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Autopsy for the Rockies

End Zone

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Regular readers of this space should remember being told Aug. 12 that wasting too much hope on the Colorado Rockies would not be worth the trouble — and would only lead to more anguish.

Here's an excerpt from seven weeks ago:

"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. ... One more road loss. One more disastrous outcome for [Huston] Street. One more wasted comeback. One more game to look back on later as all too typical of how 2010 has gone for Colorado. ... They still can't shake the story line that has defined them this summer. They can't sustain success for an extended period."

Yes, the Rockies put together one last September surge, seducing many fans into reviving dreams of another miraculous finish. But this was never like 2007, when the Rockies put together that historic 21-1 run to the playoffs and the National League pennant before falling to Boston in the World Series. And it was never like 2009, when Colorado's incredible pitching — especially from the starters, but also the bullpen — produced another wild-card berth.

This team fought back into contention, still smelling the wondrous fumes of those two season-ending runs, and San Diego and San Francisco cooperated by stumbling. Then came the unexpected aneurysm, losing seven out of eight from Sept. 19 to 27, blowing a 6-1 lead to Los Angeles and getting swept at lowly Arizona.

The result will be a winning record at the end, no matter what happens this weekend in the final series at St. Louis. But the worst part about coming so close is the intense second-guessing that follows.

Most fans and analysts already have assessed what went most wrong with the Rockies — from Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe to Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, not to mention an offense that was great at home and sputtery on the road. There's no need to go through that list again in depth. However, as part of an autopsy, here are three areas that have been largely (if not completely) overlooked in other evaluations:

1. Leadoff spot. From the second-year shortcomings of Dexter Fowler (.249 and only 12 stolen bases) to the over-inflated expectations for Eric Young Jr. (just 42 hits and 26 runs scored), Colorado never could depend on the kind of consistency that any contending team must have at the top of the batting order. Whenever Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki weren't able to carry the offense, the Rockies couldn't generate runs in other ways. Fowler still might be the answer, but Young isn't.

2. Bullpen. Closers aside, assuming many of the same relief pitchers will repeat stellar performances from last year is never wise. There's usually a reason that relievers are in the bullpen, starting with them not being sturdy enough to start (or close) games. It's OK to give some a chance (Rafael Betancourt comes to mind), but continuing to count on big years from the likes of Franklin Morales, Manuel Corpas and Joe Beimel was not smart. Then, with a weaker starting rotation, the Rockies had to lean too heavily on Betancourt and Matt Belisle, who were out of gas at the end. And when Colorado did trade for Manny Delcarmen, manager Jim Tracy wasn't sure how to use him. Delcarmen should've been the eighth-inning guy, immediately.

3. Front-office uncertainty. From last winter through spring training, it was painfully obvious Colorado needed to go after a top-notch starting pitcher. That never happened. Again in July, after the Rockies made that run to the All-Star break, they still clearly needed another stopper to share the burden with Ubaldo Jiménez, who was being overused and has paid for it since. Imagine what a difference one bold move might have made, for a Roy Halladay last offseason or somebody else this summer.

We might not have been doing this surgery now. We could've been talking about another postseason.

routon@csindy.com

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