Baseball is back. It’s just not going to be the same Major League Baseball we’re all used to.
The 60-game season that was made official on Tuesday and is scheduled to start on either July 23 or 24 is full of tweaks and addendums to MLB normalcy — and those variances could have major effects on the Rockies.
For starters, Colorado’s schedule will feature 10 games against each of its four divisional opponents, as well as 20 combined games against the American League West teams of Houston, Oakland, Texas, Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels. While the Rockies have reason to worry about facing the Dodgers (15-4 head-to-head last year vs. Colorado), there’s also toughness built into their schedule via the Astros (three consecutive 100-win seasons) and the Athletics (two consecutive wild-card berths).
But if the baseball gods smile kindly upon the Rockies this year, a capable lineup coupled with a rotation that surprises and a bullpen that doesn’t implode could have them right in the playoff mix.
Consider: Through 60 games last year, the Rockies were 31-29 and in second place in the National League West. They sat two games back of the second wild-card spot. The eventual World Series champion Nationals, meanwhile, were 28-33 and in fourth place in their division. Ipso facto, in a season this short, anything could happen, and that unpredictability could favor a team with long playoff odds like the Rockies.
The compact, interleague-laden schedule is just the beginning of the fun. While the American League has had the designated hitter since 1973, the rule is coming to the National League for the first time this year — and it could be here to stay. For the Rockies, that means even more offensive slugfests within the launching pad that is Coors Field.
It also means a DH rotation for Colorado is likely, especially considering no NL team planned for that role during offseason roster construction. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon, outfielder Ian Desmond and first baseman Daniel Murphy are the most obvious candidates for the role.
“All our main guys who are everyday players — Nolan (Arenado), Trevor (Story), Charlie, David (Dahl), Murphy — those guys will need a blow (and will DH),” manager Bud Black said last month. “And ironically, all of them don’t like to DH — they’d rather play.”
And the Little League-style “California rule” — where extra-inning frames begin with a runner on second base — will test the mettle of Colorado’s back-end bullpen cast of Scott Oberg, Wade Davis, Jairo Diaz, Carlos Estevez and others.
But perhaps the most intriguing parts of the abbreviated season for Rockies fans to watch will concern the team’s future. MLB’s transaction freeze, which had been in place since the season shut down in March, ends on Friday. The trade deadline is August 31. That’s a narrow window for teams to decide to make moves, but it also means that if the Rockies come out of the gate and tank, it’s entirely possible Colorado fans will be on Nolan Arenado trade watch once again.
Additionally, there will be expanded rosters allowed by MLB, i.e. more chances for young Rockies and on-the-bubble roster guys to make an impression. Rosters begin at 30 players for the first two weeks, go to 28 for the next two weeks and then reset to 26 (the usual number) for the rest of the season. Teams will also be allowed a taxi squad that would enable them to have as many as 60 players available to play in a game, although players must have been added to the MLB roster by Sept. 15 to be eligible for the postseason.
For the Rockies, that likely means a taxi squad situation at a nearby diamond. Metro State’s field as well as the Rocky Mountain Vibes’ UCHealth Park in Colorado Springs having been floated as potential options for that purpose. Considering the minor league season is likely to be canceled, that taxi squad would probably feature Triple-A players as well as top prospects in the mid- and lower-minors such as left-hander Ryan Rolison and third baseman/outfielder Ryan Vilade.
Of course, there is the health-and-safety issue looming as well. Blackmon and two other Rockies tested positive for coronavirus last week after workouts at Coors Field, and MLB’s ability to forge ahead with a season — as funky as it may be — will rely on teams’ ability to respond to outbreaks, and contain them when they do occur.
Let’s cross our fingers, and play ball.