At just about 9 p.m. Mountain time last Saturday, the Colorado Rockies' 2010 season unofficially ended. They'll continue playing games until Oct. 3, but their fate was sealed Aug. 7.
That was when Colorado closer Huston Street served up a two-out, three-run, 10th-inning home run to Pittsburgh rookie Pedro Alvarez, giving the last-place Pirates an 8-7 victory and stabbing a knife into the Rockies' collective heart.
One more road loss. One more disastrous outcome for Street. One more wasted comeback. One more game to look back on later as all too typical of how 2010 has gone for Colorado.
On the heels of a 92-70 season a year ago, after many unbiased observers picked them back in the spring to make it to the World Series, the Rockies have returned to their disappointing, underachieving ways of 2008.
Sure, they came back and won Sunday at Pittsburgh. But they still can't shake the story line that has defined them this summer. They can't sustain success for an extended period. Yes, they've had injuries, but so does every team.
Colorado also has had as many bright spots as most playoff contenders. Every other major-league team would love to have Ubaldo Jiménez at the top of its starting rotation, and only a flame-out will stop him from winning the Cy Young Award. Then there's outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, now an emerging superstar, not only leading the National League in hitting (with a .327 average entering this week) but with a real shot at the Triple Crown (25 homers and 77 runs batted in, as of Monday). Also, no offseason free-agent pickup has provided more bang for the buck than catcher Miguel Olivo, who has brought a solid bat as well as a defensive upgrade.
Add those three to what the Rockies had last year, and the Front Range would be relishing another memorable season right now. Instead, they have become stuck in the quicksand of inconsistency. One week the offense goes dry. The next week, defensive mistakes or just-missed plays pop up everywhere.
Todd Helton suddenly misplaced his productive bat, which made the pain even worse in that game at Pittsburgh when he hit a two-run homer in the 10th, only to see it go for naught. Brad Hawpe has continued his mysterious mediocrity, which has plagued him since the All-Star break... last year. Dexter Fowler has endured a sophomore slump, though perhaps he's working out of it now.
Amid all that, manager Jim Tracy has lost his miracle touch from 2009, when he made all the right moves. He hasn't been terrible, but things simply aren't clicking as they were, and he hasn't been able to fix the problems.
The real culprit has been pitching — and not just one or two guys. Beyond Jiménez, everybody has struggled, some more than others. And when the problem is that deep-rooted, you have to wonder if pitching coach Bob Apodaca bears some of the responsibility. Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, who were counted upon to help carry the rotation, have four wins each in mid-August, out of a combined 36 starts. Jorge De La Rosa, after being hurt, hasn't resembled his form of last year. Jhoulys Chacín, showing a mixture of promise and uncertainty, hasn't had the kind of tutelage that he obviously needs.
And the bullpen has been just as exasperating, with 14 blown saves out of 36 opportunities. Manuel Corpas and Franklin Morales don't even resemble what they were in 2007 anymore. And the workhorses — Rafael Betancourt, Joe Beimel and Matt Belisle — too often have inherited deficits instead of leads.
Just remember last year when, game after game, Colorado's starters lasted six or seven innings and handed the bullpen a margin to protect. It's not like that anymore.
The top five starters all had at least 10 wins in 2009 and combined for 67. As this week began, with two-thirds of the season gone, the Rockies' top six starters (counting Cook, now on the disabled list) have only 42 wins. Take away Jiménez's 17, and the other five have only 25.
It probably means a rotation makeover this winter. And perhaps a new pitching coach in 2011.
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