After a week hiatus from the article because of finals, I’m officially finished with school for the summer and am back and better then ever. Maybe not better then ever, but you get the point. I’m back.
A few weeks ago I talked about the firing of Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, mainly because this once-impressive young franchise seemed to be getting older by the day with him at the helm. Only the Nationals held a worse record in the National League than the Rockies on May 29th, the day of Hurdle’s firing. The lineup looked lethargic and lacked the pop we became used to from teams that play at Coors Field. The pitching staff was horrid and was in bottom five in era in the Majors.
Enter the apparent savior, Jim Tracy. After winning his first two games and losing the next four, Tracy has guided the Rockies to 11 straight wins, eight of which came on the road. The winning streak is tied for the longest in franchise history, when Hurdle guided the team to 11 straight wins as part of that remarkable comeback at the end of the 2007 season.
What has Tracy done to right the Rockies' ship? For starters, he benched All-Star third baseman Garret Atkins, who is hitting a putrid .204, in favor of the sure-handed Ian Stewart, who has been a step up offensively as well. Stewart received NL Player of the Week honors two weeks ago when he batted .435 with four home runs and an NL-leading 12 RBI.
Tracy also moved struggling shortstop Troy Tulowitzki out of the two hole and down to the sixth spot in the order. Tulo looks more comfortable lower in the order and after hitting .226 through May, the budding star is hitting .313 with three home runs and 6 RBI in June.
Carried by the resurgent Todd Helton, the Rockies have averaged 6.6 runs per game during the winning streak while the pitching staff has yet to give up more than four.
The bad news? The Rockies are still one game below .500 and 10.5 games back behind the division leading Dodgers. They will look to keep it going this week as they finish off a nine-game home stand against the Rays and Pirates.
Be Wary of a Pitcher Taken #1 Overall
It was made official this past Thursday that San Diego State phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg was taken No. 1 Overall in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Washington Nationals. Some scouts have gone as far as calling Strasburg the most ready for the Majors amateur pitcher ever. That’s quite the compliment. You know about the triple-digit fastball and the three other pitches he throws with velocity and control.
The history of pitchers taken No. 1 overall is bleak at best. We saw what happened to Bryan Bullington. Bryan who you ask? Bullington, the No. 1 overall pick by the Pirates back in 2002 out of Ball State University, blew out his arm in the minors and never pitched for the Pirates. Brien Taylor, the Yankees No. 1 overall pick in 1991, hurt his pitching arm in a bar fight and never pitched in the majors.
Andy Benes, who was taken No. 1 overall in 1988 by the Padres, probably had the best career of any pitcher drafted first. Benes, who retired in 2002, finished with a career spent mostly with the Padres and Cardinals with a 151-139 record and a 3.97 ERA.
The best advice offered to Strasburg by former No. 1 picks was to take care of his arm and try not to do to much too soon. Nothing in baseball is more fragile than a young pitcher's arm, and we can only hope history doesn’t follow suit with Strasburg.
Time for a Change?
I usually like to keep the column as upbeat as possible and not talk about the Mets too much, because that’s what the rest of the site is for. With that said, something has to be said for the week those Mighty Mets just had.
We wont even go into yesterday’s 15-0 blowout loss, the second worst shutout loss in team history and the worst loss in subway series history. Johan Santana had a blister and torn nail on his pitching hand and clearly wasn’t himself. Meanwhile, A.J Burnett benefited from a questionable strike three call on Alex Cora that clearly changed the course of the game, and was able to get out of a no-out bases-loaded jam unscathed.
Wednesday and Thursday night, the Mets bullpen blew leads of 4-1, and 3-1 en route to losing 2 of 3 to the division leading Phillies.
That brings us to Friday night’s debacle that will be forever remembered in subway series history. Before Luis Castillo dropped a game-ending pop up that allowed the winning run to score, Jerry Manuel’s brilliant decision making cost the Mets yet another late lead.
Holding a 6-4 lead with one out in the sixth, Manuel decided to bring in the recently promoted John Switzer, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2007, to pitch to Hideki Matsui with two on. Livan Hernandez, who has been the second best Mets starter all season long, was taken out in favor of Switzer, who proceed to give up a go-ahead 3-run home run.
What was Manuel thinking to bring in a Triple-A pitcher in favor of a guy with 14+ seasons of major league experience? Was he thinking the lefty-lefty matchup would be to his benefit? Well, if Manuel did his research, he would find out that Matsui’s career average is .292 against both lefties and righties. In addition, why wouldn’t he bring in a lefty that has been throwing to major league hitters all season, namely Ken Takahashi or lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano?
Manuel continually shows no confidence in players he needs to show confidence in, i.e. Daniel Murphy. In the meantime, he’s playing Fernando Tatis, who doesn’t deserve to be playing right now. Yes he was the NL’s Most Improved player last season, but his swing looks longer and he is starting to show the signs of slowing down again at age 34.
Yet Manuel has stayed with him through thick and thin while benching the very capable 24-year old Daniel Murphy. Yes the same Daniel Murphy that the Mets proclaimed their first baseman of the future this spring.
Manuel has also gone so far to trash. Plain and simple, I like may Met fans, are fed up with Manuel’s cowardly tactics in the media and think it’s time for him to go.
The Mets' goal this season has to be to win the World Series, and with Manuel at the helm, it isn’t going to happen. If the Mets want to prove to their fans that they are committed to winning a championship, they will make the bold move to get rid of Manuel. As a caller pointed out on Sunday Night Mets last night, it took Willie Randolph three years to lose the faith of the players. It’s taken Jerry Manuel just over one.
Now onto some better news: My NL and AL players and pitchers of the week.
AL Player of the Week: Torii Hunter, CF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Hunter continued his great start Saturday when he tattooed three home runs in three straight at-bats in a 9-1 win over the Padres. For the week Hunter hit .368 (7 for 19) with 4 home runs and 8 RBI.
AL Pitcher of the Week: Jose Contreras, SP, Chicago White Sox. It seems like it’s been forever since Jose Contreras was mentioned among the better starting pitchers in baseball. Contreras recorded 2 victories over the Tigers and Brewers, holding each team scoreless over 16 innings of work. Contreras allowed just 3 hits and struck out 11 in the span.
NL Player of the Week: Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, San Diego Padres. Kouzmanoff hit .375 (9 for 24) with 2 home runs and 11 RBI. Kouzmanoff was batting just .228 in through May but turned a corner this past week with as many RBI as he recorded all last month.
NL Pitcher of the Week: Huston Street, Closer, Colorado Rockies. Street, another key to the Rockies 11-game winning streak, recorded 5 saves in as many chances. Street struck out eight in 4 2/3 innings in his five games of work.
Harlan Green-Taub is a contributor to How Bout Them Mets and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org