Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
What Happened to First Place?
2006-05-16 11:02
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I seldom if ever take a few days off from the page, but my band was recording this weekend, and I thought what I would do was wait until the Rockies won themselves a big slump-breaking victory, which they haven't done yet. I do so enjoy writing about wins more than losses. But it's not like I don't have plenty of experience explaining why the Rockies aren't winning games.

As for the loss Sunday, that one doesn't scald particularly badly, nor is there much to say about it. Jeff Francis pitched well, Andy Pettite pitched better. You have to crawl before you can walk, and the Rockies are something like four-and-a-million in Houston since the new park opened up, so we'll have to be satisfied with one nice win (Aaron Cook's duel against Roy Oswalt on Saturday), one loss there's nothing you much could have done about (the Pettite gem), and one loss that we can call a learning experience. Jason Jennings struck out Morgan Ensberg in the sixth inning Friday night. The box score doesn't reflect that, but you and I know it. Honestly, I was less concerned with the bad call (they happen, and you can't argue the balls and strikes) then Jennings' meltdown afterwards, which was violent and dramatic. So dramatic that it seemingly spooked the bullpen as well. They were shaky last night against the Dodgers, with Ramon Ramirez's nice little scoreless innings streak being broken and the Rockies losing another late-inning game of the sort they have mostly been winning this year.

So you look up and the Rockies have lost 5 of 6, although mostly on the road against very good teams. San Diego now holds sole possession of first place thanks to the largesse of the Chicago Cubs, against whom they recently went 7 for 7. Wait, didn't the Padres do this last year? Make a division title out of a mediocre year thanks to a ridiculously hot May against subpar competition? Why, yes, they did. I don't see any reason why this Padres team can't win 82 games again, but another team in the West ought to win more than that, as San Diego is surely not the best team in the division. I think that might be these very Dodgers, who are at least beginning to see production from the veteran guys who aren't hurt.

So what's ailing the Rockies? Well, not a great deal. Obviously the bullpen hasn't been as good as we've grown to expect, but even the diehards have to assume that that's a natural correction a little long in arriving. Guys are still hitting for power, the starting pitching (which is what I worry about most) has remained solid, and Clint Hurdle is doing, really, a marvelous job getting the guys in slumps (Clint Barmes, Luis Gonzalez) opportunities to hit out of them while continuing to ride the hot hands (Jamey Carroll). The Rockies were down 5-2 in the game last night and got homers from Brad Hawpe and Matt Holliday to get within a run. Next time, the homers will come with runners on base. Right? Sure, I believe that.

Anyway, Eli Marrero did start at catcher in the Houston game on Sunday, and as it turned out, this had no bearing on the team's offensive performance. Marrero was 0 for 3, and Pettite was nigh untouchable anyway. I still think that it's a good sign that Hurdle was able to coax Marrero, a full-time outfielder most of the past three years, back behind the plate. Veteran players are more likely to make personal sacrifices for their club if they think the team actually has a chance at winning some games. It's interesting too that Hurdle planned for weeks to have Marrero make his first appearance catching in a Jeff Francis start. Francis doesn't throw sharp sinkers like Cook and Jennings, and his arm angle is far more traditional than Byung-Hyun Kim's. The choice then was between young Jeff Francis and veteran Josh Fogg, and I thought Hurdle's reasoning, as communicated by the Rockies' TV broadcasters, was fascinating. Apparently Francis calls his own game for the most part. Yet another reason Jeff Francis is like, so awesome.

I'm not panicking yet, even though the Rockies have now fallen behind Arizona into third place. I still think the team is fundamentally sounder than they have been in years, and what's more, I think the Rockies themselves know that. They're not a veteran club, but I think even the second-year guys can tell the difference between this year and last year. They hadn't had a single prolonged losing streak until now and thanks to the rotation, that trend should continue. As soon as they snap out of the current one. Derek Lowe is pitching for Los Angeles tonight, which is a tough matchup, but the Rockies got the better of Roy Oswalt last weekend and I have every confidence in Byung-Hyun Kim. Hmm, I'll bet it's been a long time since that last phrase was written.

2006-05-16 14:58:39
1.   Xeifrank
Back to Life,
Back to Reality.
vr, Xei

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.