|Juan Nicasio has talent, but it is unrefined.|
That is a saying that most managers will utter to the press at least four times per season. For Walt Weiss and his Colorado Rockies, it was one of those nights. Unfortunately for those who cheer for the Rockies, it was a night when they had to remind themselves not to get too low.
Flash back two weeks ago, the Rockies were poised to take three out of four from the reigning World Champion San Francisco Giants. The wins propelled the Rockies back into contention, ended a 10-game losing streak to the Giants, and revived a cynical fan base that was questioning why this team could lose two of three to the lowly Chicago Cubs.
The fact is, long-term, the Rockies can bounce back from this. Short term, losing three of four to the Houston Astros is not only embarrassing, it is a mile marker that reminds the Rockies not to get too far ahead of themselves when thinking about October baseball in the Mile High city.
This series is a reminder that while this team has plenty of talent, it is unrefined, undisciplined, and frankly, not to the level that they had been playing through the first 50 games.
As is so often the case, the hitters weren't as bad for the Rockies on Thursday night. They weren't good enough to be called dominant, but they actually showed up to the park, which is a step in the right direction compared to the previous three games. However, after a string of very good pitching performances, the Rockies were due for a bad one. They got it, but it took until the 6th inning for it to fall apart.
Juan Nicasio took the mound, looking to build on two very good starts in a row. He looked the part until the 6th inning, when he failed to record an out while giving up four runs in the frame. He wasn't helped by the fact that Wilton Lopez relived him and immediately gave up back-to-back no doubt home runs to Cris Carter and Matt Dominguez to squelch what looked to be a game the Rockies would win.
The Rockies went 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position, far better than they had been in the previous four games. However, they also hit into three double plays, ending rallies that could have changed the game. Troy Tulowitzki, who has provided the only offense the Rockies have had in the previous three games, couldn't work his magic on Thursday. Twice he came up to the plate with two on and couldn't deliver. At some point, he isn't going to be able to be the hero every single night.
Nicasio proved in his previous two starts that he has the stuff to be a big leaguer. He is very capable of success. However, as has been the criticism since he was a prospect, he doesn't have a third pitch to get guys out with. He only throws two good pitches, and the third time through the order, the opposition has seen what he has and waits for it. Even a team like the Astros is going to be good enough to recognize the pitches they saw in the first two at-bats and wait for a pitch to drive.
The righty bought himself time after his two starts against the Giants, but the reality is, it is probably time for him to log some time at the Triple-A level, a place he has never pitched before. He has talent, it is unrefined. For his own benefit, the Rockies should take some pressure off of him and allow him to work on a third pitch in a place where it really doesn't matter if his ERA goes through the roof for a month while he works on things.
With Roy Oswalt looking like he is close, and Drew Pomeranz showing mostly good signs in Triple-A, the answer is easy. If the Rockies want to contend, they can't have a project in the starting rotation. They can't have a guy who they are crossing their fingers that he will give them five solid innings. If they want to win now, they have to put guys on the field who are going to be dependable and give them a chance every time they take the mound.
The Rockies are officially in a rut. Plenty of good teams will lose to the lowly Astros in 2013, but losing three out of four to them is inexcusable. This is a team that isn't trying to be competitive. They are putting the cheapest product on the field in an effort to save money for the long-term success of the farm system, which will give them a chance to be competitive in two to three years. This year is a giveaway year, and the Rockies didn't even put up a fight.
The Rockies had a chance to move up in the standings and start to make a real push. Instead, they fail to take advantage of the Giants in a slide, and don't gain ground on the Diamondbacks. There will be very few chances like the Rockies had this week to make up ground in the race. They didn't take advantage of it.
It doesn't get any easier for the Rockies as they face the Dodgers, who have been struggling greatly themselves. However, despite the Dodgers struggles, they still have the luxury of sending Clayton Kershaw to the mound every fifth day. The Rockies get the unfortunate task of trying to defeat him on Friday night. That simply doesn't happen very often, and with another loss, the Rockies would dig their hole just a little deeper, making it that much more difficult to make a run.
If the Rockies treat this weekend like they have played all season long, the Dodgers will be thrilled to see their airplane on Sunday evening and be ready to get out of town. However, if the Rockies don't turn it around, the hole they have dug may have them in a place where they frankly don't have the pitching to return from.
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