Monthly archives: May 2008
Cubs 10, Rockies 9
I tuned in to the Rockies game today in the middle innings and with the team up 9-1, I thought about writing a quick game post before I had to go to work. That would have been foolish. As I found to my horror during my lunch break, the Rockies bullpen (and overextended starter Aaron Cook) blew the entire lead in two innings, and Colorado lost its fifth in a row.
Some of the young injury replacement players who have been struggling had good games with the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field -- Omar Quintanilla, Jeff Baker, and Jonathan Herrera all had two hits. But the Rockies are going to continue to be unable to develop any confidence, and win with any regularity, until they fix this problem with the pitching. Usually Aaron Cook's starts are the only games that Colorado can count on winning, but the problem with everyone else on the staff is now wrecking those chances too. Clint Hurdle shouldn't have sent Cook out for the seventh, but had no better options, and after a single, a homer, and a single, Manny Corpas came in and gave up a single, a double, and a homer.
It's true that the conditions at Wrigley Field were a little ridiculous -- Mark DeRosa's big lead-changing home run was a pop-up anywhere else, save maybe Houston or Philadelphia. But shouldn't Rockies pitchers, of all breeds, understand how to keep the ball down? Evidently not. This year is beginning to resemble 2005, when Colorado began the season with a bullpen of nearly all rookies and seemed surprised when they started blowing every lead that was presented them. In that season, and in the last two, Dan O'Dowd has done a good job of finding cheap or free talent to fix the inevitable bullpen flareups. This season that may be too much to ask, given the Rockies' concurrent problems with the starting rotation, injuries to regulars, hitting with runners on, and so forth. In fact, it's even more likely that the Rockies bullpen will get worse as the year goes on as veteran guys with proven value such as Brian Fuentes and Matt Herges get dealt to contending teams.
Are we standing in the face of a 100-loss apocalypse here? Boy, I sure hope not. It feels like it at times, although with players like Aaron Cook, Todd Helton, and Matt Holliday the elements of respectability are in place. There's also the return of Troy Tulowitzki to take into account. Tulo can't pitch the seventh inning, but he is the loudest cheerleader on the team and he flashes the best shortstop glove in the National League. If the bullpen's performance improves markedly after Tulowitzki gets back to health, we must against adjust upwards our measure of the rookie's role in the team's spectacular run last season.
Once again the Rockies lost on the road, 8-4 to the Cubs. And once again it was the bullpen that sprang the leak, allowing five runs in the seventh and eighth. Matt Herges blew the lead, but Taylor Buchholz (previously so effective) bears equal responsible for turning a surmountable 5-4 deficit into a messy 8-4 loss. Willy Taveras had two runs batted in, bringing him up to nine for the season -- and he didn't even start the game!
The Cubs have a pretty good lineup, do they not? With Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood in the bullpen along with a number of other above-average guys like tonight's winner Michael Wuertz, they have deep relief pitching too. Their defense is solid, Alfonso Soriano is hitting again, and if they don't have a rotation of stars one through five at least they have a real-deal ace in Carlos Zambrano. They'll almost surely make the playoffs... and it seems likely that they'll blow it there for some reason.
The Bulls were in the news again with the rumor that they're about to (re-) hire Doug Collins as head coach. Seems like a wonky fit to me given the Bulls' lack of desire to exert an effort under Scott Skiles. I don't see how Collins' haranguing is going to come across any different than Skiles' did. And considering the #1 pick is Chicago's, a coach with more of a connection to younger players, a big-picture thinker rather than a details-obsessed yeller, might be more in order. Michael Jordan didn't flourish fully until he got out from under Collins' thumb and was coached by the more touchy-feely Phil Jackson. It'd be nice if the Bulls' next superstar didn't have to go through the same waiting period.
As for the Nuggets, as long as I'm writing about NBA teams that have been already eliminated, they need to blow it up. Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson clearly can't win together, and I continue to insist that the latter's influence on the former is doing 'Melo's career no good. It's too late to change Iverson's stripes, but Anthony is young enough still to develop into a complete player. I don't think that Denver has the manueverability, given Iverson's contract and Kenyon Martin's, to reshape the roster while reeducating Anthony, so more likely than not he's got to go. It's too bad, I still see the potential in him that led me to name him a better player than Dwyane Wade and LeBron James after their debut season. I wouldn't like to see him go play in a different city. I just don't know how else the Nuggets are going to move forward with the cap situation they have.
