Identity crisis

By JAKE SCHALLER THE GAZETTE Updated: June 7, 2006 at 12:00 am • Published: June 7, 2006
DENVER - Less than three weeks ago, the Colorado Rockies were sitting atop the National League West. Nobody was confusing the NL West with the AL East, but for a Rockies team that had finished second-to-last or worst in the division the previous eight seasons, it was something about which to get excited. Colorado finally seemed to be taking steps in the right direction, even if they were just baby steps. But since May 21, when the Rockies completed a sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays to move into first place, they have taken strides backward, right into a familiar spot: the division cellar. On Tuesday, Colorado defeated Pittsburgh 5-4 in front of an announced crowd of 20,277 at Coors Field to snap a season-high, six-game losing streak. But the victory was the Rockies’ third in its past 14 games. “Obviously there’s a lot of frustration, but I’ve been in places where it’s been a lot tougher,” utility infielder Jamey Carroll said before Tuesday night’s game. “This team, we’ve been able to come back and still stay somewhat confident.” Unlike in recent seasons, the losses can’t be pinned on the Rockies’ pitching staff. After leading the NL in runs scored and batting average in March and April, Colorado ranked last in the NL in both categories in May. “We’re just not being consistent at the plate,” Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said. “We’re still a good team; we just need to score more runs.” The top of the order in particular has troubled the Rockies. Clint Barmes, who began the year in the second spot, has been moved to the bottom of the batting order because of his struggles. And Colorado hasn’t gotten enough production from the leadoff spot, where manager Clint Hurdle — who admitted he doesn’t have a “prototypical” leadoff man on the roster — has tried several players, including Omar Quintanilla. “We want to run, we want to get more aggressive,” Hurdle said. “But we need to get something going at the top of the order to really jump-start us, some kind of combination.” Hurdle found the answer for a night on Tuesday when Carroll batted first and went 4-for-4 with a home run. Carroll’s hot night — which included a leaping snag to end the game — is one of several reasons for optimism despite the Rockies’ recent dreadful stretch. Six of Colorado’s past seven losses have come by three runs or less, including two by just one run. And more importantly, as poor as the Rockies’ offense has performed, their pitching has mostly been solid. During the six-game losing streak, Colorado pitchers allowed more than five runs just once. Tuesday night, starter Jeff Francis turned in six solid innings, and the bullpen held onto the lead it was given. “I would say that over the long haul that for teams that compete and teams that make progress and teams that get better, it’s based on good pitching and good defense,” Hurdle said. “I’ve said it before, that’s what championships are built on. . . . The pitching has been a constant, and I believe it will be a constant throughout the season. The bullpen will be a constant strength throughout the season.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or
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