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Pace of play? The Diamondbacks and Rockies hold the longest 9-inning game in National League history

3dclocksYou don’t hear about pace of play this season as much as you did when the new rules to speed up baseball games were instituted in 2015. But don’t be mistaken; it remains one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s top initiatives.  And frankly, he’s fighting a losing battle right now.

Game times are up in 2016, surpassing the dreaded three-hour mark as of mid-May. The biggest culprit? There’s just more of stuff. More pitches, more walks, more strikeouts and more balls staying out of play. Those add up, and you had the perfect storm Friday night when the Rockies hosted the Diamondbacks.

It took 4 fours and 30 minutes for the D’Backs to pull off the 10-9 comeback victory. The game time bested a 15-year National League record for longest nine-inning game by 3 minutes. The previous record-holder was a Dodgers-Giants tilt from 2001.

This one had all the ingredients for a extraordinarily long game: 19 runs; 30 hits; 13 walks; 16 strikeouts (eh, that’s not too bad); six mid-inning pitching changes (serenity now!).

As pointed out by the Rockies’ SB Nation blog, Purple Row, the teams combined for 46 at-bats with runners in scoring position. That is pretty amazing to fathom but easy to understand when you see that there were 12 doubles (tied for the most in a game this year), six stolen bases, five errors, three wild pitches, two balks and all of those damn walks. There were actually 60 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and imagine how much longer this game would have lasted if the teams had hit better than .196 in those RISP situations.

I never want to complain about game times; my life is always better at the ballpark. But it’s games like this one that make Manfred tear out what’s remaining of his hair. Moreover, there’s really nothing he can do to stop these types of games from occurring. For all of his rules and suggestions, he can’t force pitchers to throw strikes. He can’t stop fielders from booting balls. He can’t stop hitters from taking so many pitches. Like the fans, he just has to sit there and wait for the game to, at some point, end.

Gerrit Cole goes 7 innings, throws hard, strikes out no one

gerritcole9cpsh4f-ppsmA starting pitcher making it through at least seven innings without recording a strikeout isn’t exactly rare, even though it feels like it should be. With strikeouts rising throughout the league, I was surprised to find that this has happened 20 times since the start of 2013. Colby Lewis did this just a few weeks ago. Rick Porcello threw a no-strikeout shutout less than two years ago.

Most of the names attached to these performances from the past couple of seasons are less surprising. Justin Nicolino. Brett Oberholtzer. Mike Pelfrey. 2015 R.A. Dickey. Yeah, none of those dudes are breaking radar guns. 

But Gerrit Cole? He with an easy 95-MPH fastball and with a changeup and a slider in the high-80s? Against a Colorado squad that whiffs a fair amount?

Cole threw seven innings on Thursday night and couldn’t get a third strike on any of the 28 Rockies he faced. And Cole was throwing hard. All of his average pitch velocities were higher than their season averages. He reached 98 MPH a few times and even got his changeup up to 90.

He got the win, 2-1. He got zero K luck. 

So I wanted to find out how often this happens to a starter with a career K/9 average greater than Cole’s 8.5 (minimum 500 innings pitched).Well, that’s not that easy. After some searching, my best guess is this hasn’t happened to such a strikeout pitcher since 1987. And it happened to that particular pitcher twice during the same month in ’87 .

That pitcher was Roger Clemens.

Clemens went nine innings in both of those outings and — 

Wait a minute …

ROGER CLEMENS HAD TWO COMPLETE GAMES WHERE HE DIDN’T RECORD A STRIKEOUT. 


Are you kidding me!? In case you are wondering, this never occurred with Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson, the two men above Clemens on the career strikeouts list.

Anyway, on July 1 and July 21, Roger notched complete-game victories without a K. He would still strike out 256 batters that season and go on to claim his second consecutive Cy Young.

My next best guess is that Gerrit Cole will strike out somebody when he returns to the bump in five days. In the meantime, he can celebrate both his odd win and his odd tie to one of the greatest.

Sunday was all about crazy comebacks in baseball

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment
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Movie, good. Baseball, better.

I saw “The Jungle Book” today. Very entertaining. Even with so many of today’s movies being overwhelmed by computer graphics, the CGI in this movie is outstanding. If there is a criticism, it’s that, other than the wolf pack and a couple others in the forest, there seems to be only one of each animal. One panther. One tiger. One snake. One bear. Forget about the one human boy among the wild; someone needs to investigate what befell so many of the species in this ecosystem.

But that’s all I did Sunday. Otherwise, I relaxed and watched some baseball. However, it’s difficult to relax when you are on the edge of your seat, and that’s where a handful of games put me. There were some wholeheartedly “good” games — Mets-Braves, Cardinals-Padres and Marlins-Giants were all tense late — but four games specifically turned this lazy Sunday into a crazy one.

