Tuesday, October 23, 2007
After eighty-plus years of futility and disappointment the Red Sox stand on the cusp of their second World Series title. This will be anticlimactic, if they win, after the joy of their 2004 triumph, but no less significant: if the Red Sox win again they’ll have notched two titles and be well-positioned to win some more in the coming years. The Yankees, their dreaded rivals, appear to be heading into eclipse: the classless firing (that’s what it was) of Joe Torre and the potential departures of Mariano Rivera, A-Rod and Jorge Posada suggest that the 2008 Yankees will be in disarray. The Yankees will especially struggle if they cannot improve their pitching staff. With the Orioles continuing to mire themselves in mediocrity, the Blue Jays being unable to turn the corner and contend, and the Devil Rays remain full of potential but without any results to show for it, the Red Sox are well-positioned to dominate the A.L. East for a few years and possibility build a dynasty behind Big Papi, Josh Beckett, and Jonathan Papelbon.
Also on the rise are the Rockies. After making just one post-season appearance in their history, back in 2005 when they were run-out of the NLDS by the Atlanta Braves 3-1, here come of the Rockies, runners of 13 of their last 14 regular season games, winner of the one-game playoff with the Padres, winners of seven consecutive playoff games. The last time of the Rockies lost a game was almost a month ago, when they dropped a 4-2 decision to the D-Backs at the hands of Brandon Webb. Since then, they’ve been perfect.
The Rockies are young and deep and seemed poised to remain contenders for some time to come.
Rockies Batters vs. Red Sox Pitchers. The core of the Red Sox is their pitching and defense. The 2007 Red Sox led the American League in ERA and their fielders tied with the Blue Jays for tops in the A.L. in Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER). The ace of the Red Sox staff is Josh Beckett, the former Florida Marlin, who was 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA in 2007.
Beckett’s stats from this season are pretty impressive: 9.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 4.85 K/BB ratio. He’s having a career season and he’s been especially dominating thus far in the post-season: 3-0, 1.17 ERA, 26 strikeouts, 1 walk. The Rockies are going to have a hard time getting anything going against him in Game One. Assuming that the series goes to seven games, they’ll face Beckett three times. The Red Sox haven’t announced the rest of their lineup for the Series, but it seems likely that Tim Wakefield will get the Game Two start in Fenway. I hope for the Red Sox sake that it goes better than his Game Four start in the ALCS when he got bombed for five runs in the fourth inning. The contrast between Beckett and Wakefield might have an interesting effect on Rockies hitters: Beckett’s hard heat vs. Wakefield’s wobbling knucklers.
After that the Red Sox will send Dice-K Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling to the mound. Dice-K was a mild disappointment to the Red Sox in his first season in the major leagues, going 15-12 with a high 4.40 ERA. He got a lot of strikeouts (8.9 K/9) but also allowed a lot of walks (3.5 BB/9). He’ll learn better control as time goes on, but for now he’s hot-and-cold.
Schilling’s strikeouts are on the wane (6.2 K/9, down from 8.7 in 2004, 8.0 in 2005 and 8.5 in 2006), but he’s still got great control on the mound (1.4 BB/9).
I think that the Rockies might have problems with control-pitchers Beckett and Schilling. They are a team that works counts, draws walks, hammers home runs and doubles and occasionally steals a base or two. If Beckett and Schilling toss strikes, the Rockies might find themselves battling back in 0-2 and 1-2 counts.
The Red Sox bullpen isn’t as formidable. I doubt that Eric Gagne will be making any appearances, but Jonathan Papelbon had pitched well.
It is hard not to be impressed with the Rockies lineup. They remind me of the 2004 Red Sox, a deep collection of hitters that didn’t rely on any particular bat to generate runs. Matt Holliday (36 Home Runs, 137 RBI) is their best hitter and potential MVP, but after him there is Brad Hawpe (29 Home Runs, 116 RBI), Garrett Atkins (25 Home Runs, 111 RBI), Troy Tulowitzki (24 Home Runs, 99 RBI) and Todd Helton (17 Home Runs, 91 RBI). Holliday had 125 Runs Created in 2007. This is a brutal lineup that would get a lot more respect if it didn’t play at Coors Field.
I give a slight advantage here to the Red Sox however. If Beckett and Schilling toss strikes and Wakefield’s knuckler dances, the Rockies could find themselves struggling at the plate. Unless the Rockies can break through and get into the Red Sox bullpen, I think that the Red Sox will get the better of this matchup.
Rockies Pitchers vs. Red Sox Batters. I’m not a big fan of the Red Sox lineup. They rely far too much on Mike Lowell (21 Home Runs and 120 RBI) and Big Papi (35 Home Runs and 117 RBI) to generate their offense. To be sure they have other bats – Kevin “The Greek God of Walks” Youkilis is a solid #2 hitter with 16 Home Runs, 83 RBI, .390 OBP – but they rely on Lowell and Big Papi, especially since J.D. Drew has been such a bust (11 Home Runs, 64 RBI).
But any lineup with Big Papi is going to score some runs.
The question is whether the Rockies pitchers can continue their remarkable run. Thus far this post-season they are 7-0, with a collective ERA of just 2.07. They are stingy with the walks (2.76 BB/9) and good with the strikeouts (7.47 K/9). Their ace if Jeff Francis, who pitched well in the regular season (17-9, 4.22 ERA), and very well in the post-season: 2-0, 2.13 ERA, 2.13 BB/9, 8.53 K/9. The surprise for the Rockies has been how well their motley collection of pitchers have pitched. Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Fogg threw quality innings for the Rockies in the NLDS and NLCS and Manny Corpas has been tough to hit.
This is a slight edge for the Rockies, in my judgment. I think the Red Sox will work some counts, but I predict that the Rockies will manage to get ahead and will have the advantage. Contrary to expectations, I expect these games to be low-scoring 3-2 games, instead of 11-5 slugfests.
History: observers commented that had people looked at the Rockies domination of the Phillies during the regular season they wouldn’t have been so surprised by the Rockies three game sweep in the NLDS. Well, the Rockies won two of their three regular season games from the Red Sox, in Fenway, against Beckett and Schilling. After losing a 2-1 pitchers duel to Tim Wakefield on June 12, the Rockies came back behind Josh Fogg and shelled Schilling for five runs in five innings on their way to a 12-2 win the next day, followed by a 7-1 win the next day that handed Beckett his first loss of the season.
It is hard not to look at those three games, which happened so many weeks ago before the Rockies “Rocktober” began, and not see them as significant.
So … what’ll it be? I like the Red Sox pitching better, but I have to go with the Rockies. I think they’ll get to Wakefield in Game Two and sweep the final games in Denver. Rockies in five games.
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