DENVER -- The only thing missing in Sunday afternoon's loss to the Braves was the Rockies relinquishing a big, early lead. Colorado never led, and didn't score until the seventh inning in a 7-2 setback as the Braves swept the series and maintained their 20-year dominance.
While the Rockies surged early and flattened late in the previous two games, starting with 5-0 and 6-0 leads by Friday's first frame and Saturday's second, they took a different tact Sunday in front of 45,330 fans at Coors Field, starting slow before waking up their lumber late.
"It was a rough series," manager Jim Tracy said. "[Saturday] night and Friday night left a little bit of a mark for me today. But we have to get over that. It's behind us. We have to fix what it is that isn't right, and we know what that is. The people that are involved need to recognize that and the next time through step up and make a little bit different statement for themselves. But it left a mark. I can't shy away from that."
The problem Tracy has identified more than he'd like to so early in the season is the lack of depth and quality from the starting pitching. For the second of three series on the homestand, the relievers pitched more innings than the starters, putting up 14 2/3 innings against the rotation's 14 1/3.
"I tried to go deep into the game, because the bullpen has had a lot of work," Sunday's starter Juan Nicasio said. "The starters are only throwing five innings, or four, and the bullpen needed help because they have been throwing too much."
Nicasio was the latest casualty among the starters, only three of whom remain in the rotation from Opening Day. He most recently pitched six innings of two-run ball to beat the Dodgers. Against the Braves, however, he gave up six runs on eight hits, three walks, and a hit batsman and faced four hitters in the sixth without recording an out before the bullpen took over.
"That's what happens when you don't have command of your fastball," Nicasio said of the difference between the two starts. "I missed the command of my fastball and I hung my breaking ball."
Atlanta got all the runs it needed with a swing of the bat from Freddie Freeman in the third. The Braves staged a two-out rally, with Michael Bourn and Martin Prado each singling to right and Freeman sending Nicasio's pitch into the Rockies' bullpen for his sixth home run of the season -- a three-run shot that gave the Braves a lead they would never relinquish.
It was Freeman's second homer of the series and his eighth all-time against the Rockies, more than double his tally against any other team. He is a career .435 hitter (20-for-46) against the Rockies.
"I feel like I'm doing the same thing as I am with the other teams," Freeman said. "I just hit the ball better here I guess."
The visitors added a run on a bases-loaded grounder to second by Tyler Pastornicky in the fourth. They plated a pair in the sixth on run-scoring singles from Dan Uggla and Juan Francisco, and capped the scoring on Uggla's solo shot to left in the eighth.
"Keep fighting," Michael Cuddyer said in describing the state of the Rockies after the sweep. "In the grand scheme of things, what was today, Game 27? Of 162. Even though it does seem like it's the end of the world right now because we went 3-6 [on the homestand], there's a lot of games left. You keep fighting, you keep grinding, keep playing hard. We're not quitting. We still haven't quit. That's where we are."
The Rockies' lineup does not quit, but it has a tendency to slumber at times. Colorado drew a pair of walks in the first two innings and Ramon Hernandez stroked a single in the second, but Braves starter Brandon Beachy retired 14 hitters in a row after Hernandez's hit, and it wasn't until Troy Tulowitzki led off the seventh with a single up the middle that the Rockies put another man on base.
"We swung the bats decent today," Tulowitzki said. "We hit into a lot of hard outs. We put a rally together late, we just didn't get that big hit. [Beachy] did a good job. Obviously his numbers speak for themselves. He's solid."
Colorado got on the scoreboard in the seventh, sparked by the Tulowitzki leadoff single. After a grounder to the mound from Jason Giambi and a wild pitch from Beachy, Cuddyer drove Tulowitzki home with a single to right. Hernandez singled to center and Dexter Fowler drew a walk to load the bases and drive Beachy from the game. Pinch-hitter Tyler Colvin's grounder to second scored Cuddyer.
"We kept staying at it," Tracy said. "We had a shot there in the seventh with the bases loaded and one out and one in, but we needed more than just a fielder's-choice ground ball."
There was encouraging work from recent call-ups Adam Ottavino and Carlos Torres, who combined for three perfect innings, while Matt Reynolds allowed the Uggla homer.
The Rockies fell to 59-101 against the Braves and slipped three games under .500 for the first time this season after being swept for the first time in 2012.
"Any time you get swept at home in a series, your mood's not going to be good," Tulowitzki said. "Obviously we're disappointed in that. There were some wonderful games. You can take something out of the fact that we didn't get smacked around. We fought back. We answered back a little bit, but it's never a good mood when you get swept. "
The Rockies are now tasked with righting their ship on the road as they embark on an eight-game swing through San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.