You know what I have been doing lately? I have been watching even more baseball than I usually do, but I have taken a lot of the analytical aspect out of the way I normally watch games. I've just been letting the pure satisfaction of there being four or five games a night with playoff implications for both teams wash over me. I also find myself surprisingly pleased that the team I usually root for in the AL after the Rockies have rendered themselves irrelevant (Oakland) is further out of the money right now than the Rockies are. That hasn't happened since I graduated from college and left the Bay Area behind me.
Of course, even when I am making a conscious effort to just enjoy how great this time of year is and stay away from all of the tangly, synthesist sports journalist stuff, ideas start emerging. Was Boston's shutout win over Tampa Bay enough to restore their confidence? Will the Dodgers ever score a run again? What is the freaking deal with the Diamondbacks? Is Seattle ever going to lose even one close game all season? After spending all year half-suspecting that the Indians would backslide and the Yankees would steal the wild card, is it too much to dream that it will be Detroit's playoff spot that New York pips instead? How on earth did I get to the point where I actually hate the Tigers more than the Yankees?
Here is an unfortunate one. Milwaukee and the Cubs will only play each other once more this season, and not at all in September. How did that happen, you ask, when the Rockies seemingly spend the last month of the season playing no one but NL West teams year after year? Well, there are six teams in the NL Central, for starters. I also imagine that Milwaukee ownership agitates every year to get as many home Chicago series as it can in the early part of the schedule. That's when it still tends to be miserably cold in the region and when at least a few Cubs fans I know would just as soon not go to a game at Wrigley in their long underwear -- but certainly wouldn't mind driving a half an hour north to watch the Cubs play indoors. I have been mumbling about schedule reform for a few years now, but realistically there is no solution to this problem that MLB will consider until the league again expands to 32 teams. Bud Selig and a quorum of the owners feel that interleague play needs to remain segregated on the schedule as is presently the case. I don't really see their argument.
The Rockies are in roster disarray, again, but they're certainly not playing like it. You know about the injuries to Rodrigo Lopez and Jason Hirsh. Where is the team finding starters? Pretty far afield. Tim Harikkala started Sunday for his first major league appearance in two seasons and was immediately sent down to AAA afterwards. With Todd Helton ailing (back spasms) and Jeff Baker recovering from a Jason Marquis fastball to the noggin, Ian Stewart finally made his first appearance with the parent club. Willy Taveras has a strained quadriceps, which has led to increased playing time for Bad Altitude fave Ryan Spilborghs in the past week. Jamey Carroll has also been contributing more than he has any time since last season with the Rockies attempting to keep the invaluable Kaz Matsui functional. Also, don't forget about the sudden rapid shuffle of backup catchers. Chris Iannetta was returned to the minors in favor of Edwin Bellorin, who immediately was injured; initially Alvin Colina stepped in but now Geronimo Gil is with the big club serving as Yorvit Torrealba's sub. You got all that?
So we still don't know who will take the last regular slot in the rotation. In fact, two slots could be up for change, as Ubaldo Jimenez has looked adrift and unaware of organized baseball's strike zone conventions in his last few starts. Franklin Morales, Rockies pitching prospect #1-B after Jimenez, was ineffective in his first start in Colorado Springs.
You know what, I am doing this backwards. Do you want to know how bad it really is for Rockies starting pitching right now? All you need to read is this one line from the Post's article this morning about the rotation's present chaotic state: "The Rockies remain interested in Baltimore's Steve Trachsel."
So, seriously, what are our real options? Jimenez will certainly be given a few more chances to make the impressive movement on his fastball work for him rather than against him. As things stand right now I suspect that the Rockies will send Harikkala to replace Morales in AAA, give Franklin one shot with the big club, then switch them right back around if the rookie proves unready for prime time. As far as the starting rotation seems to be concerned, Taylor Buchholz is a forgotten man. Is there anyone out of the organization for whom Colorado could make a move? At this point it appears unlikely, as Thomas Harding writes in an MLB.com mailbag that also implies that Brian Fuentes will not receive the full-time closer's job back when he returns to the Rockies for this current road trip through San Diego and Los Angeles. Manny Corpas has been too good. Says here that if it's a save situation and there are more righties than lefties ahead in the opposition lineup, Corpas will get the call. I've often said that as effective a closer he has been, Fuentes would put up simply unspeakable numbers if his manager was able to maximize his exposure to left-handed hitting. I always assumed that this would happen in a pennant race for a club other than Colorado. Perhaps now Brian will lefty-specialize the Rockies' way to the postseason. Doing so would make him the third raddest left-handed person in the state after Jeff Francis and yours truly.
So it's another road trip in the division, to the mysterious and exotic part of the NL where they (oddly) try and win games with no offenses. Three games with the Padres, three games with the Dodgers. L.A. is on the brink of falling out of the discussion in the NL West all together, while Padres fans have even more reason than Rockies fans to look up at the frontrunning Arizona Diamondbacks and say "Seriously, what the hell is going on there?" An update, if you haven't been looking at this stat every morning first thing the way I have: Arizona is now fifteen games over .500 despite having been outscored on the season by more than twenty runs. That's freakier than David Bowie's erect radio signal-transmitting nipples.
Jeff Francis faces Greg Maddux tonight, which is awesome. I've always felt that despite the opposite orientations Francis's approach to hitters is like that of a developing young Maddux. They both work by exercising supernatural control of fastballs that that are harder on batters than they are on radar guns. The Channel, by the way, is on pace to establish a new franchise record for wins for a starting pitcher on a season. No word yet on whether Kevin Ritz, Pedro Astacio, and the commissioner will be attending all of his starts for the rest of the year. Wednesday we'll see U-Ball and Chris Young; Thursday Aaron Cook and Wilfredo Ledezma. Hmm, it's kind of too bad the Rockies can't use Tim Harikkala in that one, "Harikkala versus Ledezma" is tremendous fun to say out loud. (Try it.)
I hate to say it, but one cannot scrupulously report on any athletics in the state of Colorado without acknowledging the elephant in the room: Broncos fever has arrived with a vengeance. As I'm writing this some local radio host is predicting 14-2 and I believe wins in five of the next six Super Bowls. It is imperative that the Rockies not go 1-5 on this road trip, because even the same people who have been boosting average weekday Coors attendance to the heady territory of 20K a game have already been conditioned to completely switch off the baseball enthusiast parts of their brain come the third week of the NFL preseason. The Broncos annoyingly seem uninterested in becoming competitively irrelevant in the AFC West so the Rockies are going to have to do their part to remain in the conversation in the NL West else they fall off of the local sports awareness map entirely.
Hey, and having the star-studded distraction of the MLS All-Star Game right there in Commerce City didn't help any either.