The Giants and the Rockies play each other 18 times during the 2010 season, and their first meeting is tonight in San Francisco’s AT&T Park. While we certainly pay homage to the Commissioner’s party line that every game is important (kind of the way every vote in Chicago is so important it gets counted several times), but we know the games between Colorado and San Francisco are the most critical contests of the year for both clubs.
The single, most significant obstacle in the way of the Giants winning the NL West is the Colorado Rockies. Each time they beat the Rockies, the Giants stride a whole game in the standings on that significant obstacle. Baseball hype aside, full game jumps in the standings against your toughest opponent are like gold, whether it’s April 30th, June 15th or August 1st.
But let’s take a moment to step into the wayback machine and recall what was being said about the National League West before this season started.
Fat-cat baseball pundits, sitting in their overstuffed leather chairs, sipping 300 year old scotch, watching the Food Channel on their 120 inch plasma TVs, and nibbling rare albino beef from Uzbekistan, all agreed on one thing last March: the Colorado Rockies would easily win the National League West in 2010.
The reasoning went something like this: the Los Angeles Dodgers, last year’s number one team, are in disarray. Their historical pitching dominance has disappeared faster than Joe DiMaggio when the waiter brought the check. Besides, Dodger owner Frank McCourt is going through a mega-messy divorce, and apparently the wife has asked for a huge cash settlement and a player to be named later. That‘s not good.
The Rockies, who finished second with 92 victories in the NL West in 2009, are stronger than last year (so the theory goes) because they have good pitching for the first time since that law was repealed banning the Rockies from having good pitching. And they have a very strong lineup, with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, and first baseman Todd Helton leading the offense. But the Rockies took a major hit when a starting pitcher they were counting on, Jeff Francis, went out until mid-May with a shoulder strain just when the team’s young phenom hurler Ulbaldo Jimenez is having his breakout year. So the Rockies will end April either at one game above, or one game under, .500— way too early to panic, but certainly not too early to start taking contractor bids to build a panic room.
As far as Arizona, with the possible exception of Justin Upton (and he’s hitting .214), we’ve waited a number of years for those young Diamondback players to blossom, and so far all we’re seeing is a lot of extra ice plant along Interstate 10.
The San Diego Padres are… what’s the word for it that doesn’t involve any unfortunate hygienic terms? Oh yes… rebuilding.
Which leaves the San Francisco Giants. The Giants have the best starting staff and best bullpen in baseball, and maybe just enough hitting to back them up. (We have discussed why “just enough” may not be enough, and what to do about that, elsewhere in The Cove.) Great pitching can overwhelm opposing teams in a way that great hitting cannot, and that’s what’s for dinner each and every time you face the San Francisco Giants.
This is the obstacle facing the Rockies, and it’s a tough one.