(CBS4) – The Colorado Rockies had rough 2019 season, limping to a 71-91 mark that left them 35 games behind the National League West-winning Los Angeles Dodgers and well short of Wild Card contention. But it could’ve actually been worse. A three-game sweep of Milwaukee Brewers to finish the season pulled them out of the division cellar, where the San Diego Padres ended up after losing their last six.
It’s all cold comfort for a Rockies team that under-performed in most facets of the game, falling well short of expectations. And yet they did nothing in the offseason. The general feeling around the team’s Spring Training facility in Arizona is that last year was a fluke. Colorado won 87 games in 2017, losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Wild Card, and won 91 games in 2018 before being swept by the Brewers in the Division Series.
As CBS4 sports anchor Michael Spencer sees it, “their mindset is that the team that they had in 2018 and 2019 is pretty similar to the team they have heading into 2020, and they are confident that the guys who had down years in 2019 will rebound.”
It’s a big gamble that seems more likely not to pan out. “There are a lot of people in Denver that aren’t happy with the Rockies,” notes Spencer. “They’re basically just hoping that the 2018 team will show up, and that everyone who had bad years in 2019 will all of the sudden have a good year in 2020.”
Any about-face will need to include pitching. Starter Kyle Freeland went from 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA and 173 strikeouts two seasons ago to 3-11 with a 6.73 ERA and 79 strikeouts last season. A groin strain cost him a month of outings toward the end of the season, though it’s unlikely he would have turned everything around at that point. Wade Davis, who ran up an 8.65 ERA out of the bullpen, lost his closer spot after the All-Star break. He’s been penciled back in for that role this season. In Spencer’s estimation, “Kyle Freeland and Wade Davis, coming out of the bullpen, are two of the guys that the Rockies need to have big years in 2020 if they want to accomplish what they feel like they can accomplish.”
The Rockies will need everything to break their way if they hope to contend in 2020. And while that starts with pitching, hitting also matters. Nolan Arenado might be the only reliable bat in their lineup. The All-Star third baseman has hit in the neighborhood of .300 with about 40 home runs in each of his last five seasons. During the team’s disappointing 2019 campaign, his average swelled to .315 over 588 at-bats, with 41 home runs 118 RBI. Shortstop Trevor Story (.294, 35 HRs, 85 RBI) and right-fielder Charlie Blackmon (.314, 30 HRs, 86 RBI) added a little more production to the otherwise thin lineup.
Arenado remains the key to any success the Rockies may have. The team made that clear enough before last season, when they signed him to an eight-year contract extension worth a guaranteed $260 million. One year later, and that relationship seems to have soured. Arenado, like many fans in and around Denver, feels like general manager Jeff Bridich should have done more this offseason to improve the team. The disagreement spilled into public view, becoming the top storyline heading into Spring Training.
While both sides claim to have moved on, the underlying issues remain. “It’s going to be really interesting to see how he (Arenado) maintains his composure and his personality throughout the season,” Spencer predicts. “There’s a feeling that if things go south early for this team, things could get really contentious inside that clubhouse, not necessarily with Nolan and the other players but Nolan and the organization. That will be a huge issue. And I think that’s part of the reason why the Rockies feel like they have got to start hot.”
Can the Rockies return to their 2018 form, climb back above .500 and prove that last season was an anomaly? Owner Dick Monfort certainly thinks so. He believes his team can win 94 games. According to Spencer, however, “he’s the only person on the face of the planet that expects this team to win 94 games, if we’re being realistic about what they can do.”
Still, the clubhouse is inspired by these high expectations. “They’re kind of rallying behind the fact that nobody outside of their organization has high expectations for them,” says Spencer. With the Dodgers in the division, 94 wins would likely still leave the Rockies hoping for a Wild Card spot. And even that seems like wishful thinking after last season’s disastrous run, the lack of offseason upgrades and their All-Star’s thinly veiled dissatisfaction. The Rockies seem destined for another disappointing season near the bottom of the NL West.