Monthly archives: June 2007
Hey, They Won, No Fun
The Rockies snapped their eight-game losing streak today with a shutout victory in Houston. Jeff Francis stifled the Astros' Texas League lineup and defeated former Colorado star Jason Jennings, who was fairly effective in allowing three runs in seven innings. Francis, LaTroy Hawkins, and Jeremy Affeldt combined to keep the Astros off the board and just like that, we're on a one-game winning streak. Hooray!
Only I was kind of enjoying the losing, in a perverse way. At least the Rockies weren't boring for a stretch there. If they go back now to simply losing every series two games to one like they did for the first two months of the season I will be very disappointed.
The worst thing about this losing streak is that the very guy contributing the most to the Rockies' woes is the one we were most counting on to bring us back a bounty in trade, once we played our way safely out of contention. I think that for both competitive and PR reasons the Rockies need to make a good-faith effort to re-sign Matt Holliday, but Brian Fuentes should be trade bait this year. Too bad he's a basket case right now, having had a week-long run of blown save opportunities that would give Fausto Carmona wobbly knees. Fuentes is out as closer, at least temporarily, Clint Hurdle says. As of right now we don't have any single affirmed name as replacement but knowing Hurdle the first guy to get a chance and not blow it will likely keep getting the call. Until such time as he does blow it. Might be Manny Corpas, might be Jorge Julio, might be Hawkins. First we must wait until the Rockies present their bullpen with a save situation. We'll see how long that will be.
I saw that coming from a mile away. What Rockies fan didn't? Of course our All-Star closer is going to give up (another) walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and extend Colorado's losing streak to eight.
If the Rockies were a team with even the vaguest hint of a lasting following, this story would be front-page news nationwide. Honestly, when has this happened before? The Rockies' TV guys are so flabbergasted they've lost the ability to feign surprise. They look even more like replicants than usual tonight.
Uhhh... how about those Knicks? Zack Randolph and Eddy Curry are going to play lockdown defense, right?
What is this? What is this? No, seriously, what IS this? I thought I moved away from Chicago to get baseball like this out of my life. The Rockies have suffered more gut-wrenching, knee-jerk, eye-gouging, wall-punching choke jobs on this single road trip than it seems like I just read about in Sports Illustrated's nifty piece on 125 years of Philadelphia Phillies baseball. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Troy Tulowitzki hits a homer in extra innings to put the Rockies in the lead, then Brian Fuentes with a huge helping hand from brain-dead Colorado defense blows it in the bottom of the inning. It happened in Toronto a week ago to begin this losing streak and it happened again in Houston tonight.
This team is worse than one that's just incompetent. It's one that runs screaming as if set ablaze from the tiniest suggestion of success. Just a few short days ago we were talking about the best sustained stretch of Rockies play since the 1995 Wild Card year. Now we are unquestionably talking about the worst. I want to take the rest of my season tickets out behind my apartment with a bucket of gasoline and burn them in the shape of a pentagram or something. This is absurd.
Correction or Freefall?
I told you they still weren't good. Did you listen? No, you didn't listen. You started checking the ESPNews crawler to see if the Padres and Dodgers had won. That makes this your fault.
What did I say after the Rockies swept New York? Many things, but the one that was supposed to get across was that Colorado doesn't have enough starting pitching to contend in the NL West, and it has been starting pitching that has been the principal motor of the current six-game losing streak. Although the Rockies do put something of an emphasis on groundball pitchers, they were due for a correction when it came to how many homers they were allowing. And once again, why were we so excited to get Jason Hirsh? Hirsh is an extreme flyball pitcher. He always has been. He fits in at Coors Field like an aluminum bat.
Can we find relief if we look to the schedule? Well, it's not as if the Blue Jays and Cubs were particularly good before they were playing the Rockies. After a four-game series in Houston which will be highlighted by Jason Jennings' first start against his former team, Colorado comes home to play the Mets and Phillies. The Mets have been in a protracted slump but are still qualitatively better than the Rockies are, and the Phillies are having one of their signature midseason relevance teases. Will the Rockies continue booming and busting for the rest of 2007, or will they just settle down and play consistent .460 ball like they're supposed to do?
0 for Canada
It's for the best, I swear, that the so-so Blue Jays pounded the riding-high Rockies into so much purple mulch this weekend at the "Rogers Centre." Colorado needed a reality check, although I don't see why the brutal Fuentes/defensive meltdown Friday night was entirely necessary, especially after Troy Tulowitzki's big 10th-inning home run. Well, get swept, lose two of three, either way, the team was going to lose a series eventually, and this loss confirms that they neither possess magical interleague play power nor can afford to keep striking out at such a raging pace.
I was silent on the subject all weekend for a couple of reasons. First, I had a whole really funny "scourge of the AL East" column ready to run Friday night until Fuentes bollixed it up. Second, it's so hot in Boulder right now that all I really want to do is sit in the sweet spot where the air flow from both of my house fans meets and play Harvest Moon DS in my boxer shorts with my tongue hanging out slightly. Third, I have been very much occupied working myself into a frenzy for my new band's gig in Denver tonight.
Besides all of those very good reasons, I've put a lot of effort towards restraining my enthusiasm during what's indisputably the longest sustained stretch of quality Rockies play since the wild card season of 1995. I know this team still has a lot of work to do. But now that the hot run is over, I do have to pat them on the back a little, and I hate doing that. It must be done, though. Everyone had buried them, and they clawed their way out of the grave. Was it Clint Hurdle's doing? Well, obviously on this one occasion Clint's tendency to not show much of a reaction one way or another about anything paid off as Hurdle gave no indication that he was at wit's end and the team clearly didn't tighten up or abandon ship like the White Sox and Orioles already have so far this year. There are many names that deserve individual accolades for this long stretch of contender-like play in Denver. Garrett Atkins, for relocating his swing. The bullpen as a collective, including guys like Jorge Julio and LaTroy Hawkins for accepting a more merit-based system of assignments and pitching well in the middle and late innings alike. Maybe even Willy Taveras a little. A very little. The big three though, I think: Matt Holliday, Kaz Matsui, and Jeff Francis.
Rodrigo Lopez, about whom one of these days I am going to have to admit I was wrong, outlasted Roger Clemens today, completing a three-game sweep of the New York Yankees. The last time New York visited Coors Field in 2002, they scored 41 runs in three games. In this just-completed series, the mighty Yankees scored... five.
Colorado is now 8-0-1 in their last nine series, after beginning the season 2-10-3. Since the beginning of a seven-game winning streak May 22, they are 20-7 overall. That ought to send them shooting up the various "power rankings" that proliferate on the national sports sites. More importantly, the team's local profile has certainly been higher in the last three days than it has been at any time since I moved to Colorado, and very probably since the Mike Hampton signing. People in bars and restaurants and street corners are talking about Rockies baseball. The local sports radio guys have talked about nothing but since Jeff Francis's gem Wednesday. It's pretty neat.
It is difficult to overcome the apathy bred by nearly two decades of mismanagement, however. Most of the discussions I have been privy to regarding the significance of this series have either struck a nostalgic tone ("Wow, Coors Field used to be full like this all the time, those sure were the days") or a skeptical one ("How long now until Matt Holliday is a free agent?"). Unfortunately for the Rockies, to whom nothing ever comes easily, this series... was too easy. A lot of area baseball fans who have been tuning out the Rockies since 2001 probably came home with their premium-priced Yankees series ticket stub wondering why they were paying top dollar to see the likes of Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves. New York's real problem is the same as it has been for the last several disappointing seasons. Joe Torre doesn't have any faith in his middle relievers, so he continually overextends his venerable starters. I can't say for sure whether this crisis of faith is psychologically affecting the Bombers' lineup, but you can certainly see why an offense that feels like nothing less than a five-run lead will serve might begin to press.
