Sunday, June 28, 2009

6/28/09 - COL 3, @ OAK 1 - "Doin' Real Good"

Today, my landlord swung by my apartment to make a quick fix of a plumbing problem. It’s roughly the 15th plumbing problem I’ve had in 11 months of occupation, but the worst of them haven’t surfaced from some time now. Today, a screw had slipped behind my cold water handle in my shower, and it took Jim probably about 15 seconds to put it back in its proper place. Jim’s a good guy, a construction worker who knows his way around these old apartments. We’ve had casual conversations that didn’t involve what was broken in my bathroom before, but nothing substantial beyond a word or two about a football game I was watching.

On his way out, Jim saw I was watching the Rockies highlights on Baseball Tonight, and said, “I hear the Rockies are doin’ real good.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “They’re on fire.”

“Yeah, I was watchin ‘em the other night, which I don’t normally do,” Jim said in his well-worn Western accent. “They were on TV and I heard the announcers talkin’ about all the games they were winning.”

I started to confirm that information. “Yup. Twenty out of…”

Before I could say “twenty-three” Jim cut me off. “I didn’t realize it because I kinda thought they sucked.”

We chatted for a minute or so more about the hot Rox before he headed out. I felt good when he left, and not only because I can take a warm shower tomorrow. I felt good knowing that the most casual baseball observer, even 500 miles away from Coors Field, has taken notice of the Rox. They kinda sucked, but now they’re doin’ real good. Sometimes that’s all you really need to know.


It’s time for the first ‘big’ series of the season. Three games on the road with the Dodgers. The Rox are 7.5 back in the West, trailing San Francisco by half a game for second place. The Rockies will send their 2-3-4 starters to the mound (Jimenez, Marquis, Hammel) against LA’s 5-1-2 (Wolf, Billingsley, Kershaw). A Rockies series win means they’re a for-real contender. A Dodgers series win means the Rox still have a ways to go. A Dodgers sweep reasserts their dominance in the West. A Rockies sweep means we’ve got a brand new pennant race.

This is going to be a fun three days of baseball.

Friday, June 26, 2009

6/26/09 - COL 4, @ OAK 2 - "Missing Matt"

It was fitting that Matt Holliday’s first at bat as an opponent of the Colorado Rockies produced a quintessentially Matt Holliday-like result – a double to the opposite field gap. That was always what impressed me most about Holliday during his years in Denver – his ability, almost unmatched, to drive the ball the other way. I feel like every time I saw him hit a homer in person, it was a bullet that wound up in the Rockies bullpen in right-center field.

That was about the only thing fitting about seeing Matt face his former team. Even if the impact of his loss from a baseball standpoint has been greatly diminished, both by Holliday’s own struggles (he came into today hitting .269 with 8 homers) and the Rockies outfield depth, it’s hard to understate just how difficult it was to watch him today. Yeah, I’d seen him in an A’s uniform on TV before, but to see him competing against guys he competed with last year just didn’t seem right.

Baseball is a brutal, unsentimental game, though, and you’ve gotta roll with it, and gotta figure out how you can possibly encourage anybody to strike out the guy who scored the biggest run in Rockies history, or curse the guy who should have won an MVP in a Rockies uniform for ripping a double into the gap. As I’m writing this, Holliday is about to step to the plate as the tying run in the 8th inning of a three-run ballgame, and I would bet my life he hits one 450 feet to dead center. To spite us, and to remind us.

That, or he’ll roll over on the first pitch to second base. That was pretty quintessentially Matt Holliday-like, too.

(See? Brutal, and unsentimental.)

(He walked. Now watch the Rox lose this one at someone else’s hand, meaning we won’t be able to even secretly feel happy for one of the all-time franchise greats.)

(Oh, God bless you, Joel Peralta. My favorite thing about you is the complete lack of faith I have in you, and then the pleasant surprise I feel when you actually come through.)

(I’m never blogging during the game again. Isn’t this what Twitter is for?)

