The 2021 Colorado Rockies are not exactly getting a lot of love from the pundits as they enter the season, and not without sound reasoning. Projections were already down on them before “that” trade and they’ve done nothing to improve the roster.
What you now have is a team that many expect to finish as one of the worst in all of Major League Baseball, with many people and many projections even suggesting this could finally be the year the Rockies lose 100+ games for the first time in franchise history. Of course, the players don’t feel that way, at least publically. Kyle Freeland sure doesn’t.
The Colorado native has been through some ups-and-downs in his professional career. After a terrific debut in 2017 where he finished seventh in NL Rookie of the Year voting, Freeland put his excellent command, deception, and fastball-slider mix to good use in 2018, finishing 17-7 with an incredible 2.85 ERA across 202.1 innings, the lowest for a qualified starter in a full season in Rockies history.
He topped it all off with 6-2/3 shutout innings on short rest against the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game, finishing fourth in NL Cy Young voting in the process.
And then in 2019, it all fell apart. His mechanics broke down, his pitches leaked over the middle of the plate, and he got battered so badly, he was sent down to the Minors mid-season. So when Freeland bounced back with a very solid season in 2020, thanks to more consistent mechanics, a more diverse pitch mix, and heavy changeup usage, it was a relief for many. Now, Kyle Freeland 2.0 will be counted on heavily to lead a young 2021 Colorado Rockies team that many see as the worst in baseball.
2021 Colorado Rockies: The Rotation Will Lead The Way
You likely wouldn’t know it if you didn’t actively follow the team, but the best thing about the Colorado Rockies since 2017 has been their starting rotation. The core three of German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, and Jon Gray has been extremely valuable for the Rockies, but all three have never been at peak level at the same time.
Gray was terrific in 2017, but Freeland and Márquez were just getting their feet wet at the MLB level. Freeland and Márquez were Cy Young worthy in 2018, but Gray’s numbers regressed. Gray was great again in 2019, but Márquez was just okay and Freeland was awful. Márquez and Freeland were both good in 2020, but Gray was hurt and ineffective.
The combination of these three 2021 Colorado Rockies will go a long way towards giving this team a sense of identity that they may have lost after the Arenado trade.
Freeland has already begun to take on the role of a leader and the team will need it. The lefty has mentioned how he contacted Austin Gomber early on to talk with him about pitching at altitude and how to get used to the intimidating confines of Coors Field. To the man’s credit, he doesn’t sound too scared.
On the strategy front, the Rockies look like they’re thinking of going with an eight-man bullpen As Nick Groke put it:
Coming off a year where pitchers tossed about a third of their usual innings, some teams have already confirmed they’ll use a six-man rotation as a way to reduce the innings load for their hurlers. The Rockies, ever the traditional operation, don’t look like they’ll consider it, which will put a ton of pressure on the shoulders of a group that has already endured a lot over the years.
The 2021 Colorado Rockies are expected to start the season with a five-man rotation consisting of the aforementioned Márquez, Freeland, and Gray, as well as Antonio Senzatela (who broke through and made major improvements in 2020) and trade acquisition Austin Gomber. With the bullpen always being a source of headache and a lineup that looks like it might struggle to score runs, Bud Black will have to rely on his starters to get deep into the game and give him quality outs past the sixth inning.
In many ways, it will be a throwback to an older era, as the 2021 Colorado Rockies will be extremely dependent on the man who takes the ball to begin the game, in order to have some sort of success. When so many teams across baseball are playing bullpen games and pulling their starters in the fifth inning, the Rockies will ask for seven innings on a daily basis if possible. It’s kind of an overview of the way this franchise operates as a whole. When baseball zigs, they zag.
It’s almost certain that the starters feel that pressure, They likely know that it is on them to keep the games close, to face 27 batters per start, and to give the extremely young and unproven group of position players a chance to turn games in their favor.
As Márquez goes, so will the team. As Freeland goes, so will the team. They’ve become the leaders out of necessity because no one else is in a position to impact games like they are. They will be the constant and continuum that every element of 2021 Colorado Rockies baseball orbits around.
If they can’t overcome Coors Field, can’t keep games competitive against superior competition, or if (God forbid) one or more of the big-four gets hurt for an extended period of time, the 2021 Colorado Rockies are likely to fall apart and confirm every offseason prediction. If the rotation stands on its head like a hockey goalie, however? They may get to play spoiler for better teams down the road, which is more than most think they will do.
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