Monday: Padres 5, Rockies 2. Francis hittable, offense absent. However, Chris Young only struck out four to Francis's seven so maybe it was just a bad-luck BABIP kind of game. Continued good work from the lesser lights of the bullpen, in this case Ramon Ramirez and David Cortes, is encouraging. Tuesday: Rockies 3, Padres 2 in 11. You may recognize this final from Opening Day. Again, no offense, but a fine overall performance by the Colorado pitching staff, with no one dominating particularly but the game being there to win against Jon Adkins in the 11th. Tom Martin looked shaky in the 10th, but the unheralded David Cortes was there to bail him out. Cortes has really spotted his fastball well the last two games. The Rockies' TV crew was making a lot out of the fact that if you leave Sunny Kim and his awful numbers out of the equation, Colorado would have a league-leading bullpen ERA. Believe it. The Rockies certain to appear have gotten the better end of the Ray King-for-Bigbie-and-Miles deal, Jose Mesa has been better than in my wildest dreams, and Brian Fuentes continues to excel. Cheers to Clint Hurdle for using Fuentes in a non-save situation last night.
After 14 games played, the Rockies are 8-6, half a game back of the Giants for first place in the division. They've scored 80 runs and allowed 67. About half those runs came in the three-game series in San Diego, but never mind that for a moment. The Giants are 8-5 despite having scored only 58 runs while allowing 67. The NL West is fairly bunched up in the runs-allowed category, with every team falling between 65 and 69. Also, every team is at least .500 on the road, with only San Francisco at or above .500 (4-2) at home. What does all of this mean? Well, it seems that competition in both leagues is flatter than ever, with the National League in particular looking up for grabs. There are only three really good teams at the moment in Boston, Houston, and the Mets. The Red Sox and Mets may be for real, but I really don't think the Astros are a good bet to keep hitting the way they have begun the season. Likewise there are only three really bad teams, Florida, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. The Marlins may not be as bad as their record. The Royals, however, are truly awful. They're last in the majors in runs scored and trail the Pirates for last in runs allowed by one. I have been hearing many talking heads on the radio raging about how baseball needs a salary floor, but the Royals at $53.7 million are a lot worse than Florida at less than $20 million, and have far less chance of improving in the next two or three years. Of course, the Marlins had some talent to begin with. Kansas City has suffered from organizational paralysis for more than a decade.
In the middle are the Rockies, who will spend $10 million less than Kansas City this year and probably win 30 more games. Unlike the Marlins, Colorado didn't have a large talent base to trade off when the decision to rebuild came down. The Rockies didn't get much or anything when Larry Walker, Preston Wilson, Shawn Chacon, Denny Neagle, or Mike Hampton departed, and they have no one to blame but themselves for handing out so many bad contracts. However, when it comes to free talent acquisition, this organization is beginning to excel. They've done very well for themselves in the draft the past several years, as the current lineup reflects. Matt Holliday, Garett Atkins, Clint Barmes, and Cory Sullivan were all drafted by the Rockies, and if they don't quite provide for a title-contending offense yet, they're a great deal better than the third-class free agent talent that the Rockies trotted out during the late 90's. While we're at it, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, and Jason Jennings were all developed in house as well. To build a winner on a shoestring budget, you need to draft great, not just good, as Florida did and Kansas City glaringly hasn't. The Rockies may win the division this year, or they might win 75 games. (Or, they might win 75 games and the division. In this group it could happen.) What's important is that with the notable exceptions of Todd Helton and Jennings, the current roster will return for next year at a barely increased cost. It's not a surefire thing, but with a few extra millions to spend (dear Rockies fans: please keep going to games) and a couple of talent-maximizing trades (Garrett Atkins and Ryan Shealy, perhaps a reliever or two) the Rockies could be division favorites going into 2007. Of course, Diamondbacks fans could now be making the same argument. Their blue chips are definitely bluer than ours. But: the bulk of our core system guys will have been playing in the majors for two years. That has to count for something. That's one advantage stripping everything bare as the Rockies have done and Florida is now doing has over trying to improve incrementally every year as Pittsburgh and Kansas City have tried and failed to do.