Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Monthly archives: September 2008


2008-09-29 13:26
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I guess I boched my analysis of the tiebreaker situation yesterday, but I hardly feel like I'm alone in that. I miss the days of my youth when there were two leagues and four divisions. It was cool when the Cubs were in the East, and the White Sox were in the West. And Cincinnati and Atlanta were in the West too even though those cities are well east of Chicago and St. Louis. I'm nostalgic for baseball's old anachronisms; the new ones are more annoying than endearing.

Interesting game for Detroit today: They can knock the White Sox out of the playoffs, and they can avoid finishing in sole possession of last place in the AL Central. Seattle's more titanic collase overshadowed the Tigers' crummy season, but going into the year Detroit was picked as a division winner by just as many if not more prognosticators. Structurally, they had way more of a chance than the Mariners did of being good this year. I blame Jim Leyland.

My dad called Sunday, as he usually does in the fall, with a grim prediction for the Bears against the Eagles. According to a top secret inside source of his, he said, the Chicago football team wasn't well-enough conditioned to finish in the fourth quarter, explaining their last two losses. Well, they hung in well enough against Philadelphia. Kyle Orton can't throw a pass accurately more than 15 yards through the air, but that was never the point of Bear football anyway.

So Much for the Season
2008-09-28 13:55
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The 2008 Rockies go out with a whimper, and no one in Denver is likely paying any attention as the Broncos get upset in Kansas City. While watching the Broncos game this afternoon, I tried to work out whether I was sad about the year being over for Colorado baseball or not. I decided I'm thinking positive. Next year will be better. I don't think there's any solid logical reason to believe that, no more so than the folks who thought the Mariners would win the AL West this year, but I feel it. I guess I'm still a fan.

What a hombre that Johan Santana is. Among teams that aren't the Rockies in the National League, I root for both the Mets and the Brewers, but I think between the two of them I'd rather see Milwaukee get in, given that I was two years old the last time the Brewers appeared in the postseason. So, with that said... wow, you can't be a baseball fan and not have a tingly response to performance's like Santana's yesterday.

Don't know whom I like in the playoffs yet... have to wait and see which teams get in. You know the drill: The teams that had something to play for down the stretch and were playing meaningful games right down to the wire have the advantage over the teams that clinched a month ago. Unless they don't. Maybe being rested and having your rotation set up just so gives the advantage. Either way we won't know until after the dust settles, when Steve Phillips tells us. Steve knows now, but he's keeping his mouth shut by the request of Bud Selig, so as not to spoil the surprise.

The winner of the AL Central almost certainly will be at a disadvantage if the White Sox win their makeup game with Detroit tomorrow and force a one-game playoff with Minnesota (or if the Twins blow the lead they have as I write this and the Tigers win Monday). Playing one extra game didn't really slow the Rockies down much last year but two extra games seems like pushing it, even though both of the bonus contests for Chicago would be at home.

I'm pulling for both Chicago teams to make the playoffs, even though the Twins are an enduring small-market success story (and the White Sox are just another $100 million team with bloated hunks of dead money on their books). The Twins had their chances in recent years, many times over, and it's time for a new generation of flyover flag-bearers. The Rays and the Brewers, we hope, this year. The Rockies again next year!

Sweeping Up the Ashes
2008-09-22 12:33
by Mark T.R. Donohue

As another ignominious Rockies season screeches to a halt, it's hard not for me to feel miserable -- more so than usual. Not only did Colorado completely waste 2008, including a career year from Aaron Cook and another tick towards the free agency clock on Matt Holliday, I wasted it too. I barely made it to any games and I mostly only caught the last few innings of games on TV when I had enough energy to do so. Rockies management put little to no effort into this season, so I didn't give much back.

Colorado never even sniffed contention in a division that's even worse than it was last year. That's pretty embarrassing. I was embarrassed to be a Rockies fan this spring, as they rolled out of spring training with a rotation mostly unfit to be pitching in the big leagues and made no effort to correct this oversight at the trade deadline. The attitude around Coors Field's office block seemed to be, "We have their money already," with regard to the fans, and the product on the field reflected it. How depressing.

Anyway, in a week or so I can put aside being a Rockies fan until the end of the playoffs and just enjoy being a baseball fan again. I've gone through this process many times before last year, so I think I should slip into it fairly easily again. I got a hilariously gloomy voice mail from my father, 25 years in as a Cubs fan -- "Well, they won the division. Two-time champs. I wish the pitching rotation was better. I guess I hope the White Sox hang on too." I guess it was only funny if you heard his tone of voice, but it had me in stiches.

