Wednesday, October 24, 2007
If I were a betting man (and the odds weren’t 2:1), I’d probably put my money on the Red Sox to win the World Series. But my optimism is countered by a massive pessimism, built up from years of watching the Sox fail.
The Red Sox are the favorite, but not by much, in my mind. Anything can happen in the playoffs, and any team can beat any other team, as the Cardinals demonstrated last year.
The Rockies have several advantages in their favor.
The long lay off:
Everybody is saying that the long break the Rockies have had to “endure” will leave them cold, and out of rhythm. This is possible, but it could also prove to be an advantage for them. They are physically and emotionally fresh. It isn’t as if they’ve been lying around all day long in their Denver home, watching TV and drinking Coors Light. They’ve been practicing and playing intrasquad games. They haven’t been worn down by flights to and from Cleveland, 5 hour games, and nerve racking tension.
And how long do cobwebs last when they’re shaken loose? If the Rockies are rusty, they will probably find their form after a few innings. And they might all be rusty at the plate, but if Francis is on his game, what will that matter? And don’t starting pitchers have lay offs in between EVERY start?
The Red Sox will be putting Josh Beckett on the mound in Game 1, followed by Schilling, then Matsuzaka, then Jon Lester. Beckett has been lights out this post-season, but after that, performances have been (I can’t resist) rocky.
Schilling had a great start in the ALDS, then a poor Game 2 in the ALCS. He pitched well in Game 6, but how difficult is it to pitch when your teammates give you a big lead? Matsuzaka’s 5 innings of work in Game 7 was stellar compared to his previous playoff outings. And what the hell is Jon Lester going to do? You want to talk about rust, Lester hasn’t started a game since September 26.
Jeff Francis had a solid ERA (4.22 ERA in Colorado, not too shabby) and has been the best pitcher on the Rockies this post-season, winning both of his starts, which were both on the road. He doesn’t have the playoff pedigree of Beckett, but he matches up well. Moreover, he’s pitching better than Sabathia or Carmona were. Much better.
Ubaldo Jimenez has also pitched well in 2 starts. Unlike Schilling, Jimenez has been consistent this post-season.
Josh Fogg (from Lynn, MA) is 2-0, with a relief appearance for a win, and a win in his first start of the post-season. He’s allowed 1 run in 8 innings. He’s also kept his pitch count low at 13.75 pitches per inning. This is essential to do when facing the Red Sox
The Red Sox bullpen has been carried by Papelbon-Okajima-Timlin. Apart from this trio, the Sox bullpen has been dreadful. Gagne sucked, Delcarmen was inconsistent, Lopez was atrocious, and Lester struggled. The Sox lose Lester to the rotation, and Kyle Snyder takes Tim Wakefield’s roster spot; but most of the bullpen is still the same. Lights out at the top, crap at the bottom.
In their 7 post-season wins, the Rockies have not had their starting pitcher go 7 innings or more. They’ve gotten quality starts, but they’ve relied on their bullpen extensively.
Closer Manuel Corpas has allowed 1 run in 8.2 IP. He’s recorded 5 saves, has struck out 6, and has walked a big fat 0.
Latroy Hawkins has pitched 3 scoreless innings of relief. Brian Fuentes had one bad outing, but has otherwise pitched very well. Ryan Speier has allowed 1 hit in 2.1 innings of work. He also got a Save. Matt Herges has pitched 3.1 scoreless innings.
These are all small sample sizes for the Rockies, but that’s the point. They’re small because they’re undefeated in the playoffs. And they’re undefeated because their starting pitchers have done well, going 6+ innings, and turning it over to a bullpen that has been next to untouchable.
D-Fense! D-Fense! D-Fense!
The Rockies do not give you extra outs. In the ALCS, we saw the Indians make some great plays early in the series and keep the Red Sox bats stymied. Then their gloves left them and the Red Sox capitalized.
The Red Sox have a very opportunistic lineup. Extra outs will lead to extra runs.
The Sox, on the other hand, have some defensive liabilities. Manny Ramirez in a spacious Coors Field outfield might be one of the most entertaining things on television this October. And Julio Lugo sucks.
Home Field Advantage
Everybody is talking about the atmosphere at Fenway Park, and how much of an advantage that is. Folks, this ain’t football. Croud noise doesn’t disrupt the snap count, or cause false starts. And the Rockies are professional athletes. They’re not intimidated.
The Rockies might have the biggest home field advantage when the series goes to Denver. The Red Sox will have to sit one of their three best hitters EVERY night. Either Youkilis, the guy who hit .500 in the ALCS; Ortiz, the biggest clutch hitter on the team; or Lowell, the most consistent hitter for the Sox this season. This is a massive edge for the Rockies.
The Red Sox outfielders will also have to deal with fly balls that travel farther than they normally would. A well struck ball at Coors Field travels about 7 to 10% more than at sea-level. JD Drew has experience playing the outfield there, and Jacoby Ellsbury has speed to make up for misjudging a fly ball, but what about Manny Ramirez. All I can say is “Yikes!”
Nobody Knows Them:
Not only do you get the whole “World vs. Us” mentality that sports teams thrive in, but the Red Sox just aren’t that familiar with these guys. The Sox do much better (especially at the plate) against familiar competition. These guys are not familiar.
The Red Sox have a mere 41 career at-bats against Jeff Francis. JD Drew has 10 of them.
The Sox are hitting 1.000 off Jimenez, but it was a single by Julio Lugo in 1 at-bat.
The Sox have seen Fogg 98 times, but 5 of those were Matt Clement, 2 were Josh Beckett, 21 at-bats were by Drew, 19 by Lugo, and 11 by Cora.
The Sox have 7 at-bats against Manny Corpas.
The Sox have more at-bats against Latroy Hawkins (66), than they do against any Colorado pitcher that isn’t named Josh Fogg.
So as we all know, the Red Sox are the favorite, but it isn’t by much. The Rockies have a great deal of things going for us, and they can definitely beat us. They can even sweep us.