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Rockies' Postseason Hopes Dangle In Air As They Face Barry Zito

(Sports Network) - A streak of five straight losses has severely crippled the Colorado Rockies' chances of returning to the postseason. The 2009 National League Wild Card winners will attempt to get back on track when they host the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants tonight in the continuation of a critical three-game series between division rivals from Coors Field.

The Rockies had put themselves back in the mix of the NL playoff picture by winning 13 times in a 15-game stretch from September 3-18, but haven't prevailed since. After being dealt three costly defeats to the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks earlier in the week, Colorado fell further back in the race after dropping a 2-1 verdict to the Giants last night.

Colorado now finds itself four games behind Wild Card front-runner San Diego with just nine left to play and are 4 1/2 back of the first-place Giants in the West.

San Francisco was able to maintain its half-game edge on the Padres, who defeated Cincinnati on Friday, by getting a strong performance from ace Tim Lincecum and a clutch home run out of Pat Burrell in last night' hard-fought victory.

With his team down 1-0, Burrell followed a walk to Buster Posey by taking a pitch from Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin over the left-field wall in the top of the seventh inning.

"I just got something I could handle," Burrell said.

Lincecum (15-10) had retired the first 15 Colorado hitters before yielding a leadoff double to Seth Smith in the sixth. Smith would later cross the plate on Eric Young Jr.'s two-out base hit to give the Rockies a short-lived lead.

Following Burrell's go-ahead blast, Lincecum retired the side in order in the seventh and eighth before giving way to Brian Wilson, with the All-Star closer working a 1-2-3 ninth to notch his major league-leading 45th save.

"I had a pretty good rhythm going, but it kind of felt like it just got a little easier [after getting the lead]," said Lincecum, who struck out nine without a walk on the evening.

Chacin (9-10) also pitched well despite taking the loss, as the rookie held the Giants to just three hits and fanned eight over seven innings of work.

The Rockies aim to rebound tonight behind Jason Hammel, who'll be hoping to regain his usual strong form when pitching at Coors Field following a couple of subpar outings. The right-hander is 7-2 with a solid 3.90 ERA in 15 home starts for the season, but he's been tagged for nine runs and 18 hits in a combined 11 innings over his last two appearances in Denver, a no-decision against Cincinnati on September 9 and a loss to San Diego five days later.

Hammel also struggled in his most recent start, surrendering four runs and laboring through 81 pitches before exiting after four innings of a non-verdict at the Los Angeles Dodgers last Sunday.

The 10-game winner did pitch effectively in two matchups with the Giants earlier this season, despite not factoring in the decision either time. Hammel gave up a total of three runs and struck out 13 batters over 13 2/3 innings in those games.

He's 0-2 in six career starts against San Francisco, but has posted a 2.95 ERA during that stretch.

Barry Zito gets the call for the Giants and will be attempting to win back-to- back assignments for the first time in nine months. The struggling southpaw finally put an end to a seven-start losing streak in Sunday's 9-2 home win over Milwaukee after holding the Brewers to two runs and only three hits in six sharp innings.

Zito had lost nine straight decisions spanning 12 starts since his last victory, which came against the New York Mets on July 16. The veteran hurler last won consecutive games on April 30 and May 5, with the first of those coming against the Rockies in San Francisco via eight innings of two-run ball.

The 2002 American League Cy Young Award honoree does own a 2-1 record with a 3.52 ERA in six lifetime starts at Coors Field, but was battered for six runs and eight hits by the Rockies in a 5 1/3-inning no-decision in Denver back on July 3.

In 14 lifetime encounters with Colorado, Zito is 5-2 with a 2.40 ERA.

These NL West foes have split 16 encounters so far in 2010, with the Rockies winning four of seven tests held at Coors Field. The Giants are just 4-9 in their last 13 visits to Denver.