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Baseball's biggest disappointments
The Colorado Rockies came out of spring training as a popular pick among scouts, the media and the rest of the NL West to be the best team in the division. They head into the final week of the season faced with the possibility of finishing in last place.
"This season has been an utter disappointment," Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd said.
Truer words could not be spoken.
Chalk up the Rockies as baseball’s biggest disappointment in 2011, bigger than Minnesota and Cincinnati, and the individual stumbles of Manny Ramirez, Ryan Franklin, Vernon Wells, Jayson Werth, A.J. Burnett, John Lackey and Carlos Marmol.
There was no late-season magic for the Rockies like there was in their stretch runs to the postseason in 2007 and 2009. For the second year in a row they have stumbled through a late-season implosion, the difference this year from last year’s 1-13 finish is last year they fell apart at a time they were only a half-game out of first.
This year? Well, they haven’t been at .500 since June 24, much less a factor in the NL West, and on Thursday embarked on a season-ending road trip after suffering a winless homestand for the first time in franchise history.
Apologists can point to problems at second base, third base and the corner outfield spot not manned by Carlos Gonzalez. They can whisper about inconsistent times in the bullpen. And they can bemoan injuries that in recent days robbed the Rockies lineup of their 3-4-5 hitters – Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton.
There, however, is no reason to get too far past a rotation gone flat in understanding how the Rockies became baseball’s biggest disappointment in 2011. The Rockies rotation went into the weekend with a 4.71 ERA, higher than any team in the NL except the Chicago Cubs (4.83), ranked 14th in the NL with 901 2/3 innings pitched, and leading the majors with 367 walks issued.
The projected Big Three – Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Hammel — were a combined 18-24 and the Rockies went 24-33 in their starts. De La Rosa had his season cut short by reconstructive left elbow surgery. Hammel admitted his focus wandered in an inconsistent season. Jimenez pouted his way out of town, upset that despite being signed through 2014 he wasn’t given an offseason contract extension but Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki were.
Ranked 13th in the 14-team AL in both ERA (4.57) and runs scored (5.86). Scott Baker (8-6, 3.19), the projected fifth starter, was the only member of the rotation with a winning record and an ERA below 4.00. Shortstop Danny Valencia was the only projected lineup regular to make 100 starts.
Coming off a division title and with a roster built on promising youth, the Reds were only three games out of the NL Central lead on July 24, but went into the weekend trailing by 15 games. The offense was working (713 runs, second in the NL), but the pitching staff went flat (4.17 ERA, 12th in the NL).
The instant disruption showed up with Tampa Bay in the spring, and a week in the season, after going 1 for 17, found out he had tested positive to violating baseball’s drug testing program for the second time. Instead of taking a 100-game suspension, the slugger announced his retirement (even though he plans to play in the Dominican Republic this winter). The Rays were 1-5 with Ramirez polluting the clubhouse.
The projected closer in St. Louis, Franklin blew four of five opportunities by mid-April, stumbled when he was moved into a lesser role in hopes he could find consistency, and was released in late June with a $3.5 million salary, 8.46 ERA, and no definitive replacement in the Cardinals bullpen. The Cardinals pieced things together before Jason Motte finally emerged, but for a team that was frantically trying to overtake Atlanta in the NL wild card, the bullpen blow up in the first month of the season was costly.
Maybe Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim general manager Tony Reagins will check with his pro scouts before he takes on a bloated contract again. Wells is a quality guy in the clubhouse, but the folks in Toronto feared he was on the backside of his career and did handstands when they only had to chip in $5 million last winter to get the Angels to take on Wells and the four-year, $86 million remaining on his contract. Moved out of center field, he went into the weekend with 24 home runs, but had the fewest RBI (65) and a lowerst batting average (.225) of his 10 full big league seasons.
Obviously Washington general manager Mike Rizzo has selective memory. While he pats himself on the back for his efforts with the Nationals, he must be eradicating the nightmare of the Werth contract from his memory. Despite having never driven in 100 runs in a season in his career, Werth was given a seven-year, $126 million free-agent deal by the Nationals last winter. No longer able to be the forgotten man in a lineup like he was in Philadelphia, Werth went into the weekend with 56 RBI and a .230 average, and showed no signs of being a positive clubhouse force on a young team.
When A.J. Burnett was a pedestrian 13-9 with a 4.04ERA in the first year of his five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Yankees in 2009, the company line was that after a year of adjusting to the bright lights of the big city, Burnett would flourish. Well, he’s 20-26 with a 5.27 ERA in two years since, creating a major void at the top of a rotation. His only redemption is that the Yankees have a strong enough cast around him that they are postseason bound for the third time in his three seasons.
Crawford was the offseason stunner, signing a seven-year, $142 million contract with Boston last winter. The general feeling was that Crawford’s strengths did not fit in Fenway Park, and no matter how much he made, Crawford wouldn’t find happiness. Well, happiness is a personal issue, but he certainly hasn’t enjoyed success. The numbers don’t add up -- his .705 OPS is his lowest in eight seasons; his 18 stolen bases and 63 runs scored are the fewest in his nine full big league seasons, and his 11 home runs are the second fewest.
The mess at Wrigley Field is a team effort, but Marmol becomes the face of the futility. A power pitcher, he has pitched better with the Cubs in a free fall, but what can’t be ignored is a first-half struggle that set the tone for the Cubs’ stumble. He not only was 14 for 20 with a 4.89 ERA in the first half, but he allowed 63 base runners in 38 2/3 innings, including 29 walks and five hit batters.