kind of turnaround or pattern for sustained success. Colorado's serious issues with their bullpen still have not been addressed as during the present run the starters have been persistently going into the seventh, eighth, and ninth. That's nice to see, but hard to expect to continue over a long, long season. Unless the example of the starters somehow galvanizes the bullpen into competence, this still needs to be a season culminating in a lot of firings and trades.
I am going to the game tonight, which I suspect may mean an end to the winning streak. But prove me wrong, boys!
What Are We Supposed to Make of This?
So, immediately following the day where most of the remaining Colorado fans blew a collective gasket, the team has ripped off four wins in a row. Is that a coincidence? Just like last season, when any stretch where the Rockies began to look like a .500 team coincided with a hot streak from the starters, whose high is three earned runs allowed (by Jason Hirsh on Friday) during the four-game stretch. There's just about nothing good to say about the Rockies bullpen so far this season, but when the starters go seven innings (or, heck, nine as Aaron Cook did yesterday), their limitations are a lot less likely to be exposed. There's more good news, too: Rodrigo Lopez is ready to come off of the disabled list and pitch against St. Louis on Tuesday. Of course it's hard to invest too deeply in the turnaround potential of this team when the return of Rodrigo Lopez is a major positive development, but if present trends continue, a five-man of Lopez, Cook, Hirsh, Jeff Francis, and Josh Fogg is not so bad. It'd be nice to get Fogg out of there, but Taylor Buchholz hasn't earned it yet.
For the most part, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the sabermetric revolution. I've always felt that the more information you have on a certain subject, the better off you are. In high school it wasn't long after I became obsessed with indie rock music that I taught myself guitar, bass, and drums one after another. I have nothing but contempt for the Scout's Honor sort of people who somehow think that advanced computer modelling and PECOTA and run expectancy matrices are devil's tricks that cheapen the integrity of the game, ignore vital intangibles like hustle and clutchiness, and steal away babies in the dead of the night. If you reject all of the new ideas that have been empirically proven to work as better tools of identifying which players and actions contribute most to winning teams, then you're not really a fan of baseball, but rather a devotee of some nonexistent ethereal ideal of the game that never existed and never will. (This might be a good time to mention Willy Taveras's VORP, which is 1.2. That's lower than Aaron Cook's offensive contribution to the team, for what it's worth.)
My point, assuming that I had one to begin with, is that it would be great to write some sort of musing about how all of the sudden media pressure on the Rockies has galvanized the team and they've banded together to play above their heads and save their beloved, beleaguered manager. But I am too conscious of the fragility of small sample sizes, and highly doubtful this brief run can long continue. With so many young pitchers, Colorado simply isn't going to get seven-inning plus shutdown starts every day. There's also not much evidence to suggest the offense's sudden functionality is something that's going to persist. The Rockies have some young guys who are going to hit better (and honestly, what is going on with Garrett Atkins?), but if Todd Helton goes, it will take truly impressive rebounds from Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Chris Iannetta, and Troy Tulowitzki to even keep the team as mediocre as they are now. Does statophilia drain some of the romance out of baseball? Maybe so. I'm not so much of a romantic though, if you haven't gathered by now.
Buchholz and Noah Lowry today. Go team.
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Their Young Guys Can Beat Up Our Young Guys
The Rockies are going to fire Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd. It's going to happen. Not as soon as you or I would like, but the team is obviously really bad, worse than they were the last two years, and ownership will have to eat their mind-bogglingly stupid contract extensions handed out at the dawn of this season to save face after the inevitable fire sale and 100-loss meltdown. So what are the guys who inherit this mess going to do? I think it's important to not oversimplify things. Yes, Colorado absolutely needs to spend more money than they have in the last several seasons. But that doesn't mean they should just go out and plop $150 million down on, say, Torii Hunter. It'd be a nice burst of headlines and would create a little fan goodwill going into the 2008 season, but just like the signings of 2000-01, that would all evaporate as soon as the team went out on the field and was bad again. Which they would be.
The Rockies are short about three starting pitchers and if and when they trade Brian Fuentes they won't have a single reliable reliever in the main phase of his career. They also will need more offense up the middle and a first baseman with pop to replace Todd Helton. Lavishing money on one or two free agents is the not the right path for a team that, as we've noted, ranks in the bottom third in all three major elements of winning baseball -- offense, starting pitching, and relief pitching. (Their defense is quite good, but a good defense behind a hopeless pitching staff is as useless as an all-star closer at the back end of a bullpen that otherwise can't hold a lead to save its life.)
Colorado now will attempt to continue their recent hot streak (two whole wins in a row) in San Francisco against the Giants. The timing of this series, in which the Rockies will face off against two of the Giants' prize young starters, is interesting coming as it does after a trip to Phoenix where there's a 22-year-old genetic freak at seemingly every position on the diamond. I made a lot of noise in the preseason about Arizona's young talent being overrated while the Rockies' own youth movement was overlooked. Well, listen closely, because I promise you're not going to hear me say this very often: I was wrong. Arizona has the Rockies pipped in both depth and breakout potential, and while they're not a playoff team this year, they don't have to be having deep soul-searching discussions about whether everyone collecting a paycheck in the front office needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice. And now here's the Giants. You've heard it said a million times that San Francisco hasn't developed a hitting prospect in about fifteen years. Don't look now, but Fred Lewis (the guy who hit the cycle against the Rockies) in limited action has more impressive numbers than any of Colorado's first-year hitters. And the flipside: San Francisco's emphasis on drafting and developing pitchers to exclusion of all others has its benefits. Matt Cain and Noah Lowry, who will start Friday and Sunday against the Rockies, are money young hurlers, and we'll just miss phenom Tim Lincecum this time around. Had the Giants not traded Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser to the Twins, they'd be in really good shape.
Considering how long that Colorado has been bad, the amount of talent they've assembled isn't overwhelming. They've only stepped up to the plate and picked guys worthy of their high picks on a few occasions. The trouble with the MLB draft lately, one which some new rules have already been enacted to try and address, is that it's not so much an issue of having a high pick as having a willingness to spread some bonus money around. Colorado has only gotten on board with this in the last few years (Troy Tulowitzki would be a big success story... assuming he succeeds) and likewise they've only scratched the surface when it comes to signing international free agents. I'm not saying the farm system is a disaster. Too many experts rate it too highly. But under the current regime the Rockies need even more. If they're not going to spend any money on major league salaries except for Todd Helton's, they need a player like Miguel Cabrera or Albert Pujols who'll be a superstar from day one. There are a lot of guys on the major league roster now who might be good players one day. But waiting around for Jason Hirsh and Chris Iannetta to put it all together and crossing all of our fingers and toes in the hope that there will be a slight overlap between the time those guys get good and the slightly older, already good guys like Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins joyfully flee for the warm embrace of more competently run teams is a sucker's bet. Hang on, I'll make another rare admission. I've been one of those suckers. Well, no longer.
That's why we should have taken the Jason Jennings deal as more of a warning sign. Taylor Buchholz is damaged goods and you know how I feel about Willy Taveras, so the trade was basically one year of Jennings for six years of Jason Hirsh. That's a great deal... if your team has made the playoffs more recently than 1995. The O'Dowd administration has become so used to there being no sense of urgency upon the invisible Rockies franchise that all of these little, individually unobjectionable deals keep happening that push the eventual assembly of a genuinely competitive team further and further away.