(Huston Street comes out of the bullpen at Coors Field to ‘Hate Me Now’ by P. Diddy and Nas. The color barrier for closer entrance music has been broken! Inspired choice, too, and it was almost the best use of hip-hop in Rockies player entrance history until Ian Stewart went to ‘Turn My Swag On’ by Soulja Boy.)

(Street shakes off a liner to the ribs and gets a 1-2-3 save. Damn, he’s good. Stay hot, Rox.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

6/22/09 - COL 11, @ LAA 1 - "A Milestone for Cookie"

Aaron Cook is now the winningest pitcher in Rockies franchise history, and it seems extra appropriate considering he’s exactly the type of pitcher that everybody said the Rockies had to develop if they wanted to build a pitching staff from within. The idea was that a pitcher who threw hard with a heavy sinkerball could keep the ball in the playing field at 20th and Blake and keep his ERA in the mid-fours at home.

The trouble was that prior to Cook, the Rockies hadn’t had that guy or even come close to developing that guy. And, of course, their misguided effort to find pitchers who could sink the baseball led to the Mike Hampton disaster. But even from the start of his big league career, Cook always had the bowling-ball sinker, and even though he’d gotten hit hard early on in his time with the Rockies, it really seemed like he was starting to put things all together before he had to leave a start against Cincinnati early on August 7, 2004.

It was no ordinary injury – Cook damn near died on the mound that day as blood clots attacked his lungs. It took him nearly a year to return to a big league mound, but once he did he picked up exactly as he left off, emerging down the stretch of a miserable 2005 season as the most reliable starter the Rockies had. You know the story from there – Cook ate innings and won ballgames the next couple of years, got a contract extension after 2007, and made an All-Star appearance last year once given officially the ‘ace’ mantle.

Ubaldo Jimenez is more electric, but if I had to pick either Cookie or U-Ball to start one game with the planet’s existence at stake, I’d take the redhead. He attacks hitters relentlessly, daring them to hack at his diving sinker because it’s damn hard to do anything but pound it at an infielder. He has thrown complete games of 74 and 79 pitches in his career, both of which came at Coors Field. He has survived at one of the toughest hitters parks of all time despite a career strikeout rate of 3.7 per nine. He is a perfect gentleman four days of the week before becoming the prototypical bulldog on his day on the mound. He takes the ball and gives the Rockies one hell of a chance to win, every single time, and has done so for the last four seasons.

They don’t make many pitchers like Aaron Cook – guys who can succeed without a swing and miss pitch because the swing and hit pitch in their arsenal splinters quality lumber like a Stihl chainsaw. But even though he might have more renown were he in the midst of what should be a rather lengthy prime in a larger market, Aaron Cook belongs in a Rockies uniform, the perfect pitcher with the perfect pitch for a largely imperfect set of circumstances. And nobody deserves to be the winningest pitcher in franchise history more than him.

Friday, June 19, 2009

6/19/09 - COL 7, PIT 3 - "Confidence"

Back in 2007, 14 out of 15 was where it ended, when Matt Holliday dove across home plate and Coors Field erupted with its loudest roar ever as the Rockies closed out their regular season with a win in Game 163.

In 2009, 14 out of 15 feels like just the beginning. I’ve now officially reached the point where I turn on the Rockies game expecting them to win, and win handily. I expect the starters to pitch deep into the game, the offense to get a lead early and pad it late, and the handshake line to form afterwards.

Any hyperbole I’d want to apply to this hot streak was used up for good during Rocktober 2007, so I have none left for descriptive purposes. But the thing is that I’m not sure any hyperbole is necessary. 2007 was like watching a Disney movie unfold. 2009 is a different feeling. This feels more like a talented team that finally has all its ducks in a row and is starting to play the kind of kick-ass baseball we thought they were capable of from the beginning. To paraphrase Dennis Green, the Rockies are who we thought they were, and I’m comfortable crowning their asses as playoff contenders.

