(Liam, our Designated Pinch-Hitter, would like to express his regrets for the delay in submitting his look at this year’s Rockies. Which was fine. Then he started asking if the Box would reimburse him for his Expenses…. We all had a good yuck about that. We’ll let him tell the rest of the tale.)
Without a single good idea for my imminently due article on the Colorado Rockies baseball team, I took my hands off my face and leaned back in my reclining desk chair. Blank computer screen in front of me, completely devoid of any direction this season preview should take, even a mere introduction eluding me.... I was facing a bleak future staying on this road. I needed something different, even if it strayed on to the path of ridiculous fantasy.
I leapt out of my desk chair in a bright flash of sudden inspiration. I quickly booked the first flight I could to Denver. Which, I discovered, just so happens to be in Colorado, and just so happens to be where the Rockies play. Score! I’m on my way!
First thing I did when I got to Denver, aside from drop off my stuff with the good folks at Denver Best Western, was search for the nearest alcohol serving establishment. See, it was my incredibly cunning idea all along that the best place to get perspective on this mysterious, mountain dwelling National League team was to stop by one of its more prestigious looking sports bars. There, I was in the perfect spot to ask a few questions, gather some opinions, and hopefully get the most insightful viewpoint possible on this team. Straight from its own fans.
EASY TO READ DIALOGUE FORMAT!!!
LM approaches outside of bar establishment, aptly named “The Ice Cold Mountain Bear”
LM (to himself): Ah, this looks like a fine place to get my story finished up! Er, um, started… I mean…
LM enters bar, walks in and has a seat on bar stool, right in front of the bartender, who cleaning out pint glasses with a rag that looks older than our dear protagonist.
BARTENDER: What can I get ya?
LM: Hmmm…. Could I get a Steam Whistle? Maybe?
Bartender gives LM dumbfounded look.
BARTENDER: Coors it is…
Bartender brings LM his beverage, who gives it little attention once it arrives
LM: Say, I’m writing an article, and I wonder if you could help me. Do you follow the Rockies?
LM: No… the Rockies…
LM: The Rockies! You know, Todd Helton…
BARTENDER: John Elway? Helluva player…
LM: Arg… do you know anyone in here who follows baseball at all?
BARTENDER: Baseball! Like the Rockies! Why didn’t you say so… those four guys over there are always talking bout that stuff… (Points towards guys) you can ask them…
LM: Yeah… thanks
LM walks to four guys in the corner, who are fraternizing amongst themselves.
LM: Hey, guys, sorry to bug you, but do you guys follow the Rockies at all? I’m writing an article on them.
DIFFERENT GUY: No you idiot… the Rockies… baseball! Remember? It starts soon, keeps us busy during the summer?
GUY: Oh right…
DIFFERENT GUY: Article huh? Sounds interesting man. I’m Patrick, this here is Evan, Josh, and we call him Brick. (Points at guy who spoke before)
LM: Sweet. You guys know the Rockies?
PATRICK: Dude, you’ve come to the right place. Us four, (glances at Brick) um, us three, follow the Rockies year round. Any question you got, we can answer.
EVAN (muttering): Those lousy bums….
LM: Alright, well, I guess the pitching is a good place to start…
EVAN: I think I’m gonna cry…
LM (to Patrick): What’s up with him?
PATRICK: Ah, he’s just been emotionally scarred since the Neagle/Hampton days…
JOSH: And rightly so. It will probably go down as one of the most inefficient use of team funds and resources to this very day.
LM: Yeah, but, what can you tell me about the pitching from, you know… today…
EVAN (sniffing): Oh. Please. No more.
JOSH: Actually, this statistic may surprise you, but the Rockies pitching staff is much improved, and the improvement has been in steady increments each season. In 2004, they allowed 923 runs. 2005, they allowed 862. Last season, only 812, the lowest mark since 1995. Compared to one season a few years ago, when they allowed 1020 runs to score, the progress is evident. Now, the league-wide perceived weakness of the Rockies; the pitching, is no longer truth.
PATRICK: Well everyone said it’s impossible to pitch at Coors Field, but they brought in that humid… thing… dude, does anyone know how that thing works? Evan?
EVAN: Leave me alone…
JOSH: I suspect it humidifies the baseballs to make them better suited for the conditions of pitching in Denver. That way the effects of the thin air up here are negated by the additional humidity of the baseball, and pitchers can work normally in Coors field just as in any other ballpark.
BRICK: Why don’t they just make the ball bigger? That way no one will hit it!
LM: Ummm… do you have any names for me? Like, who are these guys pitching for the Rockies?