And who knows, maybe there's something to the old-line baseball wisdom that in order to win you need a few major contributors who have been there before. The Rockies don't have anybody like that. Helton hasn't played a playoff game in his entire career. (Of course, Taveras hit .349 in the Astros' run to the 2005 World Series, but he doesn't count.) The reanimated postmortem remains of Steve Finley don't count either. The next general manager of the Rockies has to spread his hopefully increased budget around to many problem areas. He should keep some guys who have accomplished some measure of success as Rockies (like Matt Holliday and Aaron Cook), he should bring in some players who have accomplished real success elsewhere, and he should spend liberally in the draft and on international signings trying to get that elusive sub-million dollar superstar. Pitcher or batter, it doesn't matter.
Let's see... Jason Hirsh faces Matt Cain tonight, the resurgent Matt Morris will go against Aaron Cook Saturday, and Sunday's game features Josh Fogg and Noah Lowry. The Rockies will lose two of three.
Rockies 2, Diamondbacks 0
Well, that's one way of doing it. The Rockies' first shutout victory of the year over Arizona is nice to see and it does give them only their third win in a three-game series for the entire season, but it's hard to look at the box score and see repeatable ingredients for sustained success. Jeff Francis, who got off to an awful start and had his rebound the last few outings totally eclipsed by the team's overall dysfunction, pitched beautifully. But it needs to be said, you're not going to get performances this good out of Francis each and every start. Particularly if his strikeout per nine rate (5.21) doesn't rally. And for some reason Jeff has been dominant in his career against the Diamondbacks and only the Diamondbacks, which is useful since they do play in the same division, but no argument to back off on criticisms of this deeply flawed Rockies team. Where is the offense? Where are our young stars?
What to make of this piece? Rockies president Keli McGregor: "The questions about the team are fair. We have to stay focused on doing the right things every day. But I know the fans don't want to hear about the different gyrations. They want results." Hurdle and O'Dowd are "accountable," they say. Well, where are our results? Seems to me like the team is a piece of junk, again. Didn't we get this same press release last year? See, the thing about accountability is, if you suck beyond all imagination at something, you probably shouldn't be allowed to do it any more. Clint Hurdle is a bad major league manager (period), Dan O'Dowd hasn't been able to make the Rockies good whether he's had hundreds of millions of dollars to throw around or not, and ownership has plunging attendance, an enraged local media, and no record of success whatsoever all to indicate that they might not be cut out for their present role.
There is no number of conciliatory statements that can be made to make this situation okay. We have been hearing that the results on the field will start mattering more every spring since Hurdle became manager. And the team keeps losing. I'm happy that Ryan Spilborghs managed two RBI hits last night, but overall the Rockies fail in every phase of the game. Their offense is 9th in the league in OPS, their starters' ERA is 10th, and their bullpen ERA is dead last. It is Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd's job to make the Colorado Rockies a winning baseball team. They have failed. They must be fired. There is absolutely nothing they can realistically do at this point to change my mind, and I imagine that most Rockies fans feel the same way. McGregor should be fired too, for insulting all of our intelligences with such a mealy-mouthed, dismissive response to a genuine crisis in faith for the fans with perhaps the least rationale in all of baseball to show any loyalty to their hometown team.
So, yeah, two games in a row is nice, but I'm still fed up. I'm not backing down and I hope you won't either. Hurdle and O'Dowd must go, and if they have any decency in them the Monfort brothers will follow. And also Willy Taveras. Until then, go Brewers!
Update: The Yankees are scouting Brian Fuentes and Todd Helton. Whatever. New York is the team you look to when you are trying to get some salary relief, but the Rockies do not need salary relief. They are already spending half as much money as real baseball teams do.
It's Like This
The pressure is on for the Rockies, obviously. Even if the difference in media scrutiny between a player for the Red Sox or Yankees and a player from the Rockies is like that between a real basketball player and a WNBA one, these guys still don't live in a bubble. They have to know that we're mad as hell and so on and so forth, and that Clint Hurdle is going to get fired if the team doesn't win a few games here.
So the Rockies managed to win one last night, 3-1 over Arizona on a Troy Tulowitzki RBI double in the ninth. That's great. But it means less than nothing unless the Rockies win today. This is Colorado's 13th three-game series of 2007. Their record in those series is 2-10. Believe it or not, they've never been swept. But if you keep losing 2 out of every 3 games, your winning percentage will be... wait for it... .333. Which isn't very good. Even if the Rockies manage to continue splitting their two- and four-game series.
Jeff Francis faces another lefty with a two-win record, Doug Davis, tonight. However Davis's other indicators have all been good, expecially at home, while Francis isn't even pitching as well as his record. The Rockies now have LaTroy Hawkins available for the first time in a month, but that kind of works against them what with Hawkins sucking out loud and everything. With a lefty starter going for Arizona you have a good chance of seeing Ryan Spilborghs and/or Jeff Baker in the starting lineup for the Rockies.
Death Is Not an Option
As hard as it was to tear myself away from playing ESPN's mock NBA draft lottery over and over again until the Bulls wound up with Greg Oden, there is actually some positive force for change beginning to build a head in what passes for the Rockies' fan community. After three seasons of sniping from the sidelines, can Bad Altitude make a difference? Can we help to cause a loud enough furor to get the Colorado MLB franchise out of its decade-plus malaise? Or at the very least, can we change enough faces to start a new, different and hopefully more interesting malaise? I mean, if we're going to be bad, the least the players could do is start getting arrested a lot like the Bengals or the Trail Blazers. Maybe then the rest of the National League wouldn't feel so at ease making themselves at home and taking two out of three every damn time at Fortress Coors. What passes for intimidation these days is Clint Hurdle directing a half-hearted Jeff Francis BP changeup into Kevin Kouzmanoff's midsection in a spring training game.
It does appear as if I wasn't the only one who felt something snap, you know, on the inside, after the back-to-back debacles of the 5-run 12th in the rubber game at home against Kansas City Sunday and the Jorge Julio gopher ball to Carlos Quentin in Phoenix yesterday. Rockies fans are watching Clint Hurdle explain on the postgame show that everything will be OK now that LaTroy Hawkins and Kaz Matsui are back and saying to themselves, enough is enough. Really, enough was enough about six years ago.
So columnists like Mark Kiszla, whom I often criticize for using the Rockies' serial ineptitude as an excuse for not really paying attention to them, are now watching closely. Why is that? Because, I suppose, they can sense that the franchise is on the verge of a huge change, and if everyone gets on the same side and pushes together it might happen sooner rather than later. Woody Paige might have gotten rightly pilloried for calling Denver a "great baseball town" on "ATH" a couple of weeks ago, but Denver is a pretty good overall sports city. Much like how regional disgust at the state of the Nuggets forced that perennially underachieving organization to make dramatic changes in its culture that along with a little luck led to the current exciting, borderline-championship-contending squad (well, if Kenyon Martin ever gets healthy), forces are at work to make the changes necessary to turn the Rockies into a team worthy of the city they call home.