Reynolds Walks Eight, Phillies Sweep
I speculated a few posts back about Greg Reynolds becoming the true homegrown ace the Rockies desperately need. Not yet: tonight the rookie walked three in the first inning and eight total as the Rockies got pounded for the third straight game in Philadelphia, 6-1. Willy Taveras and Garrett Atkins are back in action for the Rockies but the lineup was still mostly alien: Ian Stewart is in his first week as a second baseman, Seth Smith is getting his first extended look in the majors, and Omar Quintanilla (shortstop) has already been tried and found wanting as a major league regular. The only sub who's really hitting is Ryan Spilborghs, who has to be wondering what he has to do to lock down a permanent lineup spot. Too bad Spilborghs is filling in for the irreplaceable Matt Holliday.
Jorge De La Rosa is out of the Colorado rotation, possibly to be replaced by Glendon Rusch. De La Rosa had an ERA of 9.00 in five starts. The well-traveled Rusch has pitched well in limited exposure in Colorado Springs. He's definitely an improvement on De La Rosa, which is in itself sad, but what's really depressing about this move is that it would take several more of them just to get the Rockies back to mediocre.
So how many of these young guys we're seeing are the real deal? Reynolds certainly looks as if he's going to be given every opportunity to take his licks at the big league level this season, but like Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales he's still woefully inconsistent. Jonathan Herrera can sure flash the leather, and he's one of the few examples of this year's team who has the enthusiastic spirit of last year's. I don't think he's ever going to hit much, though, and there are a lot of other guys with better bats who are claimants to the second base job. One of the more unfortunate names on the disabled list right now is that of Clint Barmes, who can't really be counted as young any longer but is certainly an enigma to predict. Barmes was never expected to start as a rookie, seized that job until he got hurt, played his way out of it in 2006, registered no impact whatsoever on the Rockies' magical 2007 season, and now has seemingly won another job slightly across the infield... only to lose it, again, to injury. It would be a good story if weren't tied into the colossal stink bomb of a season taking place right now.
Chris Iannetta has an .981 OPS... on the road. He's your starting catcher, if you haven't figured that out already. It's a shame the Rockies ended up retaining Yorvit Torrealba and losing Kazuo Matsui, because Iannetta's fine hitting and good defense have made Torrealba obsolete. How's Kaz doing for Houston? He has a .368 OBP, but he's not hitting for much power -- only 139 more points of OPS than Willy Taveras. It's more than the Astros got (or the Ranger are now getting) from Jason Jennings.
May is almost over. That leaves... let's see, June, July, August, and September. This is going to be a long summer.
Just Waiting to Make It Official
I was going to wait and watch the end of the game tonight before posting anything, but the Phillies and Rockies are delayed with only half an inning to go in what should be another Colorado defeat. Today's goat: Ubaldo Jimenez, 10 hits, 7 earned runs in four innings. The Rockies showed a little bit of scrap with a rally in the eighth, but they've given up now 27 runs in two games, and few offenses can keep up with that.
We're at the point of the season where the stories about who's surprisingly good (Tampa Bay, St. Louis) have gotten boring and national writers have moved on to the juicier stories about who's surprisingly bad. The Yankees and Mets are getting the most noise at you would expect due to where they play half their games, but Detroit and Seattle are under scrutiny as well. As for the Rockies... well, despite their performance last season, no one really expected them to be legitimate this year, and they're proving all their doubters right with depressing finality.
I just flipped back over from the Spurs-Lakers game to see about the weather in Philadelphia. Still nothing but "Best Damn Sports Show" reruns on the Francis channel. This rain delay is a lot like this season taken as a whole -- although the outcome already seems determined, waiting for the official end is still an infuriating wait.
Rockies Lose by a Cool Fifteen
I arrived home in time to see 14-4, but I did not stick around for 20-5. That Jorge De La Rosa trade just keeps paying dividends, huh? This game was like the Rockies of this season facing their mirror image, a team that got hits every time there were runners on base to be knocked in. Perhaps with the Diamondbacks having taken their licks the Phillies are now working on completing their revenge for the playoff sweeps last fall.
