Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
All Even
2007-06-15 11:16
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies are at .500, 33-33. All they need to do to have a winning record is win a series at home against the Devil Rays. All right! Couple of problems, though. The first is that Colorado isn't, as they say, "as good as their record." With 288 runs scored and 312 runs allowed, the Rockies ought to be at 30-36 or thereabouts, safely ensconced in their customary position in last place in the NL West. There's a lot of this sort of thing going on in the division this season, with Arizona seven games over .500 despite a break-even run differential and San Francisco five under even though they've scored 277 to 261 allowed. With the injury problems the Rockies have had you can certainly construct an argument that we're only now seeing the "real" team (and, incidentally, the "real" Garrett Atkins seems to have arrived for work two months behind schedule) but realistically reaching .500 isn't a starting point for bigger and brighter things. They'll have to maintain their standard of play thus far if they're to finish with an 80-win season.

My other concern is particularly relevant in the wake of a very encouraging series win at Fenway Park. The Rockies have played rather well against elite teams in the past three seasons. Last year they were one of the only teams in the National League to post a winning record in interleague contests. They've played teams like the Cardinals and the Mets rather tougher than they've played anybody else. There's no statistical basis for my saying so, but I feel like this is a team that is separated from winning by more than plain old lack of talent. Under Clint Hurdle the Rockies have had tremendous difficulty maintaining focus. They lose series at home that they ought to win all of the time, and they've been disastrously bad on the road even against subpar competition. The three games this weekend against the Devil Rays will be a good litmus test as to whether the Rockies are prepared to develop the mental toughness needed to make that critical jump from 75-win-hood to the heady climes of 80-plus.

They'll have their work cut out for them tonight against St. Pete's under-the-radar ace, James Shields. Rodrigo Lopez gets the starting assignment for Colorado. Then we have Jason Hirsh and someone named Andy Sonnanstine on Saturday (that's the game I'm going to, blast the luck), and Scott Kazmir and Aaron "Somebody Wearing My Colors Please Just Score a Run for the Love of All That's Good and Holy" Cook on Sunday. The Rockies need to be mindful of not looking past an improving Tampa Bay team to the Yankees' visit to Coors Field. The infuriatingly short-sighted Colorado promotions department has been flogging this Yankees series like it's the All-Star Game, World Series, and Olympics all rolled into one, but it's only three games.

Generally I find the Rockies' official magazine, which I receive free as a partial season-ticket holder, to be mostly benign and occasionally amusing. The People magazine-like difficulty level of the crossword puzzle is always a hoot, for starters. But this article in the June issue about Derek Jeter makes my skin crawl. Three whole pages of retch-inducing hagiography about the Robert Horry of MLB! So what if he's won a lot of championships? It's not like he sweats sugar-free Kool-Aid. The only thing that separates Jeter from Todd Helton is that Jeter isn't alone on his team when it comes to being grossly overpaid, Helton actually deserved the Gold Gloves he's won, and 167 points of career OPS.

2007-06-15 12:35:29
1.   Bob Timmermann
Andy Sonnanstine is supposed to be pretty good.
2007-06-15 17:56:49
2.   Ali Nagib
Wow, I didn't realize that Helton was 20 points better than Jeter in career OPS+. Being an average shortstop is probably about as valuable as a Gold-Glove first baseman, but Jeter has only been average a few seasons at best.
2007-06-15 22:53:29
3.   ralfthewiseandpowerful
Mark, I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed by your column lately. The updates while the Rockies have been climbing out of their sub .500 start have been few and far between, the content also disappointing as you shift between the two topics of "Taveras sucks" and "Winning baseball games doesn't make you a good team". The last being a curiously paradoxical sentiment, at best...

More than anything, the mood of "Bad Altitude" lately reminds me of the all-in Texas Hold'em player who is calling out for the cards that favor their opponent to fall, as if the public declaration of expecting the bad beat will stave it off.

I suppose the opposite of your attitude would be expressed by the typical Yankees blogger who, after seeing the Yanks rip off a nine game streak feasting off the under-whelming pitching of the Pirates and the over-achieving D-Backs, are declaring the Yankees the AL pennant favorite.

As Rockies fans, we all understand the heartache of watching them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but that does not mean that there is not reason to be excited, even enthusiastic about their recent success.

So does the recent slide make the Rox the favorite to win the NL West or even the wildcard? No. But they have battled back into contention for both, sitting a mere 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot. Due they lack a true ace? Yes. But they might have the one of the top five 1-3, if not 1-4 rotations in the NL. Is Taveras the ideal centerfielder for Coors Field? No. But, he is causing problems nightly for the opposing team, both out of the box and on the base paths.

The glass is more than half-full, good sir.

2007-06-18 18:12:27
4.   RIYank
The 167 points of OPS suddenly changes to 72, if you look at the Away splits.

Just sayin'. I mean, that Yankees could use Helton, no doubt.

2007-06-18 18:21:29
5.   RIYank
Oh yeah, and ralfw&p, you might be hanging at the wrong Yankee blogs. Check out your Toaster-mate Bronx Banter for a higher class of pinstriper. Today (an off day) Alex touted a Baseball Prospectus article about Posada, and the author (Jay Jaffe) has come by to exchange thoughts in the Comments section.

And for the record, yes, the Bucs are terrible and the Snakes are overrated (or overachieving if you prefer). But the Bombers did win series against the Mets and both kinds of Sox, too, in the current run. Far cry from sewing up the pennant -- far cry from being a play-off contender -- but not chopped liver either.

2007-06-18 22:32:34
6.   ralfthewiseandpowerful
The Yankee blog on Toaster has always been a pretty good reflection of both the Yank's triumphs and pitfalls.

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