The other problem the Yankees have is one of personnel evaluation. I can't tell you for sure that Brian Cashman is doing a bad job, but I do know that when the Yankees used to go out and add players from outside the organization, they would blossom on baseball's biggest stage. Here I am thinking about guys like Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez. They were good players when the Yankees went and got them, but they became Pinstriped Legends at the Stadium. Since the 2000 World Series win, this magic touch has abandoned the franchise. It's become uncanny the way they grab a hold of free agents and marquee trade names immediately after their period of peak value has ended. Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi... this is becoming epidemic. Meanwhile the Red Sox have made some veteran acquisitions that at the time had to be considered equally risky, like Curt Schilling and Manny Ramirez, and it's paid off for them. You can't expect that the Yankees will go away for a while, because the Yankees never go away for a while (except from 1982 to 1994, but that was all Dave Winfield's fault) but it certainly wouldn't hurt anybody other than perhaps a few hypertensive Bronx diehards if they missed the playoffs for a couple of seasons.
That would benefit... Boston, pretty much, since the Devil Rays have been jogging in quicksand since inception, Toronto's "do as I say, don't do as I do" GM is clearly in over his head, and the Orioles are such a disaster area that Joe Girardi today told them precisely where they could stick their manager's job. Who didn't see that coming? The Orioles are a leaguewide joke and everybody knows the punchline. Please die, Peter Angelos. Please die horribly. You are grinding one of the most proud traditions in the sport, with great fans and a gorgeous ballpark, into a useless disgusting bloody mess much like the lungs of the unfortunates upon whom you callously built your fortune. Sociopaths in the greater Baltimore area take note; I can't speak for the justice system but I for one would totally give you a free pass on this one.
As for the Rockies. They're not awful, and clearly more progress has been made than it first appeared in those brutal early weeks of the season where everyone that remained who cared including myself was screaming for the immediate dismissal of Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd. That's good, but they aren't going to win the division. They're not going to make the playoffs, either. I like to dream as much as the next baseball fan, but there are playoff pitching staffs and then there's what the Rockies have and I know what the difference is. It's terrific the performances Hurdle and O'Dowd have been able to coax out of their dumpster-dive finds like Josh Fogg and Rodrigo Lopez. But if the goal was to be not-awful for cheap, Colorado has already been crushed in that category by the Marlins, who are about equally not awful and are easily twice as cheap. I'm trying to resist the urge, because I think I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this subject, but I can't help it. If the Rockies had Jason Jennings still, they could contend in the NL West. It would be a long shot, and they would be one injury away from falling apart the whole season, but they could do it. On the other hand Willy Taveras, Taylor Buchholz, and Jason Hirsh have all been wholly ordinary this year. None of them are contributing particularly to the Rockies' success; Buchholz has only been in the majors because he's out of options, Hirsh's rotation spot could have been filled just as well by... anybody, and the Rockies might be even better off than they are now if they'd been playing Ryan Spilborghs in center all year instead of Banjo-Stick Willy. But if they had Jennings they could go into any series with the Giants, Padres, or Dodgers feeling like they had the horses to match up in every game. That would be cool.
Well, I suppose I had more to say than I thought I did. Please disregard the title above. Here was the broad conclusion that I meant to arrive upon somewhat more promptly than matters in fact allowed: If this sweep over the Yankees is the highlight of the entire 2007 season, than the Rockies have once again failed in delivering an exciting and competitive product to the eminently deserving sports fans of Denver. The radio guys keep echoing the meme about "playing meaningful games in September," and while they spend altogether too much time debating whether Willy Taveras is the greatest leadoff hitter in Colorado history (no) for their opinions to be taken without a sizable chunk of rock salt, here I believe them to have a point. It was nice to have 50,000 people at Coors for each of the three games against New York. It would be super nice to have 50,000 people at Coors for the series that begins 9/7 against the Padres.
The Channel vs. Some Other More-Hyped Inferior Lefty
Hey, this may be an all-time first: There are some guys coming over to my place tonight to watch the Rockies game. Yes, it may have more to do with the fact that my apartment complex has a swimming pool and it's about as hot as it gets in the mountains this week, but this still never happens. As much as I have tried to downplay the Colorado marketing department's attempt to delineate the Yankees series at Coors as somehow different and special and more significant than the other 159 games on the schedule, I have to admit that I am buying into this thing. I want the Rockies to win this game tonight more than I have any regular-season game they've played in ages. I want you Yankee people to know the dazzling variety of pitching programming viewable once every five days on the Francis Channel. I want everybody to know the Kaz Matsui comeback is no longer a rumor or a theory. I want everybody to know that Willy Taveras sucks just as much as I say he does.
Go team! Fight! Win!
Rockies 3, Yankees 1
Wow, a lot of thoughts and impressions from this one. Where to begin?
I think we need to start a smear campaign against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Let's start telling everybody horrible rumors, like they grind up the bones of lost kids at Chase Field then spread them on the infield to slow down ground balls for Brandon Webb starts. Or they soak Randy Johnson's elbow in pure heathen stem cells every evening. Why the sudden hatred for the Snakes? It simply hadn't occurred to me, I guess, probably due to my immense self-absorption, that the motivation for many of those in attendance at the Yankees series at Coors Field who would never normally go to a Rockies game wasn't love for the pinstripes but rather fear and loathing. Lots of Red Sox fans out at the ballpark last night, along with a smattering of Mets and Phillies people and a stray Baltimore diehard or two. Really, there isn't a team on the eastern seaboard or in the whole American League whose fans don't have good reason to deeply detest the Yankees. So why can't we try a new marketing strategy based on breeding enmity for a team that we play roughly 40 times a year instead of one we get a single series against every couple of seasons? I have friends who are Dodgers, Giants, and Padres fans, but I don't know anybody who roots for Arizona. And I suspect "sedona red" isn't a real color but only a preemptive feint to keep the people who designed the new Astros unis a couple of years ago from suing. Also the new patch on their uniform sleeves looks kind of naughty.
The trouble with being able to say, "Ha ha, Josh Fogg started for my team and beat the Yankees" is that in order for that to be true, Josh Fogg must be a starter for your team.
Look, I swear, I'm not using this whole scheduling quirk just to heap abuse on Derek Jeter. Promise. But it needs to be said: The major difference in the game yesterday was defense at Jeter's "position." The captain made a couple of those specialty Jeter plays where he flinches immediately when the ball is hit, stands absolutely still for a moment, then dives heedlessly in the general direction of where the ball passed several seconds ago. Jeter is awesome at this play. He is better at making it look like he almost got to balls he completely misread and missed than anybody else in the game today. Troy Tulowitzki, meanwhile, made two brilliant plays at shortstop. His stop of a Jorge Posada bullet in the top of the eighth saved the game for the Rockies. Then Alex Rodriguez made a sick play to his left (a shortstop-like play) in the bottom of the inning to prevent Yorvit Torrealba from tagging on an insurance run Colorado didn't end up needing. Listen, Jeter is what he is, and there's no denying that the dude can hit. He also pulls supermodel tail like few others in Major League Baseball. However, it bugs me, and it has for years, that he has a reputation as the ultimate team guy. Mr. Winning. Nothing else matters. This is simply not true. If Jeter only cared about winning and not his enormous, satellite-sized ego, he would accept that there are like four or five guys on the Yankees' roster who can play shortstop better than he and he would start trying out new gloves. But he doesn't. I still believe he should have won the MVP last year, but quit it with promoting his amazing commitment to winning, because it's horse poop. Thank you.
