The Rockies’ opening day brings hope but poor odds for the season

DENVER — Peanut shells crack underfoot. Expectant green grass. Red, white and blue flags draped over the stadium railings.

Baseball Opening Day returns like a long-lost friend on Thursday night, offering hope for new beginnings and new beginnings.

The Colorado’s 30th season begins in San Diego, with the first pitch rescheduled to 7:40 p.m. as a concession to the recent hurricane drenching Southern California. The Rockies have modest expectations, with owner Dick Monfort admittedly hoping for a record win.

Not exactly bumper sticker stuff.

The truth is that even 82 wins brings with it delusions of appropriateness, although not as much as winning the National League pennant (SuperBook has those odds at +50000). Led by manager Bud Black, who received a contract extension in spring training, the Rockies are looking to end their streak of four straight losses.

Colorado hasn’t been relevant in the National League West since delivering back-to-back playoff finishes in 2017-18 and has never won a division title. The current roster offers a mix of experience and youth but pales when compared to the Padres and Dodgers, who are two of the National League’s best teams.

Besides the beautiful sunsets and socializing on the party deck, what should fans look forward to at this year’s edition? My Denver7 things to watch:

– German Marquez is the first Rockies pitcher to start three opening days. He owns a 63-54 record, making him one of the best starters in franchise history, thanks to his talent and also to the Rockies’ lack of excellence. Marquez finds himself in an interesting place. He can lead an unexpected turnaround or become valuable trade lure as he is the final year of his contract with a club option for 2024. The Rockies are reluctant to do Reconstruction deals. But if that team doesn’t compete, it would make sense to send 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 find his footing again at Coors Field, where he went 2-6 with a 6.70 ERA last season and allowed 19 home runs. Marquez is leading a rotation that should include: Kyle Freeland, Jose Urena, Austin Gomber and Ryan Feltner.

– Kyle Freeland is Denver. He prepared at Thomas Jefferson High School and loves representing his city and state. It is a pleasure to watch him compete, including at the recent World Baseball Classics. However, as someone lacking the new speed standard, he operates with little room for error. Freeland posted a 3.95 ERA in the second half of last season. A number under 4 this season would do a lot to keep the Rockies competitive this season, starting with his stint in next Thursday’s home opener.

– Kris Bryant won a World Series ring with the Cubs. That seems a long time ago. Bryant, a former MVP prospect, did the unthinkable by not hitting a home run at Coors Field in 99 at-bats in his first season in Denver. Saddled with injuries, Bryant played 42 games after signing a seven-year, $182 million deal, reportedly to replace Nolan Arenado as Big Bat. The Arenado trade – which pays the Cardinals $51 million and gets no top prospects – has a chance to go down as one of the worst in MLB history. Bryant can’t worry about that. He just has to stay sane and strike. Anything less than a .300 average, .375 on-basis percentage with 25 home runs would be a huge disappointment.

– Can new prospect Ezequiel Tovar create a bright light in a dark season? Only 21, the shortstop brings soft hands and elite defense. Despite being young for Double-A last year, he shone offensively, hitting .318 with 13 homers, 15 doubles and 17 stolen bases. He was signed six years ago for $800,000 and identified as a top prospect. The problem for Tovar is the bat. Can he stand his ground? The last thing the Rockies need is for Tovar to lose confidence. His development – picking matchups when necessary – should be a priority this season, even ahead of winning.

– Is this the final act for the nearer Daniel Bard? Few baseball stories can compare to 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 National League’s top helpers. Bard should have been traded last season to help rebuild. Instead, the 37-year-old signed a two-year deal through 2024. The Rockies need Bard to be good, but there are some concerns after his disappointing performance at the WBC. Struggling to throw punches, he broke Jose Altuve’s wrist with a plumb bob running into his right hand. Brent Suter, Pierce Johnson, Justin Lawrence, Dinelson Lamet and Brad Hand are names to know in the bullpen.

– Will the line-up help the Rockies avoid 100 losses for the first time in franchise history when left fielder Jurickson Profar and corner infielder Mike Moustakas join, along with 36-year-old Charlie Blackmon and his crew? Here’s the thing. Even when the Rockies are terrible, they’re average or good at home. The lineup suggests they should be competitive, but All-Star first baseman CJ Cron needs to recover from his second-half slump in performance and Ryan McMahon can’t afford another memorable April as standout second baseman Brendan Rodgers may miss the season due to a shoulder injury suffered in spring training .

– The reality is the Rockies are in an unenviable position. They should start a youth movement, but they don’t have enough prospects for it. As this season heads down, the focus should be on finding what they have in first baseman Michael Toglia, Tovar, infielder Nolan Jones and, if all goes well, former first-round outfielder Zac Veen.

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