I'll write the Pebble Report and the promised (and late) positives at each level report later, but I wanted to get the conversation going with this first.
First of all, a win is a win is a win, if I might mangle Gertrude Stein a bit, but one run squeakers like last night's aren't a very good indication that the team has turned a corner just yet. Unless a team's as lucky as the D-backs circa 2007, and we all know the Rockies in 2008 aren't anywhere close to that fortunate, seasons aren't won or lost by the close contests. Instead, a team's mettle will be measured in how many times it clobbers the opponent, compared to how many times the clobbering is inflicted upon it. Last season the Rockies split their one run contests, 19-19, while going 29-18 in games decided by five runs or more. This year, they're more or less even again in one run games, 7-6 after last night, but are just 5-9 in the blowouts. If the team is any good, it will become evident when they turn that second figure to a plus.
In order to do that, the Rox will need more innings like last night's eighth -to make a blowout you typically need at least two big innings in a game- and more pitching performances like those Aaron Cook's been giving us. This is all self evident, but stick with me and hopefully I'll get somewhere with this.
So let's go back to the set-up of last night's eighth. The top of the lineup -Willy T, Q, and Holliday- were set to face rookie Kyle McClellan. Taveras hasn't been hitting well this year, Quintanilla's been ripping since his call-up, and Holliday just rips, so the outcome of the first three was sort of predictable. Taveras struck out against the rookie, Quintanilla shot a groundball through the defense up the middle, and Holliday lined a triple deep the other way against a slightly shifted outfield. The only problem with this picture is that we had a guy who's getting out more than two thirds of the time -but he saved a run or two defensively last night- leading off. That first batter, first out scenario always drastically reduces a team's scoring chances.
Anyway, let's go on: next up, Helton. At this point to minimize the damage, La Russa used a common strategy against the Rockies, switching in your best LHP for the Helton/Atkins/Hawpe trio. With one out already, all Randy Flores needed to do was retire the two lefties to end the inning, he could pitch around Atkins. Helton popped out weakly, Atkins walked, and then Hurdle went to this best bat off the bench, Ryan Spilborghs, with two outs to try and get Holliday home. Now LaRussa had an issue, he could stick with Flores, who's allowing a .417 OBP to right handers this year, and has given up a .310/.387/.475 line against them in his career, or he could go to Jason Isringhausen, who had been warming up for the ninth. This was the first time Isringhausen had entered in the eighth inning this season, and this is where I've got to give Hurdle some credit for making TLR squirm. Batting Spilly was absolutely the right decision, and we can probably be thankful that Spilborghs in his career had been a perfect one for one with an RBI single against Flores for making it happen. If it had been Baker or Torrealba with the lone hit off Randy, Hurdle might have been tempted to use one of them instead.
At any rate, Spilly singles in Holliday, and Iannetta triples in both Spilborghs and Atkins to give us that lead. It would make sense that the five players responsible for that rally -Quintanilla, Holliday, Atkins, Spilborghs and Iannetta are five of our best performers this year. All we were lacking was a cameo by Scott Podsednik. So there's the secret to having big innings: GIVE YOUR BEST HITTERS THE MOST CHANCES.
Huh, I thought it might be harder than that.
On to pitching. Also important in manufacturing blowouts is giving up fewer than four runs a game, and so far we've only had one starter capable of this. The big news yesterday was that Greg Reynolds got pulled from his start in Colorado Springs in order to be ready to go Sunday in his MLB debut. Let's make a list of starters this season:
- Jeff Francis
- Kip Wells
- Aaron Cook
- Ubaldo Jimenez
- Mark Redman
- Franklin Morales
- Jorge De La Rosa
- as of Sunday, Greg Reynolds
Jason Hirsh will make it nine when he returns. If we trade or troll the waiver wires for someone like Josh Fogg, we'll reach double digits. Believe it or not with all the turnover that occurred at the end of the season, the Rockies didn't use their eighth starter in 2007 until Jimenez pitched on July 19. In that 2008 group, we've got three, soon to be four pitchers in the young, inconsistent phase of their careers, two in the old, ineffective and washed up phase, and what should be our two standbys in Cook and Francis. Francis is a veteran now, a leader, and he should be more consistent than this. Without a real step forward on what he's been doing this season, the Rockies are in trouble. You can blame the rest all you want, but the fact is we need and expect more from Jeff to be competitive. The others are actually meant to be cheap and interchangeable to the point we could stick with the hot hand, should one emerge. It's come to the point that I'm hoping that Reynolds will be that calm and stable, innings eating performer to buffet the ups and downs of the rest of the rotation and it shouldn't be that way.
Anyway, at least I know that Reynolds has the talent to be that guy, but it's a heck of a lot to ask for a rookie. Jeff, step up so the pressure's off him, okay?