If you saw Clint Hurdle's postgame media session last Saturday, after another tough loss for the Colorado Rockies, you had to think the end was, and is, near for the manager who's been in charge for nearly half of the franchise's 17-year history.
There wasn't anything particularly horrific about that 3-1 defeat to the Florida Marlins, other than the Rockies wasting the best starting performance they've had from Jorge De La Rosa — eight innings, two runs and a career-best 12 strikeouts.
The tough part was Colorado losing for the second straight time at Coors Field to the Marlins, in a series that the Rockies desperately needed to use as some kind of springboard out of their early-season troubles.
To his credit, Hurdle never has shied away from giving a candid assessment after any game. And in the midst of any long baseball season, he knows not to overreact. This time, though, Hurdle's body language added emphasis to the frustration that he couldn't hide.
"We're just trying to hang on," Hurdle said in a weary voice. "That's all we can do now."
But those words, and his empty, desolate expression, didn't make him seem like a manager who still believes his team is on the verge of awakening and making a run from last place into contention this summer.
Instead, Hurdle looked and sounded like a guy who knows his days are numbered. He knew he had to have a strong start this season to guarantee his job security, after an abysmal 2008 season. Even against a tough schedule the first six weeks, Hurdle needed to produce at least a .500 record into mid-May.
It hasn't happened. Colorado, which started this week at 12-18, hasn't looked anything like a capable challenger to the revitalized Los Angeles Dodgers, who appear primed to steamroll the National League West — with or without Manny Ramirez. While the Dodgers have had stable pitching and a consistently strong offense, the Rockies have had neither. They're usually good for one decent game per series, period.
At some point, perhaps in a matter of days, the Colorado ownership might have to step in and do something about it. Perhaps by pushing general manager Dan O'Dowd to cut loose Hurdle, whose magic touch of 2007 has vanished. Unless the cleansing starts with pushing O'Dowd out the door.
Any analysis of this 2009 season has to begin with the Rockies' upper management not realizing that Jeff Francis was damaged goods and might not contribute at all. That was the biggest failure, as the front office made its plans this past winter depending on Francis as one of the team's top two starters along with Aaron Cook.
Without Francis, the Rockies went from having an average group of starters to being mediocre at best. Sure, they lucked into journeyman Jason Marquis, who came from the Chicago Cubs and single-handedly saved Colorado from a totally disastrous April. But that has been far from enough. Cook hasn't been that good, either, leaving the Rockies with a bunch of guys who would be no better than No. 4 or 5 starters for any legitimate contender.
Then there's using (or misusing) the bullpen, in particular Huston Street and Manny Corpas. Handling pitchers never has been Hurdle's strength, except for that amazing September and October of 2007. Street and Corpas have both struggled, with neither able to seize the closer job with authority. Their uncertainty and inconsistency have spoiled at least a handful of otherwise-winnable games already this season.
All along, the assumption has been that if the Rockies had to do something about Hurdle and/or O'Dowd, the replacement in the dugout would be Jim Tracy, the bench coach who has managing experience. But given how lifeless the Rockies and many of their Coors Field crowds have been this year — arguably the most damning symptom of all — don't be surprised if the ownership does something totally unexpected. Perhaps bringing up manager Tom Runnells from Colorado Springs. Or hiring somebody from outside the organization.
Regardless, if anything is about to happen, it makes no sense to wait. In fact, the timing is excellent right now, with the Denver Nuggets dominating the state's sports headlines for a few more weeks, if not into June.
This is not just about salvaging the 2009 season, though. It's more about changing the Rockies' direction for the future.