There will be no universal designated hitter and no expanded playoffs in 2021, drastically lowering the already dismal odds of the Rockies making the postseason (currently at +15000 tied for 28th worst in the league).
On the other hand, there will be two rule carryovers from 2020 that will affect all teams. A runner will start on second base in extra innings and double header games will be limited to seven innings. Even though 2020 was a weird season that most people want to forget happened, it’s still the only season we have to look at how the Rockies did with these rule changes. For perspective, in 2019 Rockies went 10-6 in extra innings games, 5-6 in 2018, and 2-3 in 2017. The Rockies played in three extra-inning games in 2020 and went 1-2. It’s a small sample size, one that would get laughed out of any serious conversation for extracting meaningful conclusions, but it’s all we have. Perhaps some guidance on strategy can be gleaned from them.
Extra Innings Game 1: Aug. 18, 2020: Astros 2, Rockies 1
This is the one where Antonio Senzatela threw eight scoreless innings and didn’t get a win. Daniel Bard even chipped in a scoreless ninth and the Rockies still couldn’t win. The game went into extra innings tied at 0-0. The Rockies scored first in the tenth when Trevor Story started on second (he was placed on second as the final out in the last inning) and advanced to third on a Charlie Blackmon lineout. Nolan Arenado stuck out, and then Daniel Murphy was intentionally walked in a move that questions all measures of baseball intelligence. Then Raimel Tapia hit a single to center to score Story before Ryan McMahon struck out. Rockies up 1-0.
In the bottom of the 10th, Yency Almonte gave up a single to Yuli Gurriel and then Kyle Tucker hit a sac fly to tie the game. In the top of the 11th, the Astros walked Sam Hilliard and then Tony Wolters hit a sac grounder to move the runners to second and third. Then Garrett Hampson and Story both struck out. Enter Jairo Díaz in the bottom of the 11th and the Rockies tried the same strategy, intentionally walking Carlos Correa. A sacrifice grounder then led to Myles Straw hitting a walk-off single.
Moral of the story: The Rockies pitchers didn’t intentionally walk the first batter in one inning and did in the other. Both led to runs. Rockies didn’t have the clutch hit and the Astros did.
Extra Innings Game 2: Sept. 12, 2020: Angeles 5, Rockies 2
Tied at 2-all, the game stayed that way after 10. Tyler Kinley shut down the Astros, giving up a sac grounder to Albert Pujos, but then posted two strikeouts. In the bottom of the 10th, Tapia bunted Elias Díaz to third, Story struck out, Blackmon intentionally walked, and then Arenado grounded out. In the 11th, Kinley got two more strikeouts, but also issued a walk before giving up a three-run homer to Jared Walsh. In the bottom of the 11th, the Rockies went three-up-three-down to end the game.
Moral of the story: The Rockies tried bunting, but it didn’t matter because there was no clutch hitting like the Angeles had.
Extra Innings Game 3: Sept. 24, 2020: Rockies 5, Giants 4
Tied at 4-4, this one also had a scoreless 10th that featured the teamwork golden sombrero of Josh Fuentes, McMahon, and Hampson all striking out. Bard pitched like his stellar self in the bottom of the 10th, giving up a sac fly, and then two intentional walks to load the bases before producing a groundout and fly out. In the 11th, Hilliard grounded out to move Hampson to third, Kemp walked, and Tapia hit a sac fly for the winning run. In the last frame, the Giants bunted, before Díaz issued a walk. The day was saved when Austin Slater hit into a game-ending double play.
Moral of the story: It really works out better for the Rockies if a fast player like Story or Hampson is the last out and they can be the runner and then Tapia can be involved in bringing them home.
It’s a little too soon to deduct a philosophy that works here, but bottom line, the Rockies need more clutch hitting in 2021, regardless if it’s in extra innings or not. In nine-inning games, the Rockies only had one walk-off win in 2020 (a 4-3 win over the Padres), but on the bright side they only gave up one (a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers).
Shortened Double Headers
The Rockies only had one set in 2020, losing both games to the Diamondbacks in the final series of the season. In 2019, the Rockies were 0-4 in double headers. They didn’t have any in 2018 and went 3-3 in 2017. It’s wise to expect that there will be at least some more double headers in 2021. It’s not like the problems from 2020 are gone. The NBA and NHL are still dealing with COVID postponements and schedule rearrangements. Last year, the MLB postponed 45 games for COVID-related reasons. There may be fewer issues if case numbers decline and more vaccines are distributed, but there are sure to be some postponed games this year as well. That’s not even considering snow days at Coors Field, something the Rockies schedule could confront when starting the season with a seven-game homestand. It all means more shortened games in double headers. This should favor the Rockies, who have a decent starting pitching because the bullpen might not even be needed. But that’s not how it went in 2020.
On the final Friday of the season, the Rockies lost both games to Arizona, 4-0 and 11-5. In game one, the Rockies had six hits, left eight men on base, and went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. Arizona left nine guys on base and went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, but capitalized with an RBI triple and hit a two-run homer. Game two was over before it started, despite Colorado taking an early 1-0 led, as Antonio Santos gave up six runs in the first frame on five hits, a hit batter, and a walk before Jeff Hoffman entered to get the final two outs. Hoffman later gave up three runs of his own and it took five Rockies pitchers to finish this one.
Moral of the story: In theory, this rule should help the Rockies because the bullpen can’t blow it in the eighth and ninth. That scenario never arose in 2020. The big takeaway is as simple as the Rockies have to hit and pitch better. Since learning lessons from these situations is about the same as finding logic in a Yogi Berra quote, might as well end with one: “We made too many wrong mistakes.”
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The Colorado native and former Grandview star will try to resurrect his injury-filled career at high altitude. Another utility player. Another minor league contract.
Law put the Rockies at No. 21. This seems good right? Until you see his reasons that center around the Rockies producing surprise players in the past, so Law decided not to underrate them again. He also says the Rockies don’t share information and without a 2020 season to go off of, why not place them higher? (The Cardinals are at No. 11 if you were wondering about their not-depleted farm system).
A nice little zinger from Colorado’s top official. It’s rough times for Rockies and Broncos fans. Come on Avs and Nuggets!
Polis also expressed optimism about the Rockies being permitted to have at least some fans in the stands on Opening Day in seven weeks.
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