Good evening, Rowbots. It is my pleasure to address y'all for the first time in several weeks, as matters are somewhat more settled in my new life down here and I have (for the moment) internet at my apartment. It is still liable to go out if a butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing, but I decided to be very audacious and hope that it works. There has been no shortage of results to slice and dice this week, and that is what I'm planning to do tonight. I'm still not sure if I'll be able to promise the Review every Sunday, as you have been accustomed to, but I'll try my best.
So, we all ask, what is going on with the guys? They absolutely fall on their faces against second-banana NL competition, then go out and put the screws to a very powerful Jays team to squeak through the homestand with a winning mark. 60 games in, and they're still clinging to .500 like a security blankie. What's the outlook? Is Todd Helton ever going to stop resembling Danny Ardoin? Will we ever be able to lay claim to the title of the best in the West? What rationale will Charlie Manuel come up with for starting Roy Halladay over Ubaldo in the All-Star Game?
These and other pressing questions are ruminated upon below. Join Milo, Tock, and myself, and jump to the Island of Conclusions. After you.
Sixty games into the season (sixty-three, to be precise) and the "small sample size" caveat doesn't apply anymore. It's past the time for the Rockies to stop looking like they still do, which is Jekyll and Hyde out the wazoo. This may be the most balanced team in the West on paper, but potential doesn't play the games, and they're still driving like Johan Santana in this commercial (Carpool). I for one am not going to assert that they're the favorites until they start consistently beating lesser competition, which has been a serious Achilles heel for several seasons now. I'm sorry, but bona fide contenders without glaring issues don't go belly-up against the Diamondbacks and the Astros, and consistently have difficulty with second-tier pitchers. Instead, it argues more that we ourselves can't be classified among the elite. I understand the argument that anyone in MLB is capable of shutting any team down on a given day, but when it's every other team's junkballer, fifth starter, spot reliever, or whatnot who's throwing six or seven innings of one-run ball against us, it's emblematic of a larger problem. Combine this with the prolonged doldrums that the offense has been in, and the fact that twelve of our thirty-three wins have come on the right arm of a lone demigod, it may be that Ubaldo's blinding awesomeness is the one thing keeping us from looking even worse. The guys are valiantly competing, and it may yet be enough to unseat the Dodgers, but to be honest, I'll believe it when I see it. Unfortunately, the boys in blue appear to have found their stride, and if the Rockies want to win the West this year, as was generally predicted at the start of it, they are going to have to beat them. No excuses.
I understand that there is almost two-thirds of the season left, and that plenty of stuff can happen, fortunes changing on a dime. Even the Phillies, arguably the best team in the NL, went stone-cold for several games at a stretch (three straight shutouts against the Mets? Come OOOOON). Just to be clear, I'm not by any means claiming that the Rockies are a bad team, or that WE IZ DOOMED, or any of that. I am, however, saying that there still isn't any real basis for the assumption that they are, as currently constituted, the top dog in the division. They have the potential to be a very good team indeed. But they are certainly an underachieving one at the moment, and the question of whether it's Uball saving us from a repeat of 2008 is troubling. More so is the very un-Toddlike statline being currently exhibited by #17, which has continued long enough to make us wonder if the Toddfather, at the venerable age of almost 37 and with a very distinguished career in the rearview mirror, has simply just hit the twilight years. We love him and always will, but the fact remains is that we can't keep a guy OPSing under .600 in June in a key run-producing spot in the order. As pointed out previously, Brad Eldred is not the answer, Dan O'Dowd is very unlikely to pull off a splashy trade, and the fix is going to have to come from inside the clubhouse. Every time we think the guys have turned a corner for good, they go do stuff like losing 3 of 4 to the Astros at home. Waiting on another ten-game winning streak probably isn't the answer.
So, a quick list of observations and criticisms as the Rockies enter Interleague Play, where they have traditionally thrived:
-- Hey Jim Tracy, start emphasizing defense. I'm starting to believe there was something to Hurdle, for all his other well-chronicled shortcomings as a skipper, beating the boys over the head with his focus on D. For a team three years removed from setting the all-time fielding percentage record, the fact that we're still allowing four-out innings and Melvin Mora at second is frankly nauseating. (Fortunately, Tracy appears to have somewhat got the message on this latter innovation.) Speaking of which, Tracy really needs to find a managerial style that differs from Hurdle's, as Hurdle's endless tinkering and lack of set roles was a big part of why he ultimately got the sack. In fact, everyone was remarking last year when Tracy first took over that it was the knowledge of how and where they were going to be used that allowed them to settle into a routine. At least part of the offensive pitfalls are likely attributable to Tracy's quasi-Little League "let everyone play" mentality, and the refusal to stick with a lineup even when it works and we do happy things like scoring twelve runs. Tracy also made a comment that he didn't care if the guys won ballgames 1-0 or 2-1. Technically, neither do I -- a W is a W is a W -- but there's also the fact that hey, there is way more firepower on this team than that, and if you're satisfied with lower production, you're not going to ramp it up. Maybe you can pull a Joe Mikulik. Throwing water coolers is unnecessary, but I'm not getting any sense whatsoever of fire and urgency from Tracy, which was one of my big gripes with Hurdle. It's not "we're just happy to be here," it's "we're supposed to win this thing." And after all, the manager sets the tone. And that's demonstrably not Tracy's style, which makes me wonder how he's going to motivate this team for the stretch.
