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Return to Play: Three keys to the Rockies finding success in 2020

In the coming days, each of the major professional sports in the United States will get underway. After being on hiatus due to the coronavirus epidemic, the “big four” will return to the field, court and ice.

As part of this process, Colorado teams will also return to play. The Rockies begin their 2020 season on July 24. The Broncos start training camp on July 28. The Nuggets tip off their eight-game end of the NBA regular season on August 1. And the puck drops on the Avalanche’s three-game round robin on August 2.

Prior to each team getting back to action, will preview their chances of making the second half of 2020 memorable. It begins today with a look at the Rockies.


1. Four starters have to be steady

Last season was a total disaster for the Rockies, which causes people to forget that Colorado earned a trip to the postseason in each of the previous two years. And many of the key pieces to those playoff berths in 2017 and ’18 are still on the roster.

Most notably, the starting rotation remains intact. German Marquez, Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela helped get the Rockies back to winning ways three years ago when each recorded 10-plus wins. They’ll need to have similar outputs this season.

While all four are promising young pitchers, none are dominant. At least not yet. So in a regular, 162-game season, it would be unrealistic to expect any of them to become the team’s first-ever 20-game winner. But they could certainly each flirty with 10-14 wins.

Prorate that type of production during the 60-game season on tap for 2020 and each of the four pitchers needs to record five to seven wins. If they do that, Colorado will be contender.

Last season, Marquez, Gray and Senzatela were respectable. It was Freeland who lost his stuff, winning just three games. He needs to get back to the 17-game winner who carried the Rockies in 2018, including a stellar performance in the Wild Card Game at Chicago, if this season is going to be different from last year.


2. The stars have to shine

Colorado boasts a payroll that is in the middle of the pack in Major League Baseball, which is certainly respectable. The problem, however, is that it’s top heavy. Most of the dollars are tied up in a few players.

That becomes an issue if any of those players have an off year, as the Rockies don’t have quality depth that can help pick up the slack. If multiple high-priced players have bad seasons, it turns into the kind of disaster that came to be in 2019.

Thus, Colorado needs their five big-dollar positional players to live up to their contracts in 2020. That means Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story, Daniel Murphy and David Dahl all have to shine. None of them can have an off year.

The biggest question marks in that group are Murphy and Dahl. The former has been a disappointment since arriving in Colorado, as he was out of shape and inconsistent last season. The latter has had trouble staying healthy, which makes him a risky proposition.

Arenado, Blackmon and Story need to maintain what they’ve done in recent seasons. Murphy and Dahl need to answer the bell. And in a shortened season, none of the five can afford an extended slump.


3. Wade Davis has to bounce back

When the Rockies have made the postseason in the past, they’ve always had a solid closer. In 2007, it was Brian Fuentes and Manny Corpas. Two years later, it was Huston Street. In 2017, it was Greg Holland. And two years ago, it was Wade Davis.

Each of those four years, a late-game lead was all but a lock for Colorado. The formula was simple. The starting pitchers would keep the game close, giving the Rockies a chance. The offense would put up runs, as they always did. And then the bullpen would come in and slam the door shut.

Last year, that formula fell apart because Davis struggled. He was 1-6 with an 8.65 ERA and only 15 saves, after leading the league the year before with 43. That’s simply not going to cut it.

Colorado inked the closer to a hefty contract (three years, $52 million) because he was expected to be a guy who consistently close out games. If he can return to that form, and live up to his deal, the Rockies will have a chance.