Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
The Old and the Hopeless
2005-08-02 19:33
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Thirty-seven of the Rockies' final fifty-eight games will be against fellow members of the National League West. Except for a makeup doubleheader against the Marlins, a mid-August series against the Cubs, and an end-of-September return to Turner Field to play the Braves, it's safe to say Colorado doesn't play a decent team again this year.

So what happened to the NL West? There was a pretty good race last year between San Francisco (91 wins) and Los Angeles (93). In 2003, the Giants won 100 games. In 2002, the division had three 90-game winners, sent two teams to the playoffs, and won the National League pennant. In '01, of course, the D-Backs won it all. Now Arizona, San Diego, San Francisco, Colorado, and L.A. are popular sports talk radio fodder -- the "NL Worst." The division winner could very probably waltz into the postseason with a sub-.500 record.

The Diamondbacks were awful last year (51-111) and invested their offseason money in terrible, terrible players. It seems almost unfair to pile on Russ Ortiz and Shawn Estes,'s so much fun! Estes is actually having a good year (for Shawn Estes), but Ortiz has been crummy. Both are now hurt. Arizona also continues to let a stupid obsession with defense guide them into giving tremendous amounts of at-bats to horrible offensive players like Royce Clayton (.655 OPS), Chris Snyder (.637), and Alex Cintron (.698). Troy Glaus has been good, but Chad Tracy has been better, and he used to play Glaus's position. If the Diamondbacks hadn't bailed out on Erubiel Durazo and Lyle Overbay in turn, they'd have a lot more money to spend. Of course, seeing their predilection for stiffs like Ortiz and Estes, plus their tendency to give large, foolish extensions to guys like Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez, perhaps it's for the best. In any case their record is significantly better than their perf ormance would indicate (five games according to BP's reckoning) and their first-place status is kind of a default thing.

The Padres have overperformed a tad too (BP says they should lead the division, but with 47 wins) but I suppose they have the most healthy talent in the division at the moment. An injury to Mark Loretta earlier in the year didn't help matters any, but San Diego's main problem is that the young offensive talent they've tried to build their team around has stubbornly refused to blossom. Sean Burroughs has been a complete disaster with eight extra-base hits in 255 at-bats. Phil Nevin, until they finally managed to trade him, was equally punchless (21 in 281). Casting Boston playoff hero Dave Roberts as an everyday leadoff hitter might have been a stretch (.339 OBP). Khalil Greene hasn't progressed as a hitter (.299 OBP). Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko are getting the job done, but there's not much supporting them. Moving Geoff Blum and Nevin should mean more starts for Xavier Nady (I like Nady, because he went to Cal) and Mark Sweeney, which should help. Burroughs they just flat-out demoted. The pitching staff has been solid overall, particularly the bullpen, but they were foolish to expect much out of Woody Williams and Brian Lawrence and the fifth starter spot has been an open sore. And oh yeah, free agent-catcher-to-be Ramon Hernandez is hitting .273/.301/.409. And he's hurt.

The Dodgers have just been mauled by injuries. Eric Gagne, J.D. Drew, Jose Valentin, Milton Bradley, Cesar Izturis...basically, if he's any good and not Jeff Kent, he's been on the DL. Even so they're only 4 games out. Kent is solidifying his Hall of Fame credentials with a .306/.384/.530 line but their second-best healthy guy is Olmedo Saenz. The catcher position has been brutal offensively, something they're hoping the callup of Dioner Navarro will rectify. Hee Seop Choi will get his jacks but he's never going to be a high-average hitter. Derek Lowe and Brad Penny, two much-critiqued Paul DePodesta acquisitions, have been fine. Jeff Weaver hasn't been so good, but in taking him on the Dodgers managed to rid themselves of Kevin Brown, which is definitely worth each and every one of the 22 homers Weaver has allowed. As for the bullpen...well, they miss Gagne, let's just say that. A healthy Drew alone would probably be enough for them to pass San Diego and Arizona. This is just not their year.

The Giants, with whom the Rockies tonight commence a three-game series in lovely SBC Park, made their bed and are sleeping in it. With the fishes. San Francisco's policy for years has been to sign hitters and develop pitchers. Trouble is, with the partial exception of Noah Lowry, none of these pitchers has amounted to much. It's hard to justify going full-bore youth movement when you have the rights to the greatest hitter what ever was on your 40-man, but Brian Sabean may have taken the concept of retooling on the fly beyond logical extremes. The marvel of it is, Moises Alou is actually having a great year, and Mike Matheny is having what for him amounts to a career offensive season. It's slightly less old guys like Pedro Feliz, Edgardo Alfonzo, and J.T. Snow that are killing the Giants. Mix their bad lines with the sudden disappearance of Jason Schmidt's fastball and the continued mediocrity of Kirk Rueter and Brett Tomko and you've got a foolproof recipe for fourth place. Let's not kid ourselves though -- if there's one guy in all of baseball history who can singlehandedly turn a below-average team into a playoff contender, it's Barry Bonds. If the Giants had managed to get him back at the beginning of this month like they were counting on, they're only 5 1/2 back with plenty of winnable games on the schedule. Forgot to mention that they signed Armando Benitez to a multi-year deal and the closer almost immediately suffered a potential career-ender.

Then there's the Rockies. You know all about them. They had to punt this year because the bad contracts of Preston Wilson, Denny Neagle, Charles Johnson, and Mike Hampton were weighing them down. Next year...they've already decided on a budget of $40 million, something like half of which will go to Todd Helton and Jason Jennings. In other words they've decided that the worst division in baseball isn't worth trying to win.

Your series starters are Jamey Wright (vs. Brett Tomko tonight...ooh, battle of the titans), Byung-Hyun Kim (vs. Brad "I Had a Lucky Couple of Starts in Fresno Last Year and Now I Start For the Giants" Hennessey on Wednesday), and Jose Acevedo (vs. Rueter on Thursday). It's a road series, so you know the Rockies aren't going to win more than one...I pick the game against Rueter, because his ears stick out all funny.

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