The Coors Effect

April 7, 2010 11:15 PM

Just what does the opening series tell us?

Since we're done with overreaction to what wasn't that bad of an opening series, really (the Brewers are a pretty good team, it was on the road, the Rockies were competitive in every game), what can we take away from the opening set?

1.  This team misses Huston Street.  A lot.

A lot of people think that closers are overrated, and they do have a point.  Is it harder to pitch the eighth inning with a two-run lead and face the 3-4-5 hitters in the other team's order, or the ninth inning with a two-run lead facing the 6-7-8 hitters?  That one seems pretty academic, and shows why having a solid eighth-inning guy is just as important as having a good closer, and does give some credence to Jim Tracy's rationale of letting Rafael Betancourt remain in the eighth-inning role.  Then again, if Tracy really does believe that Betancourt is his best relief pitcher (he is), you'd think he would go all-out and have Betancourt get the three toughest late-inning outs, whether those are in the eighth inning or the ninth inning.  If Tracy sees the other team's #8 hitter leading off the eighth inning, why not send Morales or Corpas out to pitch the eighth and let Betancourt deal with the big hitters in the ninth?

No matter how you look at the closer role, though, Tracy is without the guy who's easily the team's best relief pitcher for the first month of the season.  It's not so much that Street isn't around to pitch the ninth inning, as much as the fact that Street's absence means everybody else (save Betancourt) moves up a notch.  Morales goes from probably pitching the seventh inning to working the ninth.  Corpas goes from middle relief to the seventh inning.  Given that Flores is the only lefty other than Morales, Tracy can't play matchups in the late innings as much (read: Flores might have to pitch to a righty on occasion.)  Belisle goes from mop-up duty to pitching in significant spots.  Esmil Rogers goes from the Sky Sox rotation to mop-up duty in the 'pen.  This isn't really much of a problem in a deep bullpen, but if there was one area where the Rockies really could not afford an injury, this was it.

Related to that, the loss of Jeff Francis hurts for similar reasons.  I like the fact that the Rockies don't have that big of a dropoff from their #1 starter to their #5 starter.  The problem with it, though, is that the dropoff from #5 starter to #6 starter (Greg Smith) is pretty significant, moreso than a lot of teams.  For a lot of teams, the number five starter isn't really much better than some random guy you could find in AAA or on the waiver wire.  Not so for the Rockies, who have a fifth starter who's actually pretty good.  Related to that...

2.  The bench is pretty good.  But it's not good if Tracy mishandles it.

As good as the Rockies' bench is, there's a reason they're bench players.  Ryan Spilborghs is a pretty typical bench player.  He's good in his current role (fifth outfielder, right-handed PH off the bench.)  But you don't want him to play regularly, because then his shortcomings (i.e. hitting right-handed pitchers) become more apparent.  I was willing to give Tracy some benefit of the doubt with today's lineup, in part because it was a day game after a night game, because the Rockies were facing a lefty starter, whatever reason you want to give, but ultimately Tracy just showed why those guys don't play every day.

Now, naturally, some of the bench hype comes from the fact that most of the mainstream baseball media has heard of two of the players off the bench (Giambi and Mora.)  And, yes, guys like Todd Helton and Chris Iannetta need the occasional day off, and it's smart to sit Brad Hawpe against the occasional lefty.  What's not smart is to give Helton, Iannetta, Hawpe, and Clint Barmes the day off on the same day.  And the "rest" argument is less effective when it's the third game of the season.  If these guys already need a day off three games into the season, the Rockies should really invest in a better offseason conditioning program.  It's as if Tracy felt like he needed to show off his shiny new bench today, rather than working his bench players in whenever somebody needs a day off.  If you really want to get the bench guys some playing time, aside from a set platoon like what Tracy is apparently doing with Smith and Fowler, you work each bench player into one or two games a week and rest one, maybe two, starters on a given day.  What you don't do is give four starters a day off on the same day.  Imagine if a business gave half the workforce a day off on a regular work day.  Would you expect that business to have a productive day?  Me neither.  Bench players may be good, but they're bench players for a reason.

3.  The offense should be really good.

So, the Rockies only trotted out their best offense for one game this series, the first one.  (Though, if you want to argue that Fowler against a lefty is as good as Smith against a righty, I'll give you the second game as well.)  And that offense is special.  The football equivalent of the Rockies' offense is the team that's content to pound the ball down your throat for consistent five-yard gains, rather than the team that's a threat to score from anywhere on the field.  The Rockies don't have a true "big bat" (Troy Tulowitzki is as close as it gets), but there are seven players on the team who legitimately could hit 20 homers.  (Strangely, the one that isn't is Todd Helton.)  Given the best offense, from one through eight, the Rockies have nothing in the lineup that could be remotely considered an easy out.  Even Clint Barmes and his sub-.300 OBP can hurt you.  Heck, Miguel Olivo, the backup catcher, hit 23 homers last season.  Ian Stewart homered in the first two games, and he's the seventh hitter.  This is going to be one heck of an offense -- but few are noticing it, either because they've never heard of the humidor or because the Rockies don't have one player who screams "OMG MVP!!!!!!!"

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