August 6, 2010
On the Beat
On the Road to Where?
By nightfall on August 22, it should be quite clear whether the Rockies will have a chance of returning to the postseason for the second straight season and third time in four years. The Rockies play the finale of a three-game series against the Diamondbacks that afternoon at Chase Field in Phoenix. It will mark the end of a string of games in which the Rockies play 13 of 16 on the road over the course of 18 days.
The Rockies began that stretch Thursday night against the Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. They did not need to anyone to tell them the importance of the next 2 ½ weeks.
The Rockies would be clinically diagnosed as a bipolar team if their home/road splits were examined by a psychiatrist. The Rockies are 36-19 at Coors Field and 20-33 away from home. They are hitting .301/.373/.492 and averaging 5.82 runs per game at home and hitting .229/.307/.363 and averaging 3.75 runs per game anywhere below the Rocky Mountains.
The home/road disparity was a problem for the Rockies during their early years after joining in the National League as an expansion franchise in 1993. However, the splits had come more in line in recent years as the use of a humidor kept baseballs from drying out in the thin air of Denver. However, this year has been like going back to the beginning.
"The toughest part is that there is really no explanation," said first baseman Todd Helton, who is in his 14th season with the Rockies. "No one can put their finger on why it's happening this year or we'd all take steps to fix it."
Thus, this stretch of road games figure to make or break the Rockies' season as they are in third place in the National League West, 6 ½ games behind the division-leading Padres, and 5 ½ games in back of the Giants, who lead the NL wild-card standings.
The Rockies play three more games against the Pirates this weekend. Following an off day, the Rockies face the Mets three times in New York, return home for three games against the Brewers, then go back on the road for three against the Dodgers and three against the Diamondbacks.
The Rockies also started this stretch with bad memories of their last road trip still fresh in their minds, a jaunt in which they went 2-9 against the Reds, Marlins, and Phillies. They did nothing to erase those thoughts Thursday as they were stifled by the Pirates, 5-1.
"We've got to win games on the road, period," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "It doesn't matter who we play, how good they are, what their record is. We have to beat them a lot more than they're beating us. It's that simple. Or we're negating what we're doing at home. We're going to negate it."
They will certainly be doing a lot of negating if they keep hitting as poorly on the road as they have during the first four months of the season. Of the Rockies' eight regulars, only Helton and third baseman Ian Stewart have a higher OPS on the road than at home.
The Rockies' pitchers have not been affected by a change in venue. They have allowed 4.51 runs a game at Coors Field and 4.38 on the road.
Yet the Rockies' lineup is transformed from Murderer's Row to a middle-of-the-pack Little League team once they put on the gray uniforms. It happened again Thursday night, as the Rockies struck out seven times in the first three innings against James McDonald, who was making his Pirates debut after being acquired from the Dodgers in a trade last Saturday.
"It's hard to explain," Gonzalez said. "I wish I had the answer. We all wish we knew the answer. "This road trip is very important for us. We need to start playing better on the road because that's what's going to make the difference. It's up to us. We've got to start winning on the road and we've got to start doing it now. It's not like it's Opening Day and we've got a lot of games left."
The beauty of Ozzie Guillen is that he often says things that other people think but are afraid to say. That was case again when the White Sox manager said he thought it was unfair that major-league clubs routinely provide translators to players from Asian countries but don't do the same for those from Latin America. Latino players have chafed about the situation privately for years, but Guillen was the first one to address it in such a public way.
The White Sox didn't have Guillen's back on the matter, though. The organization issued a strong statement that distanced it from his comments. While Guillen won't back down from his comments, he does believe they weren't portrayed in the proper context.
"I wish everything was out there, all the people would get it from the beginning," Guillen said. "Don't put it out there— pick one thing here and one thing there—and pick what you think that the people want to hear and put it on TV and hear what they have to say. I respect that, too. But you pick the context from the beginning of the conversation, and it's the total opposite of what I say."
The topic originally came up when Guillen was asked about the adjustments rookie third baseman Dayan Viciedo has had to make to assimilate into American culture after defecting from Cuba as a 19-year-old in 2008.
"When I talked about Viciedo, I said it's not easy to come here and be a player from Cuba," Guillen said. "And sometimes I hear some statement about some guy from ESPN, I will see him face to face, saying he talked to a few baseball executives and say it's more difficult for Japanese players to come here. I don't say that. I don't say it was tough, easier, harder. When a Japanese player is done playing in Major League Baseball, they go back to their country and enjoy their life. When the Cuban players go to this country, I don't think they can go back to their country and see their family. That man is wrong."
