UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – First 4 weeks a yardstick for Rockies’ hopes in ‘23

It’s Opening Day! The Rockies begin their 2023 season at 2:10 p.m. against the San Diego Padres. Will you be in the festive crowd?

Just kidding. The game’s at Petco Park, not Coors Field. 

The home opener in Denver is next week, when there WILL be a boisterous throng at 20th and Blake.

But the early-season date to circle isn’t April 6, when the party will include a game against the Washington Nationals.

Rather, it’s April 26, the 28th day of the six-month grind on which they are embarking.

The fourth Wednesday of the new season is significant because, after the first four weeks of this season, the Rockies will have played 19 of their first 26 games against six teams that made the postseason in 2022.

That tough start includes the Padres, Dodgers, Cardinals, Mariners, Phillies and Guardians (until last year, the Indians). And all but three games—those against St. Louis April 10-12—are on the road, where Colorado typically loses about two of every three, on average.

So, if the Rockies’ record is close to .500—say, one victory under or above—it will be reason for hope that they might be competitive, or even a surprise, in 2023. (Worse isn’t necessarily hopeless, so early.)

Record-wise, six weeks of workouts and practice games in Arizona did little to suggest that those “experts” who see another last-place finish for Colorado are underestimating Bud Black’s troupe.

But General Manager Bill Schmidt’s below-the-radar acquisitions might improve the team more than Las Vegas oddsmakers expect.

It was an unremarkable offseason, for sure, but versatile Harold Castro, signed as a free agent in January, looks to be an improvement over Garrett Hampson, last year’s Swiss Army Knife.

And lefty Brent Suter and local product Pierce Johnson (from Faith Christian) represent more experienced pieces in what should be a better bullpen. Both have pitched in the playoffs.

Even better additions may be three players whom Schmidt landed by patiently waiting for spring training to proceed and, as a result, being able to offer real opportunity.

Lefthanded reliever Brad Hand, one-time slugger Mike Moustakas, and speedy, versatile Jurickson Profar, who became a Rockie just 10 days before this opener, all come with post-season experience, like Suter and Johnson. 

That’s important on a team with only four holdovers from the last time the franchise played beyond Game 162, five long years ago in 2018, plus Kris Bryant, who won the National League Most Valuable Player Award when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.

Hand found a job with the Rockies after Lucas Gilbreath was lost to Tommy John surgery. He pitched in last year’s World Series, effectively, and has been an All-Star.

Moustakas, who batted .304 in the World Series when Kansas City won it in 2015, was deemed worth a flyer after Brendan Rodgers injured his shoulder early in the spring, requiring surgery. “Moose” showed enough to think he might make a nice comeback after three injury-marred years in Cincinnati.

And ex-Padre Profar, who was languishing in free agency despite a strong season in San Diego in ‘22, was hired after Sean Bouchard went down. He’ll hit leadoff and play left field. Most importantly, he’ll allow top prospect Zac Veen to continue growing instead of being rushed to the big club.  

It will take more than Schmidt’s judicious supplements, of course, to turn these Rockies into a .500-or-better club.

Bryant, who will move to less-demanding right field with Profar in spacious left, must play the full season after making only 42 games his first year in Denver. (He says he’s 100%.)

Precocious shortstop Ezekiel Tovar must live up to his billing as a Rookie of the Year Award candidate. (He doesn’t have to win, just legitimately be in the conversation.)

German Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela (after he returns sometime in May) must form the starting rotation nucleus that Schmidt thinks they can be; Ryan McMahon must blossom as a hitter; Elias Diaz must produce all six months, not just occasionally; and C.J. Cron must shake off his 2022 post-All-Star Game funk.

Oh, and Charlie Blackmon must be the Chuck Nazty of old, not the CN who is old.

Yes, it’s a long list, and I could go on but won’t. Between now and the 27th of April, we should get an idea of how much the newcomers will contribute and how many of the “musts” are likely.

Play Ball!

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.