Springtime Storylines: Are the Rockies the best team in the National League?

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Rockies logo.jpgBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Rockies.


The
big question: Are the Rockies the best team in the National League?

I’m going to say no for now, but that they just might be by the end of the season.  A disappointing 2008 and a mad dash to make the playoffs in 2009 causes most people to think of this team as plucky overachievers or something, but the fact is they’re loaded.

Troy Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in baseball, having hit .297/.377/.552 with 32 bombs at age 24. With the exception of Brad Hawpe in right, the Rockies are a pretty fantastic defensive team. Todd Helton is past his days as an elite power hitter, but he is enjoying a nice resurgence as an average/on-base god. Ubaldo Jiminez emerged as an ace last year. They probably have the best bench in the NL. They also have a pair of outfielders in Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler that possess speed and patience, giving them a nice 1-2 combination at the top of the order.

While there are a couple of weaknesses/concerns going into the season (see bullet points below) the Rockies have a deep system from which they can draw new talent either to help the club directly or to trade for some help during the season.

The upshot: there just isn’t much not to like about this team, and I think the chattering classes sleep on their chances at their peril.

So
what
else is
going on?

  • Huston Street’s shoulder problems this spring are one of those causes for concern. Street converted 35-of-37 save opportunities last year and, obviously, the Rockies would be better with him than without him. But let’s not overstate his value either: He missed a big chunk of September
    last year with biceps tendinitis. The Rockies went 18-9 in September.
  • Jeff Francis is back after missing 2009 for shoulder surgery and he’s looking sharp as spring training comes to a close. The Rockies don’t necessarily need Francis to be an ace again to win the division inasmuch as they did just fine without him last year, but if he is back and even moderately effective their rotation is catapulted from merely good to pretty damn good. Jiminez-Francis-Cook-Hammel-De La Rosa? I’d take that.

  • Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes are the weak links on this club, with Hawpe swooning terribly in the second half last year (and being a defensive liability) and Barmes posting a totally unacceptable .294 OBP.  There are replacements available for Hawpe as the Rockies are loaded with outfielders, but the Rockies may have to convert some of their considerable organizational depth into a second baseman if Barmes continues to struggle, because I’m not really sold on Eric Young, Jr.
  • Scariest thing about this team if you’re the Dodgers, Giants, Padres or Diamondbacks: how young they are. Helton, Barmes and Hawpe are the only regulars over 30 and, as discussed above, Barmes and Hawpe may not be long for the Rockies’ world. I don’t think they’re necessarily a stone cold lock to win the division this year — stuff happens — but I can see them dominating it for the next 3-5 years.

So
how
are they gonna do?

On paper, the Rockies are the best team in the NL West. The only way I see them not edging out the Dodgers is the injury bug flies around Denver.  I won’t get to my awards picks until Monday, but I’m toying with Tulowitzki as my MVP choice in the NL (forgive me Albert).  I don’t expect them to go on tears where they win 21 games in a month like they did last season, but I don’t think they’ll have to either.

Prediction: First place in the NL West and a lot of commentators pretending that they came out of nowhere even though they clearly have not.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Getty Images
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.