In today's Post Kiszla directs us to monfortsmustsell.com, a new blog with an attached petition calling for... well, I suppose you can figure it out. In the name of Rockies fan solidarity, I will ignore the fact that the Post hasn't acknowledged my existence in three years' hard labor on the Rockies beat but has now given free publicity to an eight-day-old blog twice in one week. I guess a site with as concrete a message as Jason Gilligan's new project is an easier sell than my more esoteric appeals to euthanize Willy Taveras and return Josh Fogg to a swingman's role, but there's no use crying over spilt milk. This thing is bigger than any of us, whether it's the pro columnists who alternately ignore and excoriate the Rockies, the lunatic Pollyanna fringe who pore over prospect lists while explaining away the annual complete lack of progress at the major league level, or the few bitter contrarians like myself who keep following the team because, well, this is our home, and we love baseball, and we deserve to see decent baseball in our hometown sometime before we grow old and die.
Of course, as any fan of Firefly or Star Trek: Enterprise could tell you, thousands of signatures on an online petition and four bucks will get you a Rockpile seat and that's about it. The much more interesting aspect of Kiszla's latest broadside is that apparently there are certain forces in the Denver business community who have had it up to here with the Rockies as well. That's the only thing that the Monforts and the baseball business in general really respond to, the specter of the sound of a thousand checkbooks snapping closed.
Meanwhile, the Monforts just keep digging themselves a deeper and deeper hole. Another eye-raising story in today's Post claims that Clint Hurdle, even with a freshly-signed two-year contract extension in hand, could be in danger of losing his job. Well, that's just fantastic. How can these idiots constantly cry poor and then throw away money like this? Why did they re-sign Byung-Hyun Kim if they didn't want him to pitch for their team? Why did they allow Dan O'Dowd to extend Clint Hurdle if they thought the possibility existed that the Rockies would be so bad as to make his firing a fait accompli? Either there's no one steering the ship or the person making the ultimate decisions is such a complete unrepentant numbskull that the possibility that trading the Rockies' best pitcher, signing no meaningful free agent talent whatsoever, and taking away the only faint hint of accountability remaining for the feckless Hurdle might in fact make last year's 76-win team worse didn't cross their minds. There's simply no defensible argument you can make for the actions the Monforts and O'Dowd have taken. I've played the role of the apologist more often than not for these guys, because frankly the notion of a team succeeding on a shoestring budget really appeals to me, and broadly speaking the teams laying out large for free agents these days end up immediately regretting their decisions seven or eight times out of ten. But like I said, I snapped. I want to be good! I want to go to playoff games! I want to walk around in Boulder wearing my Rockies cap and see ONE OTHER GODDAMN PERSON wearing one and smile and nod at them!
I've said it before, but I'll say it again. It may be true that by pure head count Denver is one of the smallest metro areas in major league baseball. But demographically this town can and should be an amazing baseball city. Indeed, it has been in the very early days of the franchise, when 50,000 fans or more would file in to see the expansion Rockies play at Mile High Stadium. Denver might not have a huge population, but it is home to a lot of thriving businesses, numerous large universities, and a whole lot of white-collar types who gladly pay premium ticket prices to see the perennially competitive Avalanche and Broncos do their thing in their beautifully appointed home stadiums. To win back the trust of justly paranoid Colorado fans, the Rockies are going to have to lose money for a couple of years. The Monforts aren't willing or it seems well-capitalized enough to make that happen. They make vague unspecific promises about raising the payroll "when the time comes," but it's a chicken-and-egg situation and as it stands right now only the luck of the draw in getting a home series with the Yankees this season is probably allowing the Rockies to turn a profit at all. It was too late to be waiting around in, I dunno, 2003. Now it's just getting ridiculous. What happens next year if the current course continues? Todd Helton gets traded. Matt Holliday leaves as a free agent. Same with Brian Fuentes. And a whole generation of young players -- promising young players, I still believe -- stagnates because from top to bottom the Denver MLB franchise has become a black hole from which no light can escape. Why push yourself to get better, work on your changeup, if you're Jeff Francis? The bullpen is just going to bury you anyway. Why even show up for your starts, if you're Aaron Cook? The offense isn't going to score any runs. Why stay in shape or work on fielding grounders at the hot corner if you're Garrett Atkins? What's there to do but loaf and wait around for the merciful release of free agency or if you're really blessed, a trade, Vince Carter-style?
It's like my man Shane Botwin put it: "We have become alienated. Desensitized. Angry. And frightened.... I think you all need to understand. There are m-----f----- snakes on this m-----f----- plane! We are not safe!" The Monforts are snakes. Clint Hurdle is a snake. Dan O'Dowd, although he's good at disguising it, has to be considered a snake as well. Who among you, I ask, is man enough to Sam Jackson up and start blowing these poisonous reptiles away?
Diamondbacks 6, Rockies 5
Yet another dreary, infuriating loss on the road in the NL West for the Rockies, who have officially crossed the line over into pathetic territory. How can you tell? Well, national columnists are already picking apart the Colorado roster to provide talent for relevant teams. The Rockies have now had 17 different players appear as relief pitchers, but they might as well all be one mixed-race ambidextrous guy who likes not throwing strikes, giving up homers, and walking in the rain. Today it was Jorge Julio who couldn't hold the lead and Jeremy Affeldt who couldn't keep the game tied, but the names don't really matter. Clint Hurdle, who can't figure out for the life of him how to develop a working bullpen rotation and keeps flip-flopping bench players as if it made any kind of difference at all, richly deserves to be fired. But this is Denver, where there aren't enough fans left for there to be any outrage.
Kaz Matsui is back. Yay, I guess.
See, this is why I'm going to go to my grave insisting that Willy Taveras is a pox upon all our houses: His box score line, 3 for 4 with 2 runs scored, makes it look like he had a pretty good game. But two of the singles were just grounders where he beat the throw to first, he got caught stealing again, making him now only 10 for 18 on the year (which is terrible), and it really appeared as if the the triple Orlando Hudson hit over Willy's head leading to the winning run in the eighth could have been caught. Brad Hawpe hit his third homer of the week off of Brandon Webb, who has only given up two other homers to the rest of Major League Baseball. It's easy to keep heaping abuse on the bullpen, but as usual this defeat was a team effort. The 3-4-5 combo of Holliday-Helton-Atkins went a combined 0-for-10. Hurdle intentionally walked Mark Reynolds, who's so raw he doesn't have an ESPN player card yet, with Carlos Quentin and his two homers lurking. A day after overmanaging the extra-inning loss to Kansas City so that the Rockies had no qualified pitchers left in the 12th, he undermanaged brutally, asking lefty Affeldt to retire a string of righties in the bottom of the 8th. Come on.
Colorado needs to do something to shake up the culture of sleepwalking through loss after loss. The fact that the young team loses all confidence on the road is hardly anything new or anything with an easy fix to it, but the Rockies' anemic play at Coors Field this season is an alarming new development. It's one thing being patient with rookies like Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta, but the lack of development shown by "young veterans" like Jeff Francis, Hawpe, and Affeldt this year is pretty damning. How can the Rockies organization develop a culture of personal accountability when they guarantee the job security of a wishy-washy manager who hasn't sniffed the playoffs in six years?
Please start firing and/or trading people, or this page is going to get as bleak and depressing and pointless to read as the Rockies are as a team to watch.
Teams That Might Be Worse Off Than the Rockies #2
Texas. They're 10 games under .500, boast a winning percentage of .386, and they've just lost Hank Blalock for essentially the rest of the season to shoulder surgery. Plus there's the Sammy Sosa comeback. If you were a Rangers fan, how would you feel about that? A little like Greg Maddux's bittersweet return to the Cubs, I guess, only Greg Maddux isn't a bat-corking, salsa-blasting, pretending-not-to-speak-English steroid cheat. It's not particularly as if the Texas franchise was deeply in need of another guy to hit long homers while the team sinks out of contention in the AL West before the All-Star Break.
