Rockies’ clutch offense a no-show again in loss to Tigers at Coors Field

Should the Rockies fail to qualify for the postseason, they’re going to look back on games like this with regret and clenched teeth.

“Games like this” meaning their grinding, 4-3 loss to Detroit on Monday night at Coors Field. It was no way to begin a critical, nine-game homestand, because, once again, Colorado’s offense failed to take advantage of opportunities.

It marked the 14th time in their last 20 games that the Rockies have scored three runs or fewer, and the Rockies are 4-10 in those games. It’s a trend that is beginning to eat away at the Rockies’ playoff hopes.

Arizona was off Monday, so the Rockies slipped two games behind the Diamondbacks for the National League’s top wild-card spot. Milwaukee, also idle, moved to within three games of Colorado.

The sixth inning epitomized the Rockies’ ongoing, and maddening, offensive struggles. With the bases loaded and one out, National League RBI lead Nolan Arenado whiffed, chasing a 90 mph slider by Warwick Saupold. Up stepped Gerardo Parra, who struck out on a 96 mph fastball by left-hander Daniel Stumpf.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Rockies 3

After going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position in their 3-0 win at Atlanta on Sunday, the Rockies were 1-for-7 Monday night. They had 13 hits but left 11 runners stranded and didn’t score after the second inning.

“We have discussed a few things,” Rockies manager Bud Black said when asked if he might shake up the lineup. “Maybe, maybe not. This team, I believe, is leading the National League in hitting and leading in runs scored, or close to it.

“We are getting hits (but) we are not getting the key hit at the right time. That’s what’s been eluding our offense. We are getting guys there with the lineup that we have. We are not getting the (key) hit with the guys that we have.”

The Rockies’ inability to get a big hit in a big situation is more than just a slump, it’s become a trend. They are batting .223 (50-for-224) with runners in scoring position in August and are batting only .181 with runners in scoring position in their last 11 games, during which they have gone 4-7.

The Rockies received a lackluster start from rookie right-hander Antonio Senzatela, but a sterling effort from four relievers, who blanked the Tigers for 5 ⅓ innings. Closer Greg Holland, looking to regain his form, pitched a one-two-three ninth.

Senzatela struggled early, and kept right on struggling, needing 82 pitches to steer through 3 ⅔ innings of trouble. Ultimately, he surrendered four runs on six hits and walked three in what turned out to be the shortest start of his career.

“I was really never able to get into my rhythm,” said Senzatela, who’s pitched five or fewer innings in each of his last six starts. “My fastball command was not what I wanted.”

The first inning has been a problem for Senzatela all season, and it was again Monday night.  Alex Presley hit a triple off the top of the right-field fence and trotted home on Justin Upton’s double to center. Upton scored on a single by Nicholas Castellanos. In his 19 first innings this season, Senzatela has an 8.10 ERA, with a .390 batting average against.

The Tigers tacked on two more runs in the third, taking advantage of Senzatela’s lack of command. He issued back-to-back walks to Upton and Miguel Cabrera, setting up a two-run triple into the left-field corner by Castellanos.

Manager Bud Black went to lefty reliever Chris Rusin early, and Rusin delivered, as usual. He blanked the Tigers for 2 ⅓ innings, struck out three and kept Colorado in the game. Over 71 ⅔ innings — the most for a big-league reliever — he has a 2.39 ERA.

Colorado took a fragile, short-lived 3-2 lead in the second. Ian Desmond, back from the disabled list, led off with a single and jogged home on a 435-foot homer to left by Jonathan Lucroy off Detroit starter Jordan Zimmermann. It was Lucroy’s first homer in a Rockies uniform. Lucroy (3-for-4) hit four home runs for Texas before he was traded to Colorado on July 30. Lucroy’s homer snapped a 173 at-bat streak without a long ball, the second-longest stretch of his career.

The Rockies tagged on their third run on a double off the right-field fence by Trevor Story, followed by a run-scoring single by Charlie Blackmon. It was Blackmon’s 83rd RBI, establishing a career high.

But after that, the Rockies were shut out for the next seven innings as an offense that seemed poised for a big season continues to come up short.