DENVER -- Did he really say that? Did he really do that?
The Rockies and Dodgers open the season for a second straight year on Friday, with juicy narratives surrounding both clubs. Pandemic restrictions capped Coors Field at 21,000 last year. This time, a full stadium -- and an expected sellout crowd -- can enjoy the festivities.
A little over a week ago on his show, Dan Patrick prompted manager Dave Roberts with, “The Dodgers will win the World Series if …” to which Roberts retorted, “If we play a full season and there is a postseason.”
Logic makes the Dodgers a prime favorite, but history says they have won just three World Series since 1965. Two of those came in shortened seasons; 1981 was minimized by a players' strike and 2020 was greatly impacted by the pandemic, while the other World Series title came in 1988. This year they’re playing all 162, in a condensed manner that has the Dodgers ending the regular season by hosting the Rockies for six.
Asked if he was serious in making such a confident declaration to Patrick, Roberts doubled down, adding, “I am. I’d be crazy not to. I believe in this organization. I believe we’re going to put ourselves in that position and we’ve got to finish it this year.
“Everyone in this organization better believe that. … People outside this organization that don’t believe that? I don’t care.”
Think that’s bold? How about Kris Bryant, who has played for the Cubs and (for the second half of last season) the Giants, and has been to the postseason in six of his seven years in the Majors?
Conversely, the Rockies have been to the postseason five times in 29 seasons, and only once (2017-18) in consecutive years.
Hey, $182 million is a lot of money. But he committed with Colorado for seven years, and fully expects to continue his familiar habit of October baseball.
“They’re so often overlooked in terms of the players they have here, the pitching staff, the velocities that they're running out in the bullpen,” Bryant said the day he joined up. “I don't think I've ever had a comfortable at-bat versus the Colorado Rockies.
“I come from teams in Chicago, winning a World series there and knowing what it takes. We brought veterans in at that time. I want to be that veteran presence for the guys here. And hopefully they can lean on me for advice, and in big games.”
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. MT/1:10 p.m. PT on Friday, and will be available on MLB.TV. The game will be televised on AT&T Sports Rocky Mountain and on SportsNet LA.
The starting lineups
Dodgers: The talk of the spring was how this could be the Dodgers’ best lineup ever. We’ll get our first look at it this weekend. Roberts had Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner atop the lineup during the spring, and that didn't change in Friday's opener. Even with a southpaw on the mound in Kyle Freeland, the Dodgers went with the lefty-swinging Gavin Lux over Hanser Alberto.
Rockies: The Opening Day lineup against Walker Buehler shows where the Rockies have improved, but also offers a challenge to see if the offense has enough depth. Charlie Blackmon moves back to the leadoff spot, where he was one of the game’s best a few years back, and Brendan Rodgers, C.J. Cron and Ryan McMahon hope to take another step beyond their solid 2021 seasons. The lineup lost Trevor Story on a free-agent deal with the Red Sox, but Bryant and Randal Grichuk are two righty power bats added to the mix -- which could put the offense ahead of last year. As the season gets going, expect more playing time for Connor Joe in multiple spots (DH, 1B, corner OF), and he gets his first opportunity as the DH on Friday.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Dodgers: For the first time in his career, Buehler will take the mound on Opening Day. After going 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA in 33 starts last season, Buehler is the undisputed ace of the Dodgers’ staff.
Buehler will become the first pitcher since Vicente Padilla to start an Opening Day with a healthy Clayton Kershaw on the Dodgers’ roster. Dustin May got the start in 2020, but that came after Kershaw was scratched with back soreness.
Rockies: Freeland was surprised by the assignment, given that righty Germán Márquez made his first All-Star Game last year and has been healthy and effective this spring. The rotation is still considered a key to the club, though former ace Jon Gray (who signed a free-agent deal with Texas) has staked his claim elsewhere.
“L.A. is one of those teams I love matching up against, whether it’s at home or their place,” said Freeland, who beat the Dodgers in the 2017 home opener in his Major League debut. “Each stadium is going to be electric. There’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of hype. And opening weekend is always massive in Denver.”
Righty Antonio Senzatela and lefty Austin Gomber are coming off solid seasons. Righty Chad Kuhl believes his sinker-based repertoire will serve him well at Coors and in the NL West.
How might the bullpens line up after the starter?
Dodgers: With Craig Kimbrel now on the roster, the Dodgers have their guy to replace longtime closer Kenley Jansen. Having a set closer allows the club to get creative with the rest of its bullpen. Blake Treinen is one of the best relievers in the Majors and will continue to get high-leverage situations in the late innings. Brusdar Graterol will also play a big role this season.
As for their left-handed options, the Dodgers will again lean on Alex Vesia as their top arm. Following a strong spring, expect fellow southpaw Victor González to return to his 2020 form.
Rockies: Daniel Bard, who started last season strong but was removed from the closer role in late August, looks to have regained the ninth inning. Alex Colomé, with 155 career saves, and Carlos Estévez, who took over for Bard as closer late last year, are the primary righty setup men.
Righty Tyler Kinley pitched in tight games last year. Veteran Jhoulys Chacín became a reliever last year and dabbled in multiple roles.
Any injuries of note?
Dodgers: Phil Bickford, Caleb Ferguson, Tommy Kahnle and Danny Duffy are all battling back from injury. Bickford, Ferguson and Kahnle are all progressing, while Duffy will be more of a midseason addition.
Rockies: The injuries are to the pitching depth. Righty Peter Lambert, who had Tommy John right elbow surgery in 2019, is on a slower program and an innings limit. Lefty Ryan Rolison, the Rockies’ No. 5 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is on the 60-day injured list with left shoulder inflammation. Lefty Lucas Gilbreath and right-hander Robert Stephenson were placed on the COVID-19 IL on Wednesday.
As for Spring Training wear and tear, Bryant missed a couple games recently with lower back soreness. Manager Bud Black pointed out that several Rockies went through a similar period because of the accelerated Spring Training, but all -- including Bryant -- recovered.
Who’s hot and who’s not?
Dodgers: It hasn’t been a good spring for most of the Dodgers. Betts and Cody Bellinger have had severe struggles at the dish, while Justin Turner and Max Muncy are also still searching for their respective swings. Of the regulars, Freeman, Trea Turner and Will Smith had the best springs. Edwin Ríos tore up the Cactus League after missing most of the 2021 season following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Rockies: Here’s where spring stats can be deceiving. Freeland gave up 12 hits in as many innings over three starts, but during the first two he was testing a new changeup grip. In his last start, he went back to his old grip and held the Mariners to three hits and one unearned run in 5 1/3 innings.
The Rockies hope Joe’s .412 spring average, after his strong finish to 2021, is a sign of what’s to come. Díaz and Hilliard ended the spring with averages below .200.