You know which Yankees player for whom I must admit some grudging respect? Hideki Matsui. Dude's a professional hitter. Leading off the ninth against Brian Fuentes, whom I doubt he'd ever seen before, Matsui first hit an absolute screamer into the second deck just inches to the unhappy side of the right-field foul pole. Then he pulverized a double over Willy Taveras's head to deep center. Ordinary left-handed hitters simply do not step in against Fuentes for the first time and nearly stroke multiple extra-base hits in a single at-bat. This was beautifully illustrated shortly after Matsui's double by Johnny Damon, who entered the game at first base (!) on a double-switch in the seventh and struck out on what seemed like two pitches.
The Yankees Are Here
I don't want to write about this series. I'm not even sure if I really want to go. I have a ticket to the game tonight, but I'm considering eating it. I don't really know if I care to see Coors Field full of another team's fans. Maybe I felt sure that the excess 20,000 people or so who will be at the park the next three days were real, true-blue Yankee fans, it wouldn't be so bad, but mostly it's going to be the curiosity factor motivating the generation or so of locals who have completely opted out on Rockies baseball and are just turning up for this one series. I don't like you people. Leave me and my miserable baseball team alone.
Trouble is, the Rockies haven't been miserable at all lately. Had they managed to finish off their series with those perpetually on-the-rise Devil Rays with a sweep, you might even say that this series matched the hottest team in the American League with the hottest in the NL. That didn't happen though, as Colorado blinked in losing 7-4 to Tampa Bay on Sunday. It's an open question as to whether the young team will be galvanized or intimidated with people actually sitting in Coors' normally abandoned mezzanine and outfield upper deck seats. Seems to me as if a you-may-have-heard-of-them-before New York pitching trio of Mike Mussina, Andy Pettite, and Roger Clemens might spell a series defeat, but be sure to prepare many competing overreactions for what surely isn't any more or less significant than any other home three-game series this year. Josh Fogg, Jeff Francis, and Rodrigo Lopez will pitch for Colorado, in that order.
I still don't know if I'm going to the game tonight. It doesn't seem like I would enjoy myself very much, and that's why I traditionally go to baseball games. I do enjoy spite for its own sake more than most people, which I suppose explains in part why I'm a Rockies fan.
The Rockies are at .500, 33-33. All they need to do to have a winning record is win a series at home against the Devil Rays. All right! Couple of problems, though. The first is that Colorado isn't, as they say, "as good as their record." With 288 runs scored and 312 runs allowed, the Rockies ought to be at 30-36 or thereabouts, safely ensconced in their customary position in last place in the NL West. There's a lot of this sort of thing going on in the division this season, with Arizona seven games over .500 despite a break-even run differential and San Francisco five under even though they've scored 277 to 261 allowed. With the injury problems the Rockies have had you can certainly construct an argument that we're only now seeing the "real" team (and, incidentally, the "real" Garrett Atkins seems to have arrived for work two months behind schedule) but realistically reaching .500 isn't a starting point for bigger and brighter things. They'll have to maintain their standard of play thus far if they're to finish with an 80-win season.
My other concern is particularly relevant in the wake of a very encouraging series win at Fenway Park. The Rockies have played rather well against elite teams in the past three seasons. Last year they were one of the only teams in the National League to post a winning record in interleague contests. They've played teams like the Cardinals and the Mets rather tougher than they've played anybody else. There's no statistical basis for my saying so, but I feel like this is a team that is separated from winning by more than plain old lack of talent. Under Clint Hurdle the Rockies have had tremendous difficulty maintaining focus. They lose series at home that they ought to win all of the time, and they've been disastrously bad on the road even against subpar competition. The three games this weekend against the Devil Rays will be a good litmus test as to whether the Rockies are prepared to develop the mental toughness needed to make that critical jump from 75-win-hood to the heady climes of 80-plus.
They'll have their work cut out for them tonight against St. Pete's under-the-radar ace, James Shields. Rodrigo Lopez gets the starting assignment for Colorado. Then we have Jason Hirsh and someone named Andy Sonnanstine on Saturday (that's the game I'm going to, blast the luck), and Scott Kazmir and Aaron "Somebody Wearing My Colors Please Just Score a Run for the Love of All That's Good and Holy" Cook on Sunday. The Rockies need to be mindful of not looking past an improving Tampa Bay team to the Yankees' visit to Coors Field. The infuriatingly short-sighted Colorado promotions department has been flogging this Yankees series like it's the All-Star Game, World Series, and Olympics all rolled into one, but it's only three games.
Generally I find the Rockies' official magazine, which I receive free as a partial season-ticket holder, to be mostly benign and occasionally amusing. The People magazine-like difficulty level of the crossword puzzle is always a hoot, for starters. But this article in the June issue about Derek Jeter makes my skin crawl. Three whole pages of retch-inducing hagiography about the Robert Horry of MLB! So what if he's won a lot of championships? It's not like he sweats sugar-free Kool-Aid. The only thing that separates Jeter from Todd Helton is that Jeter isn't alone on his team when it comes to being grossly overpaid, Helton actually deserved the Gold Gloves he's won, and 167 points of career OPS.
Taking a Break from All Our Worries, Indeed
The "Cheers"-inspired intro piece to the Rockies-Red Sox game tonight was the cleverest thing I can remember the production staff at Fox Sports Rocky Mountain coming up with in years. They should quit while they're ahead. But, I know for a fact that the Red Sox are one of the very few teams in the league to have the majority of their games on in HD, so why isn't this one available in that format in Colorado?
Aaron Cook faces off against Tim Wakefield tonight. That should be interesting, as I can't recall the last time the Rockies tried their luck against a knuckleballer.
I'm Still Laughing Uncontrollably About Willy Taveras: Designated Hitter
Of course, Shawon Dunston started at DH in a World Series game. Sorry, in two World Series games. Isn't that by itself enough to get rid of that stupid rule?
If the Rockies are going to keep winning series the way they have been doing, they are going to do permanent and irreparable harm to my theory that they are not very good. But then again, who have they played recently? There just aren't a lot of very good teams in the National League, and Baltimore is surely one of the most pathetic, pathologically incompetent franchises on the junior circuit. The Rockies will be tested against the Yankees and the Red Sox (the Old Boss and the New Boss respectively) during this interleague pod, but what I am really interested to see is how they will fare when they face the Padres again. While Colorado has been making baby steps towards relevance, San Diego seems hell bent for leather on proving that the caretaker NL West titles they won by default the last two seasons were just a buildup. Good for them. They're presently #1 in ESPN's Power Rankings, and when was the last time an NL West team was up there?
The star of the Rockies' 6-1 win over Baltimore Sunday was Ryan Spilborghs with two homers and six runs batted in. It's nice to see Spilborghs making an impact, because opportunities have been few and far between for the tweener outfielder. It must be frustrating being a Colorado minor leaguer, since the team evidences such schizophrenic attitudes about what constitutes a winning major-league roster. The last two seasons they've had a ruinous obsession with "true" centerfielders, which apparently means guys who couldn't hit home runs in a little league park and run into lots of outs on the basepaths. I'm no scientician but it seems to me that a guy who can get half as many RBI's in one game as Willy Taveras has all season might be worth giving a few more looks to out in center. Jason Hirsh pitched beautifully as well, but like every other starter on the team besides Jeff Francis, we're withholding praise until Hirsh puts together a multiple-start streak of effective outings.