The problem in Arlington is pitching, again. Vicente Padilla celebrated the first two months of his lucrative new contract by giving up nine homers. Kevin Millwood has not been good. The starters as a group boast an ERA of 6.04. Kenny Williams and the White Sox have to be snickering at the way John Danks has completely outpitched Brandon McCarthy, for whom he was traded. The Rangers might be best served by throwing the entire concept of starting pitching out the window and just using their best 12 pitchers for two- or three-inning bursts. Their bullpen is distinguished by a bunch of guys having good years, including Eric Gagne, Akinori Otsuka, Frank Francisco, Joaquin Benoit, and C.J. Wilson. Of course, their low ERA's could well be the product of the fact that by the time Ron Washington makes his first move to the pen, more often than not the Rangers' starter has buried them.
Obviously, the Ballpark at Arlington needs a humidor. I propose that the Rockies send all of their climate-control experts down to the Metroplex to get on that right away. All we'll need in return is Ian Kinsler.
Rockies 6, Royals 4
There's nothing quite like a trip to the ballpark on a pleasant spring evening to restore one's faith in the game, even if your team is still very bad (which I assure you, the Rockies are). You would think that the home half of the annual "rivalry" series with Kansas City would be a good opportunity for Colorado to start feeling good about themselves, but they looked flat and miserable in the first game on Friday. Jeff Francis pitched seven shutout innings and then the bullpen promptly went nuclear, leading to a five-run eighth and yet another unremarkable Rockies loss. The bullpen wasn't exactly impressive tonight, either, with Ramon Ramirez giving up a three-run homer in the ninth with a five-run lead, but Jeremy Affeldt put in some good work against his former team and Brian Fuentes grounded out pinch-hitter Esteban German, the only man he faced, for the easiest save he'll get all season.
The player for whom Affeldt was swapped, Ryan Shealy, victimized Ramirez in the ninth. I assume Ramon must still be a little rusty being as he is fresh off of a DL stint. I cannot make the same excuse for Willy Taveras, who committed an inexcusably stupid fielding error to grant the Royals' their first run, the only one allowed in seven innings of very encouraging work from Taylor Buchholz. Willy charged a single hit by Mark Teahen, took his eye off the ball to see if Mark Grudzielanek was trying to go first to third, and ran right past the dribbler to allow Grudzielanek to score and Teahen to take an extra base. In the very next inning Taveras almost booted another base hit by Shealy.
I know his average is around .300 and he did have a bunt single, but I still can't stand Taveras. Every time I see him he is making a bad baseball decision. I just don't think he's a winning ballplayer, in part because he's of a type (utterly powerless speed demon) who bugs me and in part because he personally strikes me as lackadaisical and unfocused. I was all set going out to the game tonight to make this whole post a string of mea culpas, since Gil Meche was starting for the Royals and has been terrific all season, and Willy has also been making me look bad with his nice average and OBP. But I call them as I see them. Willy stinks, and Gil Meche gave up three home runs, one even to Todd Helton, who hardly ever hits homers any more. And I still think bunt singles have limited offensive utility. That said, I want to put a gold star on the record of Omar Quintanilla for displaying exemplary hustle in getting all the way to third on a Willy T. squib in the bottom of the third. It might have been even more impressive if the Royals had remembered to cover the third base bag on the play, but this is Rockies baseball. We're grading on a heavy curve.
I can't remember the last time the Rockies either hit three homers in a game or scored all of their runs off of the long ball. It's kind of a nice throwback, yes? It's not as big of a problem as the black offensive holes Colorado is getting from several positions, but the established middle of the Rockies order has been strangely reluctant to drive the ball early on this season. When Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, and Helton all hit homers, you expect to win. Who knows how long it will be until we see such a thing again, but I am certainly glad they saved themselves for a game I was attending in person.
It's hard to know for sure since the other teams in their division are all still so much better, but it seems to me like Kansas City is a much-improved team this year. Even without Mike Sweeney their lineup is competitive. The core of Teahen, Shealy, Alex Gordon, and John Buck is not bad at all, and has even less accumulated major league service time than the middle of the Rockies' order. Even though it wasn't one of his best outings, Meche was a real sleeper signing for them. He hammers the strike zone, his curve is pretty even in reduced air-resistance conditions at Coors, and more importantly he takes some of the pressure off of the younger guys behind him in the rotation. It's hard to accept that the going rate for a perfectly average starting pitcher is $11 million a year, but if you're the Royals, one can certainly contend that Meche is worth every penny. I don't know about the Kansas City bullpen (who the hell are Joel Peralta and Jason Standridge?), but if Zack Greinke ever puts it all together they'll have a good shot at finishing fewer than 30 games back one of these years.
Hats off to Taylor Buchholz. He needed a good start. He was helped by a Rockies defense that turned three double plays and a Royals lineup that seemed typically walk-averse. As for those rookie position players for whom we expect the light to go on any day now, the omens are still mixed. Chris Iannetta managed a single to keep his average hovering right below .200 but he allowed two baserunners steals. Troy Tulowitzki was 0-for-4 but made a number of impressive handles at the shortstop position.
Can the Rockies get it done tomorrow to secure only their third outright series win of the entire season? The pitching matchup of Jason Hirsh and Brian Bannister favors Colorado.
Teams That Might Be Worse Off Than the Rockies #1
Baltimore. The Orioles have lost five in a row, are alone in last place in the AL East, and the guy who ought to be their clubhouse leader, Melvin Mora, had to be restrained from going after teammate Jay Payton on Monday. It's not too hard to figure out the source of Baltimore's present frustration. They have almost an entire major league rotation, and a pretty good one at that, on the disabled list. Kris Benson, Adam Loewen, Jaret Wright, and Hayden Penn are all out with injuries. Even if all of those guys were healthy, Baltimore has been counting on their young pitching to suddenly emerge for like four or five years now. Maybe it's time for a different strategy. And while it can be crippling to lose so many starting pitchers, the O's don't have a very good offense (11th in the AL in OPS and 12th in slugging) or a very good bullpen (11th in ERA).
It's funny, ask anybody in the organization, and they'll tell you all the pieces are in place. Virtually any impartial baseball insider, however, will tell you it's a hopeless cause until Peter Angelos does us all a favor and dies. Baltimore is spending more than twice as much as the Rockies to be just as bad, if that serves as any consolation. As much trouble as the Yankees have had early on this year, they have to be feeling pretty good about all the series they have left against Baltimore, the similarly injury-riddled Blue Jays, and the yet still pitching-deficient D-Rays.
Can't Anybody Here Pitch a Shutout Inning?
OK, my annual spring period of petulance is over. Every year when it becomes clear that the Rockies are once again going to be a competitive nonentity in the NL West, I get grumpy for a few days, stop watching their games, bad-mouth them to anyone who will listen, and start posting terse, defeatist blog posts. Nobody enjoys my yearly crisis of faith, let alone me, so let's all be glad it's over. What can we say that's constructive about Clint Hurdle's latest group of complacent, fundamental-botching .400-teers? It will take a few more days of recovery before I am prepared to discuss the disappointing subjects of the lineup and the starting pitching. However, this is a Rockies site, so writing about a bad bullpen is practically reflexive to us at this point. It's the perfect way to get back on the horse.