Let’s start chronologically and with perhaps the wildest game of the bunch: Twins-Nationals. Stephen Strasburg was the story for the first seven innings. But in the eighth, he challenged Brian Dozier with one too many fastballs, and Dozier sent Strasburg’s 114th and final pitch way out for a three-run homer that gave Minnesota a 4-1 lead.

The Nats got two runs back in the bottom of the eighth. Then in the ninth, Dusty Baker made a brilliant managerial move: He sent Bryce Harper to the plate. What a strategy.

Harper had been given the day off, but in a one-run game, it was time for him to get involved.

Harper took a couple of hacks that made it known he wants to hit this ball into the Atlantic. I’m not sure why Kevin Jepsen gave him the chance — so what if you walk Bryce Harper? Throw it out of the zone, for goodness sake — but his low fastball wasn’t low enough. Unless you’re a Twins fan, click here to feel all the chills.

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Top Story: Is it time to sell high on the Rockies’ rookie shortstop?

April 11, 2016 Leave a comment

596115It’s not going to get better than this.

Trevor Story is on pace for 189 home runs this season. He is not going to hit 189 home runs this season. Nor is he going to score 189 runs, drive in 312, compile a .333 average or OPS 1.468. In that way, all fantasy owners who decide to trade Story following his historic first week in the bigs would be selling high.

But should they sell high? Because of that first week, Story is a safe bet to surpass 25 home runs. No shortstop has done that since Story’s idol, Troy Tulowitzki, knocked out 30 in 2011. Playing half of his games in Colorado’s thin air will help that cause. He should be a decent source of runs and continue to see pitches to hit as long as he is batting in front of Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado. Story even has the legs to steal double-digit bases. 

The clear negatives are that Story will swing and miss a lot, and he probably won’t finish with a batting average above .275. But hey, a lot of valuable players pile up the Ks and don’t have a sparkling average. It’s the price you pay for Story’s all-or-nothing approach (he has just two hits that aren’t home runs), and shortstops with his ability with the stick and on the basepaths aren’t in plentiful supply.

But just take a look at whom Story is fetching in recent trades in Yahoo fantasy leagues. 

On April 8, the day of Story’s multi-homer game versus San Diego, he was dealt straight up for the likes of Kris Bryant and Matt Harvey. The following day, Story was in one-for-one deals with Tulowitzki twice and Bryant. He was traded for Marcus Stroman, Jose Fernandez and Adam Jones each on April 10. Today, he’s been swapped straight up for Carlos Correa, Justin Upton and Felix Hernandez, to name a few.

In some notable two-for-one trades, Story was packaged with Roberto Osuna for each Miguel Cabrera and Nolan Arenado. Story and Justin Turner brought back Prince Fielder in one league. Story and Mark Trumbo brought back Nelson Cruz in another. He was traded along with Yoan Moncada (must have been a dynasty league) for Dallas Keuchel. Or how about Story and Billy Hamilton for Chris Sale?

As much as buy low, sell high is stressed, people often d0 the opposite because they are prone to panic. Over the past few days of tracking Story’s trade market, Tulowitzki and Bryant appeared to be the hitters most commonly involved in trades with the rookie. That’s not a shock since Tulowitzki and Bryant have combined for a .176 average and one home run. People are bailing on players they drafted in the first few rounds just a couple of weeks ago for a fresh rookie riding an unsustainable hot streak. They are panicking.

Should you sell high on Trevor Story? A definitive answer is difficult — barring a complete cratering, he’s got a good shot of finishing as a top-5 or top-6 shortstop — but you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least try. Explore what’s possible, especially while all of your league’s owners are engaged. That won’t always be the case.

Like they say in fantasy, if you’re not trading, you’re not trying. Seeing the return in some of these deals, Story’s owners should bring forth a high asking price and see if they can take advantage of an owner who’s nervous because his early-round stud is slow out of the gate. You might get your wish. And yes, I’d take either Kris Bryant or Troy Tulowitzki for Story.

But why stop there? Story was traded along with Craig Kimbrel for Giancarlo Stanton. He was traded with Dellin Betances for Josh Donaldson. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Here’s a glass-half-full thought for fans of bad MLB teams

hang_in_there_baby_cat_motivational_posterOne of the reasons why I’m hyped for the 2016 MLB season — other than the fact that baseball is awesome at all times — is the wealth of seemingly competitive teams in the league. They won’t all be competitive by the end, of course. But put another way, there is a very small number of teams I think we can safely rule out of the playoffs right now. That’s exciting.