JOSH: Well you’ve got Taylor Buchholz, Manny Corpas, Ubaldo Jiminez, Tom Martin, Juan Morillo, Jason Hirsch, Ramon Ramirez….
LM: Okay… that’s not what I…
JOSH: Darren Clarke, Denny Bautista, Ryan Speier…
LM: Not just names, I mean like…
JOSH: Brian Lawrence, Josh Fogg…
PATRICK: Josh!!! He means, who are these guys pitching for the Rox? Not what their names are…
EVAN: Buchholz, Lawrence… what a bunch of loser names… nobody wins anything with guys who have names like those!
LM: Well, what about the rotation? What does it look like?
PATRICK: Well Aaron Cook is the number one… and uh he’s pretty good… kind of guy who doesn’t walk or strikeout anyone… just very solid…
JOSH: 55 BB in 212 IP, although he allowed 242 hits as well, especially to lefties who hit .324 against him. Still his ERA was well below NL averages and further he…
PATRICK: Yes. Then you’ve got Jeff Francis, that guy from Kanaka I think…
LM (annoyed): Canada…
PATRICK: Whatever. Francis is pretty solid as well. He can strike out guys when he has to, but we really need him to take that big step forward. He’s young, 25 I think, and he has his flashes of brilliance, but his career has been pretty average so far. But after those two, it gets pretty hairy man.
EVAN: Like, Johnny Damon of the Red Sox hairy.
PATRICK: You’ve got BK Kim, who was pretty good last year until about August. Then he lost about 4 or 5 starts in a row or something, and his ERA jumped a full run! It was gnarly man, but he was a good #3 before all that, so I think he can return to form. He’s had blips like that before.
EVAN: Are you crazy man? Look at the way he pitches! It’s baseball man. Don’t throw the ball like it’s a Frisbee! Besides, two years ago he went 5-12 for us! If that’s returning to form, ho ho! Watch, come May he won’t even be in the rotation. He won’t even be on the team!
PATRICK: I was saying that he was actually pretty okay before he started struggling in August. As long as he doesn’t do that again, and they stop bouncing him around from bullpen to starter, he’ll be fine. It’s the guys like Josh Fogg, Rodrigo Lopez and Jason Hirsh I’m worried about.
LM: Rodrigo Lopez? He’s out here now? (under his breath) god damn it… I’m gonna miss him…
PATRICK: Hirsh is the guy we got in the Jennings trade from Houston, and the guy is like, friggin’ huge. Lopez I don’t know much about… and Fogg we had last year, and I think he was all right…
JOSH: Jason Hirsh is a pitcher that really still is much a work in progress, as he walked 22 batters in only 44 innings and allowed 11 home runs at the same time for the Astros. Still, he won pitcher of the year in his AA league in 2005 and the AAA award last season, so his stuff is definitely there, and I like many am very excited to see what he can do. Rodrigo Lopez lost 18 games last year for Baltimore…
LM (remembering): oooo yeah….
JOSH (continuing): But he’s the kind of player I hope that a change of scenery will get his skills back on the right track. He was a solid starter in the AL East division for a few seasons, so his ability should still be there. His peripheral numbers, like strikeouts, walks, have always been consistent from year to year. And Fogg, let’s just say he’s the fifth starter, and I’m not expecting too much else from him.
LM: So to sum it up… the Rockies rotation is…good? You guys are kinda all over the place
PATRICK: Well man, let’s just say it has the potential to be good… Francis and Cook are solid, but after that it’s a question mark, and we need some young guys to step up.
LM: Hmmmm… sounds familiar…
JOSH: The bullpen is much less in doubt. Brian Fuentes has become one of the best closers in the National League, and what he may lack in impressive ERA performances he makes up for with his excellent ability to strike guys out. In 139.2 innings as the Rox closer during the past two seasons; 164 whiffs. And his left-handedness makes him even that much more difficult to face.
BRICK: Just like in basketball! Left handed guys always get more touchdowns…
PATRICK: Of course, Brick. (Rolls eyes) Man you ask me, Fuentes IS the best closer in the National League. Who else is there? Isringhausen’s always hurt, Wagner is old, Hoffman is even older and pitches in a pitchers park, Benitez sucks… who else could it be?
JOSH: I wouldn’t go that far…
PATRICK: Well I’m just glad we actually have a bullpen this year. We’ve had so many bad pens in the past… it’s good to finally have some confidence that it’s not gonna cost us easy games anymore…
EVAN: I’d hate to rain on your parade there Patrick, but after Fuentes, who came out of nowhere, I may add, after Fuentes we got nuthin’. LaTroy Hawkins is going to set him up. LaTroy Hawkins! The same guy who blew 9 saves in a season twice! The same guy who struck out something like 20 guys last year in 60 innings!
