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Rockies looking for elusive clutch hits

Rockies looking for elusive clutch hits

DENVER -- The Rockies' recent road trip continued a trend of tantalizingly close losses as the club went 2-3 in San Francisco and San Diego, the three losses coming by a run each, including extra-innings defeats at the hands of both the Giants and the Padres for their last two losses.

"You lose 3-2 on the road, you lose 1-0 on the road, you lose 2-1 on the road," manager Clint Hurdle said before starting an eight-game homestand Wednesday night against the Giants. "There's opportunities out there all over the place offensively. We've got to find an answer to some things. We've got to find guys that can get better at-bats in key situations. Second and third with no outs yesterday in the seventh inning of a ballgame and we weren't able to score a run. The challenges are out there for all of us. Offensively we've got to step up and do some things."

The one-run losses are not a road phenomenon, as the Rockies' last three home defeats have also been one-run affairs, making their last six losses all by the narrowest of margins. Colorado could chose to look at that trend as a sign the glass is half full, that they're a better team than their record shows, and that they're inches away from reversing their status of five games under .500 into a healthy ratio for success.

But the Rockies, instead, are focusing on the missing elements of their game, the elusive clutch hits, the one at-bat per game that could turn defeat into victory.

"We've got to find a way to come out on the other end of those close games," said Brad Hawpe, who along with Todd Helton has been one of the club's most consistent hitters, posting a .324 average with three homers and a team-best 17 RBIs. "The lineup's performing pretty well. We just haven't scored enough runs. We haven't scored more runs than the other team. Whatever factors go into that, that's the bottom line."

There are a pair of obvious distinctions between the 2009 Rockies and last year's model, most notably the absence of Matt Holliday's 25 homers and Willy Taveras' franchise-record 68 stolen bases. But the Rockies are second in the league in homers to the defending champion Phillies and first in steals, so it's more than a simple matter of cumulative production.

"We have patched up those two holes, but it continues to come down to key situations," Hurdle pointed out. "That's one area where we've not been as successful as we need to be nor can be nor expect to be. The biggest thing that's hamstrung us so far is the number of opportunities we've had on offense to either win games or put teams away in certain innings to get on top. That hasn't happened so far. It will, and these guys are taking it personally. They want to get it done."

Clutch hitting has always been hard to quantify, but winning teams find a way to get that key hit in a critical situation that will turn the game in their favor. The Rockies are increasingly doing more and more of the little things well, but they continue to come up short in the clutch.

"We've got some guys swinging the bat really well," Hawpe said. "We've got some guys running the bases well. We've got pretty good walk totals, and recently the strikeouts have been down. Overall the offense has been going great. Everybody's hit a few homers. Bunch it all together and our team home run numbers are up."

And while Hawpe remains characteristically even-keeled as the Rockies look to Coors Field to give their offense the spark, Hurdle describes the attitude up and down his roster as "salty," describing a team that refuses to settle for complacency in the face of collective underachievement.

"They're not happy with where they are, and they're well aware that there's nowhere to look but in the mirror at ourselves," Hurdle said. "Early in the season our starting pitching probably wasn't where we wanted it to be. Starting pitching's doing fine. They've been very productive. The bullpen had some issues, and they kind of ironed them out. They're in a pretty good place. But offensively, it's been come and go. It's been very inconsistent. We've got guys that expect more of themselves. They've got to go and do it, not talk about doing it."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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