Rockies at Giants series preview

baseball - David Banks

Over in the Baseball Nation roundtable on the NL West, I was kind of a jerk to the Rockies. As a sensitive writer who wants everyone to like me, I made a point of being nice to most of the teams throughout that series. The Orioles? Sure, you know, things could go well for them again. The Royals? Say, gee, don't count them out because they made trades you wouldn't have. The Pirates? I even had nice things to say about the Pirates!

When it came to the Rockies, though, they fell into a special category. I didn't feel the need to be nice to the Astros, Twins, or Marlins because those fans know. There aren't any preseason delusions of maybes, what-ifs, and if-onlys with those three teams. And into that categorization, I dumped the Rockies. You might claim that I'm biased because I hate the Rockies and their mascot and their park and everything the organization stands for, but allow me to retort that is exactly how bias works. So probably. More than that, though, I was completely underwhelmed by their offseason. This was an actual combination of words on MLB Trade Rumors in 2013:

Jeff Karstens, Derek Lowe, Aaron Cook and Jair Jurrjens are among the possibilities the Rockies are considering. The Rockies wouldn’t offer all of those pitchers Major League deals, however.

Those were the names the team was looking into after allowing 890 runs, which was their worst total in the post-humidor era. As such, it was perfectly appropriate to point and laugh.

Except now the Rockies are the First-Place Rockies. They've scored 39 runs, and they've allowed four fewer runs all season than the Giants did on Sunday. Now they're coming into AT&T Park with the kind of confidence that only an early-season surge can bring. Did I peg the Rockies wrong? Are they really contenders?

Nah.

But, I will say it was way too early to dump them in the Astros, Twins, and Marlins bin. For one thing, the Rockies actually have couple decent starters. Injuries hurt them more than anything last year. Injuries and wacky rotational experiments, that is. Here are the current group of starters ranked on a Should They Be in a Major League Rotation? of one to 10, where one is Kevin Correia and 10 is Justin Verlander:

Jorge de la Rosa (7)
Juan Nicasio (7)
Jhoulys Chacin (7)
Jeff Francis (4)
Jon Garland (2)

Which is to say, they have three starting pitchers who fall into that should-be-starting category. Those three have upside. They have promise. They're young and/or under contract for a while. They're the kind of pitchers the Rockies should be messing around with. And three worthy starters are just about as many as the Twins, Marlins, and Astros have in their combined rotations right now. The Rockies don't belong in that group of bottom-feeders after all, especially since they have a lineup that should score a bit.

My eyes still go straight to Jon Garland in that list, of course. Jon Garland! In Coors Field! Do you realize that there's only one NL West team he hasn't pitched for? And, say, there could be two openings in the Giants' rotation next year ...

But it's probably unfair to focus on just one pitcher. And all offseason, I spent time digging for the next Orioles or A's -- the teams that were going to make us all look stupid. You know there's going to be one. For some reason, though, this group of 30 seemed oddly binary. Either a team had a shot, or they had no shot. The Mariners are about as close as a potential surprise team as can be, and that doesn't feel especially close.

The Rockies, though ... oh, those small samples give off some funny fumes, alright. Looking at stats and standings after a week is like huffing a big ol' ether-soaked rag, and you can dance around your office like no one's watching, twirling to your heart's content. It's not real. But it feels real. So maybe it's real?

Pretty sure it's not time to assume the Rockies are contenders. But as a team with a couple top-tier pieces and a few workable assets around them, they probably fit that could-be-Orioles mold better than a lot of teams. They probably won't contend. But if they did, it wouldn't be the most surprising story of the past couple years. So, sorry about that, Rockies fans. And, more importantly, sorry about that, baseball gods. Please don't punish me for my arrogance. I mean ... Jon Garland ...

Hitter to watch
First off, Baseball Reference has Wilin Rosario's nickname as "Baby Bull." Whoever is doing that, cut it out.

Second, Rosario is the kind of young, blue-ox-riding masher that terrifies me. Impatient. Can be pitched to. Completely unpredictable. And hella strong. Yeah, he gets a "hella strong." You know us Bay Area types appreciate the gravitas of the word "hella," and we endeavor to use it sparingly. But dude's hella strong. And for some reason, it's the hacky strong types that worry me more than the patient strong types. Not sure why that is, but Alfonso Soriano freaks me out more than Carlos Beltran, even if the latter is clearly the better player.

Same goes with Rosario and anyone else on the Rockies. He's the guy I'm scared of, and I'm not entirely sure why. Is it a perception thing? Fear of the unknown? Toxic ink from a Glenallen Hill rookie card that seeped into my bloodstream as a kid? Dunno. But Rosario scares me. As a hitter.

Pitcher to watch
Here's something I didn't remember. From SFGiants.com:

(Jeff Francis) is 3-6 with a 5.72 ERA career in 10 starts at AT&T Park.

Not that I thought he did especially well against the Giants, but usually the Giants score two or three runs when the Rockies come to town. The Rockies usually score one or two, so that's why things have gone the way they have for the past few years, but I don't remember Francis doing that poorly.

(An aside -- Francis gives us a good idea of what it would be like if Noah Lowry came back from injury at 80 percent and floated around for a bit before returning. It really wouldn't have been that exciting. It's probably best that our strange fascinations with Lowry are left in the what-could-have-been drawer.)

Francis is the pitcher to watch because the Giants should hit him. Teams in general should hit him. But the Giants' underwhelming lineup against lefties makes me worried that they won't. Francis is kind of a bellwether, then.

Prediction
Someone makes fun of Todd Helton getting arrested on his way to buy lottery tickets. Like, say, right here.

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