The real culprit for this montrosity is, of course, the sorry state of Rockies pitching taken as a whole. Save for Aaron Cook the starting rotation is a shambles. While the bullpen has some bright spots -- Taylor Buchholz, whom the Rockies seem determined to never start in any circumstances, ever, has a sub-1.00 WHIP, Brian Fuentes is doing his thing, and until they both took it on the chin tonight, veterans Jason Grilli and Matt Herges were holding it down. However, after that, things get scary, and what's as striking as the high ERA's is the sheer number of hurlers that Colorado has used this season. It's nineteen. And it's May! The NL-scouring Diamondbacks have only used fifteen. That may not seem like a huge difference, but if you consider a team generally starts the season with twelve, it means that Arizona has only had three changes and the Rockies have had seven. Maybe I'm grasping to make a point here, but in general championship contenders do not cycle relief pitchers in and out of service like drill bits.
Rockies Win Mets Series
There are two leads to the story about the Rockies' win today over New York: Aaron Cook's continuing greatness and Colorado's eye-popping lineup.
Let's do the second one first. Look at this lineup card:
Six of the eight players from the Rockies' Opening Day lineup don't appear there. What happened to all of them? Troy Tulowitzki, you probably know, is on the disabled list. He's now been joined there by Clint Barmes, who hurt his knee on a play at second base in the first game of the series. Additionally, Brad Hawpe is on the DL with a hamstring injury. Wait, one more: Matt Holliday has a hamstring problem, too. Oh, and Garrett Atkins and Willy Taveras couldn't play today with injuries of their own, although they remain on the active roster. Things are not going so well for the Rockies.
Other than the fact that they did indeed win this game started by six bench players, thanks to a four-hit, one-walk, complete game effort from Aaron Cook. He's pretty excellent, right? One wonders what might have happened if he'd been healthy all down the stretch last season, asserted himself as the team's true ace as he is doing now, and gotten the start in Game 1 of the World Series. Might he have handled things better than Jeff Francis? Now that Colorado is mired in the situation they're in, such wishful thinking is kind of all their fans have going for them.
Poor HD Reception for the Channel
After pulling out the extra-inning game last night, the Rockies have fallen behind early today against the Mets thanks to another weak outing from Jeff Francis, Sports Illustrated cover jinx victim. What is it that has troubled Francis so this season? He's nibbled with all of his pitches instead of using early-count fastball strikes to set up his breaking stuff on the edge. Francis is a guy who's been consistently effective while seldom being particularly unhittable; it's an uptick in walks -- and a corresponding jump in pitch counts -- that has led to his getting torched so far in 2008.
I wonder if losing the first game of the World Series, and getting lit up in the process, plays on the Channel's mind still. Or it could be his change in status -- being the perceived ace of a bad team is much less pressure than being the #1 on a title holder. I would like to have seen the organization bring in another top-flight starter to both push Francis to excel and paradoxically take some of the load off at the same time. That's what Arizona did in acquiring Dan Haren, and look where that's taken them. The acquisition didn't come attached to a massive leap in payroll level either.
It could be that the Rockies' luck is changing and they've got that sort of pitcher already in the fold in Greg Reynolds or Ubaldo Jimenez. (Or, I pray, both.) I suppose it's more of a philosophical question whether the explosion of fan interest in Denver last fall obligated management to make more aggressive moves towards defending their pennant in '08.
Not Good to Be King
I planned to check the Rockies score as soon as I got back from work this evening and then write a post off of that. Trouble is, Colorado and the Mets went into extra innings tonight. Having already committed to write about the game, I suppose I'm now obligated to watch it. I hope that it doesn't go 22 innings.
While we're waiting to see, let me go back to my original idea for this post. While the most obvious culprit for the Rockies' miserable start this season is a pitching rotation that sucks out loud, anyone who watched the team carefully late last year and stuck with them so far for this one can see more differences. They make more miscues on defense. The bullpen has far less of a defined hierarchy and fewer pitchers who can be reliably depended upon to perform their defined role. While the September '07 edition Rockies weren't the sort of team that exhibited especially notable patience at the plate, except for a few holdouts like Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe, they at least showed a little progress in that regard. Early in this season the Colorado hitters have gone right back to getting themselves out quickly in counts, in the fashion that has somehow plagued this organization for years. Hitting at Coors Field, who wouldn't be in a hurry to get the ball into play?
