Friday, April 18, 2014

Let's talk about losing

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The Lugnuts have lost seven consecutive games, pushing their record down to 3-10.
(The Bowling Green Hot Rods have lost 11 straight games.  Their 2-11 record leaves them one game back of the Lugs for the Eastern Division cellar.)
It is not breaking new ground to say that winning is fun and losing is not.  Losing seven games in a row is most definitely not.  The Beloit Snappers, who defeated the Lugs last night, know a little something about this.  That victory snapped Beloit's own seven-game losing streak.
Why are the Lugnuts losing?
Offensively, they're not hitting (.239 avg.), they're not scoring runs consistently, they're not hitting for power (3 homers), they're not stealing bases successfully (4 for 12 so far), and they're not drawing walks (34).
Defensively, they've committed 12 errors -- tied for second-least miscues committed in the MWL -- but those errors have lead to 16 unearned runs, more than anyone else in the league.has given up.  (The Lugnuts are also tied for the league lead with five passed balls.)
With regard to pitching, the Lugs rank 14th with a 4.49 ERA, which hasn't been helped by 51 walks, 10 home runs allowed, and five blown saves.  Those home runs have been given up by unlikely candidates, too:  Jeremy Gabryszwswki allowed zero home runs last season in 76.2 innings, but he's given up three this season (including two yesterday).  Alberto Tirado had only allowed one homer in his career entering this year; now you can make it two.  Chase De Jong had allowed two homers total in two professional seasons; like Gabryszwski, he has also served up three homers this year.
The most important part about noting what has gone wrong for the Lugnuts during their early season struggles is understanding what is unlikely to continue.  The weather will warm.  Ian Parmley (.067), Justin Atkinson (.125), Carlos Ramirez (.178), and Jason Leblebijian (.179) will raise their batting averages.  The bullpen will settle down and find its rhythm.  Command pitcher Tom Robson will sharpen up, as will Jairo Labourt (who had only 14 walks all of last year, but 13 already this year).
We're already seeing glimpses of positives:  Chase De Jong's four scoreless innings in Wisconsin; Alberto Tirado's three scoreless frames with six strikeouts; the early-season hitting success for D.J. Davis (.326); the bullpen work of Alonzo Gonzalez and Griffin Murphy; the steadiness of Kendall Graveman.  In the coming weeks, we'll add even more names to that list.
In the meanwhile, look:  The Midwest League is supposed to be a challenge.  It is the first full-season experience for many of these players.  It is characteristically a pitcher's league, with stadiums (like Lansing's Cooley Law School Stadium) that swallow up many a promising deep fly.
Perhaps even more significantly, struggles are valuable for a player's mental strength.  At every level from this point on, he is going to slump, or play beneath what he knows to be his own talent level.  Exterior factors press in:  poor weather, lack of playing time, umpiring decisions, poor luck.  It is easy for his doubts to rise.  If he can grind it out and persevere, it will develop and prepare him for the greater tests to come.
Development, after all, is what playing in the Minor Leagues is all about.

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