It’s officially time for the Cardinals to start worrying about their bullpen. When they had big leads in the NLDS and in Game One, they could afford a few breaks in concentration, but the game tonight was tense until Julian Tavarez got in there. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter because Brad Lidge was set to come out for the ninth anyway, but St. Louis can’t claim any longer that the reason its pen has been suspect so far in the postseason is that they haven’t had much cause to concentrate.
Nevertheless, pretty taut game. Roy Oswalt was great. Mark Mulder was almost as good. Chris Burke picked an excellent time of year to deliver on his potential. Cardinals fans have to be hoping that Reggie Sanders is all right after plowing into the outfield wall, because Larry Walker doesn’t look like he’s going to start being Larry Walker any time soon. Albert Pujols? He’s still himself. His blast has to be the good thing St. Louis takes out of this one, besides Mulder’s pitching and Yadier Molina’s excellent defense.
What’s a baseball fan who’s also a music fan to do sometimes? In tomorrow night’s case, it will be a combination of TiVo and text message updates from a sympathetic friend. Sleater-Kinney are playing in Englewood and seeing as no one’s getting eliminated tomorrow, I figure I can stand to dedicate an evening to rocking. Maybe I’ll find a clever way to incorporate the concert into my next post. Or, maybe I’ll just take the day off.
The White Sox beat the Angels, 2-1 tonight on one of the weirdest calls you’ll ever see in a postseason game. I was just talking to a friend today about how there are some people who only pay attention to baseball when they go to games and during the playoffs. How many of these people do you suppose knew that in order for a strikeout to "count" the catcher has to catch the pitch on the fly? I understand the rule, but even after watching the replay multiple times I have no opinion as to whether Josh Paul really picked the Kelvim Escobar splitter off the ground or not. If it bounced, it must have been right into his glove, or else he trapped it perfectly.
It appears as if the home plate umpire signaled twice — once to call the pitch a strike, and once to indicate that the ball was still live and A.J. Pierzynski wasn’t out until tagged or forced at first. Paul sure seemed certain that the inning was over, as he rolled the ball back up to the mound! Heads-up play by the White Sox catcher to run down to first when the ump signaled for him to do so. I hope in all the debate over this play no one forgets how beautifully starters Mark Buehrle and Jarrod Washburn pitched. Buehrle went nine and had the game gone into extra innings, I think Ozzie Guillen would have had trouble getting him off the mound for the tenth. Washburn only threw 4 2/3 but he was recovering from strep throat and to only allow four hits and one run is pretty good, I think. Escobar, until allowing the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, was great. He struck out five. But the last one will haunt him, Paul, Mike Scioscia, and the Angels all offseason if they don’t win the series.
I didn’t see any of the NLCS game, but it looks like reports of Chris Carpenter’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Likewise all the stories about Andy Pettitte’s playoff invulnerability. Tomorrow is a good night for the AL travel day because Mark Mulder and Roy Oswalt are facing off. What will happen next?
Well, the season began and ended on a positive note. Losing three of four to the Mets puts the Rockies right back to square one — 67-95, their same record as in the expansion season of 1993. Aaron Cook finishes his truncated season 7-2. That’s a good sign. Holliday, Barmes, and Helton were the hitting stars. What happens if we have all those guys healthy next season? Danny Ardoin was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. What happens if we have something approximating a real major league catcher next year?
Meanwhile, the Indians completed their unlikely slide to allow Boston to back into the playoffs. Houston held off Philadelphia to win the NL wild card. And the Brewers finished at exactly 81-81. Tomorrow I will sit down and really dig into the postseason matchups (Boston at Chicago, New York at Anaheim, San Diego at St. Louis, and Houston at Atlanta). That should be fun seeing as I more or less gave up the heavy analytical stuff over the last month of the season here when the Rockies played an endless string of games against boring NL West teams about which there wasn’t much interesting left to say. Right now? I like the Cardinals. But 5- and even 7-game series are inherently unpredictable. Stay tuned.
