Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
It's Almost Like a Real Division
2006-05-08 09:43
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I'm becoming paranoid. I think I have "we don't get no respect" syndrome, and I hate people who insist that their favorite team is being conspired against by the media, or the officiating, or FEMA, or whomever. Honestly, I feel like I watched every highlight show and listened to the radio updates all night last night and I never once heard "the Rockies sweep the Astros," merely "Colorado 5, Houston 3." I heard that the Cardinals swept Florida. C'mon, everybody sweeps Florida. I heard that Philadelphia swept the Giants, but only after two or three minutes of fulminating about some dude about to pass a number that isn't a record. I even heard that the Padres swept the Cubs, which is weird because they still have one more game to play today. It's not news that the Rockies -- the Colorado Rockies -- swept a three-game set against a team that was in the Series last year. The World Series. Colorado was 1-6 against the Astros and the White Sox last year. I don't know how significant a stat that is, but it least looking it up was fairly easy.

For what it's worth at this particular moment in time the NL West is looking less patsy-like than usual, with Colorado (7-3 in their last ten), Arizona (7-3), and San Diego (8-2) all having records resembling those of legitimate first, second, and third-place teams. I don't know for how long these salad days will roll, because the Padres in particular look like they're doing it with mirrors, but at the very least the division winner should have a final win total of something like 87 or 88 instead of last year's embarrassing 82. They might not even have the "worst" team in the playoffs this year, unless things pick up in the AL West.

One thing I did hear on the radio last night was Chase Utley being interviewed for the Sunday Night Baseball pregame show. If I'd had to guess beforehand, I would have bet that Utley would be an old-school Bad Interview, and I would have been right. Apparently the man has no hobbies, listens to no music, and has nothing he would change about baseball besides possibly moving in more of the right-field fences. The one interesting thing Utley had to say was that his least favorite pitcher to face in the game right now is Brian Fuentes, and he'd reckon that there's more than a few other lefties in the National League who'd tell you the same. If your bandwagon can't be big, the least it can do is win some influential converts. How about the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers? He likes the Rockies' chances this year, as an informant in Chicago (my dad) passed on to me yesterday. (Meanwhile, in San Francisco it's still the "NL Woebegone Division," although Bruce Jenkins says, quote, "Many observers say it's time to stop belittling the Rockies, who are very close to being for real." That's...sort of...a compliment. I guess.)

Highlights from a 4-1 homestand: Well, it's nice to have Todd Helton back. Real nice, and it looks like he's skipping the prolonged recovery slump. Jason Jennings was marvelous on Saturday night, Aaron Cook very nearly gave the Rockies back-to-back complete games yesterday, and let's not forget that Byung-Hyun Kim struck out nine in a no-decision on Friday. Colorado ranks sixth in the National League in overall ERA, and you don't need to have been a fan of this team long to know that that's extraordinary. They're even eighth in regular unadjusted home ERA, and that borders on crazy. (It also reflects the tenor of the times. Four teams ranked below the Rockies overall have ridiculous bandbox ballparks of their own: Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Houston, and Arizona. Ray King was on Jim Armstrong's radio show the other day and insisted he'd much rather pitch at Coors than at Citizen's Bank or the Great American Ballpark. Ray King, by the way, is a way better interview than Chase Utley.) It's also time for me to admit I was wrong about Jamey Carroll. In Helton's absence, Carroll has been playing pretty much every day and he's a big reason the Rockies went 8-6 during that stretch. Carroll doesn't have any power to speak of but he does play sparkling defense at second and he does something that few other Rockies besides Helton and Brad Hawpe are inclined to do, which is walk. Carroll is tied for fourth on the team with ten walks (including the game-winner Friday) and the guys immediately ahead of him, Hawpe and Garrett Atkins, have twice as many at-bats. Carroll has an OPS of .810 despite slugging .368, and I've always heard that the OBP component of the OPS formula is the more important half. Consarn it, I just like guys who walk, perhaps because that's the only way I could get on base on little league. Well, the only way after the competition grew old enough to field bunts reliably.

Which leads me nicely to my dark cloud in the first place sky. The Rockies are bunting way too much. Way, way, way too much. They lead the majors in sacrifice hits (an oxymoronic stat name, by the way) with 23. It certainly looks good when Colorado gets a leadoff double, moves the man on to third, and knocks him in as they have been doing with a scout-pleasing frequency lately. It looks too good. Clint Hurdle is going to start getting ideas. What's more, out-of-town managers (oh geez, we just had Phil Garner in and La Russa is coming up next) are going to start talking in the papers about how those young Rockies are getting it done by Playing the Game the Way It Should Be Played and the next thing you know everyone in the lineup save Helton will be squaring off like it's an extra-inning playoff game. Memo to Clint: The Rockies are not winning because they bunt immoderately. They're winning because Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe are suddenly clubbing the ball full-time instead of only at Coors and the pitching staff is the best the franchise has ever had. This has the makings of an epidemic. They could start bunting against Cincinnati pitching. They could start bunting against San Francisco's amazing all-AARP outfield. My god, Jose Lima is back in the National League. It's a madhouse I tells you. A maaadhouse.

