DENVER -- Think getting back to the playoffs in one of the tightest divisions in baseball is hard? Lately, the Rockies are struggling just to get hits on the board. Previously a safe haven where home hitters felt comfort, Coors Field has become a place where the Rockies have found themselves on the wrong side of some critical pitchers' duels. Monday's 3-1 defeat at the hands of Ted Lilly and the Dodgers was the third time in four games the Rockies were held to four hits or fewer in what amounted to another blow to Colorado's already-next-to-nothing playoff hopes.
The Dodgers started the Rockies' skid with a come-from-behind 7-6 Los Angeles win on Sept. 19, and now the Boys in Blue can put an end to Colorado's playoff hopes. With just six games remaining in what has been a tumultuous season, the Rockies sit five games behind the idle Giants in the National League West and 4 1/2 behind the Braves in the Wild Card. Not only does the tough loss further necessitate a Mile High miracle, it denied ace Ubaldo Jimenez his milestone 20th win of the season. "If we were ugly before this," outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said, "now we're bleeding." It's a September nightmare, coming at a time when the Rockies are typically at their best. They have lost seven of eight, six of those losses coming by two runs or less. "Offensively," manager Jim Tracy said, "there's not much to talk about." Though Jimenez (with 204) now sits just six strikeouts behind Pedro Astacio for the franchise single-season record, the young right-hander took the loss Monday night and is now 2-6 with two no-decisions in his last 10 outings. "The things I know and everyone knows, every time we take the field, we give 100 percent, if I'm on the mound or not," said Jimenez, who has one more shot at No. 20 on Saturday in St. Louis. "It doesn't matter who's pitching, they're going to try to score runs." Jimenez bounced back from an ugly first inning for a late-game performance familiar to fans who have seen Jimenez turn in likely the best season of any starting pitcher in franchise history. But the final result was a familiar one, as well. Of his eight losses, he's allowed three runs or less in six of them. "One of the things that magnifies it is this isn't the first time this year that we've gone out and offensively not done a whole lot for him," Tracy said. "I think that makes it a little tougher, knowing the fact that with just a little bit somewhere he's not just trying to get his 20th. He's trying to get his 21st or 22nd." The Dodgers struck first, when a sharp grounder off the bat of third baseman Casey Blake ricocheted of Jimenez's left foot and flew over the head of Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the first inning. It allowed Rafael Furcal and Ryan Theriot to come around and score what eventually became the winning runs. "I hope he gets [win No. 20]," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said of Jimenez, who started the All-Star Game for the National League club. "What this kid turned into this year, you could see it coming. Not only great stuff, but the way he conducts himself. Pretty impressive." Gonzalez put an end to Lilly's no-hitter and shutout bid with one swing in the fourth, driving a first-pitch slider well over the center-field fence, slicing Los Angeles' lead in half. But the veteran southpaw struck out eight in eight innings to snap a personal five-game losing streak. If the Rockies are looking for a team to bounce back against, well, it isn't the Dodgers. Los Angeles, which has won nine of the 16 meetings between the clubs but is on the brink of its first losing season since 2005, is the only National League West club that owns a winning record against Colorado this season. "It's painful," Gonzalez said. "We all thought we were going to be battling until the end. We all knew it was going to be very close for everybody, but we're making it a lot easier for the other teams and more difficult for us."
Joey Nowak is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.