👋 Hello, Saturday! Take us out to the ball game.

  • Axios sports writers Jeff Tracy and Kendall Baker make a special Denver appearance to welcome us to baseball season.
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⚾️ The good news is the Rockies can only exceed expectations this year.

Today's newsletter is 1,161 words— a 4.5-minute read.

1 big thing: So you're saying there's a chance

C.J. Cron, Alan Trejo, Ezequiel Tovar and Ryan McMahon high-five after the Rox beat the Padres on opening day. Photo: Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Rockies baseball is back! But not to rain on your parade, the season might not end in a World Series.

State of play: Coming off a 68-94 season, the Rockies are projected for an MLB-worst-tying 67-95 record.

  • If they fall just a few wins shy of that projection, they could be looking at the first 100-loss season in franchise history.

Yes, but: That doesn’t mean there's nothing to look forward to this season. For starters: Year two of Kris Bryant’s seven-year, $182 million contract will (hopefully) look much better than year one.

  • Injuries robbed Bryant of all but 42 games last year.
  • Now, he’s coming off a spring that saw him mash four home runs in just 37 at-bats — flashes of the player that won Rookie of the Year in 2015, MVP in 2016, and hit 25 homers and made the All-Star team just two years ago.

Plus … There are some exciting young prospects who will get ample playing time this year and could form the core of the post-rebuild roster.

  • Elehuris Montero (24 years old), acquired in the Nolan Arenado trade, should be the everyday third baseman after a stellar spring.
  • Ezequiel Tovar (21), MLB’s No 25 overall prospect who was signed by the Rockies out of Venezuela in 2017, is the starting shortstop.
  • And Zac Veen (21), an outfielder with plenty of pop who was drafted ninth overall in 2020, should get brought up later this summer to make his MLB debut.

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2. A season of change

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Baseball is here at last, and fans and players alike are about to experience a season unlike any before, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

What to watch: MLB implemented four major rule changes this offseason in an effort to decrease the length of games and increase the action.

  • Pitch clock: There will be a 30-second timer between batters and 15 or 20 seconds between pitches depending on whether the bases are empty.
  • Shift restrictions: In an attempt to increase the batting average on balls in play, defenses must have a minimum of four players on the infield dirt, with at least two on either side of second base.
  • Limited pickoffs: Pitchers may only disengage from the rubber twice per at-bat with a man on base. If they try a third time and the pickoff is unsuccessful, the runner advances a base.
  • Bigger bases: 15-inch bases have been replaced with 18-inch bases, reducing the distance between first and second (and second and third) by 4.5 inches to promote more steals.

By the numbers: 40 years ago, the average nine-inning MLB game lasted just 2 hours, 36 minutes. But it has crossed the 3-hour mark in eight of the last nine seasons, reaching a peak of 3 hours, 10 minutes in 2021.

  • The pitch clock has already shown its efficacy in reversing that trend — first in the minor leagues and then during spring training.
  • Games took 2 hours, 35 minutes this spring, which was 26 minutes shorter than last year's average.

State of play: The analytics movement has transformed pro sports. But while it's led to more excitement in football (more passing and less punting), it has robbed baseball of the action that used to be a hallmark of the game.

  • Steals disappeared (50-year low in 2021 at 0.46 per game) because it wasn't worth running into an out on the bases when the launch-angle revolution meant the next batter was likelier than ever to hit a homer.
  • Hits were taken away by eerily well-positioned defenders who became the bane of many lefties' existence. Thanks in part to the shift (now banned), last year's MLB batting average (.243) was the lowest since 1968.

What they're saying: MLB hopes these new rules will "free up the players to put on a show," as actor Bryan Cranston says in one of MLB's new promo spots.

The big picture: While these on-field changes will alter the flow of games, one major off-field change will alter the standings.

  • For the first time since interleague play began in 1997, the schedule will be balanced, meaning all 30 teams will play each other at least once.
  • As a result, teams will play 46 interleague games (up from 20) and 52 division games (down from 76). This is welcome news for teams in stacked divisions like the AL East.

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3. Take me out to the ball game

If you make it to a game, be sure to get a selfie with Rockies mascot Dinger. Photo: John E. Moore III/Getty Images

After a six-game series on the road, the Rockies host the Washington Nationals in their home opener April 6.

Situational awareness: This is the Rockies’ 30th year, but the first year the team will face all 29 MLB opponents.

  • You can check out the full schedule on MLB.com, but if you’re going for the promotions, we’ve highlighted a few fan favorites:

🚩 April 9: 30th anniversary pennant for the first 20,000 fans.

🃏 May 28: 30th anniversary baseball card set for the first 15,000 fans.

🧢 June 11: 30th anniversary trucker hat for the first 15,000 fans.

👜 June 25: City Connect tote bag for the first 15,000 fans.

👤 July 29: Kris Bryant Jedi bobblehead for the first 15,000 fans.

👕 Aug. 19: Todd Helton jersey for the first 17,000 fans.

👤 Sept. 2: Charlie Blackmon bobblehead for the first 15,000 fans.

🌭 $1 hot dog coupons go to the first 10,000 fans on May 25; June 8; Aug. 2; Sept. 13.

4. National League preview

Data: FanGraphs; Table: Axios Visuals

The National League has crowned a different champion in each of the past four years — most recently the Phillies after their surprise October run. Will that streak continue?

What to know: Each team in five words or less…

  • Braves (projected record: 93-69): Young core ready to dominate.
  • Padres (92-70): This roster is absolutely stacked.
  • Mets (90-72): Cohen spends; can he win?
  • Dodgers (88-74): Not favored? A refreshing change.
  • Cardinals (87-75): Lars Nootbaar breakout incoming.
  • Brewers (86-76): Pitchers are legit. But offense?
  • Phillies (85-77): Gained Trea, but lost Rhys.
  • Giants (83-79): Lineup could sure use Correa!
  • Marlins (80-82): Almost contenders. This the year?
  • Diamondbacks (78-84): Bold prediction: wild card team.
  • Cubs (77-85): Can Bellinger regain MVP form?
  • Pirates (75-87): Oneil Cruz, Statcast superstar.
  • Reds (70-92): Sneaky talent, but still rebuilding.
  • Nationals (67-95): They'll always have 2019.
  • Rockies (67-95): So. Many. Injuries. Bummer.

Awards predictions:

  • MVP: Juan Soto (LF, Padres)
  • Cy Young: Spencer Strider (RHP, Braves)
  • ROY: Corbin Carroll (LF, Diamondbacks)

Thanks to editor Holly Moore and copy editor Bill Kole, who's a Red Sox fan (sorry.)