It's been awhile since we've discussed our dear ol' loveable baseball team in this space, so I figured a first half review was in order. Technically, they've played 88 games, but who's counting?
18-27 start. Same old Rockies. Brainz is considering adopting a new favorite team. Lost 2 of 3 to the Royals at home. 20-7. Hottest team in all of baseball. 5-1 against the Red Sox and Yankees, the only baseball teams that matter to ESPN. 1-9. Renewed as laughing stock both locally and nationally. Nobody really believed they were good, did they? 7 straight home wins, swept the Mets and took 2 of 3 from the Phils.
It's like the stock market since 1997. Quite a ride, but at the end of the day, we're in the same spot we were when we started. We went from 0-0 to 44-44 with a lot of craziness in between. I'll bet no other fan base got that kind of emotional roller coaster.
The local talk radio started to jump on board, then all insisted they never believed that anything will ever happen with the miserable Bums of Blake Street. Now, they insist that nobody even wants to talk about the team. I can't blame them. Baseball fans are a finicky bunch, and we only like to talk about baseball with people with a half a brain on the subject. Forgive us.
So, dear reader, what do we need to worry about considering the afore mentioned first half of the season and what should we expect in the second half of the season?
First, some general thoughts.
I think you would expect the Rox to keep this race close, within 3 to 6 games out of first, for awhile. This first 10-game roady out of the gate will be a biggin'. If they can split these 10 against Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Washington, I'll feel much better. Another 1-9 and you can probably stick a fork in us.
If, and it is a relatively big if, they fall out of contention quickly, I think the Rox will start to deal away some players. They will certainly not be buyers, local talk shows be damned.
Garrett Atkins has made himself a tradeable commodity again, and Ian Stewart is ready at 3B. Clint Barmes can probably handle 2B next year, and as much as I love Kaz Matsui, they'll probably look to trade him to a playoff contender because they know they can't afford him next season. Ditto, Brian Fuentes. I imagine he could reclaim the closer role, but I assume the Rockies know that Manny Corpas is their closer for 2008.
I would expect at least one of those players to be gone by July 31st if the Rox hit the skids early in the second half.
Fear not, however, dear reader. All of these moves are necessary and not a by product of bad ownership.
Regardless, I don't see this scenario happening. I still expect the Rockies to have a very nice second half, finish the year with between 84-86 wins, and finish 5 games out of the playoff picture with the wildcard definitely coming from the NL West.
It is all positive momentum and we're proabably one good off-season away from playing in October.
On to my first half review.
The offense, just like the team, had an erratic first half. Generally speaking, the Rox couldn't score to save their ass at the beginning of the season, then they couldn't stop hitting headed into the all-star break. The funny thing, though, is there was little correlation to how they performed on the field and their hitting. The 20-7 mark was predicated on dominating pitching and for part of the run, the Rox still couldn't get runs home. Then we went 1-9 on that road trip and scored tons of runs. Go figure.
Pitching/Defense: The defense has been stellar all year. The additions of Kaz for a full season, Tulo, and Willy T. up the middle has solidified a marginal defensive club from last year. Along with improvements at the corners, specifically Holliday, the Rockies had the best defensive team in baseball for much of the first half.
Swimming in the pitching happy NL West can be a difficult thing, and the Rockies obviously, just like everyone else, need to rely on their pitching to be a contender. Aaron Cook could give this team a huge boost if he just was is normal self. I also expect a hugely improved Jason Hirsh in the second half. The Rockies, as a staff, just don't overpower enough people. They were last in the MLB for K/9 innings, one of the best stats for rating the overall dominance of a pitching staff. An improved Ubaldo Jimenez and a healthy dose of Taylor Buchholz added to the rotation could cure some of those ills.
First-half MVP: Matt Holliday (surprise)
Matty hit .341/.392/.573 as he solidified himself as a true Super Star in the MLB. It is going to be intersting to see what the Monforts do with such a marketable commodity. Holliday could own this town and the region (being from Oklahoma) if it was handled right and giving him $15 million+ a year would still be a bargain.
He's on pace for 56 doubles and around 30 homers, with close to 130 RBI. His defense is improved, if nothing more than cosmetically. At least he looks better in LF now as opposed to a Dante Bichette clone. According to Baseball Prospectus, he was the 7th most valuable player in the NL for the first half, and only Barry Bonds was better amongst outfielders.
First-half Goat: Brian Fuentes
I don't expect to see the same Brian Fuentes ever again. His K/IP is down this year (to 7.41 vs. a 10.0 mark for his career) and he is more vulnerable then I can ever remember. That said, he'll be a productive reliever for the next 36 years because he's left handed. He won't be with us next season, and I wish him well.
First-half Surprise: Troy Tulowitzki
Tulo is the best SS in the 15 year history of the Rockies. And he's only 22 with 82 games under his belt.
It is no secret at Colorado Homers that I have a certifiable man-crush on Tulo. Tulo will win gold gloves, have a 30-30 season, negotiate a treaty in the middle east, and solve world hunger before moving on to a career in the front office for the Rockies and eventually owning the team. Then he'll be elected Governor of Colorado. That's what I think.
Tulo hit .286/.358/.432 with 32 walks in 315 ABs. That's the kind of line you like to see from a youngster that plays world-class defense at the most important position on the field. He's on pace for 25 doubles and 17 homers, but the power just came around, so I expect bigger counting numbers than those projections. Sadly, the rest of the baseball world will eventually vote for Hunter Pence as NL Rookie of the Year. But not everybody is as visionary as us.
Favorite First-half Stat: Willy Taveras
Willy is fast as flame, we all know that. But did you know that Willy was 27 of 36 (.750 success rate!) on attempted bunts for hits? That is astronomical! Basically, Willy could win a batting title by bunting every time he came to the plate, and I'm damn close to ordering that Clint Hurdle do just that. Sure, hitting .325 is nice, but a leadoff hitter that hits .750 wouldn't be better?
First-half Cy Young for just the Rockies: Jeff Francis
Again, no surprise. Jeffrey was dominant and pitched better in big games (see Yankees game in which he struck out nine). The lanky British Colombian is a stud and will be the anchor of our rotation for the next four years. We just need someone else to step up in the second half.
That's all for now, folks. Enjoy the second half of the season. And remember, your good friend Brainz stands to make some money if we win more than 81 games, so let's get pumped!
Or let's just pay attention for awhile. That's not asking too much, right?