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Woes of loving the O's
Being a young Baltimore Orioles fan is not easy. I was conscious for only the second half of Cal's career and for playoff berths in 1996 and '97, but that's about it. When my Dad grew up in Baltimore, the Orioles were a proud franchise. The American league wasn't ruled by the Yankees, it was ruled by the Birds. The Orioles had the best record of any team during the 1960s and the ‘70s and won championships in '66, '70 and '83. My Dad can talk about Brooks Robinson winning 16-straight Gold Gloves, Jim Palmer never allowing a grand slam and Eddie Murray playing the game with quiet and consistent excellence. He can talk about Earl Weaver's managerial antics and love of the three-run homer. He can talk about the Oriole Way.
I can't talk like that. The team hasn't given me those memories. Instead, my Orioles have handed me little more than over-hyped prospects, failed trades and bad signings. And there's no forgetting Jeffrey Maier reaching over the outfield wall.
But still, even as a once-loyal fan base loses faith, I watch, I care, I hope. I'm embarrassed that Joe Girardi turned down the manager's job this week but excited about Andy MacPhail's appointment as the president of baseball operations.
In his introductory press conference, MacPhail sounded confident that he is the man in charge. He said he wouldn't be in Baltimore if he didn't feel he had complete control.
"I'm absolutely responsible for baseball operations," MacPhail said at the press conference. "I like one voice. I like simplicity."
I like it too. And I like that it seems owner Peter Angelos has finally handed over the reins and decided to let someone who knows how to run a team do so.
When team General Counsel Russell Smouse introduced MacPhail, he said, “the fans have been sending a strong message that they want change. The Orioles have heard that message and are responding.”
It's about time. MacPhail is a capable executive and genuinely wants to be in Baltimore. He spent eight years in Baltimore while his father, Lee, ran the Orioles. According to The Washington Post, MacPhail's childhood contributed to his desire to run the Orioles before the end of his career.
And so MacPhail gives me hope. So too does the fact that the trend of the team's top prospects falling from favor, getting shipped away in trades that never pay off, suffering from injuries or simply never meeting their potential, seems to be coming to an end. The talent in the farm system right now is thin, but it's still worth believing in the last crop to join the parent club.
Erik Bedard has top-of-the-rotation stuff, as does Daniel Cabrera. Bedard seems to have gotten over his inconsistencies and this season is leading the league in strikeouts and has a respectable 3.64 ERA. Cabrera, on the other hand, is still plagued by his lack of control; he is leading the leagues in walks. He has not shown the type of improvement pitching coach Leo Mazzone expected to see, but it's way too soon to give up on his high-90's fastball and no-hit stuff. Young lefty and former first-round draft pick Adam Loewen is out for the season with a fracture in his elbow, but recent surgery should not hamper his preparation for 2008. And though closer Chris Ray is having a poor season (4.45 ERA and five losses) he showed great promise last year and notched 33 saves.
Rookie Jeremy Guthrie has a 1.64 ERA in 10 starts this season and has been nothing short of sensational. He has a positive work-ethic, good mound presence and a fresh arm for his age (he's 28, but he took two years off from pitching to go on his Mormon mission).
There's youth and talent in the field as well, though admittedly not as much as on the mound. Though his star has fallen in this past two years, second baseman Brian Roberts is still a stud in the field and on the base path. But it's right fielder and former first-round draft pick Nick Markakis who really has star potential.
So despite the fact that most of Baltimore traded in its Orioles orange for Ravens purple long ago, I haven't, and I won't.
Wild Card: Rookie All-Stars
The All-Star voting, which ends at midnight on Wednesday, gives fans an opportunity to pick their favorite established stars, but what about the stars of tomorrow? The following is my All-Star team of the top rookies thus far in 2007.
1B: James Loney, Dodgers, 23 This is not the best way to start, but first base and catcher are the thinnest positions in the 2007 rookie class. There are a fair number of first-sackers playing their first full seasons -- the Braves' Scott Thorman, the Royals' Ryan Shealy, the Indians' Ryan Garko, and, at long last, the Angels' Casey Kotchman, the last of whom is hitting a fantastic .333/.411/.556 after missing most of last year with mononucleosis -- but all of them lost their rookie status last year or before. That leaves Loney, who, despite Nomar Garciaparra's struggles, has started a grand total of three games at first base for the Dodgers, though all of them have been in the past week and a half. The Reds have Joey Votto tearing up the International League, but Scott Hatteberg is holding his own for the big club, so Loney is likely the majors' best hope for the second half.
