On Thursday, in the first Opening Day at Coors Field since 2011, the Rockies laid out a blueprint for how this roster can win in 2021 that’s based on three things: 1) roster versatility; 2) catalyst production from Raimel Tapia and Garrett Hampson; and 3) luck. While one game isn’t nearly enough for any kind of true measurement of the Rockies’ abilities this season, those three elements were on full display in Thursday’s 8-5 win over the Dodgers.
First up, roster versatility.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am still unsure about this model and have written here at Purple Row about the importance of routine and consistent starting roles. I was even pretty mad that Ryan McMahon wasn’t the Opening Day second baseman. That was until Chris Owings came to play on Thursday.
Opting for the better matchup against left-handed Clayton Kershaw, Bud Black started the right-handed Owings over the young lefty. Owings proved the move to be a good one after going 3-for-3, including a triple, with three runs scored and an RBI. He also happened to make of the best plays of the day in the field, grabbing a grounder behind the second base bag and, from his back, tossing the ball to Story to complete one of three double plays for the Rockies.
If switching up the lineup can lead to that can of success, or even a fraction of it, with utility guys like Owings and Hampson being able to play infield or outfield and guys like McMahon and Josh Fuentes being able to play multiple positions in the infield, the Rockies might be able to create better situations to compete in more games.
Second up, the Hampson and Tapia factor.
The Rockies had four two-run innings on Thursday. With a starting rotation that is beginning the season without Kyle Freeland and a bullpen coming off a shaky 2020, while also still mourning the loss of Scott Oberg to blood clot surgery again, the Rockies offense will need to score lots of runs to give them a chance to win games.
After Owings tripled to lead off the third, he quickly came home to score when Hampson bunted him in and reached base when Max Muncy whiffed on the barehanded pickup attempt. Tapia then advanced Hampson to second, which allowed him to score on Fuentes’s single.
In the fifth, Hampson and Tapia helped fuel the two-run rally. Hampson walked, Tapia got a sacrifice grounder, and Hampson scored on another Fuentes’ connection, even if this one was due to a Corey Seager error.
In the sixth, Tapia game up with a two-out RBI single that knocked Kershaw out of the game. As Bud Black said in the postgame press conference, “You gotta keep adding on when you have the opportunity.”
Hampson finished the game going 1-for-3 with a walk, two runs scored, and an RBI, while Tapia finished the game with one hit and two RBI. That’s the kind of run-scoring production that the Rockies need from them.
Last up, luck.
Hopefully, the Rockies didn’t use up all their luck for the season in one game. The World Series Champion Dodgers had unusual problems. Two errors. Two wild pitches and a passed ball. Germán Márquez walked six Dodgers and only gave up one run. Los Angeles went 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 14 runners stranded. The Dodgers had 15 hits and only scored five runs. The best luck of all might have come when Cody Bellinger hit a home run, but then wiped it off the scoreboard when he ran past Justin Turner who was hightailing back to first when he thought Tapia caught Bellinger’s fly ball at the wall. Instead, the ball bounced out of Tapia’s glove and over the fence, which at first looked like bad luck. But with Bellinger and Turner looking like the two stooges on the basepaths, the Rockies had luck on their side.
We’ll see how long it can last.
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For anyone who felt conflicting emotions on Opening Day when it comes to the front office vs. the players and what it’s like to watch a baseball game at Coors Field with fans again, this one’s for you. Sean Keeler talked to frustrated fans, one wearing a No. 28 jersey with duct tape covering Arenado and others busking on the street with a sign that read “Saving Money To Buy The Rockies From The Monforts! #SELLTHETEAM.”
At the same time, 20,570 fans, plenty of them in L.A. gear, filled into the stadium. After 550 days without fans at Coors Field, many couldn’t wait to get back in.
After a shortened 2020 season, on a 70-degree sunny day in April, and in the final stretch of a global pandemic, Keeler says it best: “opening day felt like one giant baseball hug.”
The win was nice. The Nolan tribute on AT&T SportsNet was salt in the wound. The Larry Walker Hall-of-Fame commercial was gorgeous. It’s just a complicated time to be a Rockies fan.
Kevin Henry takes readers into Coors Field on Opening Day as he returned to a well-known place after a long absence, hearing and seeing familiar sounds and sights. No matter what the circumstances, Opening Days are emotional.
In a new feature this season, MLB.com will be posting a “unique, interesting or fun nugget from each game” for each team this year. Thursday’s stat was how about how good Trevor Story is at home openers. After collecting two hits against the Dodgers, Story is now 11-for-27, which is good enough for a .400 average, with six home runs and nine RBI in his six combined first games of the season at Coors Field.
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