The part I’m having the most fun watching is the pitching. That’s the part of the game that’s nearest to my heart, the part I think I understand the best and therefore appreciate the most. And I can’t remember a Rockies starting rotation ever pitching as well as this current one has. Jim Tracy has shown a tremendous amount of confidence in his starters, and they have repaid him by working deep into games.
Ubaldo Jimenez’s last two starts, and Jason Marquis’ start tonight, have featured some high pitch counts. There’s always some wringing of the hands when pitch counts run into the 120s, like Jimenez against Seattle last Friday and Marquis tonight, and
I’ll admit to not being totally comfortable with it myself, but frankly, I like the fact that Tracy’s going to go with his guys until they lose effectiveness and grow tired, not until some pre-determined pitch count says they need to come out. I think it gives the pitchers more confidence and more toughness, physically and mentally. One thing’s for sure, the rotation members look like a different bunch, from Jimenez (throwing more strikes) to Jason Hammel (throwing the changeup more) to Marquis (throwing a heavier sinker). Add them to the rock-steady Aaron Cook and the epitome of fifth starter-hood, Jorge de la Rosa… and you’ve got a staff where you never feel like you don’t have a chance to win a game at the very start, and that has to be a confidence boost in turn to the lineup, as they don’t feel like they have to score 8 runs every night out.

The pitchers are also gaining confidence from the defense, which is as good as it’s been since 2007 thanks to Ian Stewart taking over at third and Carlos Gonzalez taking starts in left. The defense is gaining confidence from the pitchers, who are throwing more strikes and keeping them more involved. It all adds up, and snowballs, and just keeps rolling on towards .500 and beyond.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

6/14/09 - COL 7, SEA 1 - "Eleven"


“Oh, they’ll probably lose tonight. Washburn’s the kind of lefty that always gives us trouble.”

“Jimenez doesn’t have it tonight.”


“What is Tracy thinking, sending Ubaldo back to the mound with 104 pitches in the 8th? Doesn’t he trust his bullpen?”

“I mean, he’s gotta go get him now – U-Ball’s completely out of gas.”

Final score: Rockies 6, Mariners 4.


“We scratched some off Washburn, but Bedard will shackle us for sure… what’s that? He’s not?”

“We can’t get a hit with a runner in scoring position. This has one-run loss written all over it.”

“@!#%$#@ Corpas.”

“Oh, geez, Street looks gassed, I don’t know if he can get out of this.”

Final score: Rockies 5, Mariners 3.


“We’re going to win.”

Final score: Rockies 7, Mariners 1.


If there’s a lesson here beyond “I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about,” it’s that winning streaks aren’t to be fretted over or overanalyzed. You just have to enjoy the ride while it lasts, and embrace the idea that your team is shaking hands after the final out every single time they take the field.

The last time the Rockies won this many games in a row… well, you know when it was and what it meant. This one’s different for a lot of reasons, but it feels every bit as good because it’s a validation of how good we think this team should be.

The off day Monday gives us a chance to reset. Lay back, and not think about the seeming impossibility of the streak or the desultory 20-32 start that preceded it. When the Rockies take the field on Tuesday, they’ll be 31-32, and how they got there doesn’t matter as much as where they go from here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

6/11/09 - COL 5, @ MIL 4 - "Eight"

As much as I enjoy listening to baseball on the radio, I have a tough time listening to the late innings of a close game while I’m driving. Thankfully, I wasn’t in my car during today’s seventh inning, when for the second time in two days, Joel Peralta nearly caused me to have a stroke.

With the bases loaded, two outs, and a two-run lead in the seventh, I waited for the inevitable bases-clearing double from Ryan Braun. I swore at Peralta when he fell behind in the count. If there’s one thing I know about the 2009 Rockies, it’s that eventually things are going to turn for the worse.

Except that over the past eight days, what I thought I knew about this team has gone almost completely out the window. The Rockies never won one-run games – they do now. The Rockies never came back to win games – they do now. The Rockies didn’t get the big hit or make the big pitch… they do now, and did today when Peralta blew a 91-mph fastball down and in past Braun to end the inning.

The best way I can describe the Rox right now? It’s like they were a beat up old car that had been through some bad weather, some mud and dirt… and then it went through a car wash and came out the other side looking shiny and new. There’s a newness to the team, almost like they’ve been able to push a RESET button on the entire season and start playing the kind of baseball they – and we – all thought they were capable of playing when they broke camp in April.