I've mentioned it in passing before, but it's worth saying again. The Rockies' defense is really good this year. I'm hard-pressed to think of a better infield in the National League. Troy Tulowitzki is a monster, Kaz Matsui hasn't made an error all year, Todd Helton free of health complaints is back to his old form, and Garrett Atkins though he'll never be a Gold Glover is making the plays in front of him this season. It's funny, but the idea that the Rockies would be well-served by assembling a staff of groundball pitchers has been around far longer than the seemingly peanut butter-to-its-chocolate idea of putting together a sublime group of glove guys to back them up. The tipping point was when Tulowitzki fell unexpectedly to the Rockies in the first round of the 2005 draft. Then the Mets gave us Matsui (who played shortstop in Japan, remember) for nothing. My point here I suppose is that like most things the Colorado franchise has gotten right recently, this upswing in leather-flashing is a complete accident.
It would be intellectually dishonest to not at this point admit that Willy Taveras, while he demonstrates horrible judgement when it comes to the balls he can't get to, gets to more balls than pretty much anyone the Rockies have had in center field ever. I don't care, though, he's slugging .370 and his stolen base rate is unacceptable. OK, right, Atkins and Tulowitzki aren't slugging any better. But one is in a horrific slump and the other is in his first full year in the majors. This is the best Willy Taveras has ever played. That's terrifying.
Day off today. Tomorrow: Fenway!
Reminder: We're Still Not Good
Hey, who's all set for Day 2 of the MLB Draft? Anybody? Anybody?
All of a sudden the rose-colored glasses are back on. Brad Hawpe is a star! Kaz Matsui's special! Woody Paige wants a candelight dinner somewhere private with Troy Tulowitzki! What happened? Yeah, the Rockies pulled out a series win against Houston with some stirring late-inning heroics on Wednesday and Thursday, but this is the Astros. They're one of the worst teams in the majors. It's wonderful that Colorado managed to get to Roy Oswalt yesterday, but on Tuesday they only scored one run against Wandy Rodriguez. Meanwhile the Diamondbacks and Padres just keep winning, leaving our resurgent hometown squad 7 1/2 back and fading.
The Rockies have pulled within two games of .500, which is amazing considering how few series wins they had until two weeks ago. Since getting embarrassed by Kansas City at home on May 20th the Rockies are 11-5 and 4-0-1 in series. But you'll have to excuse me if I see the glass still as half empty. The Rockies have had stretches in each of the past few seasons where they've gotten within hailing distance of .500. This year and the last, these warm patches have been driven predominantly by a sudden spike of effectivness in starting pitching. No matter what the engine, if it's any time after the start of summer vacation, it's a tease until proven otherwise with this club. An interleague series in Baltimore might afford the team the opportunity to reach that magical break-even point for an ephemeral day or two before the Rockies have to move on to Boston and face reality: They're still not very good.
And to believe I missed it because of the draft -- Willy Taveras hit a home run yesterday. A real one, with the ball going over the fence and everything. Big Willy Style now has five homers in 1,413 plate appearances over his career, or one every 282.6. That means he might get another one in September of this year, so make a note of it.
In the notes at the end of this blurb about Casey Weathers it is suggested that Taveras might get some starts at DH during the interleague road trip. Man, I'm just going to let that one pass without comment. In the very same piece you can learn that Rodrigo Lopez and Leo Mazzone will not be double-dating with Woody and Tulo.
Shoot, what's that thing I always do at the end of every post when I can't think of any other way to conclude? Oh, right, I do the pitching matchups. Francis-Steve Trachsel, Lopez-Jeremy Guthrie, and Hirsh-Erik Bedard. Looking ahead, Josh Fogg is scheduled to face Curt Schilling at Fenway on Wednesday. Having just reflected about my not-so-close encounter with a past Schilling no-hitter bid, I can't allow Curt's inexplicable decision to shake off Jason Varitek and throw a four-seamer right down the middle of the pipe to Shannon Stewart with two outs in the ninth yesterday to pass without comment. That was dumb, Schill. I guess you still have your World Series rings and millions of dollars to console you, but it was dumb.
2007 First-Year Player Draft
2:57 MDT Well, I've enjoyed my time with all of you very much, but I didn't sign on for the sandwich round ("The Sandwich Round," by the way, would be a good name for a band), and with the Yankees' intriguing selection of "college project" Andrew Brackman, the first round proper has come to a close. Also, if I don't let the TiVo change the channel now, I'm going to miss a very important "Star Trek: Voyager" rerun. So what have we learned? That watching the draft on TV is more fun than watching the Rockies lose, as they are now so doing in their rubber home game against Houston. Also, there is indeed an MLB product more ridiculous than those annually aesthetically offensive All-Star warmup jerseys -- MLB draft pick jerseys! With a special arm patch and everything!
2:48 MDT Hey, what do you know, the Giants used their second pick in the first round to take a position player. A high school guy, too. Uproar! Consternation! OK, well, this isn't nearly as much fun as watching that one guy who gets invited to the NFL draft and doesn't go until the 29th pick and has to sit there by himself looking miserable for three hours. But this is baseball's first year doing this on TV, it's going to take some time to really build the drama.
2:41 MDT The ESPN guys couldn't resist making the obvious horse joke about Twins selection Ben Revere, but so far they have been able to restrain themselves from speculating about whether he will make his way to the Metrodome by land or by sea. And he went to Lexington High School! Is he for real, or is this some deeply subtle attempt by MLB to stimulate young minds' interest in American history?
2:21 MDT Here are the major first-round trends: High school guys long on athleticism and short on defined skills. Lefties. Really, really tall pitchers. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
2:03 MDT Hey, you know what has been missing from this draft telecast? The team representatives. One of the changes MLB made in preparation for taking the draft to television was requiring each team to send someone in person to draft HQ in Orlando. Obviously, anyone with any decision-making importance whatsoever would need to be back at the team's offices working the big board, so most of the teams sent random retired players. Yet this magnificent opportunity for unintentional comedy moments has somehow been almost entirely botched by ESPN2. One of the best things about the NBA Draft Lottery is the rococo assortment of current and retired players, anonymous middle management types, and mascots who sit stiffly behind their podia like panelists on "The Match Game." This year in an attempt to create positive Oden/Durant vibes for Da Bulls I made a custom Steve Schonwald bobblehead, but no good came of it.
1:58 MDT Bud Selig pronounces Los Angeles "Los Ange-LEES." I didn't think it was possible that my opinion of him could sink any lower, but there you have it.
1:45 MDT The preview show that I foolishly made fun of before I even watched contended that the middle to late first round would be mostly the territory of college players, but since Cleveland took Beau Mills at #13 it's been a run on high school guys. At 15, 16, and 17 you have three teams that probably thought they would be having better years this season than they are: Cincinnati, Toronto, and Texas. Normally a team picking late had a good season the year before, and generally in baseball the good teams stay good and the bad teams stay bad. A team already in contention, logically, has more incentive to take a college player even if his ceiling is lower than an equivalent high-schooler's might be. The college guy can help sooner. Maybe even this year! And then there's the option, safer for college picks than 18-year-olds, of trading guaranteed money for a major league contract (which doesn't guarantee that a pick will go immediately to the bigs, but makes the path much clearer). That's a new trend, the modern equivalent of the loopy old Bonus Baby rule, one of 1950's baseball's more amusing antiquities. Before there was a draft, teams could sign anybody they wanted for however much they had to give. To try and put a bit of a check on the big-market teams a rule was enacted that required any prospect signed to a contract above a certain dollar figure had to go directly to the big-league roster and stay there (for two full seasons). Fun offseason essay question: If Sandy Koufax had actually gotten two minor league seasons, would he have been even more awesome, or would he have had to retire sooner?
