Out to prove 2023 was no fluke, D-backs open vs. Rockies

By Thomson Reuters Mar 27, 2024 | 6:31 AM

Two seasons after losing 110 games, the Arizona Diamondbacks played in the World Series last season.

The stunning accomplishment makes the Diamondbacks an intriguing club as they open the 2024 season against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday night at Phoenix.

Arizona (84-78) squeaked into the playoffs by landing the third and final National League wild-card berth. What followed was a magical playoff run that ended with a five-game loss to the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

This time around, the Diamondbacks are facing big expectations.

“It’s uncharted territory for us, so it’s like, how are we going to respond? How is it going to affect us?” Arizona ace right-hander Zac Gallen said. “If we get off to a slow start in the first month, how are we going to handle it?”

The playoff berth was the first for Arizona since 2017. The Diamondbacks experienced three straight losing seasons before last year’s sudden turnaround.

“I feel like people still don’t respect us,” Diamondbacks center fielder Alek Thomas said. “They probably think it’s a fluke or a ‘Cinderella’ story-type deal.”

Colorado (59-103) is coming off a disastrous campaign in which it set a franchise mark for losses and finished with a losing record for the fifth straight season. The Rockies finished more than 40 games out of first place in the NL West for the second straight season.

Colorado faces long odds of competing for a wild-card spot, but a return to form by veterans Charlie Blackmon and Kris Bryant would at least make the Rockies more competitive.

Blackmon, who is entering his 14th season, all with Colorado, hit 29 or more homers in four straight seasons from 2016-19. He hasn’t hit more than 16 (in 2022) since, and smacked just eight last season.

“I certainly felt I was capable of hitting for more power than last year,” the 37-year-old Blackmon said. “I did hit a lot of doubles, but I like to do everything right, which means when you get a good pitch to hit and you are on time, you can hit that for extra bases. Home runs are better than doubles.”

Bryant, 32, has struggled through two injury-plagued seasons since signing a seven-year, $182 million deal with the Rockies prior to the 2022 season. The 2016 NL MVP with the Chicago Cubs has just 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 122 games with Colorado.

Gallen (17-9, 3.47 ERA last season) is making his second straight Opening Day start for Arizona.

Gallen finished third in NL Cy Young balloting last season when he struck out a career-best 220 in 210 innings. He placed second in the majors in victories behind Spencer Strider (20) of the Atlanta Braves.

The 28-year-old has experienced few struggles against the Rockies. He is 6-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 13 career starts against Colorado.

Blackmon is batting .303 (10-of-33) with 12 strikeouts against Gallen. Bryant has a homer while going 3-for-12.

Left-hander Kyle Freeland will make this third Opening Day start for the Rockies.

Freeland (6-14, 5.03) continues to be an enigma for Colorado. He went 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting in 2018, but he has since gone 27-47 over the past five seasons.

Last season, he allowed career worsts in homers (29) and batting average (.300).

“I definitely had a handful of changes this offseason,” Freeland, who turns 31 in May, told reporters. “It all started with trying to get my velocity back to where I want it to be.”

Freeland traditionally struggles against Arizona. He is 4-8 with a 5.35 ERA in 20 career starts against the Diamondbacks.

Postseason star Ketel Marte is batting .349 (15-for-43) with three homers against Freeland. Christian Walker (9-for-31) has gone deep twice against him.

Arizona went 10-3 against The Rockies last season.

–Field Level Media