I did the first of these World Series previews way back in that magical, thrilling, stupendous October of 2002. My beloved Angels were taking on the Giants, placing me, a wine country citizen for most of my natural life, squarely in the heart of enemy territory. But still I soldiered on. I skipped doing one in 2003 because who cares about the Yankees and Marlins. Am I right or am I right? I picked up the torch again in ’04 and have kept the streak alive ever since. That’s right, three entire years. Why not make it a fourth?
This year’s Series presents some intriguing questions: can the Rockies keep their hot streak going? Can Josh Beckett possibly continue his utter domination? Will Manny being Manny finally catch up with Manny and bite Manny in Manny’s rear? And perhaps most important, can a team wearing purple really win a championship? It hasn’t worked for the Minnesota Vikings (0-4 in Super Bowls). Here’s the match up as I see it.
For the Bo Sox will be the ramblin’ wreck from Georgia Tech, Jason Veritek. The Sox captain had a mediocre year at the plate, mostly due to being, in fact, a mediocre hitter. He hasn’t faired any better in the postseason, batting only .243 with one homer. But he is a good receiver and the type of guy who is capable of getting the key hit.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, the Rockies will counter with Yorvit Torrealba whose greatest claim to fame is not hitting well enough for the Giants to think he could handle full time duty and making them feel compelled to trade away Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser to the twins for the hated AJ Pierzeiouxayeski. Way to go Yorvit.
First Base –
Kevin Youkilis, first sacker for the Sox, is the type of guy you love if he’s on your team, you hate if he’s not. You look at his season numbers and they ain’t all that impressive. A .288 BA, 16 HR, 88 RBI. They aren’t terrible, but there are a whole lot of guys that have similar numbers. And yet he always seems to be the guy that’s getting the big hit, or the big walk, or the big something. It’s really pretty annoying. He also plays a sparkling first base. Yes, I said sparkling.
In the NL park, I imagine David Ortiz will be playing first, which is always something of an adventure. It should be interesting to see how he does, especially with his bad knees. But he’ll probably hit 12 HRs so I guess that will make up for any defensive deficiencies.
If this were, say, 1999-2004, there would be no comparison here, at least as far as Youkilis is concerned. In that span there were few players who put up gaudier numbers than Peyton Manning’s former backup QB, Todd Helton. Since then, not so much. He went from averaging almost 37 HR, and 125 RBI in that six year stretch, to about 18 HR, and 85 RBI in the last three years. Whether that’s the humidor, steroids, age, or the fact that his middle name is Lynn, I don’t know. He’s still a good hitter, just not nearly as good.
Advantage: Rox (barely) in Boston, Sox in Colorado
Second Base –
Red Sox rookie Dustin Pedroia will be getting the starts at the 2 bag and is from the David Eckstein/Craig Biggio School. He’s probably a little more talented than Eckstein and a little less talented than Biggio, but he’s fun to watch. A scrapper in the purest sense. A likely Rookie of the Year candidate in the AL, he’s had some big hits this postseason, especially his two run homer over the Monster in Game 7 against Cleveland.
The Rockies will counter with Kaz Matsui. Much like the Sony Betamax and Minidisc players, Matsui was a highly anticipated Japanese import that bombed, through no fault of its own. All three are or were fine products and in many cases superior to their counterparts, but the market (NY Mets in Matsui’s case) just wasn’t ready. However, unlike Beta and the Mnidisc, Matsui eventually caught on, in Colorado, and has become very successful. Besides being a key cog in a very slick fielding Rockies infield, Matsui has been a catalyst in the offense, setting the table and stealing bases.
Third Base –
As I mentioned in the diary, Mike Lowell was basically a throw-in in the deal that brought Josh Beckett to Boston. As also mentioned in said diary, he’s been pretty darn good, hitting 40 bombs and driving in 200 in the past two years. This begs the question, has there ever been a trade that benefited both teams as much as that one. Florida dumped Lowell’s big contract along with Beckett, and got phenom, future superstar, and possible championship cornerstone Hanely Ramierez in return, while Beckett has nearly single-handedly pitched the Sox to the World Series. Crazy. He’s hit very well in the postseason, batting well over .300 and driving in 11. He’s also got championship pedigree, having been with the Marlins in ’03.
After having a breakout season last year, Rockies 3rd baseman Garrett Atkins started off ’07 pretty sluggishly. However, he bounced back to put up some very solid numbers. He’s struggled in the postseason, batting under .200 and Colorado will need him to step it up. And if you take the first letter of his first name and put it at the beginning of this last name it spells Gatkins, which is a flippin’ sweet nickname.
