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How the Rockies would have fared in 60-game seasons in recent years

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The Rockies would have two NL West Titles

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Great things can happen in 60 games. Terrible things can happen in 60 games. The Rockies are amazing proof of the vast swings that can happen during a shorter stretch of baseball. Now that 2020 is all about who can put up the most wins in a 60-game stretch, we wanted to take a look at the past to see if it might be any indication of the Rockies chances for success, or more specifically a playoff berth, as we get closer to the start of the #WeirdBaseball season on July 23-24.

In 2019, the Rockies were the definition of a tale of two seasons. In their best 60-game stretch, they went 37-23 from April 14 to June 21. That is pretty decent, but still falls short of other teams’ bests like the Astros, Indians, and Dodgers at 43-17. However, their worst stretch of 16-44 was the third worst in baseball (behind only the Tigers’ 12-48 and Orioles’ 14-46). The difference in Colorado’s streak gives the team the honor of the biggest gap between best and worst. That will happen when a team wins 16 games in May, another 15 in June, but then combines for 15 total wins in the months of July and August.

The table below has a glimpse of the Rockies first, best, and worst 60-game stretches from 2007-2019 and the playoff season of 1995.

Rockies in 60 Games (2007-2019 and 1995)

Year First 60 Best 60 Worst 60 Overall and Finish
Year First 60 Best 60 Worst 60 Overall and Finish
2019 31-29 37-23 16-44 71-91, 4th NL West
2018 31-29 34-26 29-31 91-72, 2nd NL West, WC
2017 37-23 37-23 25-35 87-75, 3rd NL West, WC
2016 28-32 31-29 25-35 75-87, 3rd NL West
2015 27-33 28-32 27-33 68-94, 5th NL West
2014 28-32 28-32 17-43 66-96, 4th NL West
2013 32-28 32-28 24-36 74-88, 5th NL West
2012 24-36 26-34 20-40 64-98, 5th NL West
2011 28-32 28-32 24-36 73-89, 4th NL West
2010 32-28 34-26 30-30 83-79, 3rd NL West
2009 28-32 42-18 28-31 92-70, 2nd NL West, WC
2008 22-38 35-25 22-38 74-88, 3rd NL West
2007 29-31 38-22 29-31 90-73, 2nd NL West, WC
1995 32-28 35-25 30-30 77-67, 2nd NL West, WC
Average 27-33 31-29 23-37 N/A with shortened 1995 season

In a world where baseball seasons are 60 games, which is 37% of a regular season, things do start to change.

From Zero to Two NL West Crowns

The NL West is not a friendly place for the Rockies. They have never won a division title in 27 years and the Dodgers have won seven straight NL West championships. However, if we are only talking about the first 60 games of a season, the Rockies would have topped the NL West in 2017 and 1995. In 2017, the Rockies jumped out to a 37-23 start, which was two games ahead of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. That season would have ended on June 6 when Antonio Senzatela had eight wins, Kyle Freeland had six, and Tyler Chatwood had five. Instead of having to face the Diamondbacks in a one-game Wild Card, the Rockies could have had home-field advantage in a five-game series.

In 1995, the Rockies would have just edged out the Dodgers by a half game thanks to a 32-28 record in the season that started late due to a strike. It would have come down to the last weekend of the shortened regular season with the Rockies beating the Dodgers 2-1 in Los Angeles on June 30 to earn the NL West crown and delegate the Dodgers to the Wild Card. Kevin Ritz would have been the hero after throwing six scoreless innings and Larry Walker and Andrés Galarraga served up timely hits to help the Rockies score two runs in the first inning for the win. In reality, it was still a pretty darn exciting season for the Rockies as they earned their first postseason berth in only their third season in existence. Sure, Colorado got beat by the Braves, but the Rockies made it to the postseason, which would be a pretty exciting outcome in 2020.

If 60-game seasons were the norm the last few years, there would be no streak of seven straight NL West titles for the Dodgers, who would have been Wild Card entries in 2014, 2016, and 2017, but missed the playoffs in 2013 and 2018. L.A. would have won the NL West in 2019, but Arizona would have taken it in 2013 and 2018, while the Giants would have been the champions in 2014 and 2016. Weird.

