Let's put the good news right up front. The Rockies are no longer in last place. Colorado and San Francisco are both six and a half games back in the NL West (as it happens, the other three teams are all as of this morning tied for first), but the Rockies have played 57 games and the Giants 55 so by a percentage point, I give you your fourth-place Colorado Rockies. Who would have thought it possible at the beginning of the last road trip?
But as the Rockies were winning seven in a row, the Diamondbacks were winning eight in a row. And even that story was almost completely buried in a baseball week with the Cubs' various misfortunes, the Tigers and Indians battling for the AL Central lead, and the Red Sox and Yankees meeting once again. The NL West is a pretty brawny, compelling division with three good but flawed teams, the Giants' mismatched group of curtain-calling old hitters and emerging young pitchers, and the eternal question that is the Rockies. Colorado, I'm sure, would much prefer to be doing their thing over in the NL Central. The team must be disappointed that Sunday's rollercoaster win over Cincinnati will be the last time they'll face the Reds this season. Of the five three-game series the Rockies have won all season, two have come against Cincinnati, who -- this just in -- are really lousy this year.
Garrett Atkins had a few hits yesterday, which is cause for celebration. The Rockies' real offensive leader recently has been Kaz Matsui, upon whom I long have reserved judgement. When Colorado initially snagged Matsui from New York last year, his popularity among baseball insiders and Mets fans in particular was equivalent to that of complicated labrum surgery. It seemed then like the Rockies' deal to acquire him, which left most of the balance of Matsui's large salary New York's responsibility, was a typical late-period Dan O'Dowd move. It would give the team the opportunity to present the illusion of a genuine major league talent at yet one more position without in fact having to pay the going rate for such a player. But Kaz Matsui, as second baseman for the Colorado Rockies, has been an entirely different player than the shortstop the Mets thought they were getting in 2004. If Willy Taveras was any good, he would be like Matsui, who runs the bases intelligently (nine steals, zero times caught), can drive runners home (he has seven extra-base hits to Willy's five in about half as many at-bats), and hasn't committed a fielding error yet this season. Despite the month and change Matsui lost to injury, Baseball Prospectus still rates him as the Rockies' fourth-most valuable offensive player (right ahead of Willy Taveras, who I see has finally passed Aaron Cook).
It was a tough weekend for Jeff Baker, who grounded into three double plays on Saturday and then yesterday saw Garrett Atkins reclaim the third-base job that Baker had an outside chance of stealing. Well, hang on, Jeff, there could be some trades coming yet. From Clint Hurdle's tone in recent interviews I get the impression that Taylor Buchholz will start Thursday with one last chance to nail down his role in the rotation. Josh Fogg is coming off the disabled list the same day, but the Rockies must figure (and I agree with them) that they've seen enough flashes from the inconsistent Buchholz to assume that his ceiling is much higher than that of the veteran Fogg. Buchholz is out of options, complicating matters, and I rather suspect that neither Hurdle nor O'Dowd wants to mess with Jason Hirsh's head by sending him down. It would be nice if the Rockies had the roster flexibility to showcase Fogg for a trade in a few weeks. He's not so great, but he's an established major league starter, sort of, and maybe he'll have one game like he did in Seattle last year and a scout from a contending team will be in attendance.
The whole saga of Fogg and Brian Lawrence and Byung-Hyun Kim and all of the other marginally useful arms O'Dowd likes to fish out of the river each offseason reveals how difficult an approach this really is and how little room for error exists. This season in particular Colorado invested in several pitchers who never ended up helping the team on the field and brought nothing in trade, despite obvious value remaining at least in the case of Kim. It's great to have lots of fungible pitchers around in the system so you can replace a guy who's completely ineffective sooner rather than later (and then repeat the process), but if you're a GM and you don't have your roster set up in such a way that you really can stash all of those guys for a rainy day (or succession of rainy days), all you're going to do is annoy and disappoint the sort of fans who pay attention to this stuff and reinforce your reputation as cheap amateurs without a plan among players, scouts, and front office guys from other teams.
They're not as bad as we thought, but they're not good exactly either. They're your 2007 Rockies, and their next three games are against Houston, who are every bit as bad as their divisionmates in Cincinnati. Jason Hirsh will face off against Wandy Rodriguez and the team that drafted him on Tuesday, then it's Aaron Cook and Woody Williams Wednesday, and fellow former Astro Buchholz against Roy Oswalt on Thursday. The Rockies won't get to see their old running mate Jason Jennings in this series at Coors. Jason has only made four appearances all year, thanks to elbow tendinitis, but only one of them wasn't a quality start. I still wish the Rockies had kept him, because it seems like the kind of thing winning teams do. Not that Houston made a particularly sharp assessment of where they were in the competitive cycle when they pulled the trigger on their Jennings deal with the Rockies. They recently lost ten games in a row and are in fifth place in the deeply bad NL Central. From their perspective, fourth place in the none-too-shabby NL West isn't bad at all.