Rockies’ opening day brings hope, but long chances for season

DENVER — Peanut shells crunch underfoot. Green grass waiting. Red, white and blue streamers draped over the stadium rails.

Opening day baseball returns like a long-lost friend on Thursday night, offering hope for a fresh start and new beginnings.

Colorado’s 30th season begins in San Diego, the first pitch rolled back at 7:40 p.m. in concession to the latest storm hurricane that soaked Southern California. The Rockies have modest expectations, with owner Dick Monfort hoping for a winning record.

Not exactly the stuff of a bumper sticker.

The truth is, even 82 wins carry illusions of adequacy, but not as much as winning the National League pennant (SuperBook has those odds at +50,000). Guided by manager Bud Black, who received a contract extension during spring training, the Rockies are aiming to snap their four-season losing streak.

Colorado has been irrelevant in the National League West since offering back-to-back playoff berths in 2017-18, and still has never won a division title. The current roster features a mix of experience and youth, but pales when paired with the Padres and Dodgers, two of the best teams in the National League.

What should fans expect from this year’s edition beyond beautiful sunsets and socializing on the party deck? My Denver 7 things to watch:

—German Marquez is the first Rockies pitcher to start three days open. He’s 63-54, making him one of the best starters in franchise history, which is a credit to his talent and the Rockies’ lack of excellence. Marquez is in an interesting place. He can spearhead an unexpected U-turn or become valuable trade bait as he is in the final year of his contract with a club option for 2024. The Rockies are reluctant to make deals to rebuild. But if that team isn’t in contention, it would make sense to ship Marquez to a contender. For Marquez to bounce back this season — he went 9-13 with a 4.95 ERA a year ago — he needs to get back on his feet at Coors Field, where he went 2-6 with a 6.70 ERA on the season. last while allowing 19 circuits. Marquez leads a rotation that should include: Kyle Freeland, Jose Urena, Austin Gomber and Ryan Feltner.

—Kyle Freeland is Denver. He prepared for Thomas Jefferson High School and enjoys representing his city and state. It’s a joy to watch him compete, including at the recent World Baseball Classic. However, he operates with little margin for error as someone who doesn’t have the new speed standard. Freeland posted a 3.95 ERA in the second half last season. A number under 4 this season would go a long way to keeping the Rockies competitive this season, starting with his assignment in the home opener next Thursday.

—Kris Bryant won a World Series ring with the Cubs. It seems a long time ago. A former MVP talent, Bryant did the unthinkable, failing to hit a home run at Coors Field in 99 at-bats in his first season in Denver. Struggling with injuries, Bryant played 42 games after signing a seven-year, $182 million contract, reportedly replacing Nolan Arenado as the big stick. The Arenado trade — paying the Cardinals $51 million and getting no better prospects — has a chance of becoming one of the worst in MLB history. Bryant can’t care. He just needs to stay healthy and hit. Anything less than a .300 average, .375 on-base percentage with 25 home runs would be a huge disappointment.

—Can new prospect Ezequiel Tovar create bright light in a dark season? At just 21, the shortstop brings soft hands and elite defense. Although he was young for Double-A last year, he shone offensively, hitting .318 with 13 home runs, 15 doubles and 17 stolen bases. He was signed for $800,000 six years ago, identified as one of the top prospects. The problem for Tovar is the bat. Can he hold on? The last thing the Rockies need is Tovar losing confidence. His development – picking matchups if necessary – should be a priority this season, even over winning.

—Is this the last act for the closest Daniel Bard? Few baseball stories can match Bard’s. He was out of the big leagues for seven years due to command issues when he joined the Rockies in 2020 and became one of the top relievers in the National League. Bard should have been traded last season to help start a rebuild. Instead, the 37-year-old signed a two-year contract until 2024. The Rockies need Bard to be good, but there is some concern after his disappointing performance in the WBC. He struggled to throw shots and broke Jose Altuve’s wrist with a lead that ran right-handed. Brent Suter, Pierce Johnson, Justin Lawrence, Dinelson Lamet, Brad Hand are names to know in the bullpen.

—Will the roster help the Rockies avoid 100 losses for the first time in franchise history with the addition of left fielder Jurickson Profar and corner fielder Mike Moustakas paired with 36-year-old Charlie Blackmon and his team? Here’s the thing. Even when the Rockies are awful, they’re average or good at home. The roster suggests they should be competitive, but All-Star first baseman CJ Cron needs to bounce back from his second-half power slump and Ryan McMahon can’t afford another forgettable April with standout second baseman Brendan Rodgers who may miss the season with a shoulder injury sustained in spring training. .

“The reality is the Rockies are in an unenviable position. They should inaugurate a youth movement, but they don’t have enough prospects to do so. If this season goes south, the focus should be on finding what they have in first baseman Michael Toglia, Tovar, infielder Nolan Jones and, if all goes well, l former first-round outfielder Zac Veen.

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