There's nothing quite like a trip to the ballpark on a pleasant spring evening to restore one's faith in the game, even if your team is still very bad (which I assure you, the Rockies are). You would think that the home half of the annual "rivalry" series with Kansas City would be a good opportunity for Colorado to start feeling good about themselves, but they looked flat and miserable in the first game on Friday. Jeff Francis pitched seven shutout innings and then the bullpen promptly went nuclear, leading to a five-run eighth and yet another unremarkable Rockies loss. The bullpen wasn't exactly impressive tonight, either, with Ramon Ramirez giving up a three-run homer in the ninth with a five-run lead, but Jeremy Affeldt put in some good work against his former team and Brian Fuentes grounded out pinch-hitter Esteban German, the only man he faced, for the easiest save he'll get all season.
The player for whom Affeldt was swapped, Ryan Shealy, victimized Ramirez in the ninth. I assume Ramon must still be a little rusty being as he is fresh off of a DL stint. I cannot make the same excuse for Willy Taveras, who committed an inexcusably stupid fielding error to grant the Royals' their first run, the only one allowed in seven innings of very encouraging work from Taylor Buchholz. Willy charged a single hit by Mark Teahen, took his eye off the ball to see if Mark Grudzielanek was trying to go first to third, and ran right past the dribbler to allow Grudzielanek to score and Teahen to take an extra base. In the very next inning Taveras almost booted another base hit by Shealy.
I know his average is around .300 and he did have a bunt single, but I still can't stand Taveras. Every time I see him he is making a bad baseball decision. I just don't think he's a winning ballplayer, in part because he's of a type (utterly powerless speed demon) who bugs me and in part because he personally strikes me as lackadaisical and unfocused. I was all set going out to the game tonight to make this whole post a string of mea culpas, since Gil Meche was starting for the Royals and has been terrific all season, and Willy has also been making me look bad with his nice average and OBP. But I call them as I see them. Willy stinks, and Gil Meche gave up three home runs, one even to Todd Helton, who hardly ever hits homers any more. And I still think bunt singles have limited offensive utility. That said, I want to put a gold star on the record of Omar Quintanilla for displaying exemplary hustle in getting all the way to third on a Willy T. squib in the bottom of the third. It might have been even more impressive if the Royals had remembered to cover the third base bag on the play, but this is Rockies baseball. We're grading on a heavy curve.
I can't remember the last time the Rockies either hit three homers in a game or scored all of their runs off of the long ball. It's kind of a nice throwback, yes? It's not as big of a problem as the black offensive holes Colorado is getting from several positions, but the established middle of the Rockies order has been strangely reluctant to drive the ball early on this season. When Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, and Helton all hit homers, you expect to win. Who knows how long it will be until we see such a thing again, but I am certainly glad they saved themselves for a game I was attending in person.
It's hard to know for sure since the other teams in their division are all still so much better, but it seems to me like Kansas City is a much-improved team this year. Even without Mike Sweeney their lineup is competitive. The core of Teahen, Shealy, Alex Gordon, and John Buck is not bad at all, and has even less accumulated major league service time than the middle of the Rockies' order. Even though it wasn't one of his best outings, Meche was a real sleeper signing for them. He hammers the strike zone, his curve is pretty even in reduced air-resistance conditions at Coors, and more importantly he takes some of the pressure off of the younger guys behind him in the rotation. It's hard to accept that the going rate for a perfectly average starting pitcher is $11 million a year, but if you're the Royals, one can certainly contend that Meche is worth every penny. I don't know about the Kansas City bullpen (who the hell are Joel Peralta and Jason Standridge?), but if Zack Greinke ever puts it all together they'll have a good shot at finishing fewer than 30 games back one of these years.
Hats off to Taylor Buchholz. He needed a good start. He was helped by a Rockies defense that turned three double plays and a Royals lineup that seemed typically walk-averse. As for those rookie position players for whom we expect the light to go on any day now, the omens are still mixed. Chris Iannetta managed a single to keep his average hovering right below .200 but he allowed two baserunners steals. Troy Tulowitzki was 0-for-4 but made a number of impressive handles at the shortstop position.
Can the Rockies get it done tomorrow to secure only their third outright series win of the entire season? The pitching matchup of Jason Hirsh and Brian Bannister favors Colorado.