In the American League, I’m pretty certain the Athletics will be missing out on October. I feel similarly about the Angels and White Sox, but one of those teams has Mike Trout. The other has the duo of Jose Abreu and Chris Sale. With those talents in tow, anything can happen. So, perhaps the entire AL has only one team that seems probable to miss the playoffs.

In the National League, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is wide and crystal clear. The Marlins are the NL’s purgatory team, somewhere between heaven and hell. Beneath them are six that are simply looking toward the future right now. And then everyone else, all eight other teams in the NL, have legitimate World Series aspirations. Not only do they believe they can make it that far (most every team believes that or wants to believe that right now), those guys have the pieces to get there. 

I am simply fascinated by the National League this year. The American League has a lot of potentially good teams, but would you be shocked if a specific one of them didn’t make the postseason? Perhaps it would be surprising if the Blue Jays or the Astros were left out, but there seems to be a fine line between division winner and third-place finisher throughout the AL.

However, in the National League, I see eight teams that are not just good; if everything goes right, they can be overwhelmingly great. Between the Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Mets and Nationals, it’s difficult for me to comprehend just how at least three of those squads are going to be left on the outside looking in when the regular season closes. Yet, that’s going to happen, and I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

While those teams are vying for their spot atop the mountain, a handful will be left at the base. 

Well, no matter how bleak it looks, you can never rule out a ’69 Mets or ’14 Royals-esque turnaround. But the odds are that the Athletics, Phillies, Braves, Padres, Rockies, Brewers and Reds will be bad this season. At times, embarrassingly so.

Instead of dwelling on that high failure rate to come, think this way if you pull for one of those also-rans: 

Your favorite team may win only 60 games this year. Maybe 65. You know what that means? That means there will be 60-65 days over the next six months where you will have something to smile about. At least 60-65 days where you will be happy. Maybe for no more than a fleeting moment, but happy nonetheless. And no matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of happy days

In sheer numbers, no other major team sport comes close to offering as much joy for the hapless. The worst teams in the NFL may win two or three times over a four-month span. The Philadelphia 76ers have won nine games since late October and just twice since Groundhog Day. The NHL’s downtrodden could win only 25-30 games in a full season.

In Major League Baseball, you get double that. And that’s only if your team is exceptionally awful. Your boys make work their way up to 70 or even 75 victories. So. many. smiles. 

Just something to keep in mind as the season officially begins this Sunday. Only 10 teams can make the playoffs, and some teams have no realistic postseason hopes. But baseball still gives rooters of the most inept plenty of occasions to feel good from now through Oct. 2. All you’ve got to do is make sure you don’t take them for granted. Then find your own way to make those other 90-100 days enjoyable. 

Best-case/worst-case scenarios for every MLB team in 2016

March 28, 2016 Leave a comment

question-marks-300x300You know the adage that is hammered into every team preview column at this time of year: Hope springs eternal. That hope is then extinguished pretty early for some teams. Really, really early for others. But we should all be optimists in March.  So, here’s what I consider to be the best-case scenario for each team on the field this season.

However, I’m also a realist. “Winning the World Series” isn’t a down-to-earth possibility for everyone. Conversely, there is no chance that the Cubs — even the Cubs — will lose 100-plus games. Consider this list a sensible results spectrum for each team. “Sensible results spectrum” just doesn’t sound catchy as a title.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Best Case: All that action in December pays off as Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller head a staff with a good amount of complementary talent. Patrick Corbin more closely resembles his 2013 form. The offense remains potent, and 36-year-old Brad Ziegler follows up a solid 2015 by continuing to make hitters pound the ball into the dirt. A division crown is very possible, and a trip to the NLCS isn’t out of the question.

Worst Case: This is basically a repeat of the 2015 Padres: Winning the offseason doesn’t promise success over the summer. Miller has an understandable regression, turning the rotation into Greinke followed by a bunch of guys. The offense will still be productive, but the likes of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas don’t do enough to support Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Who knows if this will all mesh? If it doesn’t, third place is where they will land

Atlanta Braves

Best Case: For some teams, winning right now isn’t really what’s best for the club. The Braves are one such team. What’s best for them is seeing some of their young players (Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, etc.) provide hope for the future, a healthy Freddie Freeman, and a lot of losses so they can maximize their draft pool and couple Dansby Swanson with another No. 1 overall pick.

Worst Case: Freeman battles more injuries. Atlanta’s green pitchers get thoroughly battered around the league. Coming out to Turner Field only serves to remind fans how the Braves are technically deserting Atlanta and a relatively young ballpark to get their hands on some more sweet, sweet public money where a lot of rich white folks live. No hope.