1:27 MDT Here's another cool thing about the draft being on TV. We know the most obvious of examples of teams who have patterns in the draft. For example, the Braves love to take regional guys, like they just did with Georgia high-schooler Jason Heyward. (The suits keep saying Heyward has raw power, which worries me... in my understanding Raw Power is a guaranteed O.D.) The Astros have a pattern of scoring by picking up pitchers other teams dismiss as too short. The Giants always, always, always take pitching. And the Devil Rays favor wifebeating drug addicts. But maybe now the increased transparency the televised draft provides will give us an insight into the more obscure draft strategies of some of the other teams. Seriously, with fifty rounds, were I a GM, I would be unable to resist the temptation to start trying to spell out dirty words using the first letters of the last names of picks after Round 35 or so.
1:19 MDT Marlins, #12, Matthew Dominguez. High school third baseman. Here's a question: How meaningful are any of the positions attached to these players today? They don't really mean all that much, right? When it comes to the draft, there are really two categories, hitters and pitchers. Obviously if you draft a hitter who throws with his left hand he's not going to suddenly turn into a shortstop in the minors but other than that I think all of those definitions are fairly mutable. And here's another question: Remember a couple of years ago when ESPN started putting accent marks over the appropriate letters of every even vaguely Latin-sounding player name? And remember how annoyed you were to read "Eric Chavéz" when he's about as Hispanic as I am? (OK, bad comparison, it might not be genetically possible to be less Hispanic than I am. But you know what I mean.) Ought to be a simple rule in place here: If you were eligible for the first-year player draft, no accent marks allowed. Unless you're Puerto Rican.
1:10 MDT And the Mariners move to further develop their Toronto Raptors-like international character, selecting Phillippe Aumont, a righthanded pitcher from the fabled Canadas. And ESPN2 did deliver the goods with a live interview, but apparently Aumont's pre-draft English crash course took, because his accent wasn't even as funny as Tony Parker's. Merde.
1:05 MDT Interesting duality at #9 and #10: The Diamondbacks, who have been taking nothing but hitters for years, took a pitcher (high school righty Jarrod Parker), and the Giants, who never take hitters... also took a pitcher. The guy San Francisco took, another lefty and a high-schooler, probably has the inside track for best name of the first round: Madison Bumgarner. I myself have garnered a few bums in my time, but never in Wisconsin. Hey-o.
1:01 MDT You have to love the subtle humor evidenced by whomever it is that writes the copy for the little info crawl going on the bottom of ESPN2's draft broadcast. They have a Cubs logo up and it says "Notable 1st-round picks: Mark Prior ('01), Kerry Wood ('95), Shawon Dunston ('82)." Ow, ow, and ow again, anonymous Worldwide Leader intern!
12:54 MDT With the eighth overall selection in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Colorado Rockies select Vanderbilt closer Casey Weathers. I like this pick. They're not dumpster diving by any means and with a solid record in one of the most competitive conferences in college baseball Weathers is a good bet to continue the recent trend of dominant NCAA relievers getting to the majors quick fast in a hurry. I would like him better, obviously, if he was left-handed and/or French Canadian, but nobody's perfect.
12:49 MDT With the Brewers' selection of outfielder Matthew LaPorta, the Rockies are on the clock! Boy, I hope they take the Quebecois guy and they interview him and he sounds like the awfully French-accented person on the Tribe Called Quest song "Luck of Lucien."
12:43 MDT It's the year of the lefty! About time. College southpaw Ross Detwiler goes #6 overall to the Nationals. You know, I know well enough that the level of competition in high school and college and aluminum bats and so forth make amateur statistics almost completely useless, but I'm still surprised that so few stats have been mentioned thus far in the broadcast. ESPN2's viewing audience probably would be impressed by the sick numbers really talented high school pitchers routinely post. Instead, we're hearing about quality pitches and projectability. I'm not sure how I feel about catering the broadcast towards the Baseball America crowd. Come on, who doesn't want this thing to grow to the point where we get two full days of wall-to-wall MLB draft coverage?
12:38 MDT "Signability" has been less of a concern so far than expected -- four of the first five picks, with the Orioles now taking Matt Wieters, have been the consensus best high school hitter and high school pitcher and the best college pitcher and college hitter.
12:31 MDT The Pirates, who have a tradition of trying to develop slight pitchers with marginal stuff, especially if they're left-handed, have selected Clemson's Daniel Moskos, a slight lefty with marginal stuff. Throwing it to commercial, the ESPN host guy said "Congratulations to the Pirates on their pick." I don't get it, what have they accomplished? Are we praising them for spelling the guy's name right on their little card? Weird. Anyway, Moskos is one guy the Rockies have been mentioned in connection with quite often. Cross him off the list.
12:29 MDT Here's one thing the baseball draft has over its counterparts: It's way more unpredictable. The Cubs have taken Josh Vitters, a high school third baseman, despite most analysts' feelings that they would go with pitching. Vitters' Cubs hat fit OK.
12:22 MDT Surprising no one, David Price of Vanderbilt is the first pick taken by the Devil Rays. Because he's African-American and lefthanded, Price will obviously be compared to Dontrelle Willis, but from the footage I saw of him in the (surprisingly enaging) preview show he looks more like a slightly shorter Randy Johnson with much better mechanics. He throws high three-quarters and he's got near-100 MPH heat. The Royals picked second and took Mike Moustakas, the California high schooler universally regarded as the best young hitting prospect in the draft this year. That's a bit of a surprise since Moustakas is one of Scott Boras's guys and the Royals are one of those po' teams. Between this pick and the Gil Meche contract, the Royals' new ownership has done a pretty good job of proving that it's not going to be business as usual any longer in Kansas City. Hey, does anybody think we're going to see a pick trying to put on his new team's hat and find that it doesn't fit? It happens all the time in the NBA and NFL draft but those guys are larger. Anyway, what do we think the over/under for large-headed dudes in the first round will be?
12:01 MDT It begins! I don't know if "historic" is the proper label for the first-ever televised Major League Baseball draft, but I rate it as a positive development. For all of my various interests, from cool jazz to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I welcome as much transparency as the creative forces can handle without detracting from the actual performance of their jobs. I can never get enough of DVD special features and tell-all biographies. Does it fundamentally enhance my appreciation of the Talking Heads' music knowing that David Byrne while left-handed plays the guitar righty (Stop Making Sense DVD commentary) or was born in Scotland (This Must Be the Place: The Adventures of Talking Heads in the 20th Century)? Yes. Yes, it does.
But allow me to point out another great thing about the draft: For a few hours I get to feel like baseball is still America's favorite sport. It is incredibly aggravating to me the way that 60-70% or more of broadcast sports talk is about the NFL or college football. I have no use whatsoever for the cartoonishly corrupt, hypocritical NCAA and if it wasn't for my childhood attachment to the Chicago Bears (my first coherent memory is of The Fridge scoring that TD in Super Bowl XX) I could probably do without the NFL as well. As an historian, I think of all the incredible contributions the game of baseball has made to American culture, from Jackie Robinson to Babe Ruth to Bill "Spaceman" Lee, and compare them to football's greatest moments, which are either grotesqueries like That Joe Theismann Injury or complete flukes having nothing to do with playing the game properly like the Immaculate Reception or The Play from the Cal-Stanford game. (And I went to Cal.) I also think that as a society, our shift from a nation of box score-parsing baseball fanatics to Sunday Ticket-subscribing gambling addicts is kind of depressing. But for just this one day, ESPN2 is dedicating four hours of airtime to guys in suits talking about entirely theoretical baseball that won't be played for years to come. Just like they do with football the other 364 days of the year.
