In an action only slightly less daring than going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, I am hoping that my internet will play nice long enough to throw this (somewhat short, but who cares) Rockies
Review Rewind onto the Interwebs. There's plenty to chew through, and plenty to praise, most of which we've done already, but hey. It's always nice to bask in victory (last night notably excepted). And Tulo, who is, well, a monster.
Because that's just the way things are going these days, and the team hasn't even played their best ball yet -- CarGo is just heating up now, the team batting average coming into today's game was only .259, and of course Ubaldo hasn't had a healthy start. But this has been, ridiculously, good enough to catapult the guys into firm possession of baseball's best record at 12-3. (Worst record? The Red Sox. Aha. AHA. AHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA).
Ahem. If you want to keep on enjoying the newfound PURPLE POWER, then JUMP.
In last week's edition, I said that if I was going to be convinced that their hot start was anything more than good luck, the Rockies were going to have to win at Citi Field. Well, you may or may not have noticed, but boy, did they win at Citi Field. They went in and, although they can't exactly be said to have manhandled the Mets -- three of the four wins came by a margin of just one run -- they consistently outplayed them in all facets of the game. They got timely hitting. They got timely defense. They got flat lucky breaks (David Wright hitting a ball to the homer-killing corner, where it hung up long enough for Seth Smith to catch it and end Game 1 of the doubleheader). They didn't shoot themselves in the foot. And oh yeah, some obscure shortstop named Troy Tulowitzki turned the Mets' pitching into his personal word-that-rhymes-with-witch, cranking four homers in four games and usually managing to place them with artistic precision for maximum devastating effect. The Mets thought they were sneaking away with one, huh? Whoops. Here comes that guy again. Oh look, a bomb.
Let me state the obvious: The 2011 New York Mets are not a good baseball team. Absent some miraculous turnaround, they're going to be setting up camp in the NL East cellar for the rest of the season, and so this technically can't be used as a yardstick to prove our ability against contenders. But this fails to take into account the fact that the Rockies have traditionally had absolute fits when it comes to beating them in Queens; indeed, their failures are downright legendary at this point. (Fernando Tatis! /starts shaking furiously). Not to mention, they have also traditionally had a long record of playing down to their opponents' level and letting weaker teams get away with facepalm-worthy hijinks.
As I also said, elite teams crush the teams they're supposed to crush, even when it's just by luck or a run or the key hit or a superstar named Tulo. Last year, he didn't hit his fourth homer until the middle of May. This year, he hit four homers in five days and is currently in the team lead with seven. Power streaks can always turn off, of course, but April!Tulo this is not. And as has always been observed, as Tulo goes, so goes the team. And of course, before the Mets, the Rockies took three of four from the Pirates in Pittsburgh. While the Pirates have also given us trouble in the past, this year's team is not to be taken lightly; Jose Tabata in particular is probably going to be in my nightmares. But the Rockies got the job done, bouncing handily back from their one extra-inning loss, and that resulted in a 7-1 record on an eight-game East Coast swing. Seven-and-freaking-one. I'm sure no one needs to be reminded that we won 31 games on the road all last year.
However, what impressed me more than the road wafflestompings was the way the Rockies won today. Last night was a textbook example of what most of our early-season games have heretofore looked like: missed opportunities galore, a blowup by the bullpen, a meaningless late homer, and a generally flat effort. Not to mention, an AAA starter going today. It would have been extremely easy to let the malaise carry over, and after a 4-run first inning was followed by several more of notable silence, it looked as if it might. But then the Rockies came out swinging in the crucial late innings, highlighted by Dexter Fowler's two-run, two-out, tiebreaking double (and the sound Coors made when he hit that ball is one of my favorite things in the whole damn world). A couple more runs were added just for good measure, and Huston Street, with a little help from Jose Lopez, nailed down the game in the ninth (likewise recovering from a shaky outing in Game 1 of the doubleheader that required Matt Lindstrom to save his ass). In short, today was exactly what a good team would have and should have done: developing instant amnesia about last night's less than satisfactory result, ignoring the fact that they had Alan Freakin' Johnson starting the game, getting an early quick start and a late clutch hit, to take two of three from the Cubbies and get ready to welcome the Giants to Coors from the high ground.
But as I pointed out, the team has looked decidedly uneven for all that they're sporting a 12-3 record. The production of the offense can't really be faulted, but they're still hitting barely .260 as an overall unit. The bullpen has had its share of weebles (fortunately, none have yet been seriously fatal apart from Paulino's implosion last night). The rotating door at third base has been necessitated by Ian Stewart, Ty Wigginton, and Jose Lopez all looking various degrees of totally lost at the plate, but at least Wigginton and Lopez have directly helped to win ballgames. Although I'm sure no one dislikes it more than Ian Stewart, he has been just painful to watch this year, with 11 K's in 24 ABs and an average and slugging percentage that match: .083. Ouch.
I'm certainly not suggesting that Stewart be chucked out for good on the basis of less than a full month of baseball, but the time that he was thought of as the Rockies' long-term third-sacker of the future appears to be well and truly gone. But of course, neither Wigginton or Lopez have authoritatively laid claim to the job either, so it looks as if the musical chairs will continue for the time being. Carlos Gonzalez has also been slow to get the motor in gear, although he did hit his first home run against the Mets and picked up a four-hit game against the Cubs today. But if he wants a 40/40 season, as he suggested, then hey, how about getting started...?
Naturally, there's only so much you can really criticise when you're sitting at the top of the division, the league, and the game, but I'm doing so if only to point how much room for improvement there really is -- and that has to be a scary thought. If the Rockies finally harness their potential and start getting the gears turning in unison sometime before September (and if they continue to do so on a consistent basis) -- then, just as we've always known but have generally failed to see played out in practice -- then the sky is seriously the limit. I don't want to let us get too carried away with our expectations, as it's (as any well-trained player will tell you in his interview) a long season. But it also cannot be denied that they've already demonstrated leaps and bounds of improvement in very concrete and crucial areas that they never did last season. The fact that they are 12-3 without having yet played their best ball is perhaps our best reason for excitement. Let's cross our fingers and hope that Seth Smith is OK after having to leave the game early today, and that the big bad injury fairy will continue to keep her distance.
Speaking of which, there's also the fact that some guy named Ubaldo Jimenez comes off the DL tomorrow, just in time to face the hated Giants. Greg Reynolds pitched more than capably as a fill-in in his absence, but when you're talking about a pitcher on the caliber of Uball, it's a literal shot in the arm that we most definitely need. Esmil Rogers, Jason Hammel, and Jorge de la Rosa have also all had their share of shaky moments, and it goes without saying that if Uball comes anywhere close to what he did in the first half last year, the party is ON. Even I, an inveterate semi-pessimist (a curmudgeon, if you will) who tends to hedge my bets about most things and the success of my favorite sports teams in particular, can't help but feeling that something special may truly be on order.
We'll have to see, of course. A few cold streaks could make all of us start hating humanity again. But right now, it's good to be a Rockies fan. Oh yes. Yes it is.