Well, so much for the momentum theory. I would love to see what the Rockies’ record is historically the day after they score more than 10 and win by more than 5. It seems to me as if they tend to lose more often than not, but I have absolutely no evidence to back that up. This season they’re 4-4 but the sample size is pretty small. If you drop the "scoring 10" requirement they are 8-9 after wins of five or more. I have no idea whether this is significant or not, I just felt a sudden urge to give myself a migraine peering at the season results pages.
Mike Esposito certainly didn’t embarrass himself in his major league debut but his numbers don’t bode particularly well for the future: 10 baserunners (seven hits, three walks) in five innings, only one strikeout (of Ramon Hernandez). There’s a reason why John Sickels faint-praised this guy as a "utility pitcher." In any case J.D. Closser’s wasted season reached perhaps its nadir when Clint Hurdle elected to use him as a pinch runner. Despite the fact that Danny Ardoin hit his fifth homer for the Rockies, the fact that he continues to get the bulk of the starts at catcher baffles me. Ardoin will still be a .240 hitter next year. Closser could be much more, but the Rockies have basically punted a year of his service time away because as a last-place team they’re worried about basestealers. At Coors Field.
You’d think Closser would at least get a start when Jamey Wright, one of the best righthanders when it comes to holding runners on in the majors, goes for Colorado, but no, Ardoin started yesterday. You’d think the one good thing to come of the Monferts’ inexplicable confidence in Clint Hurdle would be the guy managing with the team’s long-term growth in mind, but no. Hurdle’s driving motivation as a leader seems to be not making himself look bad. This is not the attitude for the field general of a young team to have.
Look at guys like Ozzie Guillen or Ken Macha. Ozzie challenges people to tell him he’s wrong. He’s named Bobby Jenks the closer and has stuck with Joe Crede at third even though the "safe" thing to do would be to go with vets Dustin Hermanson and Geoff Blum. Macha benched Scott Hatteberg in favor of Dan Johnson and bravely threw rookie Huston Street right on the fire. (On the other hand, Macha has fallen victim to the worst sort of "proven veteran syndrome" when it comes to Jason Kendall, who is playing nearly every day and having a career-worst season while the capable switch-hitting Adam Melhuse has seen less action than Yankees backup John Flaherty. Nobody’s perfect.)
Today’s big news, outside of the pennant races, was that Lou Piniella is jumping his contract in St. Petersburg. This should come as a surprise to no one. There are some managers out there who are just constitutionally unsuited to helm rebuilding projects. (Dusty Baker springs immediately to mind, although I would be very interested to see what Joe Torre could do with a team like Kansas City, not that that would ever happen.) If you’re going to fly into an uncontrollable rage every time a rookie misses a sign, airmails a cutoff man, or slides headfirst into first base (this last one maybe not so much, it personally drives me nuts), maybe you would be better off working for ESPN. Think of your blood pressure.
This is amazing: with the Angels and A’s locked in a death struggle for the AL West and the Indians and White Sox in extra innings, my eyes were locked on one bad team beating another bad team 17-1. Why? Because a position player was pitching. I love when position players pitch. Does anybody else remember Mark Grace on the mound doing a Mike Fetters impression? One of my favorite regular-season baseball memories ever. Sean Burroughs showed slightly better stuff than Grace, but allowed Matt Holliday’s sixth, seventh, and eighth RBIs in the form of a big fly off the leftfield foul pole. What a game!
Seriously, you have to read the box score to this game. It’s a work of art. The Padres used 21 players! Every position player on the Rockies except J.D. Closser scored at least one run! The Rockies (in addition to the club record-tying eight from Holliday) got 4 RBIs from Luis Gonzalez and 3 from pitchers! Colorado scored 15 runs in the first three innings! Jamey Wright allowed only one run in six innings pitched! Insanity!
