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In early March, Colorado Rockies fans didn’t have much to be excited about. The team was poised to begin the 2020 season with a nearly identical roster to the previous year—when they were one of the worst teams in the league. Owner Dick Monfort appeared out of touch, making seemingly outlandish predictions about 94-win seasons and a World Series run. Oh, and arguably the greatest player in franchise history, third baseman Nolan Arenado, was openly feuding with the front office after being the subject of trade rumors for most of the winter.
Four months and a pandemic later, the Rockies are finally set to play baseball that counts. And while there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the team, a shortened season—as well as the general crapshoot life on Earth has become—means all sorts of crazy outcomes are possible. Will all of that strangeness lead to an improbable Rockies run? Or are they doomed to fall short like most people predicted earlier this spring? We put together three reasons why either scenario is possible.
How It Could All Go Right
The Front Half of The Lineup Gets Hot
While David Dahl, Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story, and Arenado all had impressive seasons in 2019—each made the National League All-Star team—they never seemed to hit well at the same time. (The team finished near the bottom of the NL in OPS+, a metric that factors things in like hitter-friendly ballparks.) If this foursome can get hot during the same stretch, though, it could carry the team to a respectable record. The last time they were all bashing the baseball 400-plus feet in unison, the Rockies put together a 19-9 record during a September 2018 playoff push.
A Couple Young Players Break Out
Infielders Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rodgers, as well as outfielders Sam Hilliard and Raimel Tapia, have flashed tantalizing glimpses of talent. But none have been consistent enough to earn a spot as an everyday starter. (Rodgers, the number three pick in the 2015 draft, didn’t even make the 30-man roster.) If some combination of the four can contribute on a consistent basis—and maybe one or two deliver a breakout year—the Rockies could suddenly find themselves with one of the best lineups in the NL.
Coors Field Works To The Team’s Advantage
It’s always a struggle for players to recover at altitude, but because the shortened season allows for almost no days off, opposing squads flying into Coors Field may find themselves especially taxed. At the start of the season, starting pitchers also likely won’t have built up enough stamina to throw late into games because of shortened training camps. That means managing a bullpen—difficult to do at the launch pad that is Coors Field during normal times—will become even more difficult. While those factors will also test the Rockies, they have a group of guys, and a manager in Bud Black, that is used to the burdensome circumstances.
How It Could All Go Wrong
Pitching Proves To Be A Problem
It’s Opening Day for Colorado fans, and the franchise tradition of crossing one’s fingers and hoping for the best when it comes to the Rockies pitching staff is as alive as ever. German Marquez and Jon Gray were reliable arms last year, but Kyle Freeland needs to bounce back from a poor 2019 and one or two among Antonio Senzatala, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Jeff Hoffman have to pitch better than they ever have just for the rotation to be serviceable. The boys in the purple pinstripes are also relying on a number of young, unproven arms, such as Jairo Diaz and Carlos Estevez, to carry the bullpen. But some season all these stars have to align. Right?
Nolan Arenado Decides He’s Had Enough
The Rockies All-Star third baseman was fed up when he arrived at Spring Training in February: The Rockies didn’t sign any major free agents this offseason and decided to run it back with basically the same squad from 2019. On top of that, general manager Jeff Bridich spent most of the winter trying to trade him only to decide against it weeks before the season. The pandemic appears to have cooled tensions a bit. If the Rockies get off to a sideways start, though, it’s not inconceivable that Arenado starts clamoring for an escape, which would certainly destroy any chances of a playoff push.
The Season Gets Cut Short
MLB has already had problems getting testing done in a timely manner. Games are going to be played in COVID-19 hotspots like Florida and Texas. And teams are already dealing with depleted rosters: As of a few days ago, it looked like the Kansas City Royals might have to start games with their fifth-string catcher. The season could become a war of attrition, but we could also see so many people get sick that everyone just decides to go home in search of safety.