Rockies: What next after this debacle? 

Could it actually happen? Could the Colorado Rockies, less than a year after playing in the World Series, be on the verge of firing manager Clint Hurdle? Even before this season is done?

It would be a shock, certainly. The most common wisdom has been that Hurdle earned enough benefit of doubt with that stupendous stretch run last year to make it at least through the entire 2008 season.

Even now, with the Rockies on a pace that actually could produce 100 losses by the end of September (after a 90-73 record last year), it would make more sense for the front office to say Hurdle's job is safe for the rest of this year. But with another bumbling start in 2009, all bets would be off, regardless of what Colorado accomplished in 2007.

That might make sense. But nothing about this season has made sense for the Rockies. They could have been struggling at five to 10 games below .500, and they'd still be capable of another late-season turnaround. Instead, they have continued to slide back deeper into the underachieving habits of their past.

It has been painful to watch. Especially going 0-7 last week, at a time when first-place Arizona was prolonging its own free-fall, which took the Diamondbacks from 27-15 in mid-May to 41-41.

Just three months ago, the consensus among analysts was that the National League West would produce a fascinating race in 2008, with as many as four of the five teams capable of winning the division or perhaps the NL's wild-card spot.

Halfway through, that early speculation has turned into a joke. On the morning of July 1, Arizona (42-41) was the only NL West team battling to stay around the .500 mark, with the Los Angeles Dodgers at 38-44, San Francisco at 36-47, San Diego at 33-51 and Colorado last at 32-51.

Yes, last, in the division and last in the entire National League, just a half-game ahead of Seattle (31-51) for last in the majors. Already, in just three months, the Rockies have had separate slumps of 1-8, 0-6, 0-8 and 0-8.

Sure, they could wake up and make a second-half run. But they also could have done that in May or June. Instead, whenever they have put together any momentum, their pitching has betrayed them. One day it's a starter, the next night it's the bullpen. Or both, as happened Monday against San Diego, when starter Jorge de la Rosa blew an 8-3 lead, then reliever Brian Fuentes bombed in the ninth inning for a nightmarish 15-8 defeat.

For a while, optimists suggested the Rockies were simply catching up on bad luck from last fall. But that doesn't work anymore. Not with so many unanswered questions about the handling of Colorado's pitchers.

You have to wonder, when ace Jeff Francis can't reverse his awful start. You have to wonder, when young Greg Reynolds is shoved up too fast, then remains while veteran Mark Redman goes down to Colorado Springs and looks sharp, start after start. You have to wonder, when the closers are a combined 18 for 32 in save opportunities. You have to wonder, when the team's abysmal earned-run average of 4.83 ranks next-to-last in the NL, and virtually no one starters or bullpen is close to approaching last year's numbers.

True, the NL's top offense last year also has slipped. But not as far as the pitching, and some of those hitters were plagued early by injuries.

So we watch the Rockies find more and more new ways to lose, and we wonder some more. We also know what usually happens when a team falls this far.

Somebody becomes the scapegoat.


Sports Shot
Sports talk Now that Denver's "The Fan" radio station is on 104.3 FM and doesn't reach most of El Paso County, perhaps those folks will explore simulcasting on an AM or FM signal down here.
Smart moves Colorado Avalanche already has re-signed defensemen Adam Foote and John-Michael Liles, plus forward Scott Parker, while giving up on free-agent goaltender Jose Theodore.
Encouraging CSU-Pueblo football coach John Wristen promises Colorado Springs will be a top recruiting priority for the reborn program; his first roster has nine players from the area (five from Fountain-Fort Carson).
No respect Athlon's preseason college football preview ranks Florida No. 1, Colorado No. 31, Air Force No. 86 and Colorado State No. 93 in the nation.


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