Draft Fever, Draft Fever!
In about one hour's time I will be virtually schlepping over to MLB.com to watch the 2007 First-Year Player Draft... preview show. No, really. Behind the scenes of the Toaster, there has been a lot of bagging on the draft going on this morning. I think the estimable Bob Timmerman summed it up best: "Baseball doesn't need a Mel Kiper, Jr. Nobody needs a Mel Kiper, Jr." But hey, what's so exciting about living in the age we do is the fact that if there's any chance people will watch something, they'll put it on somewhere. Sometimes even if there isn't a chance. Look at the NHL playoffs.
For the sake of an argument, here is a hastily compiled list of things I have watched on my television that were more pointless than I expect the MLB draft preview show to be:
Colorado Baseball: We Beat the Other Guys Almost Half the Time
The experience of being a Rockies fan might not be rewarding as rooting for the Yankees or Cardinals, but it is unique. Things happen to this franchise that don't happen to baseball's more-scrutinized outfits. Also, we have a humidor.
This thing with Rockies starters in the first four innings is weird. I went to the game last Saturday, and Jeff Francis didn't allow a baserunner until the top of the fifth. Back out at Coors on Tuesday night, it was Jason Hirsh retiring the first 14 hitters he faced. I didn't go to the game yesterday (and good thing, too, with ridiculously high winds causing my car to shake as if coming apart even when I was just driving around the neighborhood in Boulder) but Aaron Cook apparently sent down the first ten guys he saw. We got some starters up in here, eh what? Of course the Rockies haven't won very many more games than they usually do during this recent run. Hirsh and Cook both collapsed almost immediately after losing their perfectos. The Rockies scuffled back against a bad Astros team to win yesterday 8-7, but they left Hirsh out to dry on Tuesday with a simply ghastly team performance with runners in scoring position.
Let's talk about Houston for a second, since this is the only time they'll be in town in 2007. What a strange team this is! It's not so hard to understand how Rockies starters have been able to get on rolls against a lineup that basically sends out guys who hit like pitchers six through nine. (Unless Jason Jennings, who Colorado fans will remember can hit a bit, is starting.) The same guys filled the six, seven, and eight slots in both games, Luke Scott, Adam Everett, and Brad Ausmus. Mix that string of pushovers with a decrepit Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio, and what you get is the fifth-worst record in the majors. Roy Oswalt, Jennings, and pleasant surprise Chris Sampson give them a pretty good 1-2-3 when it comes to starting pitching but Wandy Rodriguez and Woody Williams are not acceptable options at four and five. The weird thing, though, is that they still have the bullpen of a championship contender, as I observed firsthand on Tuesday night. Chad Qualls, Brad Lidge, and Dan Wheeler in the seventh, eighth, and ninth? Forget about it. If only the Astros could ever score the runs required to build a lead to protect. Amusingly-named journeyman Dave Borkowski is having a nice season for Houston as well. Whomever it is in the Astros' front office that is in charge of scouting relievers, he gets the first interview in Denver after Dan O'Dowd finally gets fired.
I almost forgot: Knock it off with the indecision already, Rockies starters. Either throw the no-hitter or give up a single to the leadoff hitter in the first inning. Nobody likes a tease. This goes double for games I am attending. Like all baseball fans, other than seeing my team win a World Series (ha, ha, ha) there's nothing I crave more down in the deepest most secret places of my heart than seeing a no-hitter in person. I've never gotten farther than the sixth, and I remember that game like it was yesterday. Curt Schilling was pitching at what was then Pac Bell Park in San Francisco; I was sitting in the bleachers and even though I had brought suntan lotion with me I got so wrapped up in Schilling's performance (he went to 10-1 after that game) that I completely forgot about it and got utterly lobsterized. I've seen something happen in person than has only happened twice in baseball history, which was Mark Bellhorn hitting home runs from opposite sides of the plate in the same inning for the Cubs against the Brewers in Milwaukee. (My dad totally called it happening, by the way, the second time Bellhorn came up after the Brewers had changed pitchers he poked me and we were debating whether it had ever happened before when Bellhorn connected.) And I've caught a home run ball, too. But I want that no-hitter. It's just a different experience since it doesn't happen all at once but rather builds throughout the game. I'm definitely living in the wrong MLB city if I want to be sure to see a no-hitter before I'm old and gray. Perhaps one day I'll move for that very reason. I didn't move here for any reason better than that it seemed like the Rockies needed me and besides I like snow.
I almost forgot, again: The MLB draft is on TV today, for the first time ever, starting at noon mountain time. A good one-liner from Dan Shanoff: "How interesting can a draft be when you have no idea who the players are?" If I can tear myself away from the Pirates-Nationals game, I'll be blogging it. The key for the Rockies, as we have surely been over before, is whether they will step up to the plate and pick guys worthy of their slots rather than opting for "signability" in the high rounds as they did last year. Whose picture will appear in the Post tomorrow under an ill-fitting Rockies hat? I'm kind of into Quebecois high school pitcher Phillippe Aumont, since the Rockies have had luck with Canadian starters in the past. ESPN's Keith Law (Insider required, sorry kids) connects the team with Georgia HS centerfielder Jason Heyward and also mentions Aumont and Clemson lefty Daniel Moskos. Moskos should not be confused with California high school shortstop Mike Moustakas, whom the Rockies absolutely under no circumstances will touch with a hundred-foot science pole because he's a Scott Boras "advisee." You've got to shudder at this all-too true point from MLB.com's Thomas Harding in the second piece linked above: "Since selecting right-hander Matt Harrington fourth overall in 2000 but watching negotiations become contentious and unsuccessful, they stress the importance of reaching an agreement quickly and having the player in the Minor League system as soon as possible." What that means, folks, is they're cheap. See you at noon!
Let's Read the News with Westy
I like to stay up late and wake up very early. I tend to feel most comfortable doing my thing during the hours of the day when the fewest people are out and about. During what most folk would consider "business hours," I usually close all of the windows and blinds and take a midmorning power nap. But my favorite part of my daily routine, without a doubt, is this time of day, when I wake up at about four or five and spend a couple of hours drinking coffee and skimming the sports pages.
I don't check the Rocky Mountain News sports section any more often than once every two weeks or so, because frankly, their writing sucks out loud and they are usually a week behind the Post and the MLB site when it comes to major Rockies developments. Case in point: Today's Dave Krieger column about how the Cubs have it worse off than Colorado does. It's just as true as it was when I wrote it last Friday, Dave.
Even when it comes to being singled out for underachieving, the Rockies get shafted. Kevin Hench's Fox Sports piece on the season's top 10 underperformers doesn't mention Garrett Atkins. Atkins' line from last year: .329/.409/.556, 29 homers. Atkins' line thus far in 2007: .233/.310/.361, 4 homers. Can't complain about Hench's higher-profile choices (Carlos Zambrano, Albert Pujols, Johan Santana, Mariano Rivera) but it's hard to argue that Atkins' falloff hasn't affected his team more than Richie Sexson's (he hasn't been good for years), Julio Lugo's (he's never been good, as far as I know), or Adam LaRoche's. And there's Howie Kendrick's name again. Honestly, what is so freaking great about Howie Kendrick? From the amount of ink he gets in fantasy columns you would think he had won back-to-back batting titles or something. He's on notice until he accomplishes anything of lasting moment at the major league level. As for Garrett Atkins, the Post reports that he has made some changes in his swing and is getting his timing back, and why would they lie?