More than anything else, the thing that must bewilder the new-model fans who hopped on board last fall about this Rockies team is the way that the situational hitting has completely vanished. Last year's run was remarkable for all of the players who stepped up their play when the team needed it most. Kaz Matsui, Yorvit Torrealba, and Troy Tulowitzki were the three least imposing non-Taveras hitters the Rockies had in the everyday lineup, and each of them came up with gamebreaking hits repeatedly. Hawpe, whose struggles against lefties are famous, came up with multiple big hits off of southpaws. Helton, whose power was supposed to have left him, hit home runs. It was like that. I'm in some small way all playoff runs are memorable for people who are fans of that team but what stands out, I guess, about this Rockies team is the amazing speed with which all of the on-field reminders of that run dissipated. What happened to that wondrous defense? It's gone, thanks to injuries and owner penury. What happened to all the clutch hitting? That's a trickier question.
Some statheads say that there's no such thing as clutch hitting, that there's no correlation between a hitters' stats in the clutch this year and the next. That's as may be, but I don't think the important question is whether the consistent ability to knock runs in when they matter exists statistically or not. For one thing, I don't think a definition for "clutch" can be picked arbitrarily. Just "close and late" situations doesn't cut it. Clutchness is more ineffable than that. The stathead would respond that this is romantic nonsense, and that anything that can't be measured (at least as far as the game of baseball is concerned) doesn't exist. This is kind of where I draw the line on the Moneyball vs. Scout's Honor debate. I side with the numbers geeks, mostly, but I still like to believe there's a certain amount of honor, manhood, American values, cojones, and justice at play when it comes to how a baseball game's winner is determined. You can't attribute everything to brute math with a helping of random chance. You might as well sit at home simulating seasons on your computer instead of buying tickets and getting sunburned.
So, if I prefer to believe that last year's Rockies World Series run wasn't just a freaky outlier, a coin flip coming up heads ten times in a row, how do I account for the complete disappearance of killer instinct in this year's club? It can't all have gone with Matsui, Josh Fogg, and Jeremy Affeldt, right? I can't account for it. You'd think if anything the Rockies would be more successful hitting in important points of the game now, having experienced such a run of success. They ought to be loose. But rather the Rockies are as tight when there's runners on and the game to be decided as I've ever seen them. They continue to be so in extra innings tonight, as the game I'm watching as I write this creaks into the thirteenth.
Maybe they can't handle the greater exposure and the heightened expectations. Maybe Tulowitzki is the guy who would have gotten them out of their early-season funk, only now he can't because he's hurt. Perhaps getting pounded by Arizona so many times early on and then seeing the Diamondbacks sprint out to a huge division lead collectively disheartened them.
I'm going to go see if the Rockies pull this one out tonight. I'm kind of hoping they do. I've been too hurt to care whether they won or lost for many weeks now, and this is a very good sign that the healing has begun.
Stepping Back from the Edge of Panic
A bit back I used the title "This Team Is Not Interesting," and I regret doing so now. All baseball teams are interesting in some way or another, and it will take close observation to figure what it is about this year's Rockies.
It might be Greg Reynolds, something I ought to have pointed out when I attended his start against the Twins. He didn't allow a run in that game, and was pulled after a reasonable number of pitches and innings. Should Reynolds be in the big leagues at all? I've been wondering that since he came up and his performance in each start makes the question less and less relevant. I never should have waited to have brought it up until now.
The big issue for Reynolds won't be just that his pitch counts are monitored closely but also that he doesn't end up jumping up in innings pitched a large amount. How many innings did Greg throw in the minors the last two years? Well... 48 and 50. Jumping more than 40 innings one year to the next is considered a red flag, and Reynolds will fly past that if he stays in the Rockies' rotation all year.