EVAN: Whatever! He’s our set up man? I’m glad all of you are living in this grand delusional wonderland of candy canes and 1-2-3 innings, but I expect the opposite.
LM: Burning brimstone and infielders coming in from the bullpen?
EVAN: Yeah man.
PATRICK: Well whatever. I honestly haven’t a clue what Hawkins or anyone else is gonna do. All I know is after Hawkins we’ve got two versatile lefties in Jeremy Affedlt and Tom Martin, and at least one of them is bound to be okay. Then there’s Taylor Buchholz, who we also got in the Jennings trade. He went 6-10 for the Astros, but he doesn’t walk people and he can strike out guys.
JOSH: 34 walks in 113 innings. But he also gave up 21 home runs, which is probably my biggest concern with him.
LM: Geez, how do you remember all these numbers?
JOSH: Five winter months is an eternity. Anyway, I see Buchholz falling nicely, I hope, into a middle relief role. Then, Manny Corpas rounds it out as the other middle man, while youngsters Ramon Ramirez and Ubaldo Jiminez get a year to refine their stuff in the minors.
PATRICK(to LM): Dude, I don’t mean to sound like Evan…
Evan glares at Patrick
PATRICK: …but talking about the pitching… it’s kind of depressing me. Let’s get to the good part.
LM: What’s the good part?
PATRICK: What’d you think………
LM: Oh…. OHHHHH!!!! Alright, let’s start with the catcher.
JOSH: Well, the Rox have basically given the job to 23 year old Chris Iannetta, who showed some impressive plate discipline in a September stint last season, posting a .370 OBP in about 80 at-bats. But he might wind up splitting the job with Yorvit Torrealba should he struggle at first.
EVAN: Watch, it’s gonna be JD Closser all over again…
PATRICK: I say any offense they get from Iannetta will be a bonus, considering who our other hitters are. Like our first baseman.
JOSH (mesmerized): Yeah…
EVAN (mesmerized): Yeah…
PATRICK (mesmerized): Yeah…
BRICK: Hah hah. Elway…
LM: Do you guys have some kind of, like, church in the name of Todd Helton?
EVAN: You fools! He’s discovered us!
PATRICK: Hell yeah. There’s a shrine and everything. His Gatorade is our holy water. Dude, he’s a deity in purple pinstripes.
EVAN and JOSH: Amen
LM: But I thought he struggled last season…
Everyone gives LM a terrible menacing stare
LM(afraid): umm… by Helton standards!
JOSH: Well, it is true his power numbers have dropped off the past few years…
Everyone gives JOSH the same menacing stare
JOSH (afraid): But, he uh… is still a master of getting on base! His OBP was still above .400, so I see no reason why he won’t be the cornerstone of the lineup again! Right? Right?
LM: Uh… what about the rest of the infield?
PATRICK: Second base is gonna be between Kaz Matsui and Jamey Carroll, both of them solid, no power types of hitters. What was it Josh, 8 home runs between them last year?
JOSH (not amused): Something like that…
PATRICK: I think the job is Carroll’s anyway, with Matsui as a super-sub at the two middle infield spots. He’ll see some time for sure if Tulowitzki has problems.
JOSH: Troy Tulowitzki, like Iannetta, is a rookie we’re throwing right into the fire. Though he is 6 foot 3 and pretty big for a shortstop, he has looked good defensively from what I’ve seen, and he was a high draft pick, so we’re all very excited about his potential.
PATRICK: Especially since he wasn’t given the job right away. He took it from Clint Barmes with hard work and good play. It’s what you wanna see from a 22 year old kid.
LM: Well sure, but wouldn’t you rather have, say, Ricky Romero?
LM: Never mind. Who do you have at third?
EVAN: Some guy named Garrett Atkins. The loser only drove in 120 runs.
JOSH: The big concern everyone has with hitters here in Colorado is their ability to hit on the road. Atkins however, posted an OPS of 933 on the road in 2006. While it may not match his 1000 OPS at Coors Field, those are still road statistics I’ll take any day of the week.
PATRICK: I say he’s growing into one of the premiere third basemen in the league, thank you very much.
JOSH: I didn’t even get to the part where he scored 117 runs.
LM: Seems he’s a popular guy in these parts… (Rolls eyes)
BRICK: Even I like Atkins! I’m on the Atkins diet!
LM (whispering to PATRICK, EVAN and JOSH): Why do you hang out with him?
PATRICK: Big barbeque.