As much as it pained me to do so, I took a look at the stat lines for every pitcher who's attempted to relieve for Colorado this year. Maybe with a better idea of who's wandering around out there and whether they belong in the majors in the first place we might be able to enter next season with a bullpen worthy of the name. The Rockies' troubles sadly extend beyond mere bad relief pitching, but it's oddly both their most fixable and their most persistent issue. I had two major questions in mind as I began this little survey. First of all, is Dan O'Dowd's strategy the last few seasons of adding a handful of relatively discounted veterans to bridge the gap between Brian Fuentes and a bunch of prospects at all a workable one? Second, could the Rockies trade Fuentes this season, as I have already suggested they should, without leaving themselves so vulnerable that they'll be bad enough for the rest of 2007 to cause lasting damage going into '08?
Manny Corpas The staff leader in every significant category including innings pitched, Corpas has been a top prospect for a while. Unlike a lot of blue-chip pitchers, he's pretty much always been earmarked for relief work; a year as a starter in low-A was a wash. Corpas supports good heat with a plus slider and a usable changeup. Corpas has "future closer" written all over him, and the future could come as soon as midseason if Fuentes gets moved. For now, Hurdle should give Corpas even more exposure in the late innings, but watch his inning totals closely. At his current pace, Manny will be making far more appearances and clocking way more total innings than you necessarily want to see for a reliever in his first major-league season.
Brian Fuentes Your closer until further notice, the lefty with the jumpy, clawlike sidearm motion has proven himself one of Colorado's most valuable pitching assets over the last two seasons. His nine saves so far in 2007 are all the more impressive when you consider that the Rockies only have sixteen wins total. Fuentes has shown a bit of a propensity for giving up the long ball this year but his WHIP is outrageous (0.72) and his strikeout rate should rally. They'd miss him tremendously if traded but on a contending team that might not use him as a closer and scale back his appearances facing righthanders, Fuentes would be a huge star.
Jeremy Affeldt Acquired by the Rockies for Ryan Shealy around the deadline last year, Affeldt was a failed starter for Kansas City but has shown flashes as a matchup lefty for Colorado. Affeldt's claim to fame coming up was his curveball, and we always worry about guys with hooks pitching in the thin air. Jeremy has had some success adapting his curve into more of a pitch that hitters will make contact with and get themselves out than a swing-and-miss offering. Still, a strikeout rate of less than 5 per 9 doesn't bode well for a late-inning reliever. The Rockies don't yet consider him a LOOGY (two-thirds of the batters Affeldt has faced on the season have been righties), but he does have some of the indicators. He's too young and the Rockies' record too irrelevant for him not to keep pitching full innings for at least this season.
Zach McClellan The prospect books ignore him because of his age, but since making his major league debut April 16th the tall righty has done enough to impress Clint Hurdle to become one of his workhorses. Perhaps it's because McClellan is one of the few relievers the Rockies have who can strike guys out (8.36 K/9). When he hasn't struck guys out he's given up a lot of hits, but it's hard to separate luck from skill over such a small sample size. He's one of the few examples in favor of O'Dowd's see-what-sticks approach to bullpen management.
LaTroy Hawkins O'Dowd's single most useless signing of last offseason, Hawkins was acquired to be the principle setup man and racked up an 8.59 ERA and numerous painfully memorable blown saves before going on the disabled list April 24th. Frankly, I don't think most Rockies fans would be at all heartbroken if he never came back. I doubt we'll be that lucky, but Hurdle surely has learned his lesson when it comes to using Hawkins in the eighth inning of close games. Corpas should take the setup role, but Colorado is paying Hawkins too much for him to sit. He'll get numerous second-half opportunities to give the Rockies' opponents bigger leads.
Taylor Buchholz The Rockies never really envisioned Buchholz as a reliever, but mismanagement in the offseason forced them to carry him as such coming out of spring training. Since Buchholz was out of minor league options, the Rockies had to find a place for him on the major league roster to see what they had after acquiring him in the Jason Jennings trade. However they had already guaranteed rotation spots to Josh Fogg and Rodrigo Lopez. It's anyone's guess whether this flip-flopping sabotaged Taylor's mental well-being, but in any event he hasn't been very useful in either a starting or relief role. Further mismanagement of the Brian Lawrence situation and Lopez's slow return from injury guarantees Buchholz will have a few more opportunities to turn it around as a starter. He was hurt all last year, and he was once a highly-regarded prospect in the Astros system, so he could show us something still.
Alberto Arias Part of the second wave of relief reinforcements from Colorado Springs, Arias didn't particularly distinguish himself in six May appearances. The Rockies have lost the last four games in which he's pitched. He's five years younger than McClellan but the prospect books consider him an organizational guy. He returns to the minors after the Jorge Julio trade.
Tom Martin The presence of Jeremy Affeldt makes me curious as to why the Rockies brought the 36-year-old Martin back for another season. He was deeply average last year. He's left-handed and that's pretty much all he has going for him. If he were able to stay healthy, he's probably worth the veterans' minimum, but he's making more than that and he's already made one appearance on the disabled list. You don't want to have an entire bullpen full of inexperienced players, but you don't want to carry useless generic replacement pitchers just for that reason either. This year all Martin will be good for is soaking up innings that might be better distributed to guys like Arias.
Denny Bautista Another Royals reclamation project, Bautista is an exciting guy to watch because he throws hard and always seems to be giving a maximum effort, but he got absolutely blasted his two weeks with the Rockies (19.06 ERA). The Julio trade and Ramon Ramirez's return to health combined to send him back to the minors. I highly doubt that after all of the chances Bautista has had that he's finally going to find his way in the Colorado system. He's not going to be a contributor to a bullpen on a genuinely competitive Rockies team.
Ramon Ramirez Last year's pleasant surprise, the Rockies got Ramirez from the Yankees for Shawn Chacon. If you're looking for a sign of hope amid all of this murk, Ramirez just came off the disabled list today and might pitch in the game against Arizona tonight. Not a bad weapon to be getting back, since he hasn't allowed an earned run all year. He, Corpas, and Fuentes make for a pretty potent back three, assuming Clint Hurdle is ever inclined to actually use them that way. Realistically a guy with Ramirez's experience level ought to be pitching intelligently spaced multi-inning stints in low-leverage situations, but the Rockies need him too much for that. Here's hoping he stays healthy.
Bobby Keppel Got called up when Ramirez went down, gave up five runs in four innings, then gave way for Arias. He pitched in Kansas City last year, too. Honestly, what is it with the Rockies and former Royals pitchers? It must be one of those things with no explanation, like the Broncos' fascination with former Cleveland defensive linemen. But if you're Colorado, is there a single team in all of the major leagues with less of a success record when it comes to developing pitchers? Sure, the Royals. It's a tiny moral victory that we have one worse-off team to point to, but what exactly is our motivation to pick up all of their castoffs?
Byung-Hyun Kim If the Rockies weren't any good last season, at least they seemed like an organization where the players were happy (or as happy as you can be while playing losing ball every year) and management and coaching were on the same page. One of the most disturbing things about Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd's extensions is that the harmony seems to be breaking up. Take O'Dowd's treatment of Kim. Kim pitched bravely, if not always particularly well, for Colorado all last year. He was arguably better than Josh Fogg, yet Fogg was immediately invited back and guaranteed a spot in the rotation while Kim's contract negotiations went on forever and then the Rockies sprang the news on him that they wanted him to become a reliever once again. And not even because they particularly thought that was the role to which Kim was best suited, but because they figured that was the way to maximize his value in trade. Kim pouted, everybody bad-mouthed everybody else to the local press, and finally BK got sent to Florida in exchange for Jorge Julio and his 12.54 ERA. It seems like the better thing for all involved parties might have just been to tell Kim and his agent politely in November that he wouldn't be wanted back.
