Desperation, it's been said, is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius.
That's certainly the case in sports. It can push a good team to unexpected success. It can drive an almost-great team to a championship.
It also can create delusions and lead to disaster.
As the Colorado Rockies gear up for the 2009 season, there's no doubt desperation engulfs the franchise.
Lots of jobs are on the line, starting with those of general manager Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle. Players like shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and catcher Yorvit Torrealba know they have to erase bad memories of 2008. First baseman Todd Helton surely realizes he's near the end of being an everyday leader.
Every individual player has his story, and several of those will directly influence how much the Rockies can achieve this season. But if you're thinking Colorado has a legitimate chance to resurrect the magic that led to the 2007 National League pennant, my purpose here is to bring you back to reality.
It's simply too much to expect these Rockies to challenge seriously in the National League West. Not against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks. Not without leftfielder Matt Holliday in the middle of the lineup. Not without Jeff Francis anchoring the starting rotation.
And, as we've covered previously, not against a mean early schedule that will expose every shortcoming.
Let's applaud O'Dowd and Hurdle on one count: They won't go down following baseball's usual way of doing things. They aren't staking their futures on trying to justify the trade last November that sent Holliday to Oakland for relief pitcher Huston Street, outfielder prospect Carlos Gonzalez and starting pitcher Greg Smith.
In case you haven't noticed, the Rockies just sent Gonzalez to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. He'll play every day here, showcasing his defensive skills and speed, and he'll have every opportunity to make his bat more consistent. Meanwhile, Smith will be part of the Sky Sox' pitching staff, having failed to make a serious run for a starting spot with the Rockies.
As for Street, he hasn't been handed Colorado's bullpen closer job, as many expected. He's right there with Manny Corpas, and it's reasonable to expect both to finish games this season. For now, though, based on spring performances, Corpas appears to have the closer role, with Street the eighth-inning guy.
Then there's first baseman Joe Koshansky, who was groomed as Helton's successor and just had two outstanding seasons in Colorado Springs. This week, Colorado took him off the 40-man roster and lost him to the Texas Rangers. The message that conveys: If Helton gets hurt, Garrett Atkins will move from third to first, and hot-hitting Ian Stewart will play third.
In fact, Hurdle's biggest problem at the start might be finding time for Stewart. Don't be shocked to see him sharing left field with Seth Smith and backing up at third and second.
So what's stopping the Rockies from hanging with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks?
Starting pitching. Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez should be fine. After that, who knows? Jason Marquis has had one good spring outing and should be the No. 5 starter, but he's No. 3. Jorge De La Rosa and Franklin Morales could surprise, but more likely they'll be inconsistent at best.
Outfield. Instead of Holliday, Willy Taveras and Brad Hawpe, it's Smith, Ryan Spilborghs and Hawpe. Spilborghs looks to lead off and play center, when he'd be much better as a No. 4 outfielder. Hawpe has to deliver big numbers and that might not be enough.
The Big Three. Atkins, Hawpe and Helton must have solid seasons offensively, or everyone will be saying in September what they're saying now: Colorado is missing one big piece the hole left by Holliday.
So let's be realistic here, and project the Rockies to go 81-81. Whether that's enough to save O'Dowd and Hurdle, there's simply no way to know.
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