2B: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox, 23 There were doubters when the Red Sox announced over the winter that they were going to give the diminutive Pedroia the job. There were doubters when Pedroia was hitting just .172/.294/.224 on May 1. Since then, Pedroia has hit .382/.441/.550. Anyone heard from those doubters?
SS: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, 22 Tulowitzki's supposed to be the next big thing at shortstop. Thus far he's been a gold glove-quality defender and a decent on-base man, but Colorado's still waiting on his power. It will come, and not just because he plays his home games in Denver.
3B: Ryan Braun, Brewers, 23 The Brewers needlessly ran Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino out to the hot corner throughout April and most of May before finally relenting and giving the job to Braun, who was slugging .701 (!) with Triple-A Nashville. Since then, he's hit .305/.346/.537. Incidentally, third base is the deepest rookie position this year. Twenty-eight-year-old Japanese import Akinori Iwamura is hitting .323/.426/.476 for the Devil Rays. Twenty-three-year-old Mark Reynolds has hit .284/.352/.505 for the Diamondbacks and appears to be pushing Chad Tracy back to first base, if not off the team entirely. After hitting just .108 through May 10, the Padres' Kevin Kouzmanoff, 25, has hit .333/.400/.559 since. After an even more notorious slow start, überprospect Alex Gordon, 23, has hit .404/.424/.614 over the last 14 games. Finally, Joe Crede's back injury forced the White Sox to promote their top prospect, 24-year-old Josh Fields. Since picking up his first major league hit in his fourth game, Fields has hit .342/.390/.579 over the last two weeks.
C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Braves, 22 Carlos Ruiz is actually starting in Philadelphia, while Saltalamacchia is merely backing up Brian McCann in Atlanta, but Salty has made the most of his opportunities, hitting .319/.365/.464. Sooner or later the Braves will have to choose between McCann, who made the All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger award last year at 22, and Saltalamacchia, who's a year younger and every bit as good, if not better. That, or they could move Salty to first base.
RF: Travis Buck, A's, 23 Buck wasn't even supposed to make the A's out of spring training, but injuries to Mark Kotsay and Dan Johnson opened the door and Buck burst through. Since May 1, he's hit .333/.405/.543 and has played right field so well that, with both Kotsay and Johnson back in action, the A's just designated their intended right fielder, the oft-injured Milton Bradley, for assignment.
CF: Hunter Pence, Astros, 24 There was concern over Pence's ability to play center field, but his defense has been solid thus far. Chris Burke lost the Astros' center-field job after hitting .219/.329/.329 through April 27. Pence took over the next day and hasn't looked back, crushing the ball to a .351/.373/.598 tune, which makes him the most productive center fielder in baseball thus far this year, though he’s still a bit shy of qualifying for the batting title.
LF: Reggie Willits, Angels, 26 Garret Anderson has been no better than a league average hitter for the past three years, but the Angels remained convinced that he was one of their team's stars. That is until Anderson tore a hip flexor in early May and they got an extended look at Willits, who excels at the one thing Anderson struggles with the most: getting on base. Willits has installed himself as the Angels leadoff hitter and leftfielder by hitting .337 with a .435 on-base percentage, playing tremendous defense, and stealing 18 bases in 20 attempts. Anderson, who just went back on the DL last weekend, may have a hard time getting his job back.
Starting Rotation: The true future stars can be found here, but the most successful rookie starters thus far have been:
Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles, 28: The Indians' 2002 first-round pick out of Stanford, Guthrie was plucked off waivers by Baltimore in January, joined the rotation in early May following injuries to Adam Loewen and Jaret Wright, and has a 1.63 ERA and nine quality starts in as many tries since.
Justin Germano, Padres, 24: The Padres drafted Germano in 2000, traded him for Joe Randa at the deadline in 2005, and claimed him off waivers from the Phillies in the middle of spring training this year. Echoing Guthrie, Germano replaced the injured Clay Hensley in the rotation in early May and has turned in seven quality starts in eight tries, going 5-1 along the way.
Chris Sampson, Astros, 29: Sampson has nine quality starts in 13 tries, but his low strikeout rate and inconsistent ground-ball tendencies don’t paint a rosy picture going forward.
