Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
First Place, Day Two
2006-07-06 00:48
by Mark T.R. Donohue

OK, the Rockies won again. So did San Diego, so did the Dodgers. For another day, at least, the three-way tie persists. But on to more important matters.

I have two Rockies jerseys: a white one with purple stripes which doesn't have anybody's name on it, and a purple Todd Helton one. So far this year, Colorado is undefeated (4-0 I think, including one spring training game) in games which I attend in the purple jersey, but an unimpressive 1-2 when I wear the white. Unfortunately, the Todd Helton jersey has Burger King's excellent sweet and sour sauce on it at the moment and I lacked quarters for laundry this afternoon. I had to go to the game in the white jersey. Clearly, I was going to need some pretty strong mojo to counter the bad luck my incorrect shirt choice was sure to bring the home team. Here's what I came up with: rather than keeping score for the visitors with my left hand and the Rockies with my right hand, like I normally do, I switched to keeping score with whichever hand was the opposite of the one being used by the guy on the mound to throw. This meant that I didn't go to my right hand until Steve Kline came in for the Giants in the seventh. You can't question results: the Rockies allowed nothin' but for three solo home runs (all of which came within twenty feet of my seat in the leftfield bleachers) and scored enough to win the game in one big inning against Jamey Wright. I'm going to continue keeping score in this method at home until the Rockies lose one. Then I guess I'll have to do my laundry.

Of course the Giants travelling to Denver means the Barry Bonds sideshow drops by as well; while Bonds did play in this game San Francisco got much more offensively out of someone named Eliezer Alfonzo, who hit two of the three homers. I don't think I'm ready to jettison Joe Mauer from my fantasy team in favor of Eliezer, but he is hitting .311/.333/.595 in 74 at-bats so I guess I should know who he is. I do now. In any event the crowd in the bleachers didn't seem very enthusiastic about booing Bonds. As you know I save all of my best heckling for Jeff Kent's visits to Coors Field but I did ask Barry whether he was planning on sending any more of his friends to jail this week and may have also offered a comment or two about his enormous head blocking my view of the pitcher's mound. For his part Bonds offered the crowd no overt acknowledgement but did crack a smile a couple of times. Well, at least someone thinks this whole travesty is funny.

Jamey Carroll had a big single (what else is new), knocking in two runs. Matt Holliday hit a line drive homer to right-center that had the trajectory of a Shaquille O'Neal free throw. Josh Fogg even added a two-out RBI knock for good measure. Typical Josh Fogg game -- two strikeouts, one walk, seven hits in seven innings, two runs. It sure was a blast from the past watching Jamey Wright give up a big inning at Coors Field. I feel a little bad for Wright. If he was playing for this year's Rockies, with the improved defense, the nice bullpen, and the magical humidor, his numbers would probably look a lot like Fogg's. Sadly, he signed with this year's Giants, and he's 5-8. It wasn't a textbook ninth inning for Brian Fuentes, who gave up Alfonzo's second screamer and a sharp single to Lance Niekro, both with two outs. Before that, though, he absolutely undressed Steve Finley with a three-pitch strikeout. It might be time for Finley to think about hanging 'em up. That's true of about seven San Francisco regulars.

In any event, I was able to record the final out, a groundout by former Colorado player Todd Greene, with my right hand and get home by 10:30. Also worth mentioning that I met a guy in the stands who went to the same suburban Chicago high school as I did, although not at the same time. Still, if he's reading this, hope you enjoyed Coors Field and go Trevians.

2006-07-06 10:47:44
1.   Daniel Zappala
I'd be curous about your opinion -- what has made the Rockies a first place team so far? How good do you think their starting pitchers are? Who has surprised you, who will get better as the year goes on?
2006-07-06 11:59:39
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
These are big questions. Probably too big to really tackle fully in the comments section. But what they hey, there's no game today.