Matt Herges It just wouldn't be spring training in Tucson without some random last-chancing veteran relievers. Herges must be more tenacious than most, because he accepted an assignment to Colorado Springs and waited for his chance in Denver. He got it, he blew it, he's been designated for assignment.
Ryan Speier A frequent passenger on the Colorado Springs-to-Denver shuttle the last few seasons, Speier has seemingly never fully recovered from being the main culprit in a shockingly bad all-kid bullpen to the Rockies tried to get by with early in the 2005 season. He always pitches well enough in the minors to get another look, but he's running out of chances. His three appearances in April before going right back down again were not encouraging -- two and a third innings, four earned runs.
Josh Fogg He's on the list because he pitched two innings of garbage-time relief in an 8-0 blowout loss to San Francisco in mid-April. I'm glad he did, because it gives me a chance to point out that the proper role for a limited guy like Fogg would be mop-up work and emergency starts. He's only made one relief appearance all year because he's made seven starts. The Rockies' record in those starts? 2-5.
So what about my questions? It's hard to say whether Dan O'Dowd's strategy is fatally flawed or not since the injury bug has kept his first-choice bullpen from ever properly assembling. If Hurdle had had Ramirez healthy the last few weeks, Colorado's record might be better. Then again, if LaTroy Hawkins had been able to pitch, their record might be significantly worse. Judging O'Dowd on guys like Arias, Keppel, Bautista, and McClellan isn't entirely fair. None were supposed to be major contributors this early on. But you can certainly criticize O'Dowd for not providing enough depth, and for placing way too much confidence in the abilities and resilience of Hawkins. As for Hurdle, putting guys in the situations where they're most likely to succeed isn't his strong suit. He tends to ride the hot hand until it blows up in his face. This does mean his young charges are more or less responsible for themselves, and Corpas and Ramirez have certainly responded to the challenge. Guys like Affeldt and Speier could probably benefit from stronger leadership.
Then the biggie. Could Colorado trade Brian Fuentes and survive? A lot depends on what we will see from Ramirez, Corpas, Julio, and Hawkins in the next few weeks. Knowing Hurdle, he would much sooner replace his closer with a veteran type. If Fuentes did go, Hawkins or Julio would get the first crack at replacing him, not that either would be in the least a satisfactory substitute. Hurdle's first instincts are usually wrong, but he's not so stubborn that he can't correct his mistakes. Eventually one of the young guys would get a look, and the statistics suggest they'd be more likely to thrive than the old dudes. But there's no denying it, the Rockies are a team with bullpen problems. Even with all of the players returning from injuries, they couldn't weather the loss of their best relief pitcher (maybe their best pitcher overall) without taking a hit in the win column.
You know what? I don't think it matters. The Rockies have too many holes elsewhere to pass up the chance to get two or maybe even three guys who could contribute down the line in exchange for Brian Fuentes. This year is going to be a disappointment if the team loses more games than they did last year. Would it be way more of a disappointment if they only won 70 instead of 75? I don't think so, and having more weapons to push them above .500 in 2008 would be worth it.
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And another dreary season rolls on. I wish I could stop recycling excuses for ignoring the team -- my favorite is how it's best to wait before reacting too positively to any brief run of better play because they're bound to get blown out within a day or two -- but I also wish the Rockies could have found something better to do with Byung-Hyun Kim, who was traded to Florida for Jorge Julio today. Julio should help the team about as much as LaTroy Hawkins has, which is to say, none at all. The Rockies are never going to convince me that they are prepared to deal with signing big-time free agents the way most fans wish and management has said repeatedly they will eventually do until they can get minor signings like those of Kim or Brian Lawrence right. Why sign (or in Kim's case, re-sign) a guy who only wants to be a starter if you have no intention of giving him a fair shake at the rotation? That's the double-edged sword. You want your team to spend at least a little money, but not if the guys stamping the checks have never illustrated even the least ability at identifying and securing useful talent.
I want to give the Rockies credit this year for finding creative new ways of tenaciously clinging to national relevance despite still not playing any decent baseball. On ESPN's family of sports chat shows Colorado was mentioned repeatedly last week, whether it was Clint Hurdle's complaining about the need for instant replay review of close home run calls or the scheduled Rockies pitchers Barry Bonds might face this weekend. Bonds didn't hit any homers in the four-game series the Giants and Rockies just split, but Colorado did find another way of getting into the news by allowing a cycle to unheralded San Francisco rook Fred Lewis. Want to see winning baseball? Not in Denver. You like unassisted triple plays and no-names accomplishing fluke feats? This is where you come. Rockies baseball, the geek show of the NL West.
Roger and Josh and Tulo, Too
Two of my biggest pet peeves about 2007 Rockies baseball have been addressed in the last few days. Interestingly, in both cases the solution was the same thing. The first is that none of the games have been on in high definition right here in the Rockies' home market. The second is that the team never wins any series on the road. So what was the answer? The NL Central, of course. The Cardinals obviously have HD cameras all over their beautiful new ballpark, so I'm getting to see the Rockies up really close for the first time. And the Reds are one of those refreshing other scuffling organizations that never seems to have positions open for their best prospects, a sense of when to sell high on assets, or pitching.
It was only due to controversial Reds newcomer Josh Hamilton that the Rockies didn't go ahead and sweep that series at the Great American Ballpark. The Rule 5 pick hit over .500 for the series with two homers in Cincinnati's win on Sunday. I haven't personally spoken to anyone who is bothered by the fact that Hamilton spent the last few years out of baseball struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, but I have read many columnists reacting to his story as if there are some who feel this callow youth has gotten way too many second chances. SI's Tom Verducci wrote something in a mailbag that I thought was rather unusually, well, correct for a veteran baseball writer: "The bottom line is that Josh Hamilton has a skill set that is rare in the world, just like a painter, a singer, an actor, etc. Only a small percentage of people can actually do what he does at the world class level. So of course such people are going to be afforded more chances than people who are more easily replaced." The same principles, of course, apply to Roger Clemens' ridiculous new part-time gig with the Yankees, where he'll apparently get $5 million every time he shows up at the stadium, not that he has to do that more than once or twice a week. Baseball is the American pastime; capitalism is the American ideology; ergo capitalism is baseball's driving force as well. Vendors with scarce, desirable resources will always be able to find enthusiastic buyers for the wares. So if you don't like Hamilton getting to party for four years on the Devil Rays' money and then waltzing right back into the game with the Reds as if nothing happened, or you don't like Clemens treating the Yankees like history's most imperious call girl, you obviously hate America. Commie.