I'm really pulling for Milwaukee to save themselves at the last minute, as the Mets' poor play is giving them a chance to do. I'm not exactly rooting for New York to collapse for the second season in a row, but on the other hand it would be nice to see more than one "small market" club in the playoffs. You can look at the Brewers' situation now and relate, as a Rockies fan -- it must be terrifying to be clinging on for dear life in a pennant race while Jeff Suppan is taking the ball every fifth day.

The Brewers' and the Rockies' rotation struggles have me reflecting again -- where is the elusive "league average" starter these days, and what is his true market value? If you look at guys like Paul Byrd and Jarrod Washburn, it's about $10 million a year. Not such a bargain -- or is it? If I had ten million bucks to spare, I quite happily would have given it to the Rockies to subsidize a no-de la or -de los starter policy this season. Also no sixty-year-old Cubans.

Youthful starters who are major-league quality and still under team control for years to come are, obviously, the most valuable and scarce commodity in baseball today. That's why the Rockies have often been guilty of wishful thinking with their young'ns -- Chin-Hui Tsao was rushed to the majors, got hurt and never recovered, Shawn Chacon was jerked from one inappropriate role to another until his value was finally destroyed and he was traded for peanuts, Franklin Morales and Ubaldo Jimenez have been playing two or three levels above their development stage for two years. And the Rockies trade Jason Jennings, a guy who had proven his ability to win and hang in games at Coors, basically for Jason Hirsh -- an extreme flyball pitcher who was as likely to get along at altitude as Terrell Owens and Jeff Garcia. In their desperation they're shoving round pegs into square holes, or at the very least incompletely rounded pegs into perfectly round holes.

Weirdly they continue to be blind to some better options -- I beat it into the ground almost as much as I dis Willy Taveras, but why exactly doesn't Taylor Buchholz get the chance to start, given that he has three more legitimate major-league pitches than about half the guys the Rockies have started this year? Colorado has down the notion that it may take particular, hard-to-identify skills to succeed as a starter at Coors Field, but it's only executing half of the deal. You can bring in pitchers who have failed elsewhere, like Josh Fogg, cheap but you have to pay a bit of a premium once you've identified them to keep them from leaving. Constantly cycling in rookies and veterans playing for their first time with the Rockies is a volatile plan for contending. Would the Rockies be better off now if they'd kept Jennings and Fogg, at market prices? Well, Jennings has been an injury disaster since he left Denver, but there was no way for the Rockies (or the Astros) to predict that. Fogg is no superstar now nor has he ever been, but Rockies fans will remember how in the first half of 2007 he kept the team in games and every now and then threw a complete gem just when least expected. Colorado had no veterans with such upside potential this season.

Whether the Brewers or the Red Sox or one of the other $100 million teams wins the big one this year, I don't expect Colorado's behavior to change any next season. The short-sighted management group is convinced that last season's massive fluke was an unambiguous signal that they're doing everything properly. Sure, assuming the NL West stays historically down for several more years and they just happen to win 21 out of 22 again one of these years.

It's painful. Then again, we will probably see things just as unlikely happen in the playoff games that are to come, and other teams benefiting from the weird whims of the gods of baseball. It just isn't us this time. That's life, but it sucks still.

Small Market Stretch
2008-09-16 12:04
by Mark T.R. Donohue

So the Rockies, with their dreadful pitching, aren't going to make the sort of run they made last year. What do we have to look forward to instead in the last few days of the season? I and many others have been pinning my hopes on the Rays and Brewers, two teams in similar if not direr financial circumstances than the Rockies who both look to contend the old-fashioned way, building through the farm system. Arizona, Colorado's nearest rival, has already collapsed and Milwaukee is on the brink of following them.

It would be great for Fox, but not for baseball, if the National League playoff teams ended up being Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. If I'm not mistaken, those are the four biggest markets in the league -- maybe Houston is bigger than Philly, I dunno. The AL meanwhile could be Chicago, Boston, Anaheim... and Tampa Bay. If the Rays are the only team with a sub-$100 million payroll to make it, it doesn't bode well for the Rockies' near future.

St. Petersburg isn't in any immediate danger of missing the playoffs, as the Brewers are, but it would be psychologically damaging if they fell from leading the AL East all year to the wild card. I know the Rockies are still a bit neurotic about never having won the NL West. In addition, if the Rays got edged out for the division by Boston, it would mean that they would play a tough Angels team in the first round rather than a weaker Chicago or Minnesota club. For Boston's part, I'm surprised that they're even putting this much effort into chasing down the Rays -- they match up with the Angels perfectly and have a lot of recent beatdown history on their side. But there has to be some sense there of keeping the upstarts down. The Rays' young pitchers are theirs for a while (and they have more coming), and it couldn't hurt Boston's efforts to keep the established order in place going forward if they dismiss the challengers right here and right now. You get the feeling MLB wants the Rays to make the playoffs, so they have a good story to point to -- and then get the heck out of the way and let the money teams play for the title.

