|Wilin Rosario must do a better job behind the plate.|
The surprise team in Major League Baseball in April has fallen back to earth, as many predicted that they would. After a 10-8 defeat at the hands of the surging Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, the Rockies take the field on Independence Day three games under .500 and only still in the picture because no one in the National League West wants to win it.
Had the Rockies continued to play like they did in April, or even at a slightly slower pace, they would be so far ahead of the pack in the NL West that fans would be cutting back on expenses to store money away for their October playoff fund. Instead, this team is mired in mediocrity.
The starting pitching has been anything but what people predicted. Despite struggles from Jon Garland, Jeff Francis and Juan Nicasio, the Rockies rotation has been very good. Surprise performances from Jorge De La Rosa, who shows no lingering effects of Tommy John surgery, Jhoulys Chacin, who seemingly has figured out his focus issues, and the surprise of Tyler Chatwood, who surrendered his first home run all season long on Wednesday, have gone a long way to make these Rockies far better than 2012, and also a legitimate contender.
The Rockies came out of the gate strong. They finished April 16-11, finished May at 28-27, and heading into July they were 41-42. Obviously the trend isn't where the Rockies need it to be if they want to contend just a year removed from a 98-loss season.
So why are the Rockies trending in the wrong direction?
Take a look at Wednesday night's game for the answer.
Wilin Rosario, a work in progress behind the plate at the big league level, had an absolutely brutal game on Wednesday. In fact, it could be argued that he cost the Rockies the game.
In the 1st inning, in a surprise play, phenom Yasiel Puig tried to score from second base on a ground ball out to first base. Todd Helton tossed to Chatwood, who was surprised to see Puig heading home, but threw to Rosario with plenty of time. Rosario simply missed the ball, allowing Puig to score.
In the 6th inning, with runners on first and second base, Manny Corpas threw a slider in the dirt. Instead of turning his mitt over and sliding over to block the ball, Rosario used a back-hand motion, almost like a shortstop trying to field a ground ball. The ball skipped to the backstop and suddenly the double play was eliminated, and two runners were in scoring position. With one out, the wild pitch allowed Puig to put a ball into center field for a sacrifice fly.
In the 7th inning, Rosario did it again. With Hanley Ramirez on second base with a lead off double, Corpas threw another slider that Rosario couldn't block that moved Ramirez to third base with no one out. A ground out and two fly ball outs later, Corpas was out of the inning. It could be argued that Ramirez would have scored anyway, but the odds grew significantly higher when Ramirez moved to third.
Rosario has struggled for quite some time behind the plate. With 27 home runs hit in a rookie season, there was margin for error. That, coupled with the fact that Rosario never played above Double-A, was reason to give the catcher grace in his struggles behind the plate.
The issue comes down to one simple principle. Physical mistakes are going to happen. Sometimes balls bounce in the wrong direction, sometimes an errant throw happens. That is part of baseball as much as it is a part of life. Fans watching physical mistakes have to simply shrug their shoulders and move on.
Mental mistakes, however, are infuriating. Lack of focus is unacceptable at the big league level. Rosario's 1st inning mistake was him simply not paying enough attention to be in the right position to field the ball from Chatwood. He was caught off guard. A catcher is the last position player that should be out of position and unaware of what is going on.
The two wild pitches, which go against the pitcher in the box score, not the catcher, were especially maddening because the catcher instincts simply weren't involved. A catcher's first move should be to slide over and get in a blocking position. Rosario's first move was to backhand the ball. Catcher's mitts aren't formed the way they are to backhand baseballs in the dirt.
Someone who missed the game, but turned on the computer in the morning and looked at the box score wouldn't see Rosario's negative impact on the game. However, it is little things like using proper mechanics that can change the course of a game, and in-turn, give the game to the opposition.
The Rockies have to play clean baseball if they are going to contend. They simply aren't talented enough to win sloppy baseball games. They have to find ways to do the little things correctly. They have to use proper mechanics when they are fielding ground balls, running the bases, blocking balls in the dirt and turning double plays. Playing clean baseball adds up at the end of a baseball season with a few more wins here and there.
On Wednesday there is no guarantee that the Rockies would have won the game, but giving a red-hot Dodger team a couple more opportunities isn't going to help the cause.
If the Rockies are going to vie to win their first-ever National League West crown, they cannot play sloppy baseball. They have to do the little things correctly in order to win games.
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