Also in the Post recently is a piece about Jason Jennings' return to Denver. Troy Renck correctly gauges that it's too early to call a winner in the trade, since Jennings has hardly pitched for Houston, but he continues to labor under the fatal misapprehension that Willy Taveras is an asset for the Rockies. Heading over to the opposition's press contingent, Richard Justice misses Willy something fierce. "He has played better this season than at almost any time in two years with the Astros." Wait... this is better than he has ever played? So the Rockies had no right to expect he'd even be this good, and he's still only 153rd in the majors in VORP? I'm sorry, I am drawn to opportunities to dis Willy Taveras like a moth to a flame. And it's something I really need to work on, because I'm only playing into the popular perception of this trade, one both Renck and Justice reinforce (Justice even refers to it as quote "the Willy Taveras trade"). Willy Taveras was a throw-in in this deal. The point was getting Jason Hirsh and the six bargain-priced pre-free agency years to which the team that holds his rights is entitled. Krieger in the News and Justice in the Houston Chronicle both strongly imply that with his injury woes and the Astros' not-so-sudden plunge from relevance, Jennings has a good chance of not signing an extension this year and becoming a free agent after only one season in Houston. That's pretty interesting. Jason made his decision not to re-sign with the Rockies last year in part because of the state of a free-agent pitching market where guys like Gil Meche and Jeff Suppan were getting eight figures a year. It's hard to imagine that trending downward with so very many teams (Yankees, Reds, Rangers, Mariners) still desperate for good starting pitching, but we don't have a complete picture in place yet. Wouldn't it be something else if Jennings came back to the Rockies for something around the $8-9 million per they were offering him in an extension, and Colorado got to keep Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz? I would still call that trade for Houston if Willy Taveras continues to be the everyday centerfielder for Colorado after this season. Oh no, there I go again.
David Robinson is on the ESPN morning show right now talking about playing StarCraft with Tim Duncan. Apparently the Admiral taught Duncan the game when they were both together with the Spurs and after getting beaten pretty soundly the first few times, Duncan went off by himself, got good, and hammered Robinson the next time he played to the extent that David wouldn't play him after that. What race do you think the Big Fundamental favors, Zerg, Protoss, or Terran? I'll bet he's a Protoss guy. The slow, methodical exploitation of superior resources, that's what Tim Duncan is all about. This once again supports my theory that fabulously rich black ballplayers are more like overly entitled suburban white kids than you think. Think about it. They play the same video games, wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, even drive the same cars. One of the most fascinating insights contained in Jeff Pearlman's Barry Bonds book Love Me, Hate Me is that Bonds never felt particularly connected to black teammates, since he had been raised with privilege by a famous athlete father. I haven't finished my coffee yet and can't completely articulate a coherent conclusion to this paragraph, but even one tiny anecdote is enough to illustrate how ridiculously complicated race relations are in current society. That's why wild generalizations like the much-discussed NBA refereeing survey are dangerous and counterproductive. Dividing people into columns by a single criterion is reductionist and socially irresponsible. There's exceptions to every rule. For example, I know quite a few intelligent, rational, well-groomed Yankees fans. Or at least two.
While the heat on Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd sadly seemed to dissipate with the Rockies' upswing in play (which is silly, it's like passing a kid who got an F on every test for an entire semester because he managed to gut out a C- on the final), pressure on Lou Piniella and the Cubs will likely continue all season. That's what big dollars in a market entail. It seems hard to imagine that Sweet Lou will survive this year in Chicago given his current trajectory. He'll be committed by August! Organizational protests to the contrary, Piniella is a ghastly fit for the Cubs, and it should remind us all if we've somehow forgotten that there is no such thing as a manager for all seasons. Jay Mariotti, on the somewhat premature basis of two interim victories during Piniella's suspension, is promoting Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell as a replacement already. This is the same Alan Trammell who went 186-300 as manager in Detroit and caused more accolades upon Jim Leyland's hiring than when Pierce Brosnan took over for Timothy Dalton as James Bond. The same Leyland who was a worse fit for the Rockies in 1998 than Piniella is for the Cubs now. I don't really think that with most manager hires there is a big risk/reward balance to be considered. As I always say, all major league skippers fall into one of three categories: neutral, neutral-plus, and bad. But with prima donna types like Leyland and Piniella there is a certain gambling element involved. If the team buys in as the Tigers obviously have with Leyland and the Mariners and Reds once did with Piniella, they may be two of a very small handful of current managers who can genuinely cause by their mere presence more victories than their teams would garner otherwise. But if the players aren't buying it, as the Rockies didn't with Leyland and the Cubs aren't now with Piniella, there is absolutely no set of fallback moves these guys have to get players to listen again. At least with Clint Hurdle all the evidence suggests that the players never really tuned him in in the first place, so the team isn't his to lose. There are certainly managers who operate successfully in this low-key mode, but they have the same problem as the all-shouting all-the-time guys. When they act out of character to try and galvanize a team, it couldn't be more obvious to everyone. Like the spring training farce with Hurdle, Jeff Francis, and Kevin Kouzmanoff.
I picked the Twins to make the World Series (against the Mets) back in March, and while they have been making me look bad so far it was always my assumption that once they shook out their pitching rotation they would be all set for a dynamite second half, just as in 2006. Still, this is an organization that seems to delight in making things more difficult for themselves than they need to be. No one on the planet can satisfactorily explain to me why they give Sidney Ponson seven starts to begin the year, in which the team went 2-5. Minnesota had no less than four better options in the high minors -- Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Matt Garza. Now they seem dead set on going through every possible option other than the obviously correct one, which is Garza. At .500 the Twins don't have a ton of time to waste with Cleveland and Detroit both rather better than I thought they would be. You can point to slow starts for Justin Morneau and Johan Santana and an injury to Joe Mauer, but Minnesota has gotten far more than they could reasonably expect from Mike Redmond and Torii Hunter is having a career year. And the front four in their bullpen, forget about it. An unfavorable interleague stretch has the Twins meeting the Braves, Mets, and Brewers in addition to Washington and Florida this month. Detroit has more or less the same schedule, but the Indians miss the Mets. It's hard to imagine either team slipping in the weeks to come, and there's always the possibility that the White Sox will put things back together, although that seems a fading likelihood with each passing week. So if the Twinkies are going to back up my preseason prediction they need to start winning games against also-rans, something their current road trip through Oakland and Anaheim doesn't exactly lend itself to. Their specialty in the last few seasons has been beating their division rivals head-to-head when it counts, so maybe it will again be all of the intradivisional games down the stretch run that make the difference for Minnesota. As one of baseball's few well-run small market teams, you know I will be rooting for them.
Update: Colorado has designated Steve Finley for assignment. Non-Rockies fans, your line here is "Steve Finley was playing for Colorado?" Rockies fans, yours is "What, they didn't release him three weeks ago?"
Work Left to Do
Let's put the good news right up front. The Rockies are no longer in last place. Colorado and San Francisco are both six and a half games back in the NL West (as it happens, the other three teams are all as of this morning tied for first), but the Rockies have played 57 games and the Giants 55 so by a percentage point, I give you your fourth-place Colorado Rockies. Who would have thought it possible at the beginning of the last road trip?