Jason Jennings is a league average starter. If he stays healthy, which he has except for last year, there's a ton of value in that. Jeff Francis has the tools to be a #1 guy, but he's very young. With a better defense and a slightly more reliably offense, we're already beginning to see him blossom. Aaron Cook has the best stuff in the rotation. It's easy to forget that he was near death last year, so we may not have seen the best of him yet. Byung-Hyun Kim has great stuff as well, but psychologically he's fragile. If he gains momentum, like he did last year, watch out. Josh Fogg is the only guy I didn't feel optimistic about going into the season. It has shocked me how well he has pitched. After all, he was turfed out by the talent-poor Pirates not so long ago. He might turn into a pumpkin at any moment, but unlike last year, the Rockies have some contingency plans in AAA. Miguel Asencio and Sun-Woo Kim hardly provide Oakland-like depth, but they're better the Jamey Wrights and Joe Kennedys that Colorado was throwing out last season.

As far as the offense goes, any discussion of pleasant surprises has to begin with Jamey Carroll. Wow. Frank Robinson threw a hissy fit when the Nationals sold him to Colorado, and obviously he knew what he was doing. Carroll has been on base constantly and has played great defense at second. He's also had a great impact on a very young team by being a veteran who plays like a rookie. The dude hustles. I'm not one for "hustle" ballplayers with no other obvious talents, but if you hit leadoff and your OBP is .396, you're clearly helping your team win.

Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe I think everybody who followed the Rockies closely the last two years expected to keep getting better. The question with those fellows was always going to be can they get it done on the road, away from the thin air and the spacious alleys of Coors Field. This year, they are. Hawpe has also emerged as one of the best defensive rightfielders in the NL. The teams in the West just don't run on his arm any more, and the teams in the AL and the other NL divisions have done so at their peril. Cory Sullivan hasn't hit as well as he did down the stretch last year, but his defense is terrific and he's among the league leaders in successful sacrifice bunts. I wish the Rockies didn't bunt as often as they do, but you do get a charge out of seeing Carroll single or walk, Sullivan move him over, and Helton or Holliday kock him in. And it's happened a lot.

Garrett Atkins, another second-year player, is having a great year at third base. He needs to, because the Rockies have loads of talent at his position in the minors. I think he'll be trade bait sooner or later but for the time being he's a top-half guy at a position that is experiencing a major renaissance at the moment.

The guys who have struggled most are Clint Barmes and the catchers. Barmes I think we all got a little overexcited about when he jumped off to an amazingly hot start last year. He then got hurt and missed most of the second half, so we never really got a chance to see what an "average" Clint Barmes season would look like. He's playing a little below what I imagine his true level is right now and he ought to have a better second half. Still, he's not a building block the way Hawpe, Francis, Cook, and Holliday are. Troy Tulowitzki will have his spot fairly soon.

I'd be remiss in not mentioning the bullpen, which has been great. I thought signing ancient Jose Mesa was a terrible idea and he's been lights-out as a setup man. So what do I know? Clint Hurdle, who has some other failings as a manager, has handled a sort of oddly constructed bullpen very well. He's used rookies like Scott Dohmann and Ramon Ramirez, journeymen like Tom Martin and Ray King, and the big guys, Mesa and Brian Fuentes, so that everybody has a role and everybody gets to pitch when it counts every now and then. They have the best bullpen in the National League West and if anything is going to win them the division, that ought to be it.

Before the season I wrote that I expected to see them win 75 games. Now I think 85 isn't an unrealistic hope. If that wins them the division, which it could, so be it. I wouldn't trade anyone valuable just for the sake of contending this season. They might make the playoffs, sure, but they're not going to win the World Series. Tulowitzki, Ian Stewart, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Manuel Corpas should all arrive in the big leagues before Fuentes and Holliday go off in search of more money. That's when they'll be primed to strike, be it next year or 2008. I'm happy that they're playing well this year, but the best is really yet to come.

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