You get the sense that nobody’s concerned with the 28-32 record, or how far back they are in the West and Wild Card standings, or any of the rumors about players getting traded. They’re just showing up and playing ball, and it’s been a winning brand of ball.

It’s not as simple as just playing better. There’s a different attitude and a different confidence level that’s evident just watching the team on a daily basis. There’s a killer instinct late in games that hasn’t been there since… well, Rocktober. Which, not coincidentally, was the last time it’s been this good to be a Rockies fan.

Monday, June 8, 2009

6/8/09 - COL 5, @ STL 2 - "The Most Optimistic Fans in Baseball"

All the way back when I started this blog, I envisioned it being a season-long quest to determine what makes the Rockies fan experience unique. Sure, we’re a relatively nascent franchise with a scarce history to draw from, but I figured that through watching the games, reading other blogs, and following the team, I could determine what defines me as a Rockies fan.

Today, I figured it out.

The Rockies have won five straight games, playing their most inspired ball of the season. Clint Barmes looks like an All-Star, Jason Marquis leads the NL in wins, and Todd Helton’s in the midst of a great renaissance season. The Rox just rolled right through St. Louis and ripped a Cardinals team that was tied for the NL Central lead upon their arrival. Great starting pitching, timely hitting, and clean bullpen work. It’s the kind of baseball that we fans knew, or thought we knew, the Rox were capable of playing all along.

All this win streak has done is lift the Rockies from 12 games under .500 to seven games under, however. At 25-32, the Rox are still at the bottom of the NL West and near the bottom of the entire league. The Dodgers have ran away and hit in the West, leaving the Rockies 13 games behind. Five straight wins haven’t changed the mindset that the Rockies should look to be sellers this year, aggressively shopping players in the midst of career years like Marquis or Brad Hawpe and beginning to build around the Tulo-Iannetta-Stewart-Fowler core offensively.

And yet…

I checked the Wild Card standings today, and saw the Rockies are only 6 back of the Mets.

It’s patently absurd to do this, and I know it… and as I was doing it, I realized that only a Rockies fan would be doing something like this.

We all witnessed 2007. We, more than any other fan base, know that you aren’t eliminated from contention until the numbers say so. We watched a team with its back firmly against the wall, having to win pretty much every game in the season’s final two weeks and then hope for a few breaks, play their asses off, win pretty much every game, get a few breaks, and make the playoffs.

And then we watch this team over the last five days. We see them get hits with runners on and two outs. We see them build on leads. We see tremendous defense. And we wonder, well, if the 07 team could do it, why can’t this one?

So I think I’ve defined us, Rockies fans. I think we’re secretly the most optimistic fan base in baseball. Because better than anyone else, we know that the impossible really isn’t. And even in the bleakest moments, all it takes is a stretch of great baseball to get us all back on board.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

6/7/09 - COL 7, @ STL 2 - "Winning Streak"

I don’t recognize these Colorado Rockies, but I sure do like them. I like the way they sustain rallies with two outs and add to their leads in the late innings. I like the defense they’ve played as of late. I really like the starting pitchers working deep into games. If I were living in Colorado, I would really be enjoying four straight days of cheap Taco Bell tacos (the only remotely edible item on the Taco Bell menu).

The Rox have outscored their opponents 38-10 during this four game winning streak, thanks in large part of a lineup that suddenly looks potent 1 through 8 (with Paul Phillips doing his best Mike Piazza imitation today, going 4-for-5 with two ribbies and a jack). Early returns are good on the benefits of lineup stability for the Rockies, at least in one regard, as Clint Barmes’ average has jumped fifty points to .285 since being permanently installed in the two-hole.