As for Milwaukee, it's sad to see what they've been through before happening again. They got out to a fast, headline-producing start in 2005 and just managed to hang on to clinch a .500 record. I think since then that management there has had the impression that their core is locked in, and all that's needed is complementary players to get them to the playoffs and a championship. I suspect the Rockies are now pursuing the same folly. As Tampa Bay has proved, you have to keep bringing in potential stars to avoid smacking into the glass ceiling. At the end of the season as attrition wears away at the everyday guys, it helps to have talented guys from the minors and other teams' systems nipping at their heels to get playing time and help the club win. I don't like Milwaukee's bench so much, and I wonder if they've taken the throttle back in terms of aggressively pursuing minor leaguers who are future big-league stars.

Whom do I like at this point? Hard to say. The Angels seem a trendy pick but they've been disappointments in the postseason the last few years. They also have to overcome the obstacle of the Red Sox, who really seem to have their number. No one's much discussed the effect that shortening Tampa's rotation will have on that team -- they're really stacked there and their lower-rung starters are young and flexible enough to contribute as long relievers. Boston is a safe choice. They seem to win World Series championships all the time there now, weirdly. I can't even fathom the idea of picking the Cubs, even to win the National League, given the burden of all that history, but then again it's hard to see what makes them different from Boston. If all it took for the Red Sox was committed ownership and competent management, why not the Cubs?

Because there's always something else with the Cubs, that's why. They'll blow it somehow.

I'm So Super Jealous
2008-09-14 20:08
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Research Department and my other friend from high school for whom I don't have an official Bad Altitude nickname -- let's just call him Ken, because that's his name -- were in Milwaukee tonight for Carlos Zambrano's no-no. I seethe with envy. There aren't many things I feel like I have to do before I die, but see a no-hitter in person is one of them. I've never gotten out of the eighth. My mother did call to remind me that I have been to two World Series games and the Research Department hasn't been to any, but it was little consolation.

I'm going to Coors Field for the first time in months on Tuesday, I guess to say goodbye to this year's collection of uninspiring talent. On one hand Colorado has shown growth in places where they need it this year -- Chris Iannetta's two-way catching, Taylor Buchholz's steady setup work, Ubaldo Jimenez's ability to occasionally find the strike zone. On the other they were league champs last year, and this season, just as expected, they never even made a blip. Hard not to say that they're going backwards.

The worrying thing is that management's "plan" going forward seems to be to wait for last year to happen again. Spend no money on pitching, play a lot of young guys, dredge up cheap starters from wherever they happen to drift, and hope the league stays down and the team gets really, really, really lucky again.

Sometimes you do get lucky. Like the no-hitter and last year's World Series, it's a once or twice in a lifetime thing at best. I would prefer the Rockies pursued sounder strategies.

Rays of Hope?
2008-09-08 15:31
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I used to have a "bottom feeder" link section, in solidarity with all the other teams whose owners would rather use their massive revenue-sharing checks to buy spare mansions as opposed to investing in their franchises. I got rid of it, partly because it was a little mean, partly because having to change it when teams like the Marlins randomly stopped sucking was time-consuming, and mostly because being constantly reminded of how dreadful the once-great Pirates are was depressing. But there was one team I never expected to escape the cellar, and they're on a direct path to the postseason this year, as expected by exactly no one.

Are the Tampa Bay Rays the negative case that proves everything I've been whining about regarding the Rockies this season is wrong? St. Pete hasn't invested big money in pitching. They haven't invested big money in anything. Their payroll this season at $43 million is almost $25 million less than Colorado's. They certainly don't have anyone signed to a long-term, eight-figure superstar deal like the Rockies do with Todd Helton. And yet the Rays are (as of this writing) in first place in a division that's vastly more competitive than the NL West's collection of stumblebums.

How'd that happen? If you look at the Rays' VORP leaders, two things emerge. The first is that they're winning with pitching: Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, and Edwin Jackson are the first, second, third, and fifth most valuable players on the roster this year. The second is they got their talent free or cheap. Shields and offensive leaders B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria were draft picks. Kazmir, Garza, and Jackson all came in ill-advised trades, from the Mets, Twins, and Dodgers respectively. Their third offensive centerpiece, Carlos Peña, was a David Ortiz-type guy undervalued by several organizations and signed as a free agent for a song.