Brian Bannister, Royals, 26: Dealt to K.C. from the Mets for Ambiorix Burgos in December, Floyd's kid took Zack Greinke's spot in the Royals' rotation at the end of April, and at the beginning of June he allowed just one unearned run in 22 innings over three starts.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox, 26: He's not quite an ace, but he does lead the Sox in strikeouts.
CL: Joakim Soria, Royals, 23 Soria, a Rule 5 pick from the Padres, has actually lost his closer job due to switching DL places with Octavio Dotel, but one assumes that the Royals will flip Dotel by the deadline and reinstall Soria, who was 10 for 13 in save chances and hasn't allowed a home run in nearly 30 innings on the season.
RP: Hideki Okajima, Red Sox, 31: The veteran Japanese lefty has been practically unhittable for the Red Sox, posting a 1.01 ERA and a 0.813 WHIP due to a mere 19 hits allowed in 35 2/3 innings and just one home run, which was hit by the first batter he faced in the major leagues, John Buck of the Royals. Curiously, of his four runs allowed on the season (which have come in four separate appearances), two of them, and his only blown save, have come against the rival Yankees.
Labels: Wild Card
AL West: Recognize the O.C.
Earlier this month, Orlando Cabrera made a rare defensive miscue that loomed large in a 9-6 loss to the Cardinals. After the game, Cabrera wasn't too hospitable to inquiring reporters.
"You're wasting your [expletive] time with me," Cabrera said. "Get the (expletive) out of here. [Expletive] unbelievable.
"You guys are a bunch of [expletive] [expletive]; get the [expletive] out of here. Write whatever you want. [Expletive] use your imagination."
While there are enough expletives there to make Richard Nixon turn over in his grave, I can't completely blame OC. The guy is having as good a season as any shortstop in baseball, yet the only time he receives any attention is when he makes a game-changing mistake. This is nothing new. Cabrera is a Rodney Dangerfield in the baseball landscape: don't get no respect. When discussing the best shortstops in the American League, Cabrera's name seldom surfaces. But, make no mistake about it -- OC can flat out [expletive] play ball.
Everyone knows that Cabrera is one of the league's finest defensive shortstops. Referred to as "The Wizard of OC" by Angels announcer Steve Physioc, Cabrera leads AL shortstops with a .986 fielding percentage. With stellar range, soft hands and a plus arm, Cabrera's the complete package in the field and a dream for any pitcher. As former Red Sox teammate Curt Schilling told the Boston Globe following a playoff game in 2004, "He's a game-changer in the field."
It's Cabrera's exploits at the plate that go underappreciated. Last season, Cabrera hit .282 with 72 RBIs and led the Angels in runs (95) and doubles (45). His finest accomplishment of the '06 campaign was reaching base safely in 63 consecutive games -- something that hadn't been done since Ted Williams set the major-league record in 1949 with 84 straight games. This year, Cabrera leads Los Angeles in batting average (.337), runs (48) and doubles (23). A savvy baserunner, he's also 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts.
Cabrera has yet to make an All-Star game, and this year may be no different. The Angels have three All-Star locks (John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Francisco Rodriguez) and Kelvim Escobar is making a strong case to join the party. So Cabrera may fall victim to his teammates' success. Also, there's little wiggle room at his position. New York's Derek Jeter will start at shortstop for the American League, and with Jim Leyland is the manager, Tigers SS Carlos Guillen is almost a sure thing to make the team. Miguel Tejada has made four of the last five All-Star games. Although his numbers are down this season, Tejada could be the Orioles' lone representative, leaving Cabrera off the squad.
Cabrera isn't the only AL West player who goes underappreciated. Below, I present the division's top five unheralded studs. There are only two requirements for players on the list: 1) No All-Star game appearances; 2) A track record of production beyond this year (sorry, Reggie Willits).
5. Chad Gaudin, A's: A solid contributor in out of the A's bullpen in '06, Gaudin was forced into Oakland's rotation by multiple injuries this season. But the transition has been extremely smooth; Gaudin owns a 6-2 record with a 3.05 ERA.
4. Akinori Otsuka, Rangers: Otsuka boasts a 2.39 ERA over his four-year career and he saved 32 games for Texas last season.
3. Kenji Johjima, Mariners: Johjima's boasting All-Star-caliber numbers (.316, seven homers, 28 RBIs) for the second straight season, but he still can't even crack the top five catchers in AL All-Star game voting.