From the Cardinals' HD feed, I can clearly see that Troy Tulowitzki was robbed of a homer in the game yesterday. That kind of begs an interesting question. Now that high-def is in so many homes, is MLB going to be compelled to go to limited instant replay in regular-season games? The Rockies' broadcasters were speculating about it this evening but they didn't touch on the high-def factor. It is vastly easier to tell whether a long fly hit a wall rather than a railing, or a tag swiped the back of a jersey instead of thin air, in 1080i. When the playoffs come around, will many more fans seeing the whole picture cause greater uproar when and if a big call is missed? Food for thought. For my part, I wouldn't like to see instant replay in any form that makes the games very much longer. Baseball has made a concerted effort to quicken the pace in the last couple of years and if anything I think they could do a little more, although I admire the difference they have already made. (Still, one of these years I wish an umpire would have the guts to just start calling delay-of-game balls on Steve Trachsel types.) But here's what the Rockies' TV guys said, and for once I think they have a good point. It takes just as long for an MLB manager to come out and throw a hissy fit than it does for an NFL ref to just go put his head in the little replay peepshow box. So in circumstances like the Tulowitzki homer, replay would actually speed things along. (And make sure the correct call is made, which is at least a little important too.) But I suggest if baseball does go to replay, they introduce a tradition of managers going ahead with tirades during the review period, just to keep things interesting. The crew chief would watch the tirade and determine how amusing it was, then he would relay to the umpire checking the video whether to elongate or truncate his viewing time to reward or punish the manager for his rant quality. I think that would bring in viewers.
Also: There are zero Rockies players on SI and Baseball Prospectus's list of the 50 most valuable players in the game. I respect BP's work but I think the methodology behind this particular piece goes way too far with their confidence in their projection system. There are maybe ten guys on this list who have accomplished nothing at the major-league level. Ryan Zimmerman #11 and Garrett Atkins nowhere? Room for Alex Gordon and Howie Kendrick but none for Matt Holliday? I assume the reason that Colorado doesn't have anybody even in honorable mention is that the project somehow punishes guys for being near free agency, but not quite there yet. But of course if you look at the list of dropouts, you can see that the Rockies didn't have anybody on the list last year, either. Is it really possible that in a 30-team league Colorado doesn't have a single one of the best 74 players? That's the total of this year's list, last year's dropouts, and this year's honorable mentions. Well, they're bad. But are they that bad? Way to kick a franchise when it's down, guys.
Live Impressions from the Derby
2:41 MDT Because Major League Baseball hates its fans, the only game available for me to watch this afternoon is Seattle vs. the Yankees. Big pass on that one. So instead, it's the Kentucky Derby! Look at all of the amazing celebrities who have gathered together (in silly hats) to watch "the most exciting two minutes in sports." Jenny McCarthy! Jennifer Tilly! The dude who plays Parkman on "Heroes!" The Queen! Wow, no wonder the women have to wear giant headwear, otherwise they'd risk being blinded by all the star power.
3:00 MDT I feel sorry for Bob Costas. It's not his fault he has a deal for life with the Titanic of major TV networks, except in the sense that it is. But still, he should be doing baseball games, not wandering around trying to find human interest at the Derby and quietly twitching his off-camera digits to mark the number of seconds left until the next Olympics.
3:11 MDT They just showed some jockeys playing pool in, I dunno, the official pre-Derby jockeys-only billiard room. It's a little creepy seeing jockeys engaged in any activity other than riding. They have the heads and hands of men, but the bodies of 12-year-old girls. I'm reminded of the "House" episode where House is at the OTB and explains to Cynthia Nixon that he always bets on the jockeys who have forced themselves to vomit immediately before the race. I thought at the time that I would never be able to watch horse racing the same way again, even though I pretty much just watch the Kentucky Derby every year. Well, when we get closer to post time, I'm going to be watching those silks pretty closely for any telltale stains.
3:23 MDT They're showing the current odds, and I have to say, I am disappointed by this group of horse names. Horse names are one of the best things about the last page of your local sports section, where they print the handicappers' grids in unbelievably tiny little print. That's where I learned what Lasix was, later leading to much confusion the first time I met someone who was having the Lasik eye surgery procedure done. In retrospect, asking the girl from my Catholic teen youth group whether there was any chance she was going to have some amazingly powerful horse drugs left over to sell was not a smooth move. But yeah, there is a unique poetry to horse names, which are often baroque and bizarre and just too too too to be the name of something. Like "Hopeful Welfare for Chappaquiddick II," or "Seems To Me Like This Is An Awfully Long Name for a Horse, But I am an Inbred Southern Rich Person and Not Inclined to Care." Nothing really sexy in the field this year, though; my favorites are Teuflesberg at 44-1 and Circular Quay at 14-1. Circular Quay? What, did you name your horse after the place you park your boat? That's what I call conspicuous consumption.
3:37 MDT Now comes maybe my favorite part of the Derby, besides the moment when whichever horse wins it loses in the Preakness or Belmont and 99.996% of America goes right back to ignoring horse racing. It's the parade of hangers-on! All of the people who paid for these horses get to walk them out to the post, all in their cotillion finery. Would you look at the size of that infield? At least now I have a better understanding of NASCAR's roots. With horses, though, the chances of being killed by a piece of flying debris have to be somewhat lower.
3:44 MDT Oh, wow, they just interviewed a jockey and he had a high-pitched squeaky helium voice just like on that "Simpsons" episode. I can die in peace.
3:48 MDT The lettering on the stable plaque for the horse Hard Spun makes it really, really look like the title card for a porno. Hard Spun. I can't say I have ever seen a horse-racing themed porno, but I would have to say the market is there, seeing that they opened the gates for this event at 8 local time and it was full by noon. And women wearing elaborate dress hats and absolutely nothing else sounds pretty enticing to me.
3:50 MDT The following horses have names that sound like monsters Godzilla could have fought: Zanjero, Tiago, Stormello. The following horse names could all be the title of a business strategy book, with the addition of a colon and a long and meaningless subtitle: Street Sense, Great Hunter, Liquidity. The following horse names could be actors in Hard Spun: Scat Daddy, Cowtown Cat, Bwana Bull.
3:58 MDT A fast-motion video shows a trainer who has five horses in the race, saddling each of them one by one. I don't know, it didn't look that hard. Some things are actually less impressive in fast-motion. But still, I've never ridden a horse in my life, and I feel fairly confident that I could saddle one in a few minutes. This guy has done it his whole life, and it's a big deal that he could do five? I'm unimpressed. But the bugler, now that was some good work. Why do they rise for "My Old Kentucky Home?" My goodness, the Confederacy lives.
4:04 MDT Nice touch by NBC putting the song's lyrics on a crawl for those of us singing along at home, but from the look of it a lot of the people in attendance could have used prompting as well. I suppose four or five mint juleps into the day I might forget my old Kentucky home as well, which is just as well as it was actually in Illinois.
4:08 MDT You know what, there's no shame in admitting it, I didn't know either. Mint, bourbon, sugar, and water.
4:11 MDT This race has been "moments away" since 2:30. If I don't see some horses running fast really soon, I might really go watch that baseball game. It's not too late to JINX CHIEN-MIEN WANG is it? That sure would be bad if I JINXED CHIEN-MIEN WANG. Would hate to see his PERFECT GAME GET BROKEN UP.
4:14 MDT And they're off.
4:16 MDT Well, wow, that was actually pretty cool! Street Sense, the favorite, just put it into absolute overdrive down the last quarter and pretty much wrecked the whole field, save for a not-so-closely trailing Hard Spun, who set the pace for most of the derby. Curlin nosed the rest of the field to show. Total race time: two minutes, two seconds. Well, see you next year!