Could Clint Hurdle move Reynolds into the bullpen as other Rockies starting candidates return from injury, to protect the rookie's future after 2007? Colorado could use the help there too, and it's not as if it's worth risking their highest-slotted draft pick ever for the sake of a few extra wins in a lost season. Might be hard to take the second-best starter in the rotation out of it, though.
Facing Your Problems
I've decided that the only way I am going to work out of this malaise is forcing myself to start looking for positives. Is the current rapidly escalating disaster merely a return to previous standards, or is this an entirely different situation and franchise first, the genuine rebuilding season? The kind where something had actually been built to begin with? Time will tell. I know a few Rockies who are willing to take the optimistic side, and a few is more than there were this time last year.
Today Colorado went down in defeat 3-2 in 10 to the Giants, completing their second series loss to San Francisco. The preseason buzz had it that the dreadful Giants would be the only team with no chance to win the NL West. The Giants are indeed dreadful, and yet they're in third place, since the Rockies and the Padres have been even worse.
The Rockies are stealing bases like it's going out of style, which indeed it did -- in 1989. The Colorado broadcasters are talking about the team's baserunning being a bright spot this season, and blaming the hitters behind them for the team's offensive problems, in the rerun of the game from this afternoon that I'm kind of forcing myself to watch right now. I don't agree. The Rockies had a very good baserunning team last year, and this year they're not so sharp. That has something to do with the injury merry-go-round, and something to do with the fact that players are pressed into taking risks when their team isn't scoring runs.
But here's another positive thing about Willy Taveras: he made the ninth spot on ESPN's list of the game's best basestealers. Jerry Crasnick couldn't help but make a disparaging remark about Willy in his writeup, but I won't repeat it nor make a crack of my own. I've decided that I like Willy Taveras now. Hate breeds hate, and... his numbers kind of speak for themselves.
I feel responsible for writing something in this space every so often, since it's not like anyone else is going to do so. If this were a Cubs or Cardinals or Braves blog I could probably find someone less inundated with real-world issues to come in and pinch-hit for me, but I cover the Rockies. I live in Colorado and nobody I know personally cares even a little about the Rockies. A lot of people started to pretend like they cared last fall when it was in style, but they're nowhere to be found now. The crowd at the games this weekend cheered louder for the Twins than they did for the hometown team.
That's why I'm writing, reluctantly. I would like to be playing Grand Theft Auto IV right now and not thinking about baseball at all, but I have a few notes from the game I went to on Saturday and they're not getting any more relevant the further away we get from that game (Colorado 3, Twins 2). Kind of the one thing that is keeping me going to these games, other that the tickets are already paid for, is hoping to see some sort of individual milestone. Well, Livan Hernandez was perfect through five innings. I wasn't really holding out much hope that the 74-year-old Hernandez and his 84-mph fastball would be able to go another four, but I was surprised by how long Ron Gardenhire left Livan in after the magic touch left him. I wondered how good the Minnesota bullpen was at the time, and it turns out that (again) they have one the best in the majors. Very strange. Seems as if the manager lost that one.
Also, it had to come eventually -- in this post I have nothing but good things to say about Willy Taveras. He picked up his sixth RBI of the year (weirdly, I've seen all three of Willy's home RBI this season), made any number of marvelous catches in the field, and in the ninth, when Brian Fuentes made a very convincing fake to second, he charged in as if his hair was on fire to back up the base. It kind of looked like he was aware of what was going on in the game, which has always been my major issue with Taveras -- insufficient baseball IQ. Also, he is now hitting .227/.277/.574. But we're trying to say good things today!
As I suspected, San Antonio won Game 7 in New Orleans to advance to the conference finals. A lot of people get bored by the Spurs, but not me -- the jump hook from the low block is my favorite play in basketball, and doubly so if the shooter deliberately banks it in off the backboard. Tim Duncan might be the last American player to realize that the backboard doesn't count as out-of-bounds and indeed you are encouraged to shoot off of it. Watching the veteran Spurs methodically rotate on defense, draw and then make their foul shots, and generally grind the younger, quite possibly more talented Hornets into submission was something you kind of had to be a purist to appreciate. I am rooting very hard for Detroit and San Antonio to meet in the Finals, because it will annoy all of the many terrible basketball writers who have ignored both teams all season because they lacked good Storylines, and also because it's highly possible that such a matchup would cause David Stern's head to explode, and that guy has it coming. The composite ball? Please. Not to mention the fact that they change the way the playoffs are seeded every year and they still can't get it right.
