For the second season in a row, Germán Márquez will be the starting pitcher for the Colorado Rockies on Opening Day. Since becoming a regular in the rotation in the 2017 season, Márquez has cemented himself as a reliable ace leading the team’s starters in nearly every meaningful pitching category including wins (41), strikeouts (625), cumulative fWAR (12.2), and FIP (3.84).
This is not just any ordinary Opening Day. After an incredibly uncertain and challenging 2020, MLB is not only starting its 2021 season as scheduled, but also with in-game fan attendance. Coors Field will admit a crowd of 21,363 fans on Thursday. To make it extra special, the Rockies will be hosting an Opening Day game at Coors Field for the first time since the 2011 season. Yes, it’s been a full decade.
At age 26, Márquez is in his prime and has the potential to create a legacy that has not been matched by previous Rockies’ aces. No Rockies starting pitcher has ever started more than two Opening Day games since the team’s inception in 1993. Ubaldo Jiménez comes to mind as the best Rockies pitcher to date. His career numbers as a Rockie are impressive: 851 IP, 56 Wins, 3.66 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 773 SO. Jiménez, however, was traded to the Cleveland Indians during the 2011 season which was also the season in which he made his second Opening Day start. Had he remained with the team it’s quite possible he could have gone on to make additional appearances as the Opening Day starter.
Getting the nod as the Opening Day starter may seem trivial. After all, it’s still just one of 162 games. While that’s true, it’s also symbolic. Márquez has earned his spot as the staff ace. This franchise has spent most of its existence without an unquestioned number one starter in the rotation to hand the ball to. If he stays with the team through the end of this contract (he is signed through the 2023 season), he will likely stand atop the Rockies career pitching leaderboard in several categories.
In last season’s Opening Day game against the Texas Rangers at brand new Globe Life Park, Márquez was fantastic. He mixed five pitches, averaged 96 mph on his fastball and induced 15 whiffs on the day (seven against his slider). Márquez ended up taking the loss on the day but only because his effort was matched by the Rangers’ Lance Lynn who shut out the Rockies. His line was 5.2 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 3 BB, and 6 SO.
This season, the Rockies will face the defending World Series champion Dodgers who will be putting their ace and future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw on the mound. This will be the ninth Opening Day start of his career. It will be a bigger challenge than last season for Márquez, but he has the stuff to keep the Dodgers bats quiet. With all the chaos surrounding the Rockies and their disappointing off season, having a reliable staff ace who has the ability to miss bats is a comforting sight to begin the year.
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In a seven-inning tune up, the last game of spring training before the regular season begins on April 1, the Rockies trotted out a starting lineup mostly comprised of expected starters for Opening Day. CJ Cron mashed his fifth home run of the spring while Josh Fuentes and Connor Joe padded their stats with a base hit each.
Austin Gomber, the fourth starter in the Rockies rotation pitched three scoreless innings and tallied four strikeouts using just 39 pitches. The only damage done by the White Sox was against Carlos Estévez who had struggled this spring. He mustered only eight strikes of 21 pitches thrown.
Almost every major publication has picked the Rockies to finish last in the NL West, and it’s not lost on the players. They are heading into this season eager to prove everyone wrong. When asked whether or not the negative press surrounding the team’s expectations has been discussed, Bud Black has indicated that it has but also said “I’ll share very little about it.” Thomas Harding of mlb.com points out that the Rockies are counting on the strength of their starting rotation and a resurgent bullpen as big factors in surpassing expectations.
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