A sidebar post over at the Crazy rightly notes that ESPN and everyone else should wake up from their East Coast-induced haze of Yankee/Red Sox/Mets/(even Braves) adoration and realize that the Rockies are making something of themselves out in the NL West. Interleague has given them the opportunity to beat the BoSox 2 of 3 and sweep the again-struggling Yanks, keeping Roger Clemens from getting his 350th win (gasp!). Although they're still 4th in the division, they're only 3.5 back, 4 games over .500, and more telling, in my mind, they've won (or split--for that one stupid 4 game series they played) every series for the past month. That's what winning teams do.
So who the hell are the Rockies and why are they doing so well? The guys over at Fire Joe Morgan would point out that Joe Morgan would have no freaking idea who any Rockies are, save maybe Todd Helton. Those among us that are more knowledgeable could probably name Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Brian Fuentes, and maybe somebody would remember that they traded for Willy Taveras from Houston. Bonus points for knowing that Met castoff Kaz Matsui is their starting second baseman.
But none of those guys are starting pitchers. None. In fact, there's really no "name" on the pitching staff outside of Fuentes. Even that's debatable considering most of us would have no idea who the hell he was if we didn't play fantasy baseball and follow the saves category as if it actually meant something in real life.
Don't you have to have an "ace" to succeed in baseball? A guy who can stop losing streaks? A guy you can rely on for 7 innings when your bullpen is shot from picking up the slack from your AAAA 5th starter? Isn't pitching kind of important, especially in Colorado, where it takes some talent to keep the ball in the ballpark? Isn't that supposedly why Colorado has failed to have any success since the Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla years? Isn't that why they (stupidly) signed Mike Hampton to an outrageous contract? At least one Colorado writer thinks the Rockies need to acquire a starting pitching "name"--Mark Buehrle--to put their team over the top.
I've been kind of fascinated with conventional wisdom in baseball after reading Moneyball (so, you know, all of 5 days now), and I'm beginning wonder if the Rockies' performance thus far this year is working to disprove the kind of wisdom about starting pitching we all take for granted. Perhaps it's just a freak exception to the rule. Or perhaps it's just an illusory success and the Rockies will come crashing back down to Earth in the second half. But I think it's worth taking a look at and pondering. So without further ado, here is the Rockies starting rotation:
Jeff Francis-7-5, 3.44 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.16 Ks/9
Aaron Cook-4-4, 4.65 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 3.01 Ks/9
Jason Hirsh-3-6, 4.78 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.17 Ks/9
Josh Fogg-3-5, 4.58 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 5.60 Ks/9
Rodrigo Lopez (only 8 starts)-4-0, 2.93 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 4.89 Ks/9
Certainly nobody dominating, unless you count Lopez. And while he may indeed be resurrecting a once fairly promising career (2002 and 2004), the sample size is exceedingly small and his ERA figures to regress more closely to his career 4.74 mark. Francis is the team "ace" if you have to pick one, but his numbers aren't overly inspiring and his face makes him more like 17 than the 26 he supposedly is (truly a drawback when you consider "ace" material, no?). Hirsh is having a fairly impressive rookie campaign (he also came over from the Astros in the Taveras trade), but judging by his numbers, Fogg is lucky to have an ERA of only 4.58. So what gives?
The bullpen, apparently. Or, rather, the bullpen doesn't give. Simply put, they don't give up leads once they have them. Even though some guy named Rob Veno seems to think little of the Rockies bullpen, I don't see how you can argue with results. Sight unseen, it seems the Rockies have been riding the same three guys all season, and all of them have ERAs under 3: Jeremy Affeldt, Manny Corpas, and the aforementioned Fuentes. Since coming over in mid-May, Jorge Julio has posted a sub-2.00 ERA.
Looking at the White Sox and Reds this year, it's painfully apparent how integral a bullpen can be to a team's success. Neither of those teams can hold a lead to save their lives. The Sox were offensively challenged to the extreme in 2005, but were able to win close games because Politte, Cotts, and Jenks shut teams down in late innings. Apparently, the Rockies have the same kind of thing going for them this year. Enough offense to make up for somewhat mediocre starting pitching, but a lights out bullpen to hold leads once you get them. But bullpens are fickle, cruel mistresses, Colorado. Will Affeldt, Corpas, Julio, and Fuentes have the magic touch the rest of the way?
Who the hell knows. The more I think about baseball, the more I'm convinced that half of the game is 90 percent luck (not mental, sorry, Yogi).