Play Ball! Rockies open season with questions, hope

Rebound hinges on top of lineup, Kyle Freeland, bullpen
Posted at 5:01 PM, Jul 24, 2020

DENVER -- Even without throwing a pitch, the Rockies won Thursday. Major League players and owners agreed to expand the postseason to 16 teams, including the top two finishers in each division.

Channeling Jim Carrey, "So I am saying the Rockies have a chance."

My friends at SuperBookUSA pegged the Rockies' over-under at 27.5 games in the 60-game season. They must reach 30 wins to qualify for the playoffs by my math and provide a Febreze spray over the odorous 2019 season.

"We know that people are not talking about us, and that's all right," All-Star shortstop Trevor Story said Thursday. "The games are not won by talking or anything like that. I don't think we need any motivation beyond what is in this clubhouse."

The Rockies open tonight at 6 p.m. against the Texas Rangers, pulling the curtain on the first regular season game at Globe Life Field. The opener represents peanut shells crunching underfoot, hot dogs, cold beverages and hope. The Rockies aim for a rebound. Here are my Denver7 Things to Watch as the Rockies plan a show of unity before Friday's game:

Line it up
The Rockies' top four hitters -- CF David Dahl, Story, SS Trevor Story, RF Charlie Blackmon, 3B Nolan Arenado -- can mash with anyone in the National League. They bring power, patience, and speed. If Dahl can stay healthy -- he's an All-Star when on the field -- the Rockies can slug out wins, especially on the road early before the home-road splits take their annual stranglehold on the stats.

Third and Short
Before the shutdown in mid March, anger permeated the Rockies' season because of the animosity between Arenado and general manager Jeff Bridich. Arenado's name floated in trade rumors the entire offseason. He made it clear he was upset with Bridrich, telling Denver7, "Jeff is very disrespectful. I never talk trash or anything. I play hard, keep my mouth shut. But I can only get crossed so many times."

Bridich never cleared the air with Arenado, the focus shifting to the 60 game sprint. But might it be Arenado's last season in Colorado? He can opt out -- a clause the club included in his contract -- after the 2021 season. As such, if things go sour, Arenado could be traded after the season when the pool of teams looking to make a move swells. For now, the laser focus is on the next two months. The Rockies could reach the playoffs. Arenado could be an MVP candidate. And it could be mean he stays longterm. But questions will surround his future, regardless.

Making their pitch
The Rockies spiraled from 91 wins in 2018 to 71 wins last season. The reason was simple: awful pitching. German Marquez and Jon Gray, however, navigated the issues, and posted serviceable performances. However, functional is not enough. Marquez, Friday's starter, and Gray must be good, and Kyle Freeland has to rebound. Freeland said this week he is embracing the pressure. He has changed his delivery -- no more Flamingo pause -- but not his mindset. He enters the season with a surly attitude that teammates appreciate because it translates to how he competes. What the Rockies need from him is a .500 record and innings gulped. The team's record will be a direct reflection of Freeland's.

Bull by the horns
As bad as the Rockies' starters were, the bullpen was worse. Bridich did the right thing by moving on from veterans Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee, cutting them both last week. There was no evidence either would have rebounded. It's better to give someone else those innings with a fresh start. That means Carlos Estevez, Jairo Diaz and Daniel Bard, perhaps baseball's best story after a seven-year absence from the big leagues, are being charged to step up. Losing Scott Oberg (back) until next Friday's home opener, at the soonest, is a significant punch to the gut. Um, Wade Davis, no more hiccups. A team cannot afford three or four blown saves over a two-week span.

Murphy's Law
Daniel Murphy showed up last spring too big, too slow and, ultimately, too hurt. He is healthy and in shape. He's never going to open eyes at first base, but that's fine if he hits for power. He is swinging the bat this summer in a way not seen in a few years. A dangerous Murphy lengthens the lineup and forces opposing managers to make tough bullpen choices. Freeland and Davis must bounce back for the Rockies to contend, but it's not a stretch to place Murphy on that list as well.

Survive the schedule
Did you watch the Dodgers last night? Clayton Kershaw was scratched with a sore back, and Dustin May stepped in throwing 100 miles per hour. The Dodgers didn't play well and squashed the Giants. There is a reason they have won seven straight National League West titles. So here's the deal. The Rockies need to hold their own in 10 games vs. Los Angeles -- 4-6 -- and post a winning record against the Diamondbacks, Padres and Giants. Do the latter, and the Rockies will reach the postseason.

Home sweet home
There's no way the Rockies accomplish their goals without playing well at Coors Field. That's where they need to mash Nos. 3-5 starters. The road will always be an issue. They don't need a winning record in visiting parks. They can survive five games under .500 if they dominant in Denver.

CF David Dahl
SS Trevor Story
RF Charlie Blackmon
3B Nolan Arenado
1B Daniel Murphy
2B Ryan McMahon
LF Ramiel Tapia
DH Sam Hilliard
C Tony Wolters
RHP German Marquez

Rockies, Games Back, Top record after 60 games
2019 31-29, 10.5 games back, Dodgers 41-19
2018 31-29, 1 game back, Red Sox, Yankees 41-19
2017 37-23, 2 games ahead, Astros 42-18
2016 28-32, 7.5 games back, Cubs 42-18
2015 27-33, 8.5 games back, Cardinals 39-21
2014 28-32, 11.5 games back, Giants 39-21
2013 32-28, 2.5 games back, Cardinals 39-21
2012 24-36, 14.5 games back, Dodgers 38-22
2011 28-32, 5.5 games back, Phillies 36-24
2010 30-30, 6 games back, Rays 39-21