One of the common questions asked during the minor league baseball season is why the teams have to play so many games.
And 140 over five months does seem like a lot of games for these young, aspiring professionals.
On the other hand, performances like the one the Modesto Nuts suffered through on Sunday in a 7-4 loss to Rancho Cucamonga underscore the need to play as many games as possible, if only to eliminate the mistakes.
Through the first three games of the home season, the Nuts played in a way that made it difficult to fathom how they could have gone winless during the seven-game season-opening road trip.
On Sunday, they showed how. Of the seven runs scored by the Quakes in forging a split of the four-game set, only one was not aided by a gift. Two came after walks, and four others were scored directly after errors.
“There was a lot of sloppiness,” said manager Don Sneddon, whose team dropped to 2-9. “Unfortunately that’s going to happen, and you just have to hope it doesn’t happen very often. We’re working hard and trying to communicate on getting things done.”
As Sneddon said, communication is part of this, and its breakdown was the reason the Nuts’ failed to hold a 5-4 lead.
David Kandilas had a sacrifice fly and Trevor Story added a two-run, two-out single as the Nuts grabbed the one-run lead in the fourth.
But Robbie Garvey led off the top of the fifth with a pop fly in the middle of the infield. Catcher Will Swanner lost the ball in the sun, and when no one in the infield took charge, pitcher Ben Alsup had the ball pop out of his glove for an error.
Two pitches later, Quakes’ right fielder Jeremy Rathjen beat the deepest part of the park in left-center for a two-run homer and a 6-5 lead. For Alsup (0-2) it was the third time in his three starts that his final pitch was hit out of the park.
Alsup, who led the California League last season with 13 wins, allowed only three hits, but walked five and needed 84 pitches to get 12 outs as his ERA rose to 11.08.
“He’s not trying to throw balls and we all know that, but that’s why this is a work in progress,” Sneddon said. “Ben’s a professional. He’s working at it. We study hitters and Ben puts in his time, and I’m sure he’s as frustrated as the rest of us. But he’ll keep working and he’ll get better.”
The lack of communication continued in the seventh and allowed Rancho Cucamonga to add-on two unearned runs. The rally began when James Baldwin led off with a pop to that left fielder Sean Dwyer appeared to have caught, only to drop it upon colliding with shortstop Rosell Herrera.
“We dropped a pop-up to the pitcher and we had guys run into each other, and we overran balls in the outfield, and you just can’t do that,” Sneddon said. “The walks we gave them and the sloppy play on defense gave them chances, and when they got a hit it usually meant a run for them.”
Will Swanner had three of Modesto’s seven hits, including a triple, and scored twice, but the bottom four batters in the order went hitless.
Still, the Nuts scored enough runs to win had they only found a way to communicate on the field.
“You can’t give teams second chances like that,” Sneddon said. “It was one of those giveaway days, and that’s without a doubt.”