Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Okay, That's One Win Against Arizona
2008-04-14 15:53
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Finally, on their sixth try of the season, the Rockies beat the Diamondbacks yesterday, exploding for 13 runs. This was encouraging to see for many reasons. It snapped Arizona's winning streak and hopefully slowed the momentum of a team trying to win the NL West right here in April. In 11 games prior to Sunday Colorado had scored 33 runs. The team's OBP was collectively under .300 when I last checked it. With 15 hits and 6 walks in one game, it's jumped up to .323. Aren't all of these early-season statistical curiosities amusing? I love this time of year.

The Rockies are still two games under .500 but the feeling around the team has to be that the storm has been weathered. Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe are still scuffling offensively but Yorvit Torrealba and Jayson Nix both had big hits this week. You look at the numbers up and down the Rockies' lineup and it's starting to look more natural. Garrett Atkins, somewhat the forgotten man in Colorado's run last fall, continues to be reliably productive. Todd Helton, now hitting third, seems to get on base two or three times every game. If Tulowitzki continues to struggle, Clint Hurdle might wish to think about moving him to seventh or eighth and pushing everyone ahead of him up a spot. Helton, who doesn't hit a lot of homers any longer but has superhuman plate control, would be an unconventional but effective #2 guy. I wasn't a huge fan of the lineup Hurdle used often last season with Willy Taveras batting leadoff and Kaz Matsui hitting second. It seemed to me that having two guys in a row at the top with no home run pop whatsoever was less than optimal.

Theoretically Tulowitzki ought to be a huge improvement, but the poor guy doesn't have a single RBI on the season thus far. And Clint Barmes gave him a breather at short on Sunday and promptly knocked in four runs. It's a classic sophomore slump for Tulowitzki, but he needn't worry about losing his starting job -- the organization is too invested in his continuing success. Colorado has had a bit of a problem the past few seasons getting prospects hung up between starting in AAA and playing regularly in the majors. Ask Jeff Baker or Chris Iannetta. That's not going to happen to Tulowitzki. If he doesn't hit all year -- well, he and Khalil Greene and Yuniesky Betancourt can start a support group. They can have guest speakers come and show PowerPoint presentations about newfangled defensive metrics.

The major reason that I finally feel like things are all right again with the Rockies, and at the very least they'll nip at the heels of the wild card race all year, is Matt Holliday. Matt Holliday is so freaking good. I forget sometimes, because I have the sort of personality that is drawn more to relief pitchers and glove guys, but Matt Holliday is one of the best baseball players on the planet right now and the Rockies are lucky to have him for as long as they can hold on to him. The double he hit in the eighth of yesterday's game against Doug Slaten was such a lovely swing I watched it back about four times on the TiVo. It was a low pitch, probably a ball, but Holliday was so locked in he simply bent his knees, swung through, and hit the baseball perfectly square. I don't want to praise Holliday for swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, but he's not like most players. Most guys get themselves out swinging at pitches out of the zone because even if they can hit them there's no way they're going to be able to drive it. But there's always a few genetic freaks who have such strength and hand-eye coordination that all they do is see the ball and hit the ball. Vladimir Guerrero is this era's most notable example. Holliday has become an MVP-level player because he can absolutely kill anything in the strike zone and because he has the skill and the judgement every now and then to extend his zone for something he can drive. He's so good.

You know who isn't good, and it's hilarious? The Tigers. The Tigers are terrible. I was thinking going into the season that they were due for some injuries to their starters (which indeed has happened, Dontrelle Willis is out already) and that their bullpen was going to be wretched. Well... their rotation is quickly becoming a shambles (Kenny Rogers might just be done), their bullpen is even worse than projected, and shockingly, nobody at all is hitting. I expected there might be a certain amount of attrition involved with the high number of older offensive players Detroit has (Polanco, Guillen, Sheffield, Renteria, Ivan Rodriguez) but I thought it would be minor and the strength of the lineup would be able to make them an 88-win team (or so). I was very pessimistic about the Cabrera deal (although I am surprised by how miserably Miguel Cabrera has begun his career as a Tiger) because I felt like it didn't quite get the Tigers past Cleveland this year or next. That's their window -- having mortgaged their future for Cabrera, absent another huge payroll increase they're going to be pretty bad for a spell after their late-30's core retires, declines, or moves on.

Only now, maybe they're already terrible. Who knew? Certainly not fans in Detroit, who are "way past the point of panic" if the Free Press's Tiger blogger is to be believed. I don't know if the Tigers will pick it up or not, but the historical record certainly suggests that most teams that get out to 2-10 starts don't follow that up with a postseason appearance. Whether the Tigers' season is doomed or not kind of depends on whether any of the other AL Central teams start playing at a higher level. Detroit has a two-game series against Minnesota today and tomorrow (I'm watching the first game as I write this, the Twins are up in the second and the Tigers just left two runners on base) then takes a road trip through Cleveland and Toronto. Those are two pretty good teams. There has definitely got to be a point -- I don't know where it is, but it's there -- where you get so far below .500 that your chances of making the playoffs become infinitesimal.

That could be kind of an interesting situation in Detroit -- if you're not a Tigers fan, I suppose. As some readers may know we here at Bad Altitude have strong feelings about Jim Leyland, who completely bailed on the Rockies after less than one season as the highest-paid manager in the game. He's definitely one those Larry Brown types who gets immediate results but wears out his welcome with great speed. But what about this Tigers team? What if they really are as bad as they have looked in the first few weeks? What are we to make of that? Talentwise I think that Detroit has a roster that ought to finish with a win total in the high eighties, meaning they have a fair chance of winning anywhere between say 85 and 94 games. If they end up winning way less than that -- if they finish 10 games under .500 or more -- something crazy has to have happened, right? Is it possible that the championship expectations placed on a good but not dominant roster were enough pressure to psychologically devastate the entire lineup? Probably not, no, but mix a little bad luck with a little bit of old-fashioned early season pressing, keep losing and throw in a lot of sniping from ESPN's talking heads, and soon you've got a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe things won't get any better for Detroit. Maybe they'll get worse.

Oh, man, that would be so great. I hate the Tigers (well, mostly I just hate Leyland) and I can honestly say that I would get more satisfaction out of them having a disastrous season than even the Yankees (because if the Yankees don't win their division Boston will, and Boston if you haven't realized it yet is the new boss, same as the old boss). Detroit almost certainly isn't going back to the depths of 2003 (43-119), but man, wouldn't it be hilarious if they did? Right now based on their 2-10 record they project to 27-135. Did I mention that I love this time of year?

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