On the downside, the Rockies would have missed out on the 2018 Wild Card as the Braves and Phillies would have had needed a one-game playoff to settle the NL East and the Cubs and Brewers would have needed one more game to settle the NL Central. The losers of each would have been the Wild Card winners.

NL West First 60 Games, 2019

Team Record
Team Record
Dodgers 41-19
Rockies 31-29
Padres 31-29
D-Backs 30-30
Giants 25-35

NL West First 60 Games, 2018

Team Record
Team Record
D-Backs 32-28
Rockies 31-29
Dodgers 30-30
Giants 30-30
Padres 26-34

NL West First 60 Games, 2017

Team Record
Team Record
Rockies 37-23
D-Backs 35-25
Dodgers 35-25
Giants 25-35
Padres 23-37

Standout 60-Game Seasons

In the seasons when the Rockies have made it to the playoffs (1995, 2007, 2009, 2017, and 2018), they had good records. Therefore, it’s only logical that they would have impressive 60-game stretches. The best 60-game performances (probably in Rockies history, but definitely since 2000) came in 2009 when the Rockies went 42-18 from June 4 to August 10. The Rockies were 20-32 before the impressive run, one that helped them finish with a 92-70 record — which was second best in the NL West, but good enough to earn a Wild Card. That season, the Rockies started off 28-32. It helped having Troy Tulowitzki, Ubaldo Jiménez, and Todd Helton and the fresh memories of 2007. The Rockies also rode an 11-game winning streak in June that helped fuel the run. A winning streak like that in 2020 would be huge.

The most famous streak in Colorado history is the first Rocktober in 2007 when the Rockies went 20-8 in September — including 11 wins in a row — and then cruised all the way to the World Series. That season, the Rockies started out 29-31, which was also their worst 60-stretch of the schedule. In the final 60 games of the season, they won 38 out of 60 games.

Individually, two Rockies would have finished with batting averages over .400 with Andrés Galarraga in 1993 and Larry Walker in 1998. The most impressive feat in a 60-game stretch is Ubaldo Jiménez’s stellar start in 2010. His ERA was 0.93. Can you imagine how you would feel if a current Colorado starter had an ERA under one in 2020? I would be ecstatic for an ERA under three! Jiménez was 11-1 through his first 12 starts in the 60-game frame, including the only no-hitter in Rockies history in April against the Braves. He pitched two complete games, gave up nine runs in 87 13 innings, had 78 strikeouts compared to 29 walks, and was holding hitters to a slash line of .176/.257/.254. That earned him the honor of starting the All-Star Game. If Jon Gray or Germán Márquez can put up numbers half that good in 2020, the Rockies could be in position to fight for a playoff spot.

Takeaways

The common wisdom says that the Rockies chances of making the playoffs in a 60-game season compared to 162 are better when the season is shorter. FanGraphs shows that it doubles the Rockies’ odds of extending their season from 5.8% to 10.9%.

The longer the season, the more Coors Field wears down pitchers and the grind of altitude adjustments to and from Coors Field takes a greater toll on hitters. When it comes to getting started on a winning track, in the last ten years, the Rockies posted a record above .500 in the first 60 games half the time (2019, 2018, 2017, 2013, 2010). The problem is in the extended slumps, from which teams just won’t have time to recover from in 2020. Only once in the last decade have the Rockies had at least a 30-30 mark as their worst 60-game stretch. When the Rockies posted a 16-44 mark in July, August, and the first eight days in September in 2019, it shows how horrible a 2020 season could be.

So, the plan should include no extended losing droughts, a couple nice winning streaks, and some standout performances at the plate and on the mound. With stars like Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story, along with the potential of guys like David Dahl and Ryan McMahon, the offense could easily catch fire. With Gray and Márquez pitching like they can, a bounce-back season from Kyle Freeland, and a new and improved Antonio Senzatela, the starting rotation could give the team a chance. There’s just not much room for error, and even littler room time to correct the errors.