The Week Ahead: Huge hopes for Rockies

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rockies_090823.jpgRemember that cute little Colorado Rockies team back in 2007?

A modern day Cinderella, they won their final 40 games (it only seemed that way), received some help from the ghost of Tony Gwynn (actually it was his son), then beat the Padres in a one-game playoff when Matt Holliday tried to tag home plate with his face (maybe he was out, but that would ruin a great story).

From there, it was a magical run to the World Series, where the dream ended rather abruptly when Jonathan Papelbon and the Boston Red Sox took the glass slipper and “Riverdanced” the thing into tiny pieces.

Well don’t look now, but the Rockies are at it again. In the middle of June, they won 17 of 18. Currently, they’ve taken six of seven, and 16 of 23, building a three-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the wild-card race.

And remember that huge lead the Dodgers held in the NL West? Yeah that’s pretty much gone now, reduced to a mere 3 1/2 games (the second closest division race, behind the AL Central).

The plucky Rockies have even been making moves just to show how serious they are, taking a flyer on veteran pitcher Russ Ortiz as insurance for the injured Aaron Cook, and hoping that Jason Giambi will find his legs after being deemed finished in Oakland.

It makes for a huge week ahead for the boys in black. Following the fourth and final game of their series vs. the Giants on Monday, the Rockies host the Dodgers in a huge three-game set, then head to San Francisco for a rematch with the Giants.

Will Cinderella dance again? This week could gives us a strong indication.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH

Tigers at Angels, Aug. 24-26: The only matchup of division leaders this week, featuring the high-powered offense of L.A. vs. the tough pitching of Detroit. Go figure.

Rangers at Yankees, Aug. 25-27: Speaking of tough pitching, how about those improved Rangers? We’ll see if Yankee International Airport — I mean, Stadium — does anything to change that.

Dodgers at Rockies, Aug. 25-27: Colorado has won seven of 10 and all of a sudden the Dodgers’ NL West lead has shrunk to 3½ games. Division race, anyone?

Braves at Phillies, Aug. 28-30: Funny that it’s the Braves, and not the Mets, who are keeping the heat on Philly. Although, at 6½ games back, not THAT much heat.

Rockies at Giants, Aug. 28-30: The Rockies took two of three from the Giants this weekend, even beating Tim Lincecum. Now, the rematch of NL wild-card contenders.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 10:05 p.m. ET: Tigers at Angels (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Rangers at Yankees (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rays at Tigers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Mets at Cubs (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Dodgers at Reds (FOX)
Sunday, 1 p.m.: White Sox at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Braves at Phillies (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.