-- Stop making Uball throw 120+ pitches every start. As has also been pointed out elsewhere, this is a slow-brewing recipe for disaster. While Uball may be a stud, a workhorse, and every other well-deserved encomium you can bestow upon him, there was really no call for, say, making him start the eighth inning against the Dbacks. That right arm is too precious to make it eat garbage innings, and while I trust Uball absolutely, I am terrified of the day that something goes pop. Uball was second only in pitches thrown to Adam Wainwright last year, and he appears to be on course to bust that record easily. Hey, Jim. While you're formulating that managerial strategy, a little less Dusty Baker would be A-OK.
-- Kudos to Jason Hammel, who I was definitely hard on earlier in the year, as he was reliably prone to game-losing lapses. (Of course, the offense's inability to rally from even modest deficits did not help, and which is still a serious problem.) But he's looked good, to say the least, for the last few starts, and while Jhoulys Chacin has hit the inevitable rookie roadblock, the fact that Hammel had success last year gives me hope that he can keep it up. He definitely will need to, as we just don't have anyone apart from Uball who has even a better-than-average chance of reliably going out and throwing a winning ballgame. Cook is still a tossup, so is Chacin, and the fact that we're getting anything at all from Francis, let alone a pretty decent return, is astounding. But any ascent permanently clear of .500 is going to have to start, literally, with the front five. As mentioned, O'Dowd isn't going to make a trade for Roy Oswalt or anyone else, so the current crop is going to have to figure it out themselves.
-- I'm starting to think that Street and Buchholz are going to miss all of this year too. Speaking of the bullpen, can we please get Matt Belisle AWAY from high-leverage innings?
-- Tulo needs to a) get back and not get injured any more, b) look like a Gold Glover again, and c) flip the on switch that he has still almost located, but not quite, like you scrambling for the kitchen light during a midnight snack run. It's been written so often as to wear grooves, but if he would just stay locked in for good, aka the way he was during all the second half of last year, I really have a feeling the Rockies would stop looking so underwhelming. Why must it be so difficult... yes I know it's easy for ME to say... mumble mumble mumble.
-- Barmes or Herrera? Pick your poison. Barmes is looking like the "Venison" that took a bruising around these parts for the last few years, and Herrera has, well, never done anything of significance at the big-league level. Barmes was never going to be a superstar, but he was at least respectable for good portions of last year. He's someone else who appears to have taken a swan dive off the cliff with Todd Helton, and while this might be fixed by the magical Tulo coattail effect, it also might not. If you add in the pitcher's spot, that's about three semi-predictable outs a game, and that's too many. And yes, I know that Barmes had a good game today, but then, the whole offense had a good game today, has had good games before, and hasn't managed to sustain it long-term yet. I'm talking in terms of the bigger picture here. Picking on Barmes too often feels like shooting fish in a barrel with a rocket launcher, just because he's the usual scapegoat, but while he may be the world's nicest guy and a great fit with the team, he's still... you know.
-- Miguel Olivo is, I have to say, fairly awesome. He may be second to Yadier Molina in terms of throwing out runners, but not by much. Man is it nice to know that the guy on first is not at all a lock to steal second. You know who's also awesome, recent scuffles notwithstanding? Carlos Gonzalez. It is just fun to watch that guy play the game.
-- What's up next? The Rockies make an excursion to Minnesota for a three-game set to face the Twinkies, before coming back home to face the Brewers and, ugh, the Red Sox. That had better go better than what happened the last time Bawston showed up in Coors Field (not that I remember anything about that) and if it's Fenway West, I may just blow a gasket. Everybody go and make as much noise as possible. Gurgh I hate the Red Sox.
-- Man this is getting long. That happens when you've been away for a few weeks. As I said, I wouldn't pencil me back in on a daily basis yet, not least of which is due to the fact that I am starting with the Tourists tomorrow and will have fifteen-hour days all week. My schedule looks like this: Up at 6:30, catch the bus at 7:30, arrive at my first job at 8, work until 4, catch the bus back, bike to McCormick Field, start work at 5 or 5:30, work until 10:30 or 11, bike home, shower, bed, repeat. In other words, I will be pretty much nonexistent for the next seven days. Nonetheless, I am excited out of my head. In essence, I will be being paid to hang around the ballpark on long summer nights, watch minor league baseball and all its attendant zany sideshows, schmoozing, and otherwise having a literal ball. Since I will be working all the Tourists' home games, I will hopefully be able to compile some good impressions and/or answer questions. And I think that Matzek is starting tomorrow, although I could be mistaken. Damn I love my life. *
-*- Not applicable when I'm biking back home, up a very long hill, at 11 at night and swearing like a sailor
Until next week, hopefully