Mathematics Did This to Us
You know, if you think about it, it was actually math that killed hope in Baseball. We got a bunch of advanced stats that give us really good outlooks on how guys and teams should perform and that gives us a relatively more accurate way of gauging how successful a team will be. Luckily for guys like me who want to punch math in the face, there is no better sport than Baseball for completely upending the numbers and having something unexpected happen.
There hasn't even been ONE season since the realignment in which the previous six division winners all repeated. There have been some close calls, but still never happened. In that same time span, we have had only one repeat World Series winner and that was the 1998-2000 Yankees who won it three times in a row, so 22 years and counting. The Wild Card is largely to blame for this. It's simply harder than ever to get to the World Series. And now...
There are three wild cards in each league. That is good news for Rockies fans. Let's be honest with ourselves before I launch that particular sentiment with a proverbial trebuchet: The Dodgers are almost certainly gonna win the division this year. Maybe not. They didn't win last year. But they should. If the Rockies are to pull off the unlikely, it will very likely be through the wild card. So be it.
So while we're being honest, let's acknowledge what the average baseball fan and analyst is seeing in our beloved team: A shaky offense that may have gained Bryant and Grichuk but lost Story, a serviceable starting pitching core that lost Gray (replaced by Pirates mainstay Chad Kuhl), and a bullpen so radioactive even the Russians wouldn't touch it. If the team performs at the same levels of last year, we're looking at 75 wins or so.
But Let's Consider the Possibilities:
There is reason to believe that the Colorado Offense will improve in 2022, maybe even at an elite level of some pieces come together. Bryant is an All-Star and there's no reason to believe he won't give us more of that, but it goes beyond just him. Grichuk is a sneaky good grab that adds sorely needed thump to the outfield, and figures to share the DH role with Blackmon (who could very possibly benefit from just focusing on hitting). A healthy Connor Joe could be a lot fun in a full season and Ryan McMahon has proven consistent with the bat and the glove (and could get better with both). CJ Cron had a nice season last year and clearly likes hitting here, and if he can give us 25-30 HR that would be most excellent. Not just these, but we have a catcher in Diaz who doesn't completely suck and in an era where there aren't very many truly great catchers that's actually quite the plus.
From here is where we get into the theoretical we would need to pull off a Rockies run. We need the likes of Hilliard, Rodgers, and Hampson to take steps forward with the bat. They have potential, especially the former two, but they need to actually do it. They don't need to be superstars, but both bats need to be above replacement level. Jose Iglesias needs to be our worst bat, if that's any indication.
Even sans Jon Gray, this is a solid starting pitching rotation on paper. Marquez, Senza, Freeland, Gomber, and Kuhl. Not a superstar rotation persay (perhaps outside of Marquez), but a good one, maybe one of the best we've ever had. And many of them may still have more room before they hit a ceiling. Much of the Rockies success in 2022 will hinge on these guys not just matching their 2021s, but surpassing them, particularly for Freeland and Gomber.
The real question is the bullpen. Bullpens are notoriously hard to predict and even harder to make better. We have some newcomers including Alex Colome, but this is still the team's biggest weakness. This is where we will have to squint and pray the most. Could this group be good enough? Yes. Could they be awful? Also yes. Those of us who drink optimism like a mountain spring have to hope on the former.
The League and New Playoffs
A division title in 2022 would be so ridiculously unlikely it doesn't need to be dwelt upon for very long. Rockies would need to suddenly get nearly 30 games better and the Dodgers would have to regress at least 10 for that to happen. We always hope but we're gonna have to wait for our first NL West title. So how do we find hope?
The answer lies in the new playoff format, which just opened a whole new world. Let's assume the Dodgers win the division, as I see them doing, where does that leave the Rockies? There are now three wild card spots instead of two, meaning the top six teams of the NL get in. Do some 1st grade math and that means to get in you need to beat 10 teams to get a shot.
And this is where I think the Rockies don't just have a shot, they have an honestly good one. They don't have to overcome the Dodgers. Heck, they don't even have to overcome the Giants. Their true competition for this race is San Diego, St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, and whoever loses out of Atlanta/New York (probably the Mets because, you know, Mets). Unless MIA, WAS, ARI, CIN, or PIT goes off and does something that would be even more impressive than a Rockies run, that's it. The Rockies have no more weaknesses than any of those teams listed. The Padres are streaky, the Cubs have no bullpen and a suspect lineup, St. Louis is old and lost a lot on their mound, Philly has almost literally zero defense, and it's the Mets.
Looking at it from this perspective hasn't given me this much hope since 2018 or so. We have a chance. Not a slam dunk or even an easy one, but we have a chance. And we all know that all you need for a shot at that crown is to make it.
So, good luck Rockies fans and here's praying our hope makes it through the heart of summer!