The seemingly never ending year of 2020 is finally coming to a close today and you’ll probably be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t grateful to be flipping the calendar to 2021 tonight. While that sentiment is shared across the globe, the feeling surely applies to the world of Rockies baseball, as the fan base has grown more and more frustrated as the days have passed. Recency bias may lead you to believe 2020 was all bad for the Rockies, but there were some good moments sprinkled in there as well. So I’m taking a look back at the year that was for the Colorado Rockies, through the lens of a winners and losers list. Away we go!
Winner: Charlie Blackmon’s First 17 Games
Over the past several seasons, Charlie Blackmon has firmly established his spot as one of the best hitting center fielders in the National League, but nobody could have predicted just how hot he would be to start off 2020. Blackmon was one of the first big name MLB players to be diagnosed with COVID this summer, but the disease seemed to have no ill-effects on the Rockies outfielder. After a slew of articles predicting which players had a shot at batting .400 in the shortened season, Blackmon blew that out of the water and sat at an even .500 after a three hit performance against the Diamondbacks on August 11th. While that pace was unsustainable, Blackmond did finish the year with a .303 batting average. Unfortunately, as he cooled off, so did the Rockies, whose 12-5 record during that opening stretch plummeted the rest of the way.
Loser: The Bullpen
A lot of things went wrong for the Rockies in 2020, but the dismal performance from the bullpen had to be up there with the biggest weaknesses for the club. The only thing standing between the Rockies ‘pen and the league basement was a similarly abysmal relief corps in Philadelphia. So far, the front office has signed a couple relievers to minor league deals to try to patch up some holes, but the Rockies are going to need a huge turn around from some of 2020’s bullpen arms to get back to a respectable place. At least there’s some hope for a Scott Oberg return next year.
Winner: Kyle Freeland
A lot was said last offseason about the catastrophic collapse of Kyle Freeland following his Cy-Young caliber 2018 performance. Fortunately for Kyle, the Rockies, and the club’s fanbase, Freeland seemed to be back to his old self in 2020 (at least in the early part of the season). The Denver-native dropped his ERA down to a respectable 4.33, nearly two and a half points lower than 2019, and he cut his home run rate in half. If the Rockies are going to improve in 2021, the pitching will have to be rock solid, and Kyle Freeland staying the course will be a big part of that.
Loser: Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy’s first year in Denver was doomed from the start when he broke his finger right out of the gate, but 2020 was a chance for a reset for Murph. He had an extra long offseason to get healthy and the Rockies were counting on him to be a big bat in the middle of the order to pair with their core. It never really panned out that way. Like a lot of Rockies, the early going was good, with Murphy hitting for a .313 in the team’s first 18 games, but the resurgence was short-lived, and by the end of the season, Murphy was losing out on playing time to some of the club’s younger players. When the season came to a close, the Rockies moved on from Murphy, who for the time being, remains a free agent.
Winner: Antonio Senzatela and Raimel Tapia
I’m grouping these guys together because for me, they were the two Rockies who took the biggest steps forward in 2020. Senzatela went 5-3 in twelve starts and his team-leading 3.44 ERA was nearly a point below his previous best. On the other side of the baseball, Raimel Tapia managed to cement his place in the leadoff spot with devastating speed and a .321 batting average that put him in the top ten in all of baseball.
Both players had shown flashes of potential in the past, but everything came together in 2020 and if they can keep developing and translate their 60-game season success into a full 162, they’ll be solid building blocks for this Rockies team in the years to come.
Loser: The fans
The pandemic changed baseball in many ways this year, but arguably the biggest change to the game was the absence of fans. By the time a select few were given the chance to attend baseball games, the Rockies had spent nearly a month at home and were watching the rival Dodgers finally get their World Series title. And while that would have been bad enough in and of itself, Rockies fans spent the year watching the team tread water in the in-between of competing and rebuilding, while the front office sat idly by, giving no updates about the state of the franchise or the club’s direction.
2020 surely was a tough year from the Rockies, seemingly from the start when Nolan Arenado publicly expressed his frustration with the team (doesn’t feel like that was this year does it?) but there were some bright spots mixed in there. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to be grateful for what you have, an exercise that has become woefully difficult as a Rockies fan, but one I did my best to partake in today.
Happy New Year
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The year’s end is always a great time to reflect on the state of the team, and The Denver Post’s top articles from the year gives another great look into everything that went down for the team in 2020. It’s telling that the two articles they chose to highlight in the title are negative stories from a Rockies success standpoint, but others highlighted just how different 2020 baseball was, from Rockies players testing positive for the Coronavirus, to Trevor Story speaking out against the team’s lack of support for Matt Kemp during the racial justice movements of the summer.
Perhaps the only thing that could have made Rockies fans feel worse about the organization came this week when the Padres countered the rest of the league’s inaction with big move after big move after big move. In the span of less than 24 hours, the Padres added two of baseball’s elite arms to an already strong rotation, giving the Rockies two starters they’ll be facing a lot more than they probably would like. If Blake Snell and Yu Darvish weren’t enough, the Padres also went out and grabbed Ha-seong Kim, a star in the Korean Baseball Organization to make sure their intentions are clear. This team is gunning for the Dodgers’ throne.
With the moves, arguably the two best teams in the National League reside in the NL West and neither one of them is the Rockies. Maybe the Padres string of moves will prompt the Rockies to get out of their shell and take some risks for 2021, but they also may just be too far behind to try that. Either way, 2021 is going to feature a lot of games against the Dodgers and Padres, and the Rockies can only hope their results against the Padres going forward don’t resemble what they’ve experienced against the Dodgers in recent seasons.
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