DENVER -- Shameful. Embarrassing. Exhausting.
These are just some of the adjective grenades lobbed in Major League Baseball's direction over the past three months of disgraceful negotiations. The owners and players have done their best to melt their sport before our very eyes, resisting the chance to capture the public's imagination with a seamless return. Instead of viewing the situation in terms of a one-off negotiation, the sides dug in and treated it like collective bargaining agreement talks, accompanied by the predictable anger and mistrust.
That is not a surprise. That baseball chose to do this during a pandemic -- which could complicate any return -- with civic unrest and 40 million dealing with unemployment was inexcusable. It wasn't just bad optics. It was bad business for the future of the sport.
That said, baseball -- if the players agree -- will return the weekend of July 24 following a three-week spring training 2.0. Nothing about this will be normal, but nothing has been normal in sports since March 11.
For argument's sake, I am operating as if baseball restarts. It creates an interesting conversation. A 60-game season feels gimmicky, joyless. Yet, there is a sliver of purple light for Rockies fans. Colorado should benefit from the sprint to the finish.
PITCHING WILL BE LESS EXPOSED
The Rockies lack pitching. This has been the case for most of the team's history. But this deficiency will be less exposed in a truncated schedule. So if German Marquez, Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland form a solid trio in the rotation, the Rockies will be in the hunt after two months. Last season, the Rockies' starters made stomachs churn, finishing with an MLB-worst 5.87 ERA as opponents batted .282.
Sixty games means fewer starts for fourth and fifth starters, where Colorado has no certain answers. Marquez and Gray were solid last season. The key is Freeland rebounding from his 3-11 abyss. If he can return to his rookie year form -- 11-11 record with a 4.10 ERA -- the Rockies should mirror his success. That means a .500 record or slightly better.
Great teams are built on depth. It's how they wear down opponents over 162 games. The Rockies are not one of those teams. Their bullpen gets exposed over six months. But over two? They have a chance to compete. It centers on Wade Davis bouncing back from one of the worst seasons in memory from a former All-Star -- 8.65 ERA in 42 2/3 innings. If he's functional as the closer -- a huge if -- that leaves the capable Scott Oberg to handle the eighth.
Where this hope can vanish is easy to see -- the sixth and seventh innings during the first month of play when starters will be eased back on pitch counts.
The initial roster might include 30 players, then 26. Adding extra arms is paramount. The Rockies need someone to pop, like Carlos Estevez, James Pazos, Tim Collins or Phillip Diehl. Don't be afraid to use a young starter like Peter Lambert in relief either. Injuries will be an issue with legs as much as arms, so the Rockies should be creative and flexible.
And manager Bud Black must operate with urgency and little compassion. For the Rockies to reach the postseason, he cannot let Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee sabotage a playoff run with two bad weeks. The leash must be short. Like one foot.
LEAN ON THE STARS
In a two-month race, rest is not as important. If players are ready -- and most should be -- Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, Ryan McMahon, David Dahl and Tony Wolters should channel Cal Ripken Jr. If Daniel Murphy is still in shape --he looked much better in spring training compared to a year ago -- he should hit. That makes it easier to stomach his underwhelming defense.
I would like to see a minimum 54 games from these players, and 60 from Arenado and Story. The Rockies' bench is not a strength. Ride with the starters, don't worry about the reserves, aside from a platoon in left with Ian Desmond and Raimel Tapia.
So why do I believe the Rockies have a puncher's chance over 60 games? History says so. Over the past 10 years, the Rockies have had a winning record at this juncture four times and sat at .500 once. They led the National League West by two games in 2017. A look at the past decade:
Rockies, Games Back, Top record after 60 games
2019 31-29, 10.5 games back, Dodgers 41-19
2018 31-29, 1 game back, Red Sox, Yankees 41-19
2017 37-23, 2 games ahead, Astros 42-18
2016 28-32, 7.5 games back, Cubs 42-18
2015 27-33, 8.5 games back, Cardinals 39-21
2014 28-32, 11.5 games back, Giants 39-21
2013 32-28, 2.5 games back, Cardinals 39-21
2012 24-36, 14.5 games back, Dodgers 38-22
2011 28-32, 5.5 games back, Phillies 36-24
2010 30-30, 6 games back, Rays 39-21