You know, speaking of the few pesky ideas in Clint Hurdle's head, here's another thing Clint has led the way in that bugs me. Why is everybody in the NL still walking Barry Bonds? A hitter has to be going out of his mind to make the automatic intentional pass a good play, and Bonds has obviously sunk beneath that point with his various health complaints. Yeah, he's going to hit a homer every now and then, but that's true of a lot of guys, and you don't see Adam Dunn or Nick Swisher or Morgan Ensberg or Jonny Gomes getting the knee-jerk four fingers. OK, random examples, but all of those guys are slugging higher than Bonds. Every manager in the NL seems afraid to be the first guy to call for an end to the insanity and get burned. You know what, there's no shame in being beaten by Barry Bonds. If you walk Bonds and get beaten by Lance Niekro or Mark Sweeney, now that is shameful. Of course there's also the conspiracy theory that says all the time Bonds is having to spend standing around at first base is further deteriorating his knees and driving him ever closer to retirement. I think Occam's Razor applies. Do we think the field generals of the NL are a) participating in a silent and quixotic plot to protect the non-record of a dead guy or b) all deeply afraid of trying something contrary to conventional wisdom and looking foolish for it? There is no more powerful force in baseball than Fear of Change. In fact I believe Joe Morgan has a motto to that effect tattooed on his ass.

Off to St. Louis, where the Cardinals are playing a tad bit diffidently despite a 20-12 record. Who can blame them, as the Mets have basically clinched the NL East with about the same record while the Cardinals are caught in a three-way dogfight with the resilient Astros and the surprising Reds. Has their window closed already? Well, the National League seems better overall. It's hard to call any team that often fields an Aaron Miles-David Eckstein middle infield offensively threatening, despite the ethereal Albert Pujols. The Rockies draw Jason Marquis, Chris Carpenter, and Jeff Suppan. More on that series later, assuming I feel like it.

2006-05-08 13:05:41
1.   still bevens
ESPN did a nice quick blurb on the Rockies starters last night. I guess its their award for best performance of the week. They ran down their stats for the beginning of the season and compared it to how they played last week and gave them props for their 2 shutouts at Coors.
2006-05-08 13:11:40
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Was that on SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight? Because I can't watch Baseball Tonight anymore. The emotions it raises are simply too strong. Here I am speaking of my intense hatred of John Kruk talking, ever, and my primal fear of Tino Martinez's hair.
2006-05-08 14:28:41
3.   Kels
Krukie did a nice 5-minute piece last night on how great the D-backs are …my tv almost got a remote thrown through it because he didn't mention the Rockies at all. But the guys on Saturday's Baseball tonight (I forgot which two guys it was, but they don't work much and they are tiny looking fellows) each picked the Rockies to win the West.
2006-05-08 14:41:37
4.   Kels
The Rockies cracked the Top 10 in power rankings...coming in at #9

2006-05-08 15:15:10
5.   gabe
I agree Mark, I totally agree. I watched all of baseball tonight, sports center, all the big shows - and there is all kinds of stuff on stupid stories, but no one wants to cover the Rockies at all. Not even a little bit. Even little things, Mark - like the Rockies homers never make Touch 'Em All, or how Todd Helton's big stop doesn't make Web Gems. It must suck to play against the Rox too, because even Burke's incredible catch against the wall, which was easily better than at least 4 of the Web Gems that day, didn't make it. And the coverage of all the Rox games is always like one swing, and then the final score, whereas EVERYONE else, even the freaking pirates get a real game summary. It's freaking ridiculous.
2006-05-08 16:51:57
6.   Mark T.R. Donohue
I think a lot of it has to do with the Mountain Time Zone. Rockies games usually start at seven o'clock local time, which is nine eastern -- right when the east coast games are getting into the final innings. The Dodgers, A's, Giants, and the other Pacific teams benefit from having their games begin after most of the east coast games are over. No one is watching the Rockies or the D-Backs outside of their markets.
2006-05-08 19:01:13
7.   Voxter
6 - I never realized before that the Rocks were the only team on Mountain time; all I noticed was that I never got to see more than a few innings of their home games before the Mariners game starts. It definitely lowers my awareness of the team, to a certain degree -- for what it's worth, I never get to actually see their bullpen, and depending on the quality of the east coast games happening (ie, if the Red Sox game is even moderately close), I might not see them at all.
2006-05-08 20:07:33
8.   gabe
Catch Baseball Tonight, well, tonight? Despite John Kruk's idiotic crack on the humidore, to which even his other BT teammates couldn't keep straight faces, the Rox actually got some coverage. And lookie here, Brad Hawpe gets the #1 web gem? Impossible!
2006-05-08 20:33:23
9.   Kels
Cork the bats in PetCo!!!
2006-05-08 20:41:04
10.   Mark T.R. Donohue
I think we can all mark our calendars. This is the day when the Rockies started getting national attention, officially. I'm watching the Mariners-Devil Rays game and the Seattle broadcast team just talked about Colorado for a full 45 seconds. They couldn't think of the names of any of their players besides Matt Holliday (due to his WB"C" involvement), but it's a start.

I just looked it up, because I wasn't sure. Phoenix and Denver are the only two MLB cities in the Mountain Time Zone. However, most of the state of Arizona does not observe daylight savings time. The standard start time for D-Backs night games is 6:40 PM local time, 9:40 Eastern. That's forty minutes later than the Rockies games usually begin, and -- crucially -- just about the standard length of a game from the 7:05 starts on the East Coast. I'm sure the Diamondbacks aren't scheduling their games specifically to screw the Rockies' national viewership, but it is pretty interesting.

Personally, it would make my season if the Rockies played more weekday day games like the Giants and Cubs, but I realize they have trouble getting Coors Field to 50% capacity as it is.

2006-05-08 21:16:20
11.   gabe
I was afraid Harold Reynolds was about to fall off his chair when Kruk said that. My favorite quite: "John coming into his own here on baseball tonight..." as everyone tries to recover from being unable to breath due to laughter.
2006-05-08 21:26:41
12.   gabe
Did I say quite? I meant quote.
2006-05-08 22:41:26
13.   Yu-Hsing Chen
ROFL nice piece, had a lot of chuckles reading it ;)

You can't quiet blame people too much for not noticing the Rockies though, who woulda thought these young guys was this good

btw, that Chase Utley interview cracked me up, the Phillies fan reaction to Bonds was pretty amusing too..

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