Rockies building toward better Septembers

Rockies building toward better Septembers

Rockies building toward better Septembers
SAN FRANCISCO -- This used to be the Rockies' time of year.

From 2007 through 2009, a three-year period bookended by playoff appearances, the Rockies went 51-33 in September. Only the Yankees, at 56-28, were better. But that magic no longer exists.

From 2010 through the 7-1 loss to the Giants on Wednesday night, the Rockies had gone 28-46. That's tied with the Red Sox for the third-worst mark over that period. Only the Pirates (27-46) and Mariners (24-50) have been worse.

The downturn started with a 1-13 finish in 2010. Before then, the Rockies were contending, but after a few close losses the team simply ran out of gas. The last two seasons, however, there wasn't a rise before the fall.

At least there were a couple of common threads in these last two crawls to the finish -- injuries and youth. This year, for example, first baseman Todd Helton, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder-first baseman Michael Cuddyer -- veterans expected to lead a contending club -- have not played a single September inning.

Veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez's season ended on Sept. 10. Jorge De La Rosa, whom the Rockies hoped would come back sooner from Tommy John left elbow surgery, threw his first pitches of the season on Thursday afternoon against the Giants.

"It's unfortunate when you start adding up the days that have been lost to some very significant people in those recent months of September," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "And let's be honest, [this year] I have been managing a ballclub that is loaded with rookies for over three months.

"To compare and contrast what is going on in this September versus what was going on in 2007, 2009 and 2010 [before the collapse] ... There were a lot of good things that went on leading up to those months. You had a ballclub that was playing for something very significant."

Veteran pinch-hitter Jason Giambi joined the Rockies late in the 2009 season, then the September magic seemed to be in the air, and when the balloon burst in 2010.

"[Twenty-ten] was really a letdown -- we made that push, got in the hunt, had a tough series against the Giants, and kind of knew we were out of it," said Giambi, who missed significant time this year with viral syndrome. "In 2011 without Todd in the lineup, things changed. And this year has been a struggle -- a ton of injuries, not playing to expectations, playing a lot of young players. That's not an excuse, but it is what it is.

"And everybody forgets, too, this [National League West] division got a lot better. So it's a combination of a lot of things. Trust me, I think everybody would like to play better and finish strong."

The Rockies see their young roster as one that is making key mistakes, especially against teams that are in contention. On one hand, it beats having an older roster that is merely counting the days to season's end. But losing is losing.

"We played some really good baseball in August," veteran pitcher Jeff Francis said. "But the last two weeks haven't been good. Youth is not an excuse. Everyone here is capable of winning a game, getting a big hit in a big situation, getting a key out. You can't make an excuse when you lose a few in a row."

Tracy is left hoping that losing now will lead to winning in the future if the Rockies are relevant this time of year.

"In the midst of that, there's a lot of growth that has taken place," Tracy said. "Sometimes when you go through those growth periods, there are some hard times that go along with it, some big challenges along the way."

Instead of rushing toward a playoff berth, the Rockies are hoping to run away from negative history. They've never lost more than 95 games in a season, but will need a strong finish to avoid eclipsing that mark. Also, a schedule heavy on contending teams puts them in danger of reaching the 100-loss mark.

But because he believes the team is losing because of youthful mistakes and not apathy, Tracy is not using the need to avoid making negative history as a motivator.

"You go in there and raise your voice several octaves when you see a complete lack of effort, or the suggestion that we're just going through the motions," Tracy said. "I do not sense that with this group. To heap more on their plate, you're asking for serious problems.

"Do you want to avoid it? Certainly. But if you don't play enough between the lines to avoid it, then you won't. You can have all the magical words you want, all the threatening words you can give them. But if we pick up a hit here or there, catch a ball here or there or block one here or block one there, we wouldn't be talking about this."