Packing It In
The Rockies are in progress against Cincinnati tonight. They are losing. They will probably lose the game and they will almost certainly lose the series. The early results are in and they're not pretty. I expected Colorado to be almost exactly as good as they were last year. Some Rockies fans felt like this was the season they made a big leap forward, although what exactly their evidence for this was remains to me unclear. A ton of injuries in the bullpen plus DL stints for the starter (Rodrigo Lopez) and lineup guy (Kaz Matsui) who started the fastest doesn't help, but it's hard to find any circumstances under which the Rockies would be any better now than they actually are. The team is 11-17, six games out in the NL West. That sounds about right. They haven't won a series since the opening three games against San Diego in Denver, losing seven three-game series in a row and splitting each of their two-game sets since.
Revelant stat from ESPN's Jayson Stark: In every full season since 1982, of 144 teams that made the postseason, only eight completed the month of April more than three games under .500. The Rockies were six back when May began.
Jeff Francis is 1-4 with a 6.19 ERA and a 1.94 WHIP. Perhaps more tellingly, Aaron Cook is 0-1, 3.83, 1.38 in the same number of starts. The Rockies' offense isn't exactly as terrible as it has a tendency to appear in games I attend in person, but familiarly it tends to dive dramatically in efficiency whenever there are runners on base. The Rockies' bullpen, likewise, has been bad but not that bad. This is a team that when it goes down in defeat, as it almost always does, does so with a group effort. If the bullpen has one of those nights where four or five guys somehow combine to only give up one or two runs, the offense completely shuts down against the opposing bullpen. If the offense feels like showing up, the starting pitching pretty reliably doesn't. If poor Aaron Cook is starting, the bats are taking the day off.
In short, this is a bad roster, and even its ceiling with everyone healthy and folks like Francis and Brad Hawpe (1 homer, .391 slugging) returning to established performance levels is maybe 78 wins. It sounds like a broken record, but this is the team that created enough confidence in ownership to lavish extensions on Dan O'Dowd and Clint Hurdle? Do we think the team would be any different were those guys clawing to keep their jobs still?
No. Not really. The Rockies are, obviously, still a long way away. They have more real players than they used to, as the recent Sports Illustrated feature on Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins suggests, but they're still several starters, two proven bullpen arms, and the entire middle of the diamond (catcher, second, short, center) away from not sucking. Keeping Jason Jennings wouldn't have helped, although Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz have been erratic and Willy Taveras has been an insult to intelligent baseball fans everywhere. The Rockies need another reliable starter more than anything, but they also need at least two more average starters after that still. A rotation with Jennings-Cook-Francis and two random guys wouldn't be any better than the present group with Cook, Francis, Hirsh, Buchholz and one random guy. Particularly because the team is still so lacking in all the phases of winning baseball that assuming one or two final pieces is all the rotation/bullpen/lineup/bench needs is part of the problem.
So what are we going to do? Here's what I would do this season, keeping in mind that finding a way of making the Rockies respectable for 2007 is a lost cause at this point.
Trade Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, and Brian Fuentes for pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Helton is the obvious one. His value only decreases with every passing year as his power numbers go down and his total annual salary figure goes up. For a while I believed that Colorado was going to be able to assemble enough of a young core that they would be able to do the sentimental thing and keep Helton, even with him making $16 million of a $40 million payroll. Well, I was wrong. It's not possible. He has to go. Holliday, who would have to be crazy to stick around when his free agency finally arrives next year, is too valuable not to trade. There's no point in having him slug meaningless homers for two more years with Colorado when the increasing level of parity for the rest of the league (the Rockies, charmingly, seem immune to this regression to the mean) will drive his price at the trade deadline up to at least two live arms and a major-league ready stick. As for Fuentes, well, a .400 team with a legit closer's a lot like a mule with a spinning wheel. With the bullpen problems the Red Sox and Yankees have, one or the other of them is likely to overpay for Fuentes, who has had issues focusing this year but is still white hot fiery death on lefthanders.
Sell Willy Taveras to the Japanese league/travelling gypsies/alien visitors. Anything to get this bum off the field. He can't hit, he can't take a walk, he has horrible baserunning instincts for a guy with his speed, and watching him play outs into triples in center at Coors offends my delicate sensibilities. The Rockies should accept the concept of a sunk cost and get rid of Willy even if it means they eat his salary for the rest of the year and get nothing in return. He is essentially worthless. Since there is zero chance of Taveras becoming a real ballplayer ever, O'Dowd and Hurdle might as well start auditioning other options in center now when the season is basically already lost. They're going to have to do something creative in the offseason to earn those extensions since center field has been a gaping hole for the Rockies since forever.
Let the rookies take their lumps. Is there any real benefit to playing Yorvit Torrealba and his established .250 bat in favor of Chris Iannetta? No. The Rockies should let Troy Tulowitzki and Iannetta see the bulk of the time at their positions from here on out. Likewise, it's worth giving Kaz Matsui a full season to show what kind of MLB player he is away from New York. For guys like Jamey Carroll and Clint Barmes, we pretty much know what kind of players they are. They're not going to have a sudden performance spike. A lot of the Rockies' problems would go away if their duo of homegrown hopes would emerge and start raking. It's not going to happen if they're only getting a token start or two a week. The kids need to play, and the same goes for the bullpen. The Rockies get guys like Tom Martin, Jose Mesa, or LaTroy Hawkins every year and whether the veterans are the actual Martin, Mesa, or Hawkins or their proxies next year, their production or lack thereof will be pretty predictable. So for this season let's allow Manuel Corpas, Ramon Ramirez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Alberto Arias throw as many innings as their minor league instructors would see fit. On the whole, better to be young and bad than old and bad.
Well, Colorado is all tied up with the Reds as I conclude. Will they win? They might. But then they will almost certainly lose the next two games of the series, with Aaron Cook and his bad mojo throwing Saturday and Josh Fogg and his bad... pitching going on Sunday. When is the trade deadline again?
Reality Reasserts Itself
I wasn't sure what to write about the game Sunday. It's hard to gauge how to react to games like that. Here the Rockies are on the brink of proving themselves irrelevant before the first month of the season is out, and they pull out a win like that, with an unassisted triple play and then a walk-off extra inning homer for good measure. A lot of people who know I have Rockies tickets called to ask if I went to the game on Sunday. No, I went to the game on Saturday, the one where the team eked out two runs from ten hits. I've been to several games and every time I've seen the real Rockies, the not-ready-for-prime-time group that just isn't consistent enough in any phase of the game to win with any regularity. They have players that are capable of being exciting on sporadic isolated occasions as Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday were this weekend to save Colorado from an embarrassing home sweep. They're not yet an exciting team, and flashes of hope like this are all that are going to sustain we the proud few in 2007.
What I ended up doing was writing nothing in the wake of the very strange game Sunday and letting normality return in the form of a blandly routine loss to the recently hot Giants in San Francisco yesterday. Another day, another NL West road defeat. The defense was bad, the starting pitching was bad, the bullpen was bad. When Colorado gets everybody healthy and puts Willy Taveras out to pasture later this season, they will be a little less reliably terrible than they are right now. But their upside, as I wrote before the season began, is still one of an 80-win team, not a division winner. Without health, luck, or the pressure of their jobs playing upon the manager and the GM, the Rockies are exactly as their record suggests -- one of the worst teams in the National League. As usual. But the key to the triple play, and the walkoff homer, and the reason to keep watching Colorado baseball this year, is the whole secret to baseball's greatness itself. They play a lot of games. It's a long season, and you're bound to see a few things you've never seen before if you pay attention.
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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