Losing 5-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates is nothing out of the ordinary these days in professional baseball. However, Sunday afternoon’s loss was a game that could be the quintessential loss for the Rockies in this struggling season.
Winning is now a frequent occurrence along the Allegheny river in Pittsburgh. The Pirates have the best winning percentage in all of baseball, they are the only team in the NL that has won over 60% of its games, and they have a 1.5 game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals. If you had not noticed, the Cardinals are arguably the best team in baseball themselves.
So why was this loss special for the Rockies? In essence it summed up the season, all in one game. It was a rubber match where Colorado could have won a series against a competitive team, and the team as a whole did not perform the way it can.
Rockies starter Juan Nicasio(6-6) was out-dueled by 36-year-old A.J. Burnett (5-7). Nicasio had allowed just one earned run in his first three starts of July. The turn around in July came after a short stint back in the minors, and until the miserable Atlanta series in which Nicasio gave up a career high eight runs in a four inning outing, Juan looked like a brand new pitcher.
The struggles came early on Sunday for Nicasio; not only did the Pirates manufacture the first run of the game but they also set the tone for the rest of the game by forcing him to throw nearly 20 pitches. The 26-year-old righty was pulled after 4.1 innings and an astronomical 103 pitches for such a short outing.
There to help with the poor pitching performance was the bullpen. Manny Corpas relieved Nicasio and his first pitch in the game was a three-run home run by Rockies killer (and former Dodger) Russell Martin. The bullpen was only charged with giving up one run, despite making it a five run deficit.
Opposite Nicasio was Burnett, and he was worthy of pitching for the best team in baseball. Despite entering with a 4-7 record Burnett has been a cornerstone piece for the Pirates, who lead baseball with a 3.11 team ERA. Go figure, the best team in baseball has given up fewer runs than anybody else. The Pirates also have incredible depth. Only four teams have put more pitchers on the mound this season. But, thanks to Burnett that depth would not be needed. The 15 year veteran threw the second Pirates complete game of the season and the 22nd of his career.
Burnett dominated a lineup that is supposed to be very potent. The Rockies had just as many hits as the Pirates at eight. The problem was that only two Colorado batters recorded outs to the outfield, not a single extra base hit was recorded, and these were compounded by two double plays and a runner caught stealing. You probably do not need to be told that the one run the Rockies did score was courtesy of Michael Cuddyer. Cuddy has been the only consistent piece in Colorado’s offense.
The icing on the cake in this, the quintessential loss of the Rockies season, was that reliever Josh Outman pitched a superb inning of relief. Why is that important? Outman was highly sought after before last week’s trade deadline, when the Rockies were definitely not selling. After Sunday’s game Colorado fell to 10.5 games behind the L.A Dodgers, who have no signs of slowing down.
That begs the question: whether or not the Rockies are going to try to contend, what is being done to improve the team?