Guillen said he explained the context of his comments when he talked to White Sox general manager Ken Williams.
"I told Kenny everything that happened and he was fine," Guillen said.
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik will not commit to Don Wakamatsu returning as manager next season. However, he says Wakamatsu is not on the verge of being fired, despite numerous reports that his job is in jeopardy with the Mariners in last place in the American League West.
Much of the speculation has spawned from Zduriencik not insisting that second baseman Chone Figgins apologize to Wakamatsu for getting into his face in the dugout. Figgins was upset that he was removed from a game last month because Wakamatsu felt he wasn't giving his best effort.
"People say I didn’t back (Wakamatsu up), but I'm not sure what the definition of 'backing' is," Zduriencik said. "I had my meetings with Don privately, had my meetings with Figgy privately, then I had my meeting with them together. Then I had my meeting with the big-league staff with everyone in the room, and I think I made it perfectly clear—behind closed doors—what the expectations were and who was in charge. So at that moment, I felt that it was important that we keep the internal things internal. Don is the manager of this club. And he's in charge of this club."
The Red Sox have failed to make the playoffs just once since Theo Epstein took over as GM prior to the 2003 season. That came during a 2006 season in which the Red Sox were riddled by injuries in the second half of the year.
Injuries have plagued the Red Sox again this season, and first baseman Kevin Youkilis is the latest key player to go down as it was determined Tuesday that he will need season-ending thumb surgery. The Red Sox are 6 ½ games behind the co-leading Yankees and Rays in the AL East, and Epstein admits he is getting a familiar sinking feeling.
"It kind of feels like August of 2006, but for the whole year," Epstein said. "It's just the hand we've been dealt this year, and we've got to deal with it regardless of who we have on the roster. We felt like we were getting back to full health, but we might not get all the way back there. We still have to get really hot and play our way back into this race."
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Among the teams who figure to at least consider signing outfielder Jose Guillen as a free agent if he clears waivers after being designated for assignment by the Royals are the Twins, Giants, and Rays. … Now that the sale of the Rangers has been settled, the Chuck Greenberg-Nolan Ryan ownership group's top priority is trying to get left-hander Cliff Lee, who can become a free agent after the season, to agree to a long-term contract … The Cardinals are eyeing Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton as a trade candidate now that third baseman David Freese is out for the season. … Triple-A Gwinnett left-hander Mike Minor is likely to be promoted to the major-league rotation by the Braves if right-hander Kris Medlen goes on the disabled list. … Yunesky Maya, the Cuban pitcher signed as a free agent last week, is expected to join the Nationals' rotation by the end of the month.
Scouts' takes on various major-leaguers:
Angels right fielder Torii Hunter: "It tells you a lot about what a team guy he is for him to move from center field to make room for (rookie Peter) Bourjos and not complain. That's why Torii is one of the most universally respected players in the game. He's won nine Gold Gloves yet he has no ego."
Padres right fielder Ryan Ludwick: "He's exactly what that club needed. They had to get someone else beside (Adrian) Gonzalez to come up with a big hit. When Ludwick is healthy, and that isn't often, he's a very productive hitter."
Marlins left fielder Logan Morrison: "The kid is handling himself pretty well considering he is just breaking into the major leagues and isn't playing his normal position (first base). His career is going to be defined by his bat, though, and the kid can hit."
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins: "He's a little bit overrated, but there is little doubt that he is the leader of that club. The rest of their players feed off Jimmy's energy. He really hasn't been himself very often this season because of the injuries and it's hurt that club."
White Sox left-hander Chris Sale: "The kid is a good pitcher but it's a gamble by the White Sox to throw him into a pennant race two months after drafting him. I think the biggest question is if he is going to be able to handle the pressure. It's a big difference from pitching at Florida Gulf Coast to pitching in the big leagues."
Orioles designated hitter Luke Scott: "He's a streaky hitter and right now he's as dialed in as I've ever seen him. He's on everything and hitting balls hard. I'm really surprised a contender didn't make a deal for him last week."
Royals right-hander Blake Wood: "I really like this kid and he's someone to keep an eye on. He's got a really good hard sinker. He's got a chance to be a top-flight set-up guy."
Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano: "I think everyone in baseball is curious to see how he does now that he's going back into the rotation. Will he be a different pitcher after undergoing (anger management) counseling, or will he cave in at the first sign of trouble like he usually did in the past? It's the tipping point in his career now. He can get back on the road to being a premier pitcher or he could wind up on the road to oblivion. It's going to be interesting and it very well could give Lou (Piniella) a few more gray hairs on his way to the retirement home."