I heard about Jon Lester's no-hitter from my mom last night -- I was watching the basketball game and she called to tell me to watch the highlights on "SportsCenter." It was pretty special to see but I think I'll always remember it the way my mother described it.
This Team Is Not Interesting
Every now and then I hear from a friend or family member about how I haven't been writing for my Rockies blog as much. Well, what is there to say about this year's team? Is tracking Jonathan Herrera's starts really a worthwhile use of anybody's time? The other day I was listening to the Denver sports radio station in the car and two guys were arguing about whether Willy Taveras or Scott Podsednik should be the Colorado leadoff hitter. Apparently just leaving the spot open, or hitting the pitcher there, were not considered options.
That says all you need to know about the .375 '08 Rockies, who are just a hair ahead of San Diego to avoid the worst record in the majors. (Remember all that talk, much of it from me, about how good the NL West was going to be this season? So much for that. The Rockies and Padres are making San Francisco look decent by comparison.) The trouble about that saying all you need to know about the Rockies (that and their 4.80 team ERA) is that that leaves me with little to say.
Well... I bought the new Rays hat at a sports store at the mall in Broomfield. It's nicer than it looks on TV, with a little light blue drop shadow under the white letters. It's less of a ripoff of the new-ish Padres design than I thought. It's a nice color blue, too, although I was in the minority in really liking the solid green look Tampa Bay used sometimes before this year.
The NBA playoffs have not delivered on the promise eight 50-win teams in the West and a seemingly great Celtics team suggested going in. The unbelievable difference in the performance of every single team from their home games to their road games suggests either that none of these teams were as strong as we were led to believe or that the level of officiating in the league was even worse. I thought that San Antonio would look less vulnerable against New Orleans but it's still possible that the Spurs could win Games 6 and 7. Utah has less of a chance of pulling out their series against the Lakers -- Game 5 was their big chance to steal a game on the road, and they came up just short. The Celtics didn't even make it out of the first round before losing all of their confidence, and that has rendered the East playoffs close to unwatchable. The Cleveland-Boston series has featured nonstop brickery from both teams, and I was unable to watch more than a few minutes at a time of any of the East series involving Detroit and/or Orlando. The team that wins will probably be decided by how hurt Kobe Bryant's back is, and Kobe Bryant -- like the Rockies, presently -- is not that interesting to me.
After I returned home from the game last night, I was all worked up to write an angry post about the cheap owners, the terrible starters, and the possibility of a 100-loss season. I even wrote the first paragraph, which I won't repeat here. But then I thought better of it. I thought that (if you'll excuse me) if my bad attitude was starting to wear thin even on me, it might be old news to readers as well. So I figured I'd sleep on it and see where things stood in the morning. (Sadly, with the major league schedule now completed for the evening, the record incontrovertibly shows the Rockies tied for the worst record in major league baseball. But we're trying to be uplifting here!)
So instead of writing a vitriolic "Cardinals 6, Rockies 5" blog entry, I went to finish all of the chores I had put aside to go to the baseball game. I cleaned the cat bin. I emptied the dishwasher. I did the laundry (including the Curt Flood jersey I wore to the game in protest). Then I decided to have a glass of lemonade, listen to Wilco's exemplary Sky Blue Sky, and finish this weighty history of the Ottoman Empire I've been trudging through for the past few weeks.
While I was stirring the frozen lemonade concentrate into a pitcher of water, I noticed that the back of the new shelf I bought to house my ever-expanding record collection, which perches on the kitchen counter due to single-bedroom space requirements, looked kind of bare and unpleasant. I thought it might be nice to brighten it up with some magazine clippings, and the first thing my eye caught over across in the stack on the far side of the counter was the monthly Rockies magazine.
The magazine also doubles as the program they sell at games, so there's always full-page pictures of everybody notable on the roster. Jeff Francis and Troy Tulowitzki have been on my fridge for a while. (I must digress to note that the issue in question, May 2008, has Manny Corpas, the "Eye of the Storm," on the cover, and also introduces a "Tulo and Nix" feature that I suppose will not be appearing again for some time.) Who's the next guy that leaps to mind that I need represented on the back of one of my shelves? Why, Todd Helton of course.
