I like to stay up late and wake up very early. I tend to feel most comfortable doing my thing during the hours of the day when the fewest people are out and about. During what most folk would consider "business hours," I usually close all of the windows and blinds and take a midmorning power nap. But my favorite part of my daily routine, without a doubt, is this time of day, when I wake up at about four or five and spend a couple of hours drinking coffee and skimming the sports pages.
I don't check the Rocky Mountain News sports section any more often than once every two weeks or so, because frankly, their writing sucks out loud and they are usually a week behind the Post and the MLB site when it comes to major Rockies developments. Case in point: Today's Dave Krieger column about how the Cubs have it worse off than Colorado does. It's just as true as it was when I wrote it last Friday, Dave.
Even when it comes to being singled out for underachieving, the Rockies get shafted. Kevin Hench's Fox Sports piece on the season's top 10 underperformers doesn't mention Garrett Atkins. Atkins' line from last year: .329/.409/.556, 29 homers. Atkins' line thus far in 2007: .233/.310/.361, 4 homers. Can't complain about Hench's higher-profile choices (Carlos Zambrano, Albert Pujols, Johan Santana, Mariano Rivera) but it's hard to argue that Atkins' falloff hasn't affected his team more than Richie Sexson's (he hasn't been good for years), Julio Lugo's (he's never been good, as far as I know), or Adam LaRoche's. And there's Howie Kendrick's name again. Honestly, what is so freaking great about Howie Kendrick? From the amount of ink he gets in fantasy columns you would think he had won back-to-back batting titles or something. He's on notice until he accomplishes anything of lasting moment at the major league level. As for Garrett Atkins, the Post reports that he has made some changes in his swing and is getting his timing back, and why would they lie?
Also in the Post recently is a piece about Jason Jennings' return to Denver. Troy Renck correctly gauges that it's too early to call a winner in the trade, since Jennings has hardly pitched for Houston, but he continues to labor under the fatal misapprehension that Willy Taveras is an asset for the Rockies. Heading over to the opposition's press contingent, Richard Justice misses Willy something fierce. "He has played better this season than at almost any time in two years with the Astros." Wait... this is better than he has ever played? So the Rockies had no right to expect he'd even be this good, and he's still only 153rd in the majors in VORP? I'm sorry, I am drawn to opportunities to dis Willy Taveras like a moth to a flame. And it's something I really need to work on, because I'm only playing into the popular perception of this trade, one both Renck and Justice reinforce (Justice even refers to it as quote "the Willy Taveras trade"). Willy Taveras was a throw-in in this deal. The point was getting Jason Hirsh and the six bargain-priced pre-free agency years to which the team that holds his rights is entitled. Krieger in the News and Justice in the Houston Chronicle both strongly imply that with his injury woes and the Astros' not-so-sudden plunge from relevance, Jennings has a good chance of not signing an extension this year and becoming a free agent after only one season in Houston. That's pretty interesting. Jason made his decision not to re-sign with the Rockies last year in part because of the state of a free-agent pitching market where guys like Gil Meche and Jeff Suppan were getting eight figures a year. It's hard to imagine that trending downward with so very many teams (Yankees, Reds, Rangers, Mariners) still desperate for good starting pitching, but we don't have a complete picture in place yet. Wouldn't it be something else if Jennings came back to the Rockies for something around the $8-9 million per they were offering him in an extension, and Colorado got to keep Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz? I would still call that trade for Houston if Willy Taveras continues to be the everyday centerfielder for Colorado after this season. Oh no, there I go again.
David Robinson is on the ESPN morning show right now talking about playing StarCraft with Tim Duncan. Apparently the Admiral taught Duncan the game when they were both together with the Spurs and after getting beaten pretty soundly the first few times, Duncan went off by himself, got good, and hammered Robinson the next time he played to the extent that David wouldn't play him after that. What race do you think the Big Fundamental favors, Zerg, Protoss, or Terran? I'll bet he's a Protoss guy. The slow, methodical exploitation of superior resources, that's what Tim Duncan is all about. This once again supports my theory that fabulously rich black ballplayers are more like overly entitled suburban white kids than you think. Think about it. They play the same video games, wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, even drive the same cars. One of the most fascinating insights contained in Jeff Pearlman's Barry Bonds book Love Me, Hate Me is that Bonds never felt particularly connected to black teammates, since he had been raised with privilege by a famous athlete father. I haven't finished my coffee yet and can't completely articulate a coherent conclusion to this paragraph, but even one tiny anecdote is enough to illustrate how ridiculously complicated race relations are in current society. That's why wild generalizations like the much-discussed NBA refereeing survey are dangerous and counterproductive. Dividing people into columns by a single criterion is reductionist and socially irresponsible. There's exceptions to every rule. For example, I know quite a few intelligent, rational, well-groomed Yankees fans. Or at least two.
