Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gigantic loss leads to growing gap in standings

Two weeks prior to Saturday night’s pounding from the Greeley Grays at Pioneer Park, the Cheyenne Grizzlies left their home stadium beaming from a 4-2 win over division rivals, Fort Collins.

The win featured outstanding pitching, near-perfect defense and timely hitting, and put the Grizzlies in sole possession of first place in the MCBL standings. At that time, the Grizzlies were 17-5 and were in prime shape to win back-to-back regular-season titles for the first time in franchise history.

What a difference two weeks make.

Since that win on July 2, the Grizzlies have gone 2-8 over a 10-game stretch. They have averaged just 3.0 runs per game (compared to 8.4 prior to the slump), allowed 7.4 runs a game (versus 4.2) and dropped 6.5 games in the standings, needing a small miracle to overcome the first-place Foxes.

What’s more, the Grizzlies’ poor execution, in addition to a hot streak by the Grays, has allowed Greeley to tie Cheyenne for second place in the standings.

While the standings don’t matter much at this point—with Greeley most likely optioning out of the postseason to represent the MCBL at the National Baseball Congress World Series, the playoff matchup of a best-of-3 or best-of-5 championship series between the Grizzlies and Foxes is all but guaranteed—the Grizzlies need to play their final six regular-season games with a sense of pride.

“If I had the answer (to what it will take to break out of the current slump) I’d tell you,” head coach Aaron Holley said. “At this point it comes down to playing for pride. Coming out and deciding, as individuals and as teammates, how we want to end our season. I said it in one our first interviews that summer ball can become selfish if you let it, and I think some of that has crept in a little bit.”

Save for Saturday night’s humiliation, the Grizzlies’ pitching has been on-target, for the most part, but their ever-so-reliable offense from the first month of the season hasn’t been timely, or clutch.

Saturday was the ugliest of all.

The Grizzlies fell behind 3-0 on the first three batters of the game. The score turned to 5-0 after two frames, 6-0 after three, and 8-0 when starter Josh Boyer was relieved just one out into the fourth inning—his shortest outing except for his season-debut when Holley limited all pitchers to three innings.

“Josh wasn’t feeling it (Saturday),” Holley said. “He wasn’t hitting his spots. You don’t want to pull him early but I didn’t have much of a choice. Then we started just throwing pitches right over the plate and they were taking advantage of that. Our pitching was very poor and not where it needs to be if we want to win ballgames.”

But neither was the defense—three errors, two while Boyer was pitching, resulted in six unearned runs—or the offense, whose last hit was K.C. Judge’s two-run homer in the fifth inning.

Already trailing by nine, 11-2, after four innings, the Grays tacked on 10 runs in a marathon fifth inning. The final score, 24-5, was the most lopsided loss in the organization’s six-year history.

“There’s no way we should get beat like that,” Holley said. “It’s absolutely embarrassing.”

Yet, even with the two-week slump and the blowout shellacking, the Grizzlies are still in position to win their first league championship.

It’s evident that, for the most part, the pitching has been phenomenal, and the offense can pound the ball when in the right mindset.

“The most frustrating part is not having the answers and the words to tell your players of how to get out of it or how to approach the game when you’re not playing your best,” Holley said. “I feel like a broken record sometimes, repeating myself over and over again. Maybe a loss like this will allow things to finally sync in.”

They might be out of the running for first place in the standings, but they will still compete against the Foxes for the championship.

All it will take is getting hot during that series at the end of the month.

“I don’t not think that we can turn it around,” Holley said. “We have great baseball players, and I feel like most of them care. We have to look at the situation we’ve put ourselves in and play for pride knowing that we still are competing for the goal we set out for at the beginning of the season.”

In order for that to happen, though, Cheyenne needs use these final six games as preparation and snap out of this slump.

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