The Colorado Rockies play the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday to decide the 2018 winner of the National League West. Just win one game and earn the first division title in franchise history. On the other hand, that means the division now comes down to the randomness of one baseball game.
All it takes is one weird half-inning to throw predictions and keys to the game out the window, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to consider. Let’s look at how the Rockies can win against the Dodgers on Monday afternoon.
Any excited announcer will breathlessly tell you that a good start is a key to victory for any given game as a corporate-sponsored graphic shows the cliche in writing at the bottom of the screen. In this case, there are specific reasons it’s important for the Rockies on the road against the Dodgers.
Start with the well-documented struggles of Rockies starting pitchers in the first inning. An early deficit would feel like a gut-punch both in terms of momentum in a big game and for an offense that struggles on the road, especially when they are dealing with the “Coors hangover.” It will be huge if German Márquez can come out sharp and avoid early damage.
The other thing is unique to Dodgers Stadium. Maybe it will be different for a one-game playoff, with an afternoon first pitch to boot, but generally speaking that park tends to be empty and quiet at the beginning of the game. The energy builds over the course of the game as the seats fill up, and it is louder than heck by the late innings.
I just have this gut feeling that I have watched multiple heartbreakers in Los Angeles that go something like this: the Rockies have a great scoring chance or two early in the game when that park is still kind of sleepy. They don’t come through, and as the energy builds for the Dodgers and in the stands, everything tightens up and runs are nearly impossible to come by.
Whatever the arc of this one game, runs will likely be scarce on Colorado’s side. Getting a couple early would be huge.
Pressure on Nolan
The aforementioned randomness of a single baseball game makes it hard to say it will come down to any single player. The only reason I mention Nolan Arenado is because of his current status as the face of the franchise. He is also the guy who is putting himself out there as the star player who just wants to play for a winner. That puts extra attention on him in a game like this, and the Rockies need him to play well. I imagine Arenado wouldn’t have it any other way.
How Bud Black manages the expanded roster
Here’s one more introduction that mentions the randomness of a single baseball game. I don’t know what the decision will be that forces Black to make a tough call, let alone what the call will be. But there will be a tough decision or a few, and Black needs to push the right buttons.
I will say this: even though he has access to the expanded September roster, I imagine Black would love for this game to only require the go-to guys who will be on the playoff roster anyway.
That would mean a longer start from Márquez, bucking the trend for starting pitchers in recent postseasons. It would mean a couple pinch hitters like Gerardo Parra and Matt Holliday. And it would mean handing it to Scott Oberg, Adam Ottavino and Wade Davis in the bullpen.
This type of game often consists of a flurry of managerial moves, but it seems like the best-case scenario for Black would require just a handful of moves. Before you say that’s true for any manager, I imagine the contrast will be in the other dugout Monday given how aggressive Dave Roberts has shown himself willing to be early and often in big games.
Be on the right side of the weird
This probably comes down to luck. Close games in September and October often hinge on a weird sequence or a lesser known player coming through. To be clear, the Rockies need to play well to be close enough to be one side of this or the other. Hopefully they do that, and then hopefully the key moment that involves Drew Butera or Andrew Toles or whatever comes up in favor of the Rockies.
What else are you looking for from the Rockies to win their first division title on Monday?