DENVER -- A pandemic-shortened, 60-game 2020 season just may play into the bats of several Rockies who can carry a team for such a stretch.
Largely the same Rockies roster went to the postseason in 2017 and 2018. Each year, they had multiple stretches when they won 39 games over a 60-game period. And one doesn’t have to look much further than the big bats in their lineup for reasons behind the success.
Here are some big performances during 39-21 stretches in ’17 and ‘18:
Third baseman Nolan Arenado hit .300 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs from April 16 to June 21 of ’17, and from June 29 to Sept. 9 of ‘18, he blasted 13 home runs and drove in 39 runs.
Shortstop Trevor Story batted .338 with a .379 on-base percentage, with 15 homers and 37 RBIs from June 27 to Sept. 7 of ’18.
Outfielder Charlie Blackmon hit .348 with a 1.055 OPS, with 14 home runs, 16 doubles and nine triples in a 60-game stretch from April 16 to June 22 in ’17.
The Rockies were nowhere near as successful last season, but for fun let’s look at first-time All-Star outfielder David Dahl’s performance over his last 60 games -- a .302/.355/.547 slash line.
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Of course, the Rockies will need solid starting pitching, which would have to come in the form of a continuation of the work from the last couple years from righty German Marquez (combined 26-16, 4.23 ERA in 370 innings) and last year from righty Jon Gray (3.84 ERA, 150 strikeouts in 150 innings), and a rebound from lefty Kyle Freeland (3-11 with a 6.73 ERA in 2019 and 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA in '18).
Here’s a primer on the Rockies’ outlook for the 2020 MLB season:
When will camp start, and where?
Players will report to Coors Field on July 1.
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When is Opening Day?
The 60-game schedule proposed by Major League Baseball has been sent to the Major League Baseball Players Association for approval. The tentative plan is for all clubs to open the regular season on either July 23 or 24.
Which teams will be on the schedule?
The Rockies will face both the National League West (D-backs, Dodgers, Giants, Padres) and American League West (Angels, Astros, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers) to limit travel distances.
How are my team’s injured players doing?
Before the original Spring Training was halted, Rockies top prospect Brendan Rodgers was making rapid progress from the right shoulder labrum surgery that ended his 2019. Originally not expected back until May, Rodgers was making a bid to make the Opening Day roster. With the unplanned rest and more rehab, Rodgers recently insisted, “I’m ready to go.”
Righty starter Peter Lambert, who had some promising sequences last season as a rookie, had a scare in Spring Training when he left a game with right forearm tightness and soreness. Lambert was able to rehab, and could be a factor during the shortened season.
Two prospects who were on the radar were slowed by spring injuries that required lengthy rehab -- lefty reliever Ben Bowden (back) and corner infielder Tyler Nevin (abdominal strain). Where they are in their rehab could determine whether they are factors for the Rockies in this shortened season.
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What are some competitions to watch when camp resumes?
Left field was developing into a key competition, with right-handed-hitting veteran Ian Desmond trying to keep his share of playing time, while left-handed-hitting Raimel Tapia and Sam Hilliard were hoping to prove worthy of at-bats.
Interestingly, Desmond’s at-bats against righty pitching -- an issue since he signed with the club -- have noticeably improved. But Tapia, after some off-balance at-bats, made some key setup adjustments and was hitting Major League pitching with the same effectiveness that allowed him to dominate in the Minor Leagues. Hilliard’s batting average was low and strikeouts were high, but Black noted during the hiatus that Hilliard -- who has the potential for far more power than Desmond and Tapia -- was progressing despite what the numbers said.
Who will serve as the DH?
If Tapia’s swing holds and/or Hilliard’s development holds, they could give the Rockies a young DH/outfielder with power. This depth could allow the Rockies to use right fielder Charlie Blackmon as DH on occasion.
One intriguing option: Chris Owings/Garrett Hampson/Rodgers (right-handed hitters with speed) at the top, which would allow Dahl to hit in the two spot. Arenado would hit third, dropping Blackmon to the cleanup spot and Story to fifth. But the Rockies’ planned top four is quite fine -- Dahl, Story, Blackmon and Arenado.
How will rosters be different? How will those changes affect the Rockies?
Roster will be 30 players for the first two weeks, 28 for the next two and 26 for the remainder of the season. That means more time for roster decisions, and possibly more Major League opportunities for depth players. The regular injured list will be for 10 days in 2020 for both position players and pitchers, as it was in '19. MLB is also instituting a special COVID-19-related injured list for players who test positive, have confirmed exposure or are exhibiting symptoms. There would not be a minimum or maximum number of days players can spend on this list; any player who tests positive will not be allowed to return until he tests negative twice.
The expanded roster and pitching staff could make Ubaldo Jimenez, the team’s ace nearly a decade ago, a factor in 2020, depending on how the starting staff is structured.
The relaxed roster limit should settle the question of whether the Rockies can keep two players with similar skills. Owings, a veteran non-roster invitee, and Hampson, a less-experienced homegrown product, are both right-handed hitters with speed and the versatility to play most infield and outfield positions. Owings’ performance, which looked more like his time as a multi-position threat with the D-backs than his struggles of the last few years, merited his being kept regardless of how the roster was structured.
The relaxed roster in the beginning means more time to sort out bullpen roles leading up to the Wade Davis/Scott Oberg duo at the end. Performances late last season suggested right-handers Jairo Diaz and Carlos Estevez, and lefty James Pazos, were ready for increased roles. This spring, lefties Tim Collins and Phillip Diehl were especially effective. If all those performances hold, the Rockies will not be as dependent on righty Bryan Shaw and lefty Jake McGee rebounding from last season’s struggles.
How can I watch the games?
Rockies games will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet. Out-of-market Rockies games can be streamed LIVE on MLB.TV on your favorite supported devices.
How can I listen?
All Rockies games are expected to be broadcast on KOA 850 AM Denver and the KOA Rockies Radio Network. Every Colorado broadcast can be listened to LIVE online or on the go with MLB Audio.
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.