As a minor-league affiliate, the Salt Lake Bees exist to give up-and-coming prospects the chance to learn on the job while experiencing big-league situations like pennant races and losing streaks.
The Bees got quite an education over the weekend from the Sacramento River Cats.
On the surface, a four-game set against a woeful Sacramento squad that has languished at the bottom of the standings all season seemed to be the perfect way for the Bees to open their post-All-Star Game pursuit of a division title. They already had a significant lead over Albuquerque and El Paso, and winning at least three of four against Sacramento would have maintained that advantage, if it didn’t stretch it even more.
But the Bees seemed a bit lackadaisical, particularly on Sunday, as the River Cats took three of four. Salt Lake’s bullpen was awful in Sunday’s 14-11 loss, but it wasn’t all on them. Despite the fact that the Bees weren’t credited with an error, their defensive effort left a lot to be desired. Guys weren’t in the right spot, allowing routine ground balls to get past them and lazy bloop hits to find the outfield grass. First baseman Jefry Marte applied a tag to reliever Manny Banuelos instead of to the Sacramento runner barreling down the first-base line at one point.
The final result? Suddenly, the Bees’ grip on the top spot in the Pacific Southern Division is slipping away. Albuquerque is coming to town this weekend with a chance to whittle Salt Lake’s lead down even more, particularly with the Bees facing a tough road series against potential playoff opponent Reno between now and then.
The Los Angeles Angels, the Bees’ parent team, have to be pleased that their top farm team is in a playoff race. This experience can only help the big-league club when some of those guys end up on the field in Anaheim in the next couple years. But seeing them struggle against lesser competition also has to throw up some red flags — do these guys forget that they have to come to play every day in order to win in professional baseball?
Hopefully, Bees manager Keith Johnson got that point across during his postgame speech to his team in the clubhouse on Sunday.
Sure, the River Cats’ record is awful. They’re just playing out the string at this point. But they’re still professional baseball players, one step away from the major leagues. They’re not going to be pushovers, especially not at this time of the season, when many of them may be playing for the opportunity for a September callup to San Francisco.
Many of the Bees are playing for the same opportunity, hoping to get to Anaheim when rosters expand. But they’ve got the added possibility of making the playoffs in Salt Lake and possibly bringing home a championship.
But championship teams don’t squander opportunities like the Bees did this past weekend. If they continue to do so, their season will be over far earlier than anyone in Salt Lake — or Anaheim — would like.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He witnessed Sunday’s 25-run, 35-hit slugfest at Smith’s Ballpark and his head is still spinning. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.