Nationals at Rockies: Monday, August 4 at 9:05 ET
I had to look at the schedule twice thinking, wait, they're not off tomorrow? And they're on the road? In Denver? Someone in the league office doesn't like the Nationals. They are in the middle of a stretch of playing 20 days in a row in three different time zones including the mile-high city where the air is so thin that even marathoners take a day to adjust. WTF? Good thing Manny's starting the trip with only 22 guys available. That should help us stay fresh. Good job, JimBo.
OK so things are actually going really good. If there was ever a team ready to play through a stretch like this with energy, it's the New Nationals. (Or is it NewNationals, alloneword, emphasis on the second syllable "newNAtionals," like "New Haven?")
But even with all their struggles, the Rockies have a .585 wining percentage at home this year, have won 11 of their last 16, and especially now with Tulowitzki back, they will be tough. So here's my take on game one of the Arena Baseball series, brought to you from the land of terrible beer brewed by right wing nut jobs.
Aaron Cook: Perhaps the purest sinkerballer in all of baseball, Cook is a great fit for the Rockies and their mile-high 'baseball' stadium. Over 80% of his pitches will be the same hard sinker down in the zone. He strikes out fewer hitters than most any starting pitcher in baseball (3.0 per 9 for his career, though that number is up a bit this year).
As you now doubt remember (or maybe you've blocked it out), we've had our struggles with sinkerballers in the past. In the last two weeks, facing Derek Lowe and Kyle Kendrick, we scored a total of 2 runs in 14.2 innings. And there's that guy named Hudson who usually seems to do pretty good against us.
So once again, with feeling: do not swing at the pitcher's pitch. Regardless of the count, if you swing at a sinker down in the zone, you will surely make outs (unless you can run like Bonifacio and Harris). With two strikes, shorten up and try to spoil good pitches. And then when the pitcher elevates the sinker, beat the snot out of it (because an elevated sinker is really just a fastball cookie, and since the velocity's always the same, there's no chance of deception).
Tim Redding: Anyone know why the probable pitcher for this game was listed as TBD until late this afternoon? Did I miss an injury? Or is something up? Probably not.
Anyway, Tim Redding has crapped the bed in two of his last three starts, leaving him with a 7.88 ERA in those games and basically eliminating whatever slim chance there was of a favorable deadline deal for the Nationals. I think it's mostly bad luck at this point, as his BABIP against in those three games is .386 (BAPIP is the batting average of opposing hitters just on the balls they put in play not counting HRs; it is generally a stat heavily influenced by luck and defense and typical BAPIP is around .290). Of course, Coors isn't the best place for a slight flyball pitcher to get well. We'll see if his luck can change.
What To Look For
--For baseball purists (or anyone close to that persuasion), Coors Field is something of a travesty. You think of it as a bandbox because of the way the ball carries. But it isn't. In terms of actual dimensions, it's bigger than RFK. Dimensions at Coors are: Left field: 347 ft.; left-center: 390 ft.; center field: 415 ft.; right-center: 375 ft.; right field: 350 ft. RFK's dimensions were: Left field: 335 ft.; left-center: 380 ft.; center field: 408 ft.; right-center: 380 ft.; right field: 335 ft. Humidor or no, between the home runs and the giant gaps to exploit, it's still such an extreme hitter's park that it really isn't even baseball the way we know it. It's arena baseball.
--Given that, this might just be a series where it makes sense to park the long-term for just a moment and put Milledge in left. Let Harris patrol center. Maybe not the whole series, but at least when flyball machine Jason Bergmann's pitching. And late in games when we have the lead. That is, if Manny isn't so short-handed that defensive replacements aren't an option.
--Defense was a calling card for the Rox last year, and no one benefited more than groundballer Cook. But the Rockies infield looks pretty gnarly right now, at least on paper. At 2B you have Jeff Baker, who last I checked was a four-corners utility man who'd never really played much 2B at all. Garrett Atkins, a mediocre 3B, is now playing out of position at 1B every day because Todd Helton is hurt. And Ian Stewart is a below average 3B playing for Atkins. They do have Tulowitzki back, and you can't do better than him with the glove.
--The Rockies have fared well against Redding--Hawpe, Tulowitzki, and Torrealba in particular. Kearns and Langerhans have done ok against Cook. He's never faced Bonifacio, but it should be an ideal match up for our guy. Cook can't strike you out, and no one can elevate his sinker. If E-Bone pounds the sinker in the dirt four times, that could be good for two hits right there.
--Fatigue. Seriously, by the 9th inning tomorrow night, given the time change, travel, and lack of oxygen, these guys are going to be dragging. I'm not sure if it'll hit them in the first game or maybe Tuesday, but I look for them to lay at least one total egg in the next day or two that you can just lay at the feet of the schedule-makers. Manny really should try to just play everyone he can--Langerhans, Orr, Belliard... everyone should get a start in the next two days. If all Guzman can do is stand there with a bat, he needs to suck it up and take a turn, assuming JimBo doesn't DL him and bring up Bernadina (which he should, even if all he can do is play defense).
What to Root For
This series scares me, in case you haven't picked up on that. Right now, just give me one win of four to avoid a spirit-crushing reversal of momentum for the kids, and I'll take it.
(Season record: 7-5)
Cookie masters the sleepy NewNationals. Rockies, 5-1.