And then I began to think about Todd, as I looked for scissors and tape. How much have I written about Todd Helton this season? Not a whole lot. I gave credit to Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday for doing their thing in the midst of all the anarchy, but I took Helton for granted. That's unforgivable. Todd Helton is the whole reason I live in Colorado in the first place. That's overstating things slightly, but I never would have moved to a region without a baseball team I could feel comfortable rooting for. And although the Rockies were pretty crummy from 1996-2004, I had always admired Helton as a great hitting, fielding, and throwing first baseman. He was a complete player at a position that began to see a preponderance of Mo Vaughn types during this era. So I figured even if Colorado was bad for many years, I would always have Helton's play to admire. That was good enough for me. I bought a Rockies cap, a purple #17 jersey, and I packed my bags.
(I also have, as a relic of a similar process, a #54 Houston Astros Brad Lidge jersey. It didn't work out so well in Houston, for myself or Lidge. Maybe I'll tell the story of my #10 Shingo Takatsu White Sox jersey another time.)
Coming back to my kitchen, and my lemonade, and my action photo clipped of that perfectly level swing at its very completion, I've decided to give the Rockies a break this year. They're horrible, and venal mistakes were made on the part of the management team that caused this to be so. But they gave me and a lot of other people a ton of joy last year. Yeah, by the end of the year Coors Field is going to be as empty as it was at the end of the game last night, after Mark Redman got lit up for five runs and three innings and a nice blast of cold rain fell through the middle innings. But it was never about full stadiums or winning teams for me, and I don't see why a little taste of success one year should change that.
It's a shame and a missed opportunity for the Rockies that they weren't able to follow up on their 2007 breakthrough with another contending season. That makes me sad because I want my team to win and the sharp dropoff in season ticket sales for '09 (after this year's surge and, accordingly, price hike) will hurt their chances to do so; but the fact remains that I like it in Colorado, I like Coors Field, and I plan to be here for a while. I'm stuck with the Rockies and the Rockies are stuck with me.
All right, I still have some bullets from the game to get through:
What the Blood Clot
In sports standing still is equal to falling backwards, and that's what the Rockies elected to do this offseason. With a payroll around $45 million, what was stopping them from dealing some of their surplus of young offensive prospects for pitching? What was keeping them from finding a two-way second baseman somewhere, or failing that, re-signing the defensively expert Kaz Matsui? Cheap owners who are pocketing the money from your playoff tickets and 2008 season-ticket deposits while the revenue-sharing money flows in. If you're not in it to win, sell the team.
I realize this might be a ludicrous example, but what was keeping the Rockies from trading for Johan Santana this offseason? They certainly could have offered a better package of prospects than the Mets, and maybe even an established major league star in Garrett Atkins. Sure, Colorado would have had to sign Santana to a $20 million/year deal, but... so what? Their payroll would still be less than one-third of the Yankees'. And they'd have a real pitching rotation instead of the Festival of Crap (with apologies to Aaron Cook) they have now.
One of the few guys who has pitched well for Colorado this season, Kip Wells, is now lost for some time because of a blood clot in his pitching hand. That hurts because Wells would have been an at least somewhat acceptable choice as a fill-in starter -- certainly better than Jorge De La Rosa, who got lit up like a forest fire in his start Saturday. It may be a coincidence, but Aaron Cook lost a year and a half of his career to a more serious blood clot. I wonder if there's some sort of deleterious effect pitching at altitude has to one's circulation.
You can only read Rob Neyer's recent column on the Rockies if you have ESPN Insider, but the title really sums it all up: Rockies simply not good. I could have told you that, Rob. Colorado isn't crazy to want to keep as their core a group of homegrown players, but the mess of a roster they have now shows the harm of overvaluing your own talent. The Rockies have too many third basemen and too many outfielders and not enough starting pitching.