JOSH: The outfield is just as popular. While everyone thought Jason Hirsh was the key to the Jennings trade, I’m convinced that Wily Taveras will make the biggest impact. Last season the Rox struggled with the leadoff spot in the batting order, bouncing it between Cory Sullivan, who barely squeaked out a .400 slugging percentage, and Barmes, who dazzled us with an OBP of .264 and an OPS+ of 48.
PATRICK: Josh, for the last time. None of us knows what that means!
JOSH: It’s simple. Basically you add and multiply…
PATRICK: Whatever. Just, finish what you were saying.
JOSH: Right. Well, an OPS of 48… it’s… pretty bad… even for a shortstop, nevermind a leadoff hitter. Taveras, at the very worst, gives them a decent singles hitter at the top of the order who can steal bases and grind out hits with his incredible speed. He also plays a solid centrefield, and is doing well to cut back on his strikeouts.
PATRICK: And dude, we are stacked at the corners.
JOSH: Indeed, Matt Holliday’s numbers are impressive from that left field spot. However, he suffers an extreme home-road split away from Coors. His slugging is 200 points lower on the road, while his strikeout to walk ratio rises from 1.5:1 up to over 3:1. His defense isn’t great in left either, as he’s racked up 15 errors the past two seasons. Still, his ability to put up good numbers is undeniable, so Coors dependant or not, he’s a key cog in the lineup.
EVAN: Hah! Dante Bichette, all over again… you all watch…
PATRICK: Right field we’ve got Brad Hawpe. And since Josh is so big on these home-road split things, I can tell you that Brad hits better on the road than he does at Coors. Yeah, that’s right! In your face everybody! I don’t care that he strikes out a ton, or that he slugged .970 or something on the road. He’s actually better away from our so called “launching pad” here in Denver! Wait, maybe I do care about that slugging thing I just said…
JOSH: Yeah. It could’ve been a fluke too you know.
PATRICK (muttering): You win this round, general conceptions…
LM: Do I wanna know?
JOSH: Not really.
PATRICK: Well, Ryan Spilborghs is the fourth outfielder, and Jeff Baker backs up first base and spots in the outfield sometimes. They’re both okay. Damn it man… I SWORE I had that Coors theory debunked… I could feel it…
LM: Last thing guys, something to wrap it up. What’s your prediction for the 2007 season?
EVAN: 73 and 89. Hurdle gets fired in August. Finally.
JOSH: 81 and 81 sounds like a safe estimate. Hurdle gets the boot after the season ends.
PATRICK: 90 and 72. They start out 10 games below .500, fire Hurdle, and go on a division winning run kicked off in August.
LM: Wow, you guys really don’t like Hurdle.
JOSH: He doesn’t have a winning season. None of us are sure why he’s still here.
EVAN: I tried to start a pool on how long he would survive last season, but it never came together. I would’ve lost anyway.
PATRICK: Yeah man, but this has me thinking something. We can predict all we want, but at the end of the day we’re all just kidding ourselves. Truth is that none of us know for sure what’s gonna happen this year, and all the predictions in the world aren’t gonna change that. But that’s the fun of it all, because so much of it is driven by that hope of victory.
EVAN: Besides, it gives us something to do while the Broncos are sucking.
JOSH: Amen to that
Everyone cheers, screen fades out to black
The next morning I knew my work was done. I had all the information and perspective I needed, and it was freezing cold and I wanted to leave town anyway. (Seriously. That mountain air went through me like a screen door). Without delay, I jumped on the next plane back to Toronto, my unstolen luggage safely below my feet, and leaned back in my kind of lumpy coach airline seat. With the in-flight film being “Crossroads” I found myself thinking what a cheap airline this was, but wondering as well how this little mountain team is actually going to do. If nothing they’ve planned works, they’ll be truly awful. In-flight movie awful. But if everything works, then they’ll be a powerhouse of their division. Yet I somehow resisted the temptation, the overwhelming temptation, to put them in-between my two possible outcomes. I’m not sure if it was the cold air or the suspicious bartender, but something inside told me that this team was on the verge of something special. Problem was, I couldn’t tell if it was a “good” special, or something especially bad.
So, just as I was slipping into sleep in my seat, the white clouds of the sky breezing by outside the window, I wrote down my official forecast of the 2007 Rockies on a napkin from the bar, just before my pen slipped to the floor. There, with perhaps the most genius or stupid prediction possible in my hand, my Colorado fantasy faded into just a dream, survived only by words on a screen and a scribbled napkin in my hand…
THURSDAY NIGHTS ARE CH-
85-77, Tied for 2nd in the NL West