The Colorado Rockies once again blew a 3-0 lead in the late innings and lost to the lowly Houston Astros 4-3 on Tuesday night at Coors Field.
The loss spoiled a phenomenal performance from Jeff Francis, who delivered seven innings of two run baseball. In giving up just seven hits, Francis threw only 83 pitches. He struck out one and did not walk a man.
While Francis was great, don't blame the bullpen for the loss. If the club is looking for a reason why they lost the game, they need to look no further than their feeble, under performing offense.
The Rockies ran into the exact same problem that has been plaguing through the first third of the season. They score runs early in the game, then pack away the bats. On Tuesday, much like on Friday in Arizona, the Rockies put up three runs early, then failed to score the rest of the game.
Frankly, the same old tired excuses are getting old. Jim Tracy continues to insist in his postgame comments that hitting is very cyclical. That statement is very true. However, when the beginning of April turns to the beginning of June and the offense has yet to hit it's stride for more than a week, questions must be asked.
The answer is certainly not that the offense does not have enough fire power. The Rockies possess bats that can hit for average, bats that can hit for power, and bats that accomplish both. Yet they continue to struggle.
Through all of the struggles, hitting coach Don Baylor escaped much of the ridicule directed at the Rockies.
Since Baylor has taken over, Rockies hitters have endured longer slumps than what their career numbers would suggest they go through. Brad Hawpe, a notoriously streaky hitter, found himself in the All-Star game after his hot start in 2009, then went on to finish the season hitting below .200. Instead of going through mini-slumps, Hawpe endured the longest slump of his career.
Take a look at some Rockies' numbers throughout Baylor's short time with the job.
After a 2008 that put him in the top third of catchers in the league, Chris Iannetta has failed to regain his stroke. In 2009, under Baylor's tutelage, Iannetta has regressed to a .228 batting average in '09, and a .159 mark so far in limited playing time in 2010. His on base percentage, something that the catcher prides himself in, has plummeted from his '08 mark of .390 in '08, to .344 in '09 to ..260 in 2010.
Todd Helton, the best hitter in Rockies history, is mired in a season-long slump that has seen him .240 after his 0-for-4 performance on Tuesday night.
The problem for all three hitters has been a loopy swing. All three are hitting too many popups because they are dropping their back shoulder before driving the ball.
Obviously it is much easier to diagnose the problem then to fix it. Breaking bad habits is not just hard for the average person, it is hard for baseball players as well. However, that is the job that Baylor took on.
With as much talent as the Rockies possess, it would make sense that at some point, the hitters would all hit their stride at the same time. Instead, only Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez have seen extended hot streaks.
On paper, the lineup looks like it would be a pitcher's worst nightmare. Instead, if a starter can get out of the first few innings with limited damage, more than likely he has done enough to give his team a chance to win.
That method works for the most part when a guy like Ubaldo Jimenez is on the mound, but scoring three runs per game is simply not going to get the job done if the Rockies want to climb out of mediocrity and into the National League West race that they were so proud to declare themselves a part of before the season began.
At some point, when the calendar turns to June, the Rockies need to be honest with themselves and think about what is holding the offense back from reaching its full potential. That answer might be to find someone who can use different words to help the players find their way out of a season long slump.
If Don Baylor's words are falling on deaf ears, then it is time to find someone who the players will listen to.
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