As short as the season was, it was least symmetrical. The Rockies started the year with an 11-3 run, numbers now nearly as fabled as the 21-of-22 stretch to make the World Series in 2007. But the bookend to the season was an 11-3 loss to the cellar-dwelling D-backs on the final game of the regular season.
We should have seen it coming. In a city craving a Mile-High miracle, we were blinded by the statistical oddities that come from a two-week sample, believing a .400 season was imminent — even half-hoping the .500 mark could be in reach in Charlie Blackmon’s torrid season start.
But the only .400 threshold the Rockies reached was to barely eclipse the mark for its winning percentage. The only other time they started a season 11-3 was the forgettable 2011 season, when the Rockies finished 73-89, 21 games out, in fourth place, with a .451 winning percentage.
For comparison, the dreadful 2019 season found the Rockies finishing at 71-91, a .436 mark, 35 games behind the pace in fourth place.
And for perspective — remember perspective? — the 2020 model finished at 26-34, with a .433 winning percentage 17 games behind the Dodgers in, you guessed it, fourth place.
We lost one of baseball’s most cherished tools to the pandemic-shortened sprint of a season. We lost perspective. And if the Rockies front office chooses the easy excuse of calling 2020 an anomaly season under pandemic protocols, they’ll be dooming themselves to three-peat history.
As excited as Rockies fans got after 14 games, shortstop Trevor Story wouldn’t even allow himself to get excited about the milestone setting pace he put in the books at season’s end, finishing with his 15 steals and 11 homers serving as the 60-game equivalent of a rare 30-30 season, with 30 homers and 30 steals.
“I wouldn't say I had that kind of season,” Story told the Daily Planet, rejecting the projecting of a short sample to characterize a full season. “Until you do it, until you actually see the numbers on paper, then I don't think you ever feel like you did it. It’s something to build on for next year, hopefully.”
Building for next year is all that’s left for a team that couldn’t hit in the clutch and had the league’s lowest ERA at 5.59. But as long as we’ve already lost perspective, here are a few other things we could lose from 2020:
•The 16-team playoff field, allowing the Brewers and Astros to both make the post season while finishing two games under .500. There are 30 teams in baseball, and to have more than half of them make the playoffs diminishes the meaning of October baseball.
•The three-batter minimum relievers must face in an inning before the manager can make another call to the bullpen. This rule change was put in place pre-pandemic, but after a 60-game sample, send it to the scrap heap.
“It changes the strategy of how you use your relief pitchers, and really the type of relief pitchers that you can put together on your roster,” manager Bud Black said. “That’s been different than anytime in the history of the game.”
•The designated hitter in the National League. It makes most things easier, but sports isn’t about making things easier; it’s about overcoming self-imposed obstacles for the fun of it. Matt Kemp is a fan, knowing it’s a way to increase his opportunity to help a team like the Rockies at this late stage in his career. But Blackmon remains old-school on the subject.
“I used to be very against the DH in the National League, and now I'm somewhat less against the DH,” Blackmon said. “I'm not ready to say I'm pro-DH. I do really like the difficulties not having it poses for a manager. It's much harder to navigate a game, and it gives your manager a competitive advantage, if you have a better manager than the other team when there is no DH.”
•The extra-inning rule of starting each extra inning with a man already on second base.
“It's not baseball to me,” Kemp said. “That's not how I came up. That's kind of weird to me.”
The Rockies were 1-1 in extra innings in 2020, and Bud Black admitted to a fondness for the new twist.
“I sort of liked it,” Black told the Planet. “From what I've heard inside the game, I think it's been favorable, because it does add a little element of immediate excitement to the game at the end of nine innings. The only thing I might tweak is that maybe play a couple innings as normal, and then maybe have something in line in either the 11th or 12th inning.”
TAKE 2020 — PLEASE!
If nothing else, 2020 reinforced the integrity of the 162-game season and the proven pattern of good teams enduring the blips and bumps of short stretches to emerge as playoff caliber contenders. It only took the Rockies 60 games to successfully seek their level, and for a core of players that can still remember the taste of a purple-pinstriped postseason, that level is unsatisfactory.
“I don't know what's going to happen next year, but I assume there's going to be some changes,” Nolan Arenado told the Planet the day he announced he was ending his season a week early due to a left shoulder injury he’d played through for most of the season. “The season was a learning experience. I need to get better. I need to grow as a player. Not that I wasn't prepared. I believe I was, but it just shows you that you got to get better. This game is humbling. I got to find a way to continue to learn and grow.”
The Rockies focused on earning an unlikely postseason berth until the final weekend, when they were eliminated in a double-header sweep in Arizona. But it would be denial to think the same bunch that has finished fourth twice in a row has the answers for a 2021 turnaround.
“We have really good players, but it hasn't equated to wins the last two seasons,” Story said after the season finale, explaining that the Rockies will need a mixture of better performances and better players to change the results. “It's hard to say exactly where to go or what to do or who to add.”
The Rockies have shown for two seasons that they can be an exciting team— when they’re fighting to stay out of the cellar, playing nearly .500 ball (11-13 in 2020) against teams that are also under .500. But not so much when they’re competing for a playoff spot, going 15-21 against teams with a .500 or better record.
“We got to make sure (the bullpen) gets turned around,” Black told the Planet about a relief squad whose 6.77 ERA was 29th in baseball. “They have to be consistent over 162 games. That's a weakness, so we got to address that. And hopefully guys bounce back.
“Offensively, some of our younger players didn't progress like we had hoped. And we had some guys have down years, and we didn't we didn't really hit in the clutch,” Black added. “I still think there's a core of players that can match up with any other team's core players. We have a number of starting pitchers who can match up with other teams’ starters. … Is (the way we played in 2020) what this team is? I don't think so. All these guys are capable of having good seasons. But to have a good season, a lot of guys have to have good years. A lot of guys, not just half the group or a third of the group. Good seasons are a result of numerous guys having good years. And these last two years that didn't happen.”
Those core players found something to remember from 2020, but it didn’t often show up in the box score.
“The gratitude — for me, has been a big thing this year, because with all the things that have been going on in our country, we get to come play baseball each day, so I'd say we're pretty blessed,” Story told the Planet as he reflected on the strange season. “The thing I'll appreciate is the fans. Man, I miss the fans, miss the noise, the momentum, the energy that they bring each night. That's a lot of reason why we play this game, and I wanted to go out there and play so they could watch and see us from afar, but in person is different. We love them and miss them big time.”
That was never clearer than after the final home game, a victory over the Dodgers, when for the first time in franchise history the Rockies had no reason to take that celebrated lap around the stadium to thank their fans.
“It's been a weird year, right?” Black told the Planet after the non-lap. “Knowing how passionate the fans are about the Rockies, it's such a bummer, right. But the reality is the virus got us this year, in a lot of ways. I feel bad for the fans not being able to watch our players, and I wish they could have been here to appreciate this when it was a roller coaster. Emotional at the end obviously and, you know, hang on tight. I know that our fans would have been into it, a day like today, a good win on our last home game.”
Arenado may have summed up the roller coaster season that nearly never happened as well as anyone.
“I’m very proud of Major League Baseball and the Union for being able to get the season going and hopefully be able to get the finish the playoffs,” Arenado told the Planet as his season ended. “It was great that we were able to bring some joy to some fans. Obviously, struggling as a team was disappointing, and my personal struggles were disappointing also. So it's kind of a weird year. Not the proudest year for myself, that's for sure. Whenever this year is over, I'll be happy to move on to 2021.”