The first-place Rockies open their home schedule on Friday night ready to find familiarity, if not the typical fanfare.
“We’ve got a great ballpark,” manager Bud Black said. “It’s beautiful. I think there’s a comfort factor in playing back home. Hopefully we can draw from that.”
No fans will be permitted in the park as baseball continues into its second week in empty ballparks due to COVID-19. Last year the Rockies ranked fourth in attendance among National League teams and packed Coors Field with 48,404 for the home opener.
Even if the area around Blake Street stadium is abuzz Friday, the park itself will see nothing beyond cutouts of fans and empty seats, ever-present reminders of the pandemic.
The silence on a season-opening road trip seemed to work to Colorado’s advantage. Black noted the difference in big moments, particularly late in games versus the bullpen, when an opposing crowd would have typically brought extra excitement behind a potential home rally.
Rockies relievers own a 1.08 ERA this season, and the staff overall has allowed an MLB-low nine runs. But to Black’s point, they’ve been particularly good in the big moments. In situations defined as high leverage by baseball-reference.com, opposing batters are just 5 for 42 (.119). With runners in scoring position the Rockies are holding opponents with a .152 average, including 0 for 5 with the bases loaded.
“We’re getting used to this,” Black said. “It’s becoming our present norm.”
Now they’ll see how much of their typical home-field advantage translates in those same empty parks. The Rockies largely have a veteran team, used to Coors Field and its dimensions and altitude. Beyond that, they held spring training 2.0 on the field and should be even more used to it than they would be for a typical home opener, as a result.
Of course there’s also the chance this team is just good, regardless of stadium or attendance.
The starting pitching has been solid to spectacular each game. The bullpen has been all but perfect. The lineup hasn’t totally gotten on track, but 13 runs in the past two games in Oakland (and added production from the bottom of the order) might be a sign it’s on the way.
“Our expectations are pretty high,” said catcher Tony Wolters, who is happy with the 4-1 start but notes the lone loss was a winnable 1-0 setback in the opener. “Right now we wish we were in a better spot than we are right now. We’re keeping our expectations high so we can be in every series, every moment."
The situation will grow different Friday, and not just because of the home games. Colorado enjoyed days off on Monday and Thursday this week, allowing Black to skip a No. 5 spot in the rotation and carefully orchestrate spots for his relievers. Now the Rockies enter an all-hands-on-deck stretch, with just one day off from Friday through Sept. 3.
The opening sample was promising. Now the Rockies will reveal what the season might truly bring. That, as much as crowd energy, has them pumped. It starts with a three-game series against San Diego.
"Can’t wait to see what this season looks like for us," Wolters said.