Somehow Sox SS Julio Lugo managed to drive in 73 runs while batting .237 out of the number nine spot. At the bargain-basement price of 8.25 million dollars. That’s a joke. That is not a bargain. Lugo is probably a better hitter than that in real life, but this is not real life, it’s the playoffs and so Lugo is batting .229. He’ll steal a bag or two and play decent defense, but still, 8.25 million?
Compare that 8.25 million to Troy Tulowitzki’s salary of $381,000. This kid is going to be good for a long time. In this his rookie campaign, he went yard 24 times, drove in 99, and hit a solid .291. Not to mention that he plays an outstanding SS and has a howitzer for an arm. I attribute his success to me having dropped him off my fantasy team. Only because of Ryan Braun’s pact with the Prince of Darkness will Troy not win the Rookie of the Year. He’s stumbled in the playoffs, but I predict he will come around in a big way. Which of course means he won’t. But I still think he will. Do you follow?
Left Field –
This is where the superstars will roam in this series. Manny Ramirez had a down year, no question about it. He only hit 20 homers and failed to drive in at least 100 runs for the first time in ten years. But despite that, and despite his ill-advised sound bites, and despite his enigmatic personality, Manny can still hit a baseball often and far. In the playoffs he’s batting an even .400 with four bombs. As much as his post-home run preening may be obnoxious (to Red Sox fans also, as he showed by hitting the worlds longest single the other night in Cleveland) the dude is a professional hitter capable of single-handedly dominating a game. Oh, and he’s the all-time postseason home run leader. So, he’s done this before.
Meanwhile, high in the mists Rocky Mountains, a new power has emerged. In the last couple of seasons Matt Holiday has quietly become one of the most feared hitters in baseball and this season, first by his All-Star weekend Home Run Derby performance and now by his postseason heroics, he is thrusting himself into the national consciousness. Matt Holiday is awesome. It’ll be no “holiday” for the Red Sox pitching staff. Get it, holiday?
Advantage: Sox by a Manny Ramirez dreadlock
Center Field –
Patrolling center for the Sox will likely be breakfast cereal tycoon Coco Crisp, though rookie Jacoby Ellsbury started the last two games against Cleveland. Combined they are Cocobury (co-co-berry). Now that sounds like a good cereal. Cocobury will give the Sox solid defense and good speed on the base paths. Crisp has no power and I’m not sure about this Ellsbury kid’s pop. But neither of them will be expected to hit the big fly. Their job will be to get on at the top of the order and make trouble for Torrealba and the Rockies’ pitching staff.
The Rockies counter with mostly Willy Tavares, with a dash of Ryan Spilborghs thrown in. Now before you say, “Ryan what?” let me say, exactly. Actually, I looked up this kid’s numbers and they’re not bad. He hit 11 homers in less than 300 AB’s, so he gives them a power dimension in center that they don’t have with Tavares who has six home runs in his entire career. Tavares has had a couple big catches this postseason and covers more ground in the field. It’ll be interesting to see how Rockies manager Clint Hurdle plays this one. So far it’s been pretty much from the gut, and his gut appears to be quite clairvoyant since it’s paid off pretty well.
Advantage: Sox by a hair
Right Field –
Oh, J.D. Drew. What can we say about you? You were hated as a rookie for holding out after the draft, not wanting to play in Philly. You’ve been maligned for being injury prone and personality free. You were scorned after opting out of your Dodger contract after having a big year (for you). You’ve been tormented this year for not living up to your new monster deal. And then you hit a grand slam and everyone loves you. At least in Boston…for now. Drew is immensely talented and immensely disappointing most of the time. He hit pretty well against the Indians, but can it last?
Who in the world is Bradley Bonet Hawpe? I predict this question is asked approximately 537,683 times during this World Series. As with probably most of guys on this team, few outside the greater Denver area have any clue who Brad Hawpe is. They’ll see his numbers pop up on the graphic during his first at-bat and be astounded. Hawpe hit 29 bombs, drove in over a 100, and hit .290. That’s pretty good for a nobody. Too bad Scott Boras isn’t his agent or maybe he’d have a Drew-like contract ($14 mill as opposed to $400,000).
Starting Pitching –
If you looked at the names on the rosters, most folks would say the Red Sox have a clear advantage, and they probably do. But the gap isn’t as wide as most people think. Josh Beckett is without peer, but the rest of the Sox rotation has a lot of question marks. Curt Schilling has been pretty good, but this is not the bloody sock Schil. Does he still have it? Dice-K Matsusaka has electric stuff but is erratic and may be close to burned out. Can he get it together? Tim Wakefield has been left off the WS roster, which means youngster John Lester will probably get at least one start. Lester is talented and is a great story having come back from cancer, but what can the Red Sox realistically expect? Pencil in two wins on Beckett’s starts, but there are no guarantees for the rest of the staff.
With all the questions surