Strike 1: So there won’t be two parades this summer.

A season ago, the injury-riddled Denver Nuggets got wiped out of the NBA playoffs in the first round by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors. With MVP Nikola Jokic carrying the team on his back – without co-stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr – the undermanned sixth-seeded Nuggets never really had a chance.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche were in the midst of a dominant Stanley Cup playoff run, after having stayed mostly healthy and on track all season.

What a difference a year makes.

In 2023, it’s the healthy Nuggets who rolled through the regular season and into what locals hope becomes a date in the NBA Finals. A first round series win in five games followed by a great second round series opening win over the Phoenix Suns – the favorites in Las Vegas – and the Nuggets are far from home free, but sitting in a good place.

It’s the Avs that have been injury riddled all season, and it only got worse in a hard to swallow first round defeat at the hands of the upstart Seattle Kraken.

For the Avs, a repeat Cup wasn’t meant to be, almost from the outset.

Coming off an extra-long season and extra short summer, the Avs were already skating uphill in their quest to repeat, losing their captain, Gabe Landeskog before the first puck dropped. Dealing with Cup hangover, fatigue and injury after injury just proved to be too much. They emptied their collective tank in a season ending rush to the top spot in the Central Division, and by the time Seattle arrived for the playoffs, Colorado was skating on fumes.

Then the whole Valeri Nichushkin thing happened in Seattle (stay tuned for the conclusion of the NHL’s version of “Unsolved Mysteries” coming up) and the neck fracture to key player Andrew Cogliano and it was clear the ice was tilted heavily against a repeat.

The Avs version of Joker, Nathan MacKinnon, tried to carry his depleted team past the Kraken, and even when he did something spectacular, like slap the game-tying goal past former Av Philipp Grubauer, it wasn’t meant to be. A bizarrely late offsides call – the correct call but something that should have been whistled about two full minutes sooner – negated MacKinnon’s heroics and the season ended with the puck stalled in one corner of the Ball Arena ice.

It’s the end of the season, but not the end of the world, or the end of these Avs. A longer, less chaotic off season awaits. A time to heal up, get some rest, play a few dozen rounds of golf and come back in the fall at full strength and presumably reloaded. No way the Avs front office sits on their hands this summer. They’ll make a splash, and when the water turns back to ice, the Avs will once again be a team capable of providing fans with another parade in the summer of 2024.

In the meantime, it’s their turn to root on the Nuggets.

Strike 2: Every rebuilding project is going to have ups and downs. Typically more downs early, then some ups later on. That’s the hope for the Colorado Rockies. We’re just a month into the new rebuilding season, and so far, the downs have the decidedly upper hand. The Rockies are barreling toward the franchise’s first 100-less season.

Brace yourself. It could get worse before it gets much better.

There has been a little good: Kyle Freeland has pitched well in all but one start, the veteran “back end” of the bullpen has been decent, and there have been some very good signs from young starting pitchers Noah Davis (two good starts out of three so far) and Ryan Feltner (two outstanding starts in a row.) Rookie center fielder Brenton Doyle has made a very good first impression too, and could be a keeper.

Veteran catcher Elias Diaz is off to a hot start (could the Rockies have their first ever All-Star catcher in their 30th season?) and Kris Bryant has been healthy and somewhat productive for the most part, leading the team in at-bats through the first month. That’s a good thing, right?

The bad? Aside from losing 20 games in the first month, there are the struggles of a couple of young players the Rockies front office is counting on. Elehuris Montero won the starting third base job in the spring but had a rough first month (.255, one home run and 21 strikeouts) before being sent back to Albuquerque. He was, well, bad defensively. Going into the season, many observers felt that young shortstop Ekequiel Tovar would continue the tradition of fast starting Rockies at the position (ala Troy Tulowitzki and Trevor Story) and be a strong Rookie of the Year candidate. That hasn’t happened. The 21-year-old is doing fine on defense, but at the plate it’s been bumpy – a .213 batting average and 30 strikeouts vs. just five walks and no stolen bases. (You know that whole “bigger bases will help the running game” thing. Apparently the Rockies missed that memo. They’re last in the National League with just six stolen bases so far.) Unless he lights the league on fire in the second half of the season, Tovar’s ROY campaign is DOA.

As bad as the 9-20 start has been, things could get exponentially worse. In fact, potentially catastrophic.

In order for any rebuild to proceed in a timely fashion (and unfortunately there’s no actual clock for this) clubs have to supplement their drafts with other forms of player acquisitions, like free agent signings (amateur and big money pros) and via the trade market. Rebuilding clubs typically send productive, veteran players to other teams in July in exchange for more and more prospects. If you get more prospects into your pipeline you’re far more likely to find a few gems that turn into productive big leaguers – or even better.

For that reason – the fact that they need a lot more top level prospects – the Rockies have several veteran players that should be trade candidates come July, including Jurikson Profar, Randal Grichuk, C.J. Cron, Mike Moustakas, Daniel Bard and yes, German Marquez.

Problem is, the biggest trade chip, Marquez, is on the shelf with what very well could be an elbow injury that requires the dreaded Tommy John surgery. That would not only end his season, but potentially his Rockies career, without Colorado getting anything back in return.

Marquez is technically a free agent after this season. However the Rockies do have a “club option” in his contract for one more season at $16million.

If you’re the Rockies, you desperately need your top pitcher to be on top of his game come July in order to solicit trade partners, contending teams that could give you a nice package of prospects back in return for a solid starting pitcher.

But not if he’s out for the year. It would be a valuable asset turned almost worthless right at the wrong time.

If it turns out that Marquez does need surgery, then what? Do the Rockies pick up his option and hope he can pitch in 2024? Or do they let him rehab on his own dime and save the $16 million?

Even when they’re trying to do the right thing by rebuilding, the Rockies can’t catch a break.

Strike 3: It wasn’t a banner year for local products in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Neither the Colorado Buffaloes nor the Colorado State Rams has a single player selected during the draft’s seven rounds. Four former Buffs signed free agent deals after the draft – receiver Daniel Arias III, linebacker Guy Thomas, defensive lineman Terrance Lang and tight end Brady Russell will try to go the route of former Buff Phillip Lindsay and earn a roster spot the hard way. Then there’s always the XFL and the USFL to fall back on.

A year after having All-America tight end Trey McBride selected in the second round, and All-America punter Ryan Stonehouse sign with Tennessee as a free agent before ending up being selected 2nd team All-Pro as a rookie, CSU failed to have a single player picked, either. In fact, the ex-Rams could get shut out entirely this time around.

That’s the result of a few factors of course. Remember, New England’s top pick, safety Christian Gonzalez, was selected after spending one season at Oregon and two years at CU before that. He’s one of a handful of potential NFL types who first landed in Boulder, like receiver Brendan Rice, and left for greener pastures (prior to the arrival of Deion Sanders of course) leaving the Buffaloes with a roster full of freshman and sophomores not yet eligible for the draft.

Sanders will change all that of course, booting out the young players and bringing in transfers (who were previously denied admission) and stocking the roster with a whole lot of “one and done” guys, like his son Shedur, for example. The younger Sanders is considered an NFL quarterback prospect and after taking snaps for the Buffaloes this fall, will be off to the league. A good number of incoming Buffs will be expected to follow that path.

“One and done” isn’t just for basketball anymore.

CSU could follow a similar, albeit tighter path. Transfers like receiver Tory Horton might be NFL material next year at this time. Hard hitting safety Jack Howell might get a look at the pro ranks next April, too. Quarterback Clay Millen will be eligible, but given that next year will only be his second season playing, he’d be smart to stay in the Fort for at least another year after this.

The Denver Broncos are always going to be the focus at draft time around here, but it would be nice if the local programs could be back involved, too.