What else has been established in the Jim Tracy Era? Well, thanks to Ian Stewart going legend in the first three games of this St. Louis series (including three homers, one of which threatened to land in Illinois) and Barmes’ steady production, the odd man out in the Rockies infield is the late Garrett Atkins, whose two-homer game on Thursday night in Houston may wind up being his last big game in a Rockies uniform. Stewart has finally grabbed the bull by the horns and earned his way into the everyday lineup, and with Atkins’s bat still invalid (the aforementioned two-homer game notwithstanding), Stewart has to be at third base every day. He’s at close to a 30-homer pace after his big weekend and, as his Saturday night Web Gem would suggest, can make plays at the hot corner than Atkins can only dream of making. He was the best option for the third base job at the beginning of the season, and he’s the best option now.

Once Iannetta returns, the Rockies will have a lineup that looks a little something like this:

Fowler CF
Barmes 2B
Helton 1B
Hawpe RF

And this is where it gets tricky. Stewart should be here, but three lefty sticks in a row is something most managers try and avoid. The left fielder du jour – either Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs, or Carlos Gonzalez, isn’t a great fit in the five hole, and besides, Smith and Gonzalez are lefties themselves. I suspect Tracy wants to keep Tulo in the seven hole. That leaves Iannetta as a choice for the five spot, and frankly, despite the low average, his power makes him a good fit. Let’s try it:

Iannetta C
Stewart 3B
Tulowitzki SS
Left fielder du jour LF

Alternately, on days when Spilborghs is in the lineup, he can bat fifth and flip-flop with Iannetta. Or, with Tulo just healing from a hand injury that’s been nagging him since mid-May, it might not be a bad plan to bat him eighth while he shakes off some rust.

The bottom line, however, is that if Barmes and Stewart can keep hitting (not like they have the last three days, but at a reasonable level) the Rockies all of a sudden have a very dangerous lineup provided Iannetta and Tulowitzki can get rolling. Now that both will be healthy, I think that’s very possible. And the result is a Rockies team that will be fun to watch, even with contention completely out of the question.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

6/2/09 - COL 2, @ HOU 3 - "Inevitability"

In extra innings tonight, handing the ball to Josh Fogg for long relief was the rough equivalent of handing someone a gun and telling him, “Kill me, and make it quick.” Of course, Fogg actually getting through an inning and a third before the most inevitable walk-off home run the Rockies will allow this season (I was kind of hoping it would be Carlos Lee for selfish, fantasy team-related reasons) was the equivalent of Fogg loading the gun incorrectly and then grazing you with his first bullets before finally putting it all to an end.


The bottom line is this – we’re not wrong when we watch this Rockies team and think, “My God, this team can not catch a break.” We never get the benefit of a close two-strike pitch with two outs and runners on… it’s always strike three called. We never make the diving stab that saves the run late in the game – that’s always the other team, like when Matt freaking Kata robbed Dexter Fowler. Saturday night’s walk-off win was so much fun because that kind of thing just hasn’t happened to us – that blooper always gets caught, that ground ball never gets through, that comeback never materializes.

But the reason we aren’t wrong are because the Rockies aren’t any good, and a big part of not being any good is never getting those breaks when they count. It’s not a direct cause-effect relationship – if anything, it’s circular: the Rox can’t catch a break because they suck, because they can’t catch a break.


Was talking to my mom on the phone during tonight’s game when they showed the Rockies commercial about what players do to help out around the house. My mom commented that she’s not going to be letting Garrett Atkins hang any pictures in her home. I responded that that prop wall in the commercial was the only thing Atkins had hit hard all year. Yep, we zipped right past ‘pity’ on the How I Feel About Garrett Atkins Scale and have moved on to the stage where I’m calling him ‘the late Garrett Atkins’ in general conversation.


The frustration that is the Manny Corpas Experience continued tonight – he fanned Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman looking back to back to open the eighth with some of the nastiest stuff you can possibly throw. Then he got torched for back to back hits and had to battle to whiff Jason Michaels to end the inning. Manny, dude, you’re freaking GOOD when you’re trusting your stuff. Do it more often.

On a more positive bullpen note, Joel Peralta might not be terrible. That change-up looked fairly filthy tonight.


If Troy Tulowitzki has to go on the DL… I give up. You win, Angry Tulo-Hating Baseball Gods. I don’t know what the kid did to anger you so, but you’ve made your point.