It’s games like this that make me shake my head (further) at those who think the Rockies "can’t win at altitude." Indeed, in addition to the simple statistical record, Colorado ought to have a huge psychological advantage at home. They don’t need to overpay for "sluggers" to blow people out. The Rockies had 23 hits, but "only" four home runs. They won in both of my beloved categories, but not by much (three walks to the Padres’ two, six strikeouts to San Diego’s seven). But mostly, they put the ball in play and let the field do the work. Meanwhile Jamey Wright didn’t hurt himself needlessly (two walks and no home runs allowed) and by pitching effectively for the first three innings, he received the reward of a cartoonishly huge lead which let him cruise for the rest of the start.
Colorado only had to use three pitchers in a 21-run Coors game. While winning games 15-14 may ultimately be more trouble than it’s worth, watching both sides of the equation work the way they’re supposed to ought to carry over for longer than one victory. Or maybe they’ll get hammered tonight, who knows. In any case, last night was solid theater. Who needs the humidor?
Another disheartening loss Saturday (Zach Day: not good), the much better news Sunday of an Aaron Cook complete game. What’s the difference between these two groundball pitchers? Well, Day is the one with the semi-decent strikeout rate (5.73 per nine), but Cook’s WHIP stands at 1.39 to Day’s 2.45. Day has walked 32 guys in 47 IP (including his time in Washington), Cook 8 in 46.2. That’s a pretty big difference.
Annoyingly, Danny Ardoin was 3 for 3 on Saturday. Ardoin hitting .240 in nearly a full season as a starter for Colorado is a complete embarrassment. 31-year-old catchers do not spontaneously generate extra base ability. Nor do they suddenly morph from career minor leaguers to legitimate major league starters. The choice between 25-year-old J.D. Closser and Ardoin should have been no choice at all. Closser’s defense can get better. Ardoin isn’t suddenly going to grow offensive value. Ever. Shame on you, Clint Hurdle. Now that Ardoin is a Proven Veteran, there’s nothing to stop him from doing it again next season, either. Argh.
Other good signs from the weekend: Clint Barmes had multi-hit games Saturday and today. Matt Holliday continues to hit doubles where last year he would have singled. Cook only walked one guy in nine innings, bless him. The Rockies’ hitters only struck out three times to Arizona’s five. That’s the stuff, guys. That’s the stuff. Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, and Luis Gonzalez are a better 4-6 combo than the Rockies have had all year. Cory Sullivan continues to hit better, but by no means should he be guaranteed the starting spot in center for next year.
Colorado is 57-85 with 20 games remaining. That means they’re (probably) not going to lose 100, which is sort of an accomplishment considering their tiny payroll, litany of injuries, and serially inept field managing. If the current group was healthy and intact for the whole season, could the Rockies have pushed for .500 (and incidentally a division title)? Probably not. It’s only due to injuries that many guys have gotten the chances to succeed that they have (Brian Fuentes, Byung-Hyun Kim, Gonzalez). Had injuries not given him a reason not to, Hurdle probably would have kept lobbing Jason Jennings and Jamey Wright out there to lose games all year. Ditto Aaron Miles. I don’t think much of Clint Hurdle. Or Danny Ardoin.
Win four in a row, lose three in a row. It’s that kind of season. Except for the winning four in a row part, that hasn’t happened very often. What’s distressing about the last two losses to San Diego and Arizona is that the offense that’s supposed to be back with Barmes and Hawpe, isn’t. Granted, Clint didn’t play on Friday and Brad didn’t play yesterday, but neither did much when they did play (0 for 5 for Barmes, 0 for 4 for Hawpe). With Todd Greene available, why is Danny Ardoin even still wearing a uniform? I hate Danny Ardoin.
It’s at this time of the year when it’s easy to let one’s attention sway from Colorado baseball. The Premiership is heating up, and somewhere in between three solid hours of commercials I believe they snuck an NFL game on TV Thursday night. But we’re following this thing to the bitter end, and after the Rockies are mathematically eliminated will we have a few things to say on the subject of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, if you’ll excuse me, I have a wedding to attend. I haven’t worn a tie in over a year and I must say it doesn’t suit me. I hereby give the Rockies permission to win in my absence.