So what's the lesson for the Rockies? Seems to me if they're going to keep crying poor they need to start making trades, and lots of them. St. Petersburg was lousy for its first decade or so because they kept signing free agents to contracts they weren't worth and then refusing to trade them for anything short of double their actual value. Since new GM Andrew Friedman took over from the overmatched Chuck LaMar they've been very aggressive, like the Delmon Young trade that landed them the extremely valuable Garza. The Rockies have been gunshy this year and last when it comes to breaking up their "nucleus," even hanging on to guys like Brian Fuentes who will be gone anyway. They also continue to cling to Garrett Atkins as if they didn't have three guys in the system who can play his position better and hit just as well. Part of this is defending champs syndrome -- ask the '03 Angels to find out more about that condition -- and part of it is an ownership/management regime that has never experienced anything but bad feedback for the few flashy deals they have consummated.

If the Rockies aren't going to make the big splash, they have to be volume dealers. Specifically, they need to bring in about three times as many pitchers as they need and let survival of the fittest take its course. That's why the failure to move anybody at the deadline was a bummer. I'm pretty sure I've made this same argument before, but the trade deadline is the time when contending teams get nervous and make stupid deals. That's when guys like Kazmir who never should have been traded change teams.

Early Hibernation Again
2008-09-06 20:16
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Football season is upon us again in Colorado, which means that for all intents and purposes baseball season is over. The Rockies were more than halfway into their run last season before it occurred to most Denver-area sports fans that it was happening, and with no run forthcoming this season they might as well preempt the rest of the Rockies telecasts on FSRM in favor of further ultimate fighting reruns.

The Dodgers are in first place. Didn't we just finish throwing the last handful of dirt on those guys? They're kind of like this year's Rockies, only last year's Rockies were a genuine Cinderella. This year's Dodgers really had no business floundering around behind the Diamondbacks for as long as they did, given their resource advantages. (Then again the Diamondbacks had no right to be as poor offensively as they have been given all the super awesome prospects they are supposed to have.)

The footnote to this battle of the bumblers for the '08 NL West crown is the Rockies, who really have no excuse for not showing up to what amounts to a knife fight contested with sporks. The Rockies are defending NL champions, and as we've gone over a million times before, they did absolutely nothing to bolster their roster to keep that crown, unless you count re-signing the impactless Yorvit Torrealba and dredging up a bunch of execrable starting pitchers who were injured most of the time and hurt the team even more when they actually were well enough to pitch.

I hate to keep pounding it into the ground, but as Rockies hats keep disappearing off heads to be replaced -- probably permanently -- with those of the Avs and Broncos, it's hard to control my anger. This disappointing season didn't have to happen, especially given how low the bar was set by the Rockies' in-division "competition." All management had to do was lay out a little bit of money on two or three replacement-level starters, money they clearly have with the huge surge in ticket and merchandise sales. But nope.

Blaming Troy Tulowitzki's injury, or Jeff Francis's, misses the point. Teams lose their stars all the time, and sometimes it happens at the beginning of the season. The thing that keeps season-destroying slides from continuing is pitching depth. Both Arizona and Los Angeles have demonstrated that in their own ways.

The good thing, I suppose, is that little to no damage has been done for next year. Willy Taveras is still on the roster, and that definitely is a big handicap we'd like to see excised before spring training '09 begins. But Ubaldo Jimenez has shown a lot of improvement in the second half, Aaron Cook is the man, and the low-key Francis seems like a good bet to recover next year and pitch effectively. However -- after those three, it can't be Kip Wells, Livan Hernandez, or anybody with "de" in their last names. It shouldn't be Franklin Morales, either, at least until the kid demonstrates an ability to throw strikes on a regular basis in the minor leagues. That means management is responsible for acquiring two -- three would be better -- starters who don't completely suck. That will cost twenty to twenty-five million dollars. If they say they don't have it, they're lying.

Random unrelated bit: This fad with leaving the size and price stickers on baseball caps has got to stop. You kids look like idiots. Apparently knowing the correct way to prepare and wear a cap went out for rappers at the same time actually being able to rap did.

Not Happening
2008-09-03 15:07
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I think I have like another week to send in a deposit for 2008 playoff tickets, but I think I'm going to save my money so I can buy Rock Band 2. The drumkit from the first game finally died yesterday, after months of hard service (I play the video game drums as hard or harder than I do the actual drums) and a souped-up replacement is on the way.

