Since the San Francisco Giants have been gracious enough to invite me to a media event they’re throwing on Friday (2/4) at AT&T Park (details to come, once I find out exactly what’s going on), there’s no better time than now to preview what the Giants will be up against in 2011.
The Colorado Rockies were the fast car in the Giants’ and Padres’ rearview mirrors all season, only the car was a 1980’s Jaguar. Sputtering throughout the season, with the talent and somewhat suspicious history of turning it on in September, it was almost shocking that the Rockies finished 83-79, 9 games behind the Giants. With two of the best young position players in the National League in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, and a pitcher who looked like a lock to win the 2010 NL Cy Young until a bad outing in late June against Boston derailed him in Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies were the team everyone figured would outpace the plucky Padres and misfit Giants.
But they didn’t. Instead, Colorado lost 13 of their last 14 games, including their last 8, to end 2010. So the off-season meant major changes, right? Not really, unless you count spending gobs of money to keep Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Jorge De La Rosa.
The Rockies walk quite a bit (their BB% of 9.3 was fifth-highest in the Majors last season). Tulowitzki was a realistic MVP candidate last season despite missing 40 games, and his mullet is in some ways more ridiculous-looking than Brian Wilson’s beard. Jimenez belongs in the conversation with Tim Lincecum and Roy Oswalt as the guy hitters least want to face in the NL. Rockies pitchers gave up the 9th-fewest HR/9 last season (0.87) despite playing at Coors Field. The bullpen isn’t amazing, but it’s decent enough (Matt Belisle could close for 5-10 teams in the Majors, maybe more). Carlos Gonzalez is extremely adept at hitting broken bat flares over the head of a certain Giants rightfielder, causing a small portion of the fanbase to turn against a certain rightfielder (even though it was certain rightfielder’s fifth game with the team and nobody in the Majors would have made the play), until a certain rightfielder started breaking up postseason no-hitters with homers over the left field wall.
(What never seems to get mentioned about the infamous broken-bat-liner game that the Giants lost 2-1 to the Rockies, from someone who watched it all happen from the bleachers in center: Ross looked bad because he broke in when Gonzalez hit the ball, but it was Freddy Sanchez’s terrible throw that bounced into the stands, and a feeble attempt to field Sanchez’s terrible throw by Pablo Sandoval, that were truly horrendous.)
They paid De La Rosa No. 2 starter money mostly because they don’t really have a No. 2 starter behind so their choices were either to overpay DLR or hope Jhoulys Chacin could fit the bill. Todd Helton. Jose Lopez and Eric Young are terrible offensive options at second base. Unless Chris Iannetta hits 20 HR, he’s not going to provide much either offensively or defensively. As flashy as Dexter Fowler looks, he doesn’t play that great in CF (-13.2 UZR/150 in 256 career games) or steal that many bases. Only four Rockies had an OPS+ of over 100 in 2010, and one of them was Jay Payton (In 36 PA … but the Rockies did sign him to a Minor League deal so he may be back!). Jason Giambi may have to testify in the Barry Bonds case (not really sure how that would be a weakness for the 2011 Rockies, but figured I’d mention it anyway). Dinger (photo from Walkoff Walk) isn’t just the worst mascot in sports, a furry abomination that makes Slamson look like the Phillie Phanatic, it’s the worst anything in sports right now (with all apologies to Colin Cowherd). Watching that dinosaur jump around behind home plate, actively trying to distract pitchers in the late innings like some pimply-faced computer science major behind the basket at Cameron Indoor Stadium when a Tar Heel’s on the line, is ten times worse than anything the Rockies may or may not do with their mysterious humidor.
The fact that the Rockies were thought to be the favorites in the NL West says more about what people thought about the NL West than how good the Rockies were. And they didn’t exactly go crazy trying to improve the team during the off-season.
Predicted record: 82-80 (3rd in NL West)