One week ago ESPN.com baseball insider Keith Law wrote that the Wilmington Blue Rocks may well be the most talented team at any level in Minor League Baseball. It was high praise, but not unwarranted. Wilmington has six of the top 10 prospects on the Kansas City farm according to Baseball America, and the Royals have as good and as deep a system as any in the game. The Rocks possess a balanced lineup, with prodigious power in the middle of it. On the mound they have a starting rotation full of potential Big League rotation guys, and a bullpen as deep as any you will find in Advanced-A.
It's that combination that has made the start to their 2014 campaign so puzzling for the Blue Crew. Wilmington's 6-5 loss to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans on Thursday at Frawley Stadium was the club's fifth consecutive setback. The way it unfolded was indicative of the Rocks' early-season struggles.
“We left too many opportunities [out there], said Blue Rocks manager Darryl Kennedy. "We get six walks in the first two innings and come away with one run. We had the bases loaded and nobody out in the second inning and couldn't even get a run...You don’t deserve to win. If you can’t execute you don’t deserve to win.”
Wilmington drew those six walks and got hit by a pitch before the Pelicans had recorded an out in the second frame on Thursday. They chased Myrtle Beach's starter 10 batters into the contest. Yet, by the time the second inning ended, all the Blue Crew had to show for their patience on the scoreboard was a 1-1 tie.
How can that be you might ask. Well Wilmington simply cannot buy a clutch hit at the moment.
“You get the bases loaded [with nobody out]. you’ve got to get something," Kennedy lamented. "Something. Worst-case scenario you get one run out of it. I can’t explain it. We’ve got to make adjustments. We’ve got to be able to drive the run in when they’re giving us a run.”
An inability to come through in key situations has been a recurring theme during the five-game skid.
The Rocks have left a total of 49 runners on base over those five contests, 33 of which were stranded in scoring position. Wilmington is setting the table, but are not feasting on the resulting meal. Over the first seven games of the 2014 season, the Rocks are hitting just .198 (17-for-86) with runners in scoring position.
It does not matter how much talent the Blue Crew has, numbers like that will keep any team from winning many baseball games.
The good news though, is that we are talking about baseball. Seven games is a very small sample size. After all, Wilmington will play 140 contests during the 2014 regular season. In this sport, one good game can erase a week's worth of bad breaks, and get things headed back in the right direction.
The players know this, but certainly want the turnaround to happen soon.
“It’s just kind of the way things are going right now, infielder Jack Lopez said in summing up his team's slow start. "We’ve just got to keep battling through. We’ve got a lot of games left. We’re only a week into the season. We’ve got a real talented team. I know we’re going to be all right. It’s just a matter of time.”
Patience is a virtue all baseball players must possess. But the Blue Rocks are certainly testing theirs through the first week of the 2014 campaign.
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