But as the Rockies were winning seven in a row, the Diamondbacks were winning eight in a row. And even that story was almost completely buried in a baseball week with the Cubs' various misfortunes, the Tigers and Indians battling for the AL Central lead, and the Red Sox and Yankees meeting once again. The NL West is a pretty brawny, compelling division with three good but flawed teams, the Giants' mismatched group of curtain-calling old hitters and emerging young pitchers, and the eternal question that is the Rockies. Colorado, I'm sure, would much prefer to be doing their thing over in the NL Central. The team must be disappointed that Sunday's rollercoaster win over Cincinnati will be the last time they'll face the Reds this season. Of the five three-game series the Rockies have won all season, two have come against Cincinnati, who -- this just in -- are really lousy this year.
Garrett Atkins had a few hits yesterday, which is cause for celebration. The Rockies' real offensive leader recently has been Kaz Matsui, upon whom I long have reserved judgement. When Colorado initially snagged Matsui from New York last year, his popularity among baseball insiders and Mets fans in particular was equivalent to that of complicated labrum surgery. It seemed then like the Rockies' deal to acquire him, which left most of the balance of Matsui's large salary New York's responsibility, was a typical late-period Dan O'Dowd move. It would give the team the opportunity to present the illusion of a genuine major league talent at yet one more position without in fact having to pay the going rate for such a player. But Kaz Matsui, as second baseman for the Colorado Rockies, has been an entirely different player than the shortstop the Mets thought they were getting in 2004. If Willy Taveras was any good, he would be like Matsui, who runs the bases intelligently (nine steals, zero times caught), can drive runners home (he has seven extra-base hits to Willy's five in about half as many at-bats), and hasn't committed a fielding error yet this season. Despite the month and change Matsui lost to injury, Baseball Prospectus still rates him as the Rockies' fourth-most valuable offensive player (right ahead of Willy Taveras, who I see has finally passed Aaron Cook).
It was a tough weekend for Jeff Baker, who grounded into three double plays on Saturday and then yesterday saw Garrett Atkins reclaim the third-base job that Baker had an outside chance of stealing. Well, hang on, Jeff, there could be some trades coming yet. From Clint Hurdle's tone in recent interviews I get the impression that Taylor Buchholz will start Thursday with one last chance to nail down his role in the rotation. Josh Fogg is coming off the disabled list the same day, but the Rockies must figure (and I agree with them) that they've seen enough flashes from the inconsistent Buchholz to assume that his ceiling is much higher than that of the veteran Fogg. Buchholz is out of options, complicating matters, and I rather suspect that neither Hurdle nor O'Dowd wants to mess with Jason Hirsh's head by sending him down. It would be nice if the Rockies had the roster flexibility to showcase Fogg for a trade in a few weeks. He's not so great, but he's an established major league starter, sort of, and maybe he'll have one game like he did in Seattle last year and a scout from a contending team will be in attendance.
The whole saga of Fogg and Brian Lawrence and Byung-Hyun Kim and all of the other marginally useful arms O'Dowd likes to fish out of the river each offseason reveals how difficult an approach this really is and how little room for error exists. This season in particular Colorado invested in several pitchers who never ended up helping the team on the field and brought nothing in trade, despite obvious value remaining at least in the case of Kim. It's great to have lots of fungible pitchers around in the system so you can replace a guy who's completely ineffective sooner rather than later (and then repeat the process), but if you're a GM and you don't have your roster set up in such a way that you really can stash all of those guys for a rainy day (or succession of rainy days), all you're going to do is annoy and disappoint the sort of fans who pay attention to this stuff and reinforce your reputation as cheap amateurs without a plan among players, scouts, and front office guys from other teams.
They're not as bad as we thought, but they're not good exactly either. They're your 2007 Rockies, and their next three games are against Houston, who are every bit as bad as their divisionmates in Cincinnati. Jason Hirsh will face off against Wandy Rodriguez and the team that drafted him on Tuesday, then it's Aaron Cook and Woody Williams Wednesday, and fellow former Astro Buchholz against Roy Oswalt on Thursday. The Rockies won't get to see their old running mate Jason Jennings in this series at Coors. Jason has only made four appearances all year, thanks to elbow tendinitis, but only one of them wasn't a quality start. I still wish the Rockies had kept him, because it seems like the kind of thing winning teams do. Not that Houston made a particularly sharp assessment of where they were in the competitive cycle when they pulled the trigger on their Jennings deal with the Rockies. They recently lost ten games in a row and are in fifth place in the deeply bad NL Central. From their perspective, fourth place in the none-too-shabby NL West isn't bad at all.
I'm going out to Coors Field again tonight, and I have an opportunity in front of me I don't think I've had ever before in my long career of attending baseball games. Last Tuesday, I saw the Rockies win their seventh in a row in front of a tiny and indifferent crowd; this Saturday, I have an ideal opportunity to see them lose their fourth consecutive game in front of a crowd that might be indistinguishable in terms of size and attitude. There will certainly be fewer Reds fans there today than there were Cardinals fans out earlier in the week, but balancing that is the fact that since the end of the win streak regional enthusiasm for the local nine has started trending rapidly downwards again after a brief spike. You would have to be a very close Colorado baseball observer indeed to notice the minute difference between a rise in Rockies popularity, a dip, and no change, but what am I if not a very close Colorado baseball observer?
Matt Holliday bumped his head in the dugout and had to leave the loss yesterday. Apparently he was hopping down the stairs over something lying on one of the steps and cracked his noggin on the concrete roof. That smarts. He'll play today, however, despite a gash and a bump described by wordsmith teammate Todd Helton as "a cantaloupe, grapefruit, I don't know."
Today's starters are Jeff Francis and Kyle Lohse. You might think the Rockies would be better off against a known-quantity veteran like Lohse than they were facing Bobby Livingston in his second career start, but as luck would have it, Lohse has never pitched against Colorado. The Rockies have lost a lot of games lately to very green starters and it's a trend I have to come out firmly against.
Well, best get moving. Let's go, Francis Channel.
Streak Over, Season Resentfully Continues
I wasn't sure what to write in the wake of attending the seventh and as it turned out final game of the Rockies' obligatory 2007 Season High Point. Tuesday was a strange day to begin with, with the unusual spectacle of a noisy hailstorm just a few hours before the game, but Coors Field should not have felt like a tomb in front of a team that had just won seven games in a row. There were maybe 9,000 people there and at least half of them were Cardinals fans. Colorado has reached the point (maybe they reached it several years ago) where it's no longer a question of winning fans back. There are just a ton of people in the Denver area, many of whom are sports fans and possibly even baseball fans, who are paying no attention whatsoever and won't until the team clinches a playoff berth for the first time since 1995. So what's the point of raving and fuming in a space like this to those few who still care or indeed ever cared?
It's hard to blame the Rockies, after a pathetic turnout to the first two games that continued their winning streak, for turning back into their normal sleepwalking selves for the next two games against St. Louis. I know you true believers out there share my outrage that Colorado was beaten on back-to-back days by Todd Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson, but for the rest of you, may I recommend the work of Woody Paige, who doesn't tax the mental energies of any of his readers by naming any actual baseball players in his latest Rockies Suck mad lib.
Update: I arbitrarily disqualified them from eligibility for "Teams That Might Have It Worse Off Than the Rockies" consideration because piling on is piling on, but it is probably worth mentioning that as I am writing this Cubs coaches are still trying to remove Carlos Zambrano's hands from Michael Barrett's throat, so that is something to think about.
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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