While the heat on Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd sadly seemed to dissipate with the Rockies' upswing in play (which is silly, it's like passing a kid who got an F on every test for an entire semester because he managed to gut out a C- on the final), pressure on Lou Piniella and the Cubs will likely continue all season. That's what big dollars in a market entail. It seems hard to imagine that Sweet Lou will survive this year in Chicago given his current trajectory. He'll be committed by August! Organizational protests to the contrary, Piniella is a ghastly fit for the Cubs, and it should remind us all if we've somehow forgotten that there is no such thing as a manager for all seasons. Jay Mariotti, on the somewhat premature basis of two interim victories during Piniella's suspension, is promoting Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell as a replacement already. This is the same Alan Trammell who went 186-300 as manager in Detroit and caused more accolades upon Jim Leyland's hiring than when Pierce Brosnan took over for Timothy Dalton as James Bond. The same Leyland who was a worse fit for the Rockies in 1998 than Piniella is for the Cubs now. I don't really think that with most manager hires there is a big risk/reward balance to be considered. As I always say, all major league skippers fall into one of three categories: neutral, neutral-plus, and bad. But with prima donna types like Leyland and Piniella there is a certain gambling element involved. If the team buys in as the Tigers obviously have with Leyland and the Mariners and Reds once did with Piniella, they may be two of a very small handful of current managers who can genuinely cause by their mere presence more victories than their teams would garner otherwise. But if the players aren't buying it, as the Rockies didn't with Leyland and the Cubs aren't now with Piniella, there is absolutely no set of fallback moves these guys have to get players to listen again. At least with Clint Hurdle all the evidence suggests that the players never really tuned him in in the first place, so the team isn't his to lose. There are certainly managers who operate successfully in this low-key mode, but they have the same problem as the all-shouting all-the-time guys. When they act out of character to try and galvanize a team, it couldn't be more obvious to everyone. Like the spring training farce with Hurdle, Jeff Francis, and Kevin Kouzmanoff.
I picked the Twins to make the World Series (against the Mets) back in March, and while they have been making me look bad so far it was always my assumption that once they shook out their pitching rotation they would be all set for a dynamite second half, just as in 2006. Still, this is an organization that seems to delight in making things more difficult for themselves than they need to be. No one on the planet can satisfactorily explain to me why they give Sidney Ponson seven starts to begin the year, in which the team went 2-5. Minnesota had no less than four better options in the high minors -- Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Matt Garza. Now they seem dead set on going through every possible option other than the obviously correct one, which is Garza. At .500 the Twins don't have a ton of time to waste with Cleveland and Detroit both rather better than I thought they would be. You can point to slow starts for Justin Morneau and Johan Santana and an injury to Joe Mauer, but Minnesota has gotten far more than they could reasonably expect from Mike Redmond and Torii Hunter is having a career year. And the front four in their bullpen, forget about it. An unfavorable interleague stretch has the Twins meeting the Braves, Mets, and Brewers in addition to Washington and Florida this month. Detroit has more or less the same schedule, but the Indians miss the Mets. It's hard to imagine either team slipping in the weeks to come, and there's always the possibility that the White Sox will put things back together, although that seems a fading likelihood with each passing week. So if the Twinkies are going to back up my preseason prediction they need to start winning games against also-rans, something their current road trip through Oakland and Anaheim doesn't exactly lend itself to. Their specialty in the last few seasons has been beating their division rivals head-to-head when it counts, so maybe it will again be all of the intradivisional games down the stretch run that make the difference for Minnesota. As one of baseball's few well-run small market teams, you know I will be rooting for them.
Update: Colorado has designated Steve Finley for assignment. Non-Rockies fans, your line here is "Steve Finley was playing for Colorado?" Rockies fans, yours is "What, they didn't release him three weeks ago?"