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Rockies return to rebuilding mode

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Let's be totally honest here.

Most friendly fans and media fully expected the Colorado Rockies, coming off the 2007 National League pennant, to be solid contenders this year. Perhaps, many thought, this might be the season when the Rockies finally won the National League West, after a dogfight with Arizona, San Diego and Los Angeles.

That was the near-consensus entering April. Two months later, everything has changed.

Colorado hasn't just struggled, as was the case in its 18-27 start a year ago before everything fell together. So far, the Rockies have stunk in every way imaginable. It's as if last year never happened. No carryover, no afterglow. Just bad pitching from the starters and bullpen, bad hitting throughout the everyday lineup and, most recently, an epidemic of injuries.

They began this week at 20-30, facing a potentially lethal 10-game road trip visiting Philadelphia, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers. That 20-5 loss Monday to the Phillies only made matters worse, and after being swept at Philly, the Rockies stumbled away at 20-33. And four regulars leftfielder Matt Holliday, rightfielder Brad Hawpe, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and his replacement, Clint Barmes are on the disabled list.

This season already qualifies as a disaster. Colorado, even during spring, was considered by practically everyone as a team on the rise. Instead, after just two traumatic months, the Rockies are practically in free-fall. Here's the short version of what went wrong:

The starting pitchers have been abysmal, with the exception of Aaron Cook. He entered the week at 7-3; the other starters had combined for only seven more wins. (The other six had gone to relievers.) Jeff Francis has been a mix of horribly hard-luck and ineffective. The rest have been a mess, though rookie Greg Reynolds is showing promise even after being rushed up too fast.

The offense has tanked. Not a single Colorado player is on pace for 100 RBIs, and the team as a whole has been pathetic with runners in scoring position. Losing Tulowitzki created an unstable batting order, and catcher Yorvit Torrealba hasn't resembled the hitter he was last year.

Manager Clint Hurdle has made some decisions that misfired (Jayson Nix at second base, staying with Manny Corpas as the closer, gambling on starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales). Hurdle also has been questionable in handling pitchers, a criticism of him in the past until that miraculous 2007 finish.

Nobody seemed concerned at all by the warning signs in spring training. And nobody has stepped forward into the role of an angry, disappointed leader.

Put it all together, and you have a team that went from 9-9 on April 20 to 15-21 on May 9 and 20-31 on May 26.

Is it too late for a turnaround? Yes, with Arizona looking so strong and the Dodgers capable of pushing the D-backs. San Diego has suffered as much as Colorado, and nobody thought San Francisco would challenge.

General manager Dan O'Dowd must begin plotting how to right the ship for 2009. He might even look at shopping first baseman Todd Helton, with Joe Koshansky looking totally ready in Colorado Springs.

Some are calling for Hurdle to be fired, but that won't happen. He will, however, need a new approach for getting the most out of young pitchers. Otherwise, another bad start in 2009 will mean a change in the dugout.

It's sad, because the franchise seemed to be so solid after last year. But seven months after the World Series, Colorado is facing a mid-scale makeover, at least.

And this time, the pressure's on O'Dowd and Hurdle to stop the hemorrhaging soon.

routon@csindy.com


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