The day after Jeff Baker (a third baseman playing out of position) and Clint Barmes had so much difficulty fielding at second and short, Clint Hurdle started Jonathan Herrera and Omar Quintanilla at those spots. That duo can't even threaten Willy Taveras's skills offensively, but they sure can flash the leather. Herrera was given the honor of "Baseball Tonight"'s #1 Web Gem on Sunday night. With the Rockies in full-on bullpen meltdown mode, the batphone to Colorado Springs is going to be ringing off the hook all summer, so who knows what the roster will look like in two weeks, let alone two months. But it will be a telling challenge of Hurdle's managerial acuity if he can manage to juggle his hitting middle infielders with his glove guys and settle both the lineup and the defense down. Would that the Rockies had some more guys who could play defense and hit a little. Maybe they'll pick one up when the fire sale trades begin in earnest in July.
Driving Nails into the Wall with My Forehead
I don't want to write about baseball. I don't even want to look at my page, to tell you the truth. But I do have some good notes from the game yesterday (which I went to under protest, having already paid for a ticket) that I guess I will hold my breath and share:
The Rockies did win today, but it was Aaron Cook's day in the rotation. Are you prepared for one win per week from here on out? Rockies baseball -- catch the misery!
Misery & Apathy
That sound you hear is tens of thousands of Denver residents flipping off their TV's, putting their World Series collectibles on eBay, and speed-dialing their friends to see if they can rid of their tickets for this weekend's series against Los Angeles. A season that should have been a bold new beginning for the Colorado franchise has gone completely down the tubes in a mere month. How did I not see this coming?
First and foremost, Troy Tulowitzki, who has been stuck in an again predictable sophomore slump, has torn his quad. He could be back in six weeks, but he won't, because this is Rockies baseball, and except for last year, the baseball gods freaking hate the Rockies. The team's groundball staff is going to get pounded (even worse) with the rangeless, scatter-armed Clint Barmes playing short and the comeback the offense was scheduled to make probably is now delayed further still.
Tulo's injury is the exclamation point, but the Rockies have been playing consistently garbage baseball since Opening Day. A few individuals are having good seasons -- Barmes' return to the starting lineup is a nice story, Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins continue to rake like the professional hitters they are, and Aaron Cook has been quietly excellent -- but as a team Colorado sucks. The bullpen can't hold leads, the hitters persistently manage to produce box scores where they have 10 or more hits and 3 or fewer runs, and the starting pitching past Cook is walk-happy and deeply susceptible to the big inning. How is this the same team that cruised to the NL pennant last year?
I wasn't planning on writing on the Rockies at all until something that wasn't horrible happened, but the Tulowitzki injury kind of demands it. I need more time to organize my thoughts on how Dan O'Dowd and ownership have failed their team and their fans. This team didn't have to be a playoff qualifier again this season to consolidate last year's gains, they just needed to not completely suck. And lo, they completely suck. The major problems? Not investing more money in real starting pitching talent, leaving Franklin Morales in the major league rotation despite his not demonstrating readiness in the spring, allowing the disorganized mass of infielders on the roster to futz up the continuity and the fluidity of the Rockies' wondrous defense from last year, and continuing to bat powerless OBP sink Willy Taveras leadoff because... uhh, he's fast.
What has happened to the Rockies this season reinforces everything MLB's critics are always saying about competitive imbalance. I refuse to refer to the Rockies as "small-market"; they're not small market, they just have poor, cheap owners. The Nuggets, Avalanche, and Broncos all have huge payrolls. But for teams in genuine small markets, the example is still instructive. Poor teams can get to the playoffs one year if everything breaks right for them, but the cost of maintaining that winning team will prove prohibitive -- and even if you do manage to bring everybody back, as the Rockies mostly did, there's no guarantee that everyone will perform as they did. And there's no question of adding another big free-agent star to your already-contending team. The Clevelands and Tampa Bays can only dream about getting a Johan Santana or Vladimir Guerrero.
And that's kind of lame. But not as lame as this Rockies team is going to be with Barmes playing shortstop in front of The Staff That Never Strikes Anybody Out, Ever (25th in the majors). Somehow I doubt a magical September run is going to save this disaster. By the time football season begins, the Rockies will be as forgotten as the Nuggets' playoff "run." Well, it was nice having a readership for just that little while. I should have known not to get used to it.
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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