Baltimore Orioles

Best Case: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Weiters, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez. This team should lead the sport in home runs, so that’s cool. If the starting rotation can be league average collectively, the O’s can slide their way into a Wild Card spot.

Worst Case: The starting rotation is as much of a tire fire as many expect. That unit lost Wei-Yin Chen and basically replaced him with a Yovani Gallardo who is becoming more hittable. Weiters still can’t shake the injury bug. In the game’s deepest division and bereft of an arm they can depend on to stop a losing streak when the strikeout-happy bats are slumping, Baltimore could find itself in last place comfortably

Boston Red Sox

Best Case: What was supposed to be in 2015 comes to fruition in 2016. All of the vets are able to stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez endear themselves to Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz gets one more shot at October magic. The duo of David Price and Clay Buchholz dominate, and the back end of the bullpen with Craig Kimbrel is no longer a point of great consternation for the Sawx. This squad has World Series potential

Worst Case: Another huge letdown. Price remains great, but the rotation otherwise is a mess. Buchholz hardly makes it past 100 innings again. Carson Smith’s elbow injury subtracts a critical late-inning weapon. First base becomes Ramirez’s latest comical defensive venture. With Sandoval, people talk more about his fat than his bat. Father Time continues to wear on Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Fourth place and another finish behind the Yankees.

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Pitching is overrated: Blue Jays acquire Troy Tulowitzki

Everyone knew the Toronto Blue Jays were going to add a pitcher before the trade deadline. And they did so on Monday night, acquiring 42-year-old LaTroy Hawkins from the Colorado Rockies.

Oh, and as a bonus, they also received the best shortstop in baseball over the past 10 years: Troy Tulowitzki. For Jose Reyes, young reliever Miguel Castro and a couple of prospects.

There are plenty of questions and concerns about the players involved in this deal — which prospects will be sent to Colorado?; can Tulowitzki, with his history of injuries, hold up on the turf?; what’s to become of Reyes? With as much as $66 million due to him over the next three seasons, it’s near impossible to believe the rebuilding Rockies will hold on to an injury-prone 32-year-old with a deteriorating skill set at that price. At this juncture of his career, Reyes is pretty much Erick Aybar with greater name recognition.

But the lingering thought after digesting this trade is … seriously, what about that pitching staff, Toronto?

Just in the past week, the Blue Jays have reportedly shown at least minimal interest in Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, Jim Johnson, Mike Fiers, Mat Latos, Dan Haren, David Price, Joakim Soria, basically any San Diego Padres pitcher and Jonathan Papelbon. They were in on Johnny Cueto, Scott Kazmir and Steve Cishek before each was traded. They reportedly came close to working out a deal for Carlos Carrasco that eventually fell through this past weekend.

All of that, of course, makes too much sense. The Blue Jays’ offense leads Major League Baseball in runs scored by a huge margin. Their 72-run edge over the second-place Yankees is greater than what separates the Yanks from the Cincinnati Reds, who rank 20th in that stat. The Jays are also at the top in slugging percentage and OPS. But their work on the mound leaves much to be desired. The starting rotation, headed by Mark Buehrle, has a 4.38 ERA, a number that is better than only what the Indians, Tigers and Red Sox are putting out there. The bullpen has settled down after being dreadful early on and following a game of ninth-inning musical chairs that saw Toronto go from Brett Cecil to the aforementioned Castro, back to Cecil and then on to Roberto Osuna. Osuna has been pretty good as the closer for the past month, but he’s only 20. The need for a proven power arm in the late innings and a true ace in the rotation is immense.

Troy Tulowitzki, however, can’t pitch. Breaking news, I know.

Barring a trade to cover those pitching blemishes — the likelihood of which will depend on the prospects involved in this one and whom Toronto is willing to trade away — the Blue Jays intend on winning solely by outscoring everyone else. That’s kind of been their modus operandi for the entire season. Monday’s move just hammers that philosophy home like a Tulowitzki liner into the left-center gap.

The Blue Jays currently sit three games out of a wild card spot, but they aren’t going to make the playoffs without at least one notable upgrade to that staff (sorry, LaTroy). But I don’t want to be a total downer. This team is going to play a lot of ugly-fun slugfests, and while I think Devon Travis will end up replacing Reyes in the leadoff spot, how about this lineup just for fun?

Josh Donaldson
Troy Tulowitzki
Jose Bautista
Edwin Encarnacion
Chris Colabello
Russell Martin
Kevin Pillar
(some dude in left field)
Devon Travis

Is that something I could interest you in? That top quartet looks like something straight out of an All-Star game. American League East pitchers are finding it hard to sleep tonight.