Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Rockies Sweep Nationals
2007-08-27 00:46
by Mark T.R. Donohue

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who has written in and asked me to keep writing the Rockies off in the false assumption that every time I rake the team over the coals they start winning like crazy. If Colorado went on a hot streak every time I said something disparaging about them, they'd be like 452-2 over the last three seasons.

My first reaction to the Rockies' very solid series at Coors against the rather dimly starred Washington club was that while a sweep was very nice indeed, it only put the Rockies right back where they were a week ago before they lost 3 of 4 to the Pirates, with a road trip in the division looming. Road trips in the NL West are the Rockies' kryptonite. But then I actually looked at the standings and saw that in the wild card Colorado is now ahead of Atlanta and Milwaukee, tied with the Dodgers, and trailing just Philadelphia (whose pitching makes the Rockies' look sterling) and San Diego (whose hitting makes the Rockies' look like the '27 Yanks). At this point in the season, as I have been telling people for days as an argument against the Rockies chances of making the playoffs this year, the number of games back is less important than how many teams are between you and your goal. It's entirely possible for one team with a big lead to go cold and the one team behind it to capitalize; it happened with the Twins and Tigers last season. But when there's five teams ahead of you, as was the case for the Rockies a couple of days ago? Not so much.

I still don't think the Rockies are a playoff team, but here is what I've come around to realizing. The National League isn't a playoff league. Seriously, they should call the season now and have an eight-team tournament with the Tigers, Indians, Angels, Mariners, Red Sox, Yankees, Twins, and Mets. That would be much more exciting than the playoffs we're going to end up getting, with an NL Central winner who could be under .500, a Diamondbacks team with the worst run differential in their division (by a wide, wide margin), and a wild card that will probably be the favorite to advance given the lack of pressure the Mets have faced for the whole second half.

Now here's the real kicker. The Rockies play San Diego six times down the stretch and the Phillies four times. It's all there in front of them, if they want it. They still haven't had a dominant road trip this year, although the way the league is falling apart around them that 3-3 swing through Florida and Atlanta is looking more and more impressive. If Colorado can crank the Giants and expose Arizona on its upcoming six-game trip, sixteen of their final twenty-six games are at home. Hey, they might just not win the wild card, they could win the division! The Diamondbacks are six weeks overdue for a massive reality correction. The Dodgers are choking on fumes. The Padres fear coming to Coors way more than the Rockies are bothered by PetCo Park. It's all there.

Aren't you glad I didn't write anything immediately in response to the Rockies' five-run ninth-inning comeback on Friday night? That pretty much would have guaranteed that they lost the next two games to the Nationals, the way my picks are going lately. Listen, I still have some issues with the organization. If Colorado had begun the year with a better rotation they would have been able to put away some more games in April and May and they wouldn't have had that 1-9 road trip at the end of June. But you think any Cardinals fans care that management didn't bolster the team more at the trade deadline last year? Sure, St. Louis went in freefall down the stretch, but they backed into the playoffs and... won the World Series, which is something that any team in the postseason has a legitimate shot of doing, even if they came from a eyesore circuit that makes us long for the days of the Federal League.

I have been operating under the assumption that the Brewers' Ryan Braun sewed up the NL Rookie of the Year award some time ago, but if Milwaukee continues fading and the Rockies pull off a miracle, consider Troy Tulowitzki. As's Gennaro Filice writes, Tulo is the most complete rookie in the league this year. He has been the starter at shortstop for Colorado since Opening Day, he leads the league in putouts and assists from his position, and he's hitting .296/.366/.468, nothing to sneeze at for any NL shortstop let alone a rookie. Troy only has eighteen homers to Braun's 25 in two months' less worth of games, and the difference in OPS (1.026 to .835) is hugely in Braun's favor. But then again, Braun is a butcher at third base. Fielding percentage is a flawed stat, but I think that we can be certain than anything under .900 is pretty bad. Braun boots more than 1 in 10 of the balls hit to his position, whereas Tulowitzki as a shortstop is at .984. It won't make much of a difference since nobody watches Rockies games, but Troy has also been driving in ridiculously clutch runs seemingly three or four times a week and he may be extending Todd Helton's effective years with the way he puts every single freaking throw to first right on the "17." During the Clint Barmes era Todd's knees took a beating every inning with the way he had to scamper, dive, and leap to keep throws flying past him into the dugout. With Tulowitzki he barely ever even has to move his glove. By custom the best fielders in each league are barred from winning Gold Gloves, but look at Troy's big advantage in range factor over his closest challenger, the Giants' Omar Vizquel. Omar pips Troy in fielding percentage .987 to .984, but at 5.50 Tulo's range is three-quarters of a point higher and Tulowitzki has helped his team with the bat, unlike the veteran Vizquel (.249/.308/.309). Rookies never win Gold Gloves, but Wes Parker made the all-time GG team earlier this season so I suppose anything is possible. Certainly if you'd watched him all season as I have you'd have little to no evidence of any better defensive shortstop in the National League than Troy Tulowitzki.

2007-08-27 09:26:37
1.   Vishal
"you'd have little to no evidence of any better defensive shortstop in the National League"

i hate to quibble, as i pretty much agree with you about tulowitzki's quality, but... how about adam everett?

2007-08-27 10:28:19
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Tulowitzki has a better arm than Everett. No doubt in my mind. Their range is about equal. Also Everett should be disqualified for inspiring about 200 Richard Justice columns about how what he does with the glove totally makes up for him hitting .210 and if you don't agree with that you're not a baseball fan.

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