The Rockies got slammed by the Giants today, and a lot of things went by the wayside with that loss. Aaron Cook will have to win every one of his remaining starts to reach the 20-game mark, a tall order. And I think playoff dreams are now officially dead: If you can't win a game at home with your ace on the mound against one of the worst teams in the league, a team starting their very own albatross-contract eight figure-earning fifth starter, you're not a playoff team. But how about the Dodgers? We've left them for dead a couple of times, and they could be a half game back if Arizona loses today (they're down one late, as I write this) and Hiroki Kuroda beats the Padres this evening. How wild is that? Less wild than last year's NL West race, to be sure, but it would be nice to see the Rockies' de facto archrivals in Phoenix get knocked out of the playoffs. Lost in all the preseason predictions was the fact that the D-Backs were even more lucky than the Rockies were to be in the postseason last year, given their run differential.

I think that it's obvious that the Cubs would prefer to see Los Angeles rather than Arizona in the first round, given what happened last year, the righthandedness of the Chicago lineup, and the Snakes' nasty one-two punch at the top of their pitching rotation. The Cubs are the best team in the National League, but if the Rockies don't pull off the miracle comeback I'm rooting for the Brewers in October. It's been a long time for that franchise, and besides, a Rays-Brewers World Series would be like the apocalypse for the Fox Network. They'd probably shift it over to FX to show "America's Most Sex-Addicted Transvestites" on the flagship.

The name of the relocated Seattle Sonics is the Oklahoma City Thunder. That sounds like the name of a CBA team. It just screams CBA. I thought we'd gotten past the ridiculous fad for singular team nicknames, but evidently not. Basketball fans in Europe are going to be looking at the standings next year and asking themselves if they've suddenly introduced promotion and relegation to the NBA.

But forget all of that: I met Cal Ripken, Jr. on Monday. He came into my electronics store to buy a television for his daughter, who goes to CU. For a moment I was too starstruck to approach, but I got over it and I walked up to him. "Hi, I'm Mark Donohue, I write a Colorado Rockies blog," I said. He looked me in the eye, shook my hand (great handshake, firm but not aggressively so, just the right duration), and said it was nice to meet me. Then I apologized for bothering him and let him go back to TV buying. Later I realized I probably didn't need to say "Colorado Rockies blog," Cal having been in the game long enough to know who the Rockies were. But anyway after Richard M. Daley and John de Lancie (Q from "Star Trek") I think he's the third most interesting person with whom I've ever shaken hands.

Our Road Woes Post Odometer Rolls Over to 1,000
2008-09-01 09:14
by Mark T.R. Donohue

In the news this morning, while I'm technically supposed to be working (and what other way to celebrate the holiday):

  • We can all agree that the NL West race is over now that the Diamondbacks have acquired David Eckstein. Eckstein is the Ringo Starr of recent years in the MLB, and I mean that as no insult to either David or Mr. Starkey. Eckstein's a fine role player, a small-ball wizard, and a way better shortstop than anyone with his arm strength ought to be. Ringo was a great drummer and by far the best actor among the Beatles. In both cases those skills have little to nothing to do with the massive successes the two had in their careers; they piggybacked on the skills of others. Nonetheless, don't be surprised if the D-Backs now go on to win it all.
  • Apparently no one claimed Willy Taveras on waivers. Perhaps the Rockies will now finally realize that none of the other 29 teams want the bum and release him, but something tells me he'll be starting in centerfield for Colorado next opening day. It's one thing to feel compelled to play a guy making $10 million a year, but what is it that keeps the Rockies clinging on to Willy AAA? It's as if they determine the lineup by putting all the position players on the right-field foul line at Hi Corbett and having them all race.
  • Is it significant that the Rockies' road record, after a blip last year, is back down to being terrible? Hard to say. Much evidence this season seems to suggest that the decent mark in 2007 was indeed the product of all the teams who rolled over at home down the stretch for the surging Rockies. On the other hand, Colorado certainly played spectacularly on the road in the NL playoffs when it really counted. They've found the first ingredient to better road play, a genuine shutdown ace. If this year's Aaron Cook had been healthy and playing on last year's team, might things have turned out differently in the World Series? Now the next step is to construct a more versatile offense that can get on base when the hits aren't dropping and get runs home when the balls aren't flying out of the park.
  • I was pleased as punch when Colorado re-inked Yorvit Torrealba this offseason, but it's been a lost year for one of the Rockies' biggest '07 playoff heroes. He's been injured on and off all season and lost his job to the better-hitting Chris Iannetta, who's also raised his defense to the level at which it's clear who's the better all-around catcher. The useful Adam Melhuse has been nice to have around as Iannetta's backup, showing again Dan O'Dowd's talent for acquiring dirt cheap talent. Now if only he had a chance to demonstrate that he can judge pricey talent capably again. The Mike Hampton thing was a fluke, right?