Schedule of games:
Game 1: Wed Oct 24 8:35PM (@BOS); Jeff Francis vs Josh Beckett
Game 2: Thu Oct 25 8:30PM (@BOS); TBA
Game 3: Sat Oct 27 (@COL)
Game 4: Sun Oct 28 (@COL)
Game 5: Mon Oct 29 (@COL)
Game 6: Wed Oct 31 (@BOS)
Game 7: Thu Nov 1 (@BOS)
The Red Sox have yet to announce the starting rotation for the Series, because they have to decide whether it’ll be Curt Schilling or Tim Wakefield in Game 2, with the other pitcher likely starting in Game 4 in Colorado. Schilling is 4-4 with a 5.51 ERA lifetime in Colorado, and Wakefield is 0-2 with a 9.31 ERA in two career starts there, not a fun choice to be making. Should he start a mile high, the thin air at Invesco should cause his knuckleball to lose a little bit of its movement. The Rockies could be taking batting practice on Wake if that happens. On the other hand, Wakefield dazzled the Colorado lineup at Fenway back in June, and could do it again.
There is a little more story line between these teams. Apparently, the rumored deal of Todd Helton for Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez earlier this year was a done deal, but the Sox balked at the last minute when Dan O’Dowd asked for one of Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz or Manny Delcarmen to be included in the deal. What a different season that would have been.
My prediction? Sox in 6.
Setting the Roster
I don’t expect any changes to the roster for the World Series. Personally, I wouldn’t mind swapping out Javier Lopez with Tavarez, but it’s tough to remove a guy at this point, when he’s contributed to the team’s success. Taking away his shot to play in a World Series is a tough one. Call me crazy, but I actually think Eric Gagne could prove useful against a National League team, though I wouldn’t ask him to hold a pressure situation any time soon.
Keys to the Series
The Rockies come in as hot as humanly possible. Everyone knows about them winning 21 of their last 22 games; that’s an amazing streak, especially to continue that in the playoffs is unheard of. And if you thought Cleveland was a young team, get ready for a shock. You might not recognize a good 3/4 of their team, unless you follow fantasy baseball. So how are they doing it? As a team, they scored the second most runs, led the NL in batting average at .280, tied for the league lead with a .354 OBP. The Rockies boast a very young rotation that has just come together in the last months of the season, and a solid bullpen with a lot of power arms. They came in 8th in the NL with a team ERA of 4.32, which is not bad, considering they play at altitude, where balls tend to carry well. They have taken to storing all of their baseballs in a Humidor, which ensures that the balls do not dry out and carry even further in the thin mountain air. While they do have good stuff, their pitching staff is not a strikeout staff; they rely on getting ground balls from their sinkerball pitchers. Having swept the NLCS about a week ago, Colorado is very well-rested, and we have to count on them having gotten a little rusty in the mean time.
This young rotation has been on fire in the playoffs, with everyone contributing. Jeff Francis is a really tough lefty who I predict will give Sox hitters fits. He’s got great command of a low 90s fastball and a biting curve that’s tough to gauge. Their #2, Aaron Cook is a fireballer, and he throws perhaps the heaviest sinker in the majors right now. Then there’s 23-year old Ubaldo Jimenez, who throws high-90s and has a nasty curveball to go with it. He also throws a pretty decent changeup. Josh Fogg is a journeyman, really, and a control/finesse pitcher who we should be able to hit well, should they use him. Franklin Morales is a quality lefty that they will likely move to the bullpen, with the return of Cook.
The Colorado pitchers are used to facing NL lineups, not David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. You can not get past a good AL lineup with just a good fastball, as Josh Beckett learned in 2006. They do have a lot of young arms with very good stuff, but with youth comes control problems and inconsistency. The Rockies pitchers need to be able to throw their secondary pitches for strikes, or else this patient lineup will take them apart. We have to rely on their youth and inexperience to work against them; if they get into trouble, I think their youngest pitchers will fall apart pretty quickly. Advantage Boston.
The Rockies feature a pretty deep bullpen, hard throwers with good stuff. They are inexperienced also, but I don’t think it matters here as much as it does in the rotation. Their closer, Manny Corpas, has had a phenomenal rookie campaign, and tough lefty Brian Fuentes is also there to back him up. Look for them to bring him in to face Big Papi in key at-bats. Jeremy Affeldt and LaTroy Hawkins are hard throwers. They have some big guys here. Jason Hirsh and Darren Clarke are both 6’8″, and Ryan Speier is 6’7″. Apart from the closer, I’d say these two bullpens are about even.
The Rockies offense is led by All-Star Matt Holliday. Holliday is the real deal, a very dangerous hitter who can make contact, drive the ball, and even run a little on the basepaths. Besides him, there is Todd Helton, who is an on-base and doubles machine, and Garrett Atkins, a good hitter with a great power stroke. Troy Tulowitski and Brad Hawpe both hit .291 and had at least 24 HR this season. The Rockies have a couple of pesky hitters in Kazuo Matsui and Willy Taveras, who between the two of them stole 65 bases in 2007. Their bench is stocked with good depth at every position. Like the Indians, they feature a nice balanced lineup. Still, they lacked the power numbers you’d expect of a team that plays at Mile High Stadium. If they’re going to succeed against Boston, they’re going to have to do it by manufacturing runs and getting key hits. Boston has a slight edge here.
This Rockies defense is very good. Their infield is led by shortstop Tulowitski, who as a rookie already has filled the highlight reels with his goodies. Tavarez covers a lot of ground in center, and Hawpe is pretty good in right. One pitfall for the Sox is that when we play in Colorado, Ortiz is going to be manning first base. That’s the only way to keep his bat in the lineup. Ortiz took some practice there before the last series, so hopefully he’ll be up to the task. Look for Kevin Youkilis to come in as a defensive replacement late in these games. Also, the outfield at Mile High is a mile wide. Manny will have to really pay attention not to mess it up there. Getting Ellsbury in left late in games would be a very good idea.
Terry Francona and the Boston team gets an edge here just because of playoff experience. This team knows how to rally once we’re down; the Rockies have had yet to face a serious challenge in the postseason. What if they go down 0-2 games? I think it’s over at that point.
Boston has the edge here, and is expected to win. The Rockies have a big advantage when were playing in Denver, but we also have a big advantage when we play here in Beantown. The Rockies are definitely talented, but they are just a bad play away from losing their confidence in themselves. Just as Cleveland clearly buckled in the last three games, Colorado runs the same risk because of their collective inexperience. If they get off to a great start, the Sox could be in trouble; but if we start well, it is over.