2. Orlando Cabrera, Angels: This season, Cabrera's the best all-around shortstop in the American League.
1. Dan Haren, A's: While most talk regarding AL starters centers around Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Justin Verlander and Daisuke Matsuzaka, Haren quietly leads the majors in ERA (1.78), WHIP (0.90) and quality starts (14). At this point, it's a crime if he doesn't start the All-Star game.
Ohh, dream weaver,
I believe you can get me through the night.
Ohh, dream weaver,
I believe we can reach the morning light.
Labels: AL West
NL East: Salt in the Wound
Jarrod Saltalamacchia remains best known for making William Van Landingham, Todd Hollandsworth, Tim Spooneybarger and 11 others eat his 14-lettered dust when the Braves summoned him from Double-A Mississippi on May 2, his 22nd birthday. In the seven weeks since, however, baseball's answer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh has assaulted far more than the tongues of neophytes who attempt to pronounce his last name. After 68 at-bats, Salty's hitting .324 with an OPS of .841, with 2 home runs and 8 RBI.
So far, the only team that's been able to consistently stop Saltalamacchia has been his own. Atlanta is presently the second-worst organization after Minnesota in which to be a hot, young catching prospect; just like Joe Mauer, 23-year-old rising star Brian McCann isn't going anywhere soon. But the Braves, unlike the Twins, don't have a reigning MVP manning the position to which an athletic catcher has traditionally best been able to switch: first base.
Current starter Scott Thorman may rank fourth among Canadians with 30 RBI (after Justin Morneau, Jason Bay and Russell Martin), but he's only 12th among NL first basemen, and his .718 OPS is 15th among NL 1B's with more than 120 at-bats. While Thorman, who's hitting .235 overall, is basically a rookie himself (he had 128 at-bats last season), he has yet to demonstrate the type of run production the Braves need from the first base position. His defense alone hasn't been nearly good enough to merit keeping him in the everyday lineup.
Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz have proven themselves willing to gamble that a player will be able to pick up a new position in order to get his bat in the mix. They've had great success so far this year with outfielder-turned-second-baseman Kelly Johnson, whose talents have been mentioned before in this space and who continues to play above-average defense. And, they have begun experimenting with putting Saltalamacchia next to Johnson on the right side of the infield. He started there on back-to-back nights last week, against two of baseball's best lefties in Johan Santana and C.C. Sabathia, and made it through both games without an error.
The thinking seems to be that the switch-hitting Saltalamacchia will play first against southpaws, and will otherwise spell McCann behind the plate once a week or so. Thorman has indeed been terrible against lefthanders, against whom he's hitting .189 with no homers and 3 RBI in 53 at bats, while Saltalamacchia has hit .324 with 2 homers and 4 RBI in 34 similar at bats. But it's not as if Thorman has been giving righthanders bad dreams -- he's at .262 with a sub-.300 OBP against them, while Salty's at .303/.395.
Unless Saltalamacchia's first base defense proves to be a complete disaster (and it might) his bat's too good for him to remain a backup catcher and lefties-only first sacker. He should, in the next few weeks, work his way into the lineup nearly every day, even with McCann a mainstay behind the plate.
As for Thorman? Well, Cox sure could use a fifth starter...
The NL East Fungoes will feature a guest blogger next week, as I'll be off in Croatia researching the ancestry of baseball's most famous Croat-descended player, Mr. Roger Eugene Maras (you might know him as Roger Maris) -- although Adriatic beaches may also be involved. Anyone know of a good spot to catch the Nats/Pirates series in Dubrovnik?
Labels: NL East
NL Central: The Rise of Ankiel
Memphis is home to the best ribs in the universe (Charles Vergos' Rendezvous), Elvis, and one of this summer's great baseball stories: the resurrection of Rick Ankiel. Of course you remember the kid -- the next Koufax, so many proclaimed. Of course you remember the infamous postseason meltdown, the horrific struggles that came after. I was there in Cardinals camp in March 2005 when Ankiel stood in front of reporters in a dark and narrow hallway and made the stunning (and sad) announcement that he was giving up pitching and was going to start all over -- as an outfielder.
Two years later, here he is, in Memphis, reborn as a big-time masher. For the Triple-A Redbirds, Ankiel is hitting .286 with a .608 slugging percentage and 19 home runs in 217 at bats. He recently hit seven home runs over an 11-day span; last Saturday he swatted three home runs in Des Moines. He's the leading the Pacific Coast League All-Star team vote.
Meanwhile, up I-55 in St. Louis, the bumbling big league club is starved for the kind of pop that Ankiel can provide. Only the Giants and Nats have scored fewer runs in the NL than the Cardinals, who rank 11th in the NL in home runs and 12th in slugging. Jim Edmonds hit the DL on Monday, Juan Encarnacion has a dreadful .295 OBP and four homers in 119 at bats. There is room for Ankiel. The complication: once the Cards -- who are out of options on Ankiel -- give the ex-pitching phenom the call, he'd have to pass through waivers to return to the minors.
So what do you do if you're the Cardinals? Tony La Russa to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.: "We talk about Rick a lot. Every day he gets four at-bats he's closer to getting to the majors and staying here."
Around the division
Labels: NL Central
AL Central: Roots of Verlander's stardom
I don't like you either, Justin Verlander.
It was bad enough when Mark Buerhle threw the season's first no-hitter on a Wednesday night, but Verlander had the audacity to toss his on a Tuesday. Though this may seem like a trivial matter to most folks, spectacular feats by White Sox and Tigers on Tuesday and Wednesday nights are personal affronts to a man who writes a weekly AL Central blog published Tuesday afternoons. Don't they understand the news cycle I'm working with?
My timeliness already ruined, I decided to turn back the clock even farther than last week and focus on what happened years ago in Goochland, Va. I caught up with Verlander's old AAU catcher, Mike Vranian, who caught Detroit's young gun throughout his teenage years and who now marvels at how far Verlander has come.
"Of all the kids on the team, he was not the one you'd expect to go far," says Vranian, now in medical school. "He had the body and he definitely had the velocity, but he threw a 55-foot curve ball. He could rarely get it over the plate."
Though its Verlander's velocity that still gets most of the attention -- and rightfully so for someone who hit 101 mph in the ninth inning -- his offspeed pitches stole the show last week, prompting Milwaukee's Corey Hart to call his curve and change "plus-plus."
As erratic as that curve used to be, it's not a complete surprise to Vranian that Verlander has harnessed its sharp break.
"[Verlander] was probably the hardest worker on the team," says Vranian. "He was always throwing long toss, and one of our coaches was an instructor at the Richmond Baseball Academy, so he took a lot of lessons with him."
Verlander learned quickly, too. Despite an ill-timed battle with strep throat during his senior year of high school that cost him strength, velocity and a high draft pick, he starred at Old Dominion University and later became the No. 2 overall pick of the 2004 MLB draft. Through it all, however, Verlander's delivery hasn't changed.
"His motion looks the exact same," says Vranian. "He still looks like the exact same guy I caught. He was always about 6'4" but seeing him in that Detroit uniform -- it's pretty surreal to see him pitching on TV."
Verlander's current catcher makes boasts like this one -- "He's got the stuff to be the best pitcher in the game," Ivan Rodriguez said -- even if it's old AAU catcher taking the credit.
"Whenever baseball comes up, I'm always asking, 'Have you heard of Justin Verlander? Yeah, I was his catcher,'" says Vranian, before adding with a laugh, "I'm claiming about two-thirds of his major league potential."
Back to the matter at hand: Fans can go to Royals.com and vote for a seventh-inning song, choosing among classic titles like "The Limbo," "Kansas City," "Sweet Caroline," "Come On Eileen," "Ring of Fire," "Cotton Eyed Joe" and "Dancing Queen." Though "The Limbo" would be fitting, as the Royals are always finding new ways to go lower and lower, my vote's for "Ring of Fire" -- you just can't go wrong with Johnny Cash and there's some good singalong potential.
But can't we find a better catalog of songs? "Sweet Caroline" is already a Boston trademark in the middle of the eighth (and has already been shamelessly ripped off by the Mets), and the Yankees already stake claim to "Cotton Eyed Joe." One thing's for sure, though: Don't follow this misguided advice from Chuck Woodling and write in "YMCA." Haven't we all suffered enough, Chuck?
Labels: AL Central
AL East: Baltimore Chop
From the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s, the Baltimore Orioles were the model organization in baseball. Baltimore built their teams around the concepts of great pitching, stellar fielding and the three-run home run and won championships in 1966, 1970 and 1983. In fact, the O's had the best record of any team during the '60s and the '70s.
Earl Weaver, who steadily worked his way through the minor leagues, managed the team for most of this run, and is a Hall-of-Famer. The Orioles developed talents such as Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair, Mark Belanger, Jim Palmer, and, later, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor and Eddie Murray. They played baseball the right way, the "Oriole Way," and thrived in spite of the fact that other teams spent more once the free agency era began.
The Orioles' system began to corrode during the Cal Ripken years. By the mid-90s, they had become another version of The Best Team Money Can Buy, featuring stars like Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla. They were competitive for a few seasons and then collapsed -- the Orioles have finished as high as third in the American League East just once since 1997.
I grew up in the '70s and '80s and always counted on the Orioles being a force, much like the Atlanta Braves have been for the better part of the past 20 years in the National League. It wasn't that I necessarily liked them, but they were dependable, respectable. But the old Orioles are long-gone, and that is one of the running disappointments in the game. Now, each season presents yet another mediocrity.
The O's have lost eight straight games, more than a third of the way to the 21 consecutive games they lost in 1988. Sam Perlozzo reportedly is being fired today, but the organization's troubles run deeper than its manager. For the moment, Kevin Millar called a players-only team meeting to try and unite the club.
According to Roch Kubatko in the Baltimore Sun:
Always a favorite of the media for his accessibility and one-liners, Millar vented when he noticed a few reporters joking around while players ate dinner in silence and dressed at their lockers.
The fun and games continue this week for the Orioles on the West Coast. They have today off, then face Jake Peavy on Tuesday night in San Diego.
"Larry was that bridge for us," said [assistant managing editor/sports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Garry D] Howard. "He was the bridge for this generation. He helped father this whole generation. I think you could trace it back to Larry and then to a Sam Lacy.
Dan Shaughnessy remembers his colleague. For more on Whiteside's story, pick up Howard Bryant's compelling book about racism and Boston sports Shut Out.
Labels: AL East
NL West: D'backs play safe with Unit
Thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, Randy Johnson had only one quality start in his return to Arizona through the Diamondbacks' first 35 games of the season. Coming off a 2006 season in which he had a 5.00 ERA, it would have been reasonable to wonder whether the 43-year-old Johnson would ever dominate again.
But then over a 4 1/2-week period, Johnson knocked out six consecutive knockout starts, allowing eight runs over 35 2/3 innings (2.02 ERA) while striking out 51 and walking five -- a ratio few achieve at any point in their careers. According to Baseball-Reference.com, opponents had an on-base percentage of .222 against Johnson and a slugging percentage of .233 in that span.
The only difference between this Johnson and the ideal Johnson was not getting past six innings in any of the starts. Johnson averaged 91.5 pitches per start, only once exceeding 101.
In a further sign that the Diamondbacks were keeping caution from the wind, they put Johnson on the disabled list last week with "glute tightness" even, as Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported, before team doctors finished reviewing an MRI exam.
"We are going to err on the side of caution," Melvin told Piecoro. "I said that from Day 1. That's how we're going to handle it. We're not going to run him out there in a situation where it could get worse."
Johnson's return could come as early as June 26, in a home game against the Dodgers. Arizona had a down-and-up week, following a sweep by the Yankees with a sweep of the Orioles.
Colorado has furthered its attempt to go from pretender to contender. Since May 21, the Rockies are 17-7, even including Sunday's 7-4 loss to Tampa Bay. However, in that time Colorado has only gone from being seven games out of first place to 5 1/2 games out, because San Diego (which was in second place May 21) has gone 16-8.
On May 14, I wrote that "the Rockies' main problem this year is that their pitching isn't as deep as they might have hoped, at home or on the road. .... The Rockies are hardly dead and buried, but they have got to get their pitching turned around to stay in the competitive division race." In the 31 games since, Colorado's team ERA, 5.10 prior to the article, has been 3.67, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
The resurgence has been led by Jeff Francis, who has a 1.76 ERA in six starts (41 innings) over that stretch. And the bullpen has been on its game, with Brian Fuentes, Manny Corpas, Jeremy Affeldt, LaTroy Hawkins, Tom Martin and Jorge Julio all boasting above-average ERAs.
The oft-maligned Hawkins has been charged with one run in nine innings over 10 games since returning from the DL May 22. Martin has been tagged with one run in his past 10 innings. And Julio has decimated the 12.54 ERA he had with Tampa Bay this year, coming over in a trade to throw eight innings of relief with a 1.13 ERA.
(On the other hand, last month I also highlighted the fact that Todd Helton was batting .397 on May 11. Since then, he is hitting .243.)
Labels: NL West
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