Why the Colorado Rockies especially can’t afford to play sloppy baseball

Sep 17, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Colorado Rockies third baseman Ryan McMahon (24) waits for the ball to tag out Washington Nationals right fielder Juan Soto (22) at third base in the seventh inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies played a truly terrible four-game series in Philadelphia in which they allowed a ghastly 10 unearned runs.

No matter what else happens on the baseball diamond, that is something that simply cannot happen anywhere. It especially can’t happen for this team on the road.

As most Rockies fans know, the team has always and forever had difficulty producing runs away from Coors Field thanks to the “Hangover Effect”, meaning that there is little room for error when playing away from their friendly confines. Literally.

No matter how quality the lineup is (or isn’t) they cannot expect to regularly score four runs or more out on the road which means they absolutely have to minimize scoring opportunities for their opponents. The way to do this is with good pitching, which they’ve mostly been getting, and good defense, which they decidedly did not.

This is why, even just from a purely analytic standpoint, the series in Philly was so frustrating. The offense came up short in several key moments to be sure, but when compared to road offenses of Rox past, they actually did quite well to keep creating opportunities and even scored three runs in two of the games.

It might not sound like a lot, but with good fundamental defense and the chance to turn the game over to the plus-side guys in the bullpen, that could have converted at least one win, maybe two. 

Those kinds of margins are incredibly thin and each game in the set quickly got away from Colorado, prompting many to wonder if their extreme splits of a year ago will be showing up again in 2022.

Truthfully, we just don’t have enough data to know just yet. This first real road trip turned into a clunker despite the series win over Detroit and upon return to 20th and Blake, the club immediately went about looking 10 times better than they had in the four games prior.

This will always be a thing. The real question is how much of it can be mitigated.

Some of this comes down to pure dumb luck. The bad kind.

Ryan McMahon was the best overall defender in all of baseball last season according to most advanced metrics and yet he committed four errors in three games. He committed five all of 2021. Veterans with solid gloves like Jose Iglesias made a few mishaps and even golden boy Connor Joe blundered one bad that spiraled a game out of control.

Make no mistake, the Rockies are not built to be a fantastic defensive team, especially in the outfield, but they really shouldn’t be a terrible or even particularly bad one. The resumes of each of their regular starters suggest they range from solid-to-pretty-good.

So, as frustrating as it is to watch when it unfolds, we shouldn’t expect those kinds of struggles to be the undoing of the team. But we have to watch diligently, and they need to be focused because this is the kind of thing that absolutely can derail a season.

The Rockies are clearly built on a philosophy of solid starting pitching and hitting home runs. The hope is that the bullpen and defense simply are not issues. They won’t be great, but they can’t be awful.

Costing yourself a series with bad mistakes hurts, but is survivable over the course of a marathon season. Just not if it becomes a pattern. The same way the club can handle a few blowups out of the bullpen, they can handle some of these wild and wacky games that they almost literally throw away.

How many of those instances they can endure, however, is minimal compared to anyone else trying to compete for a postseason spot.

The Colorado Rockies simply do not have the depth or the star power to carry them through any kind of team-wide struggles with the fundamentals. They are also playing at a disadvantage in the batter’s box every time they go on the road. That’s a lot working against them.

They do however, have the baseline talent and experience to clean it up and reassert themselves as a fundamentally sound ballclub.

If they can do that, they just might be able to continue to dominate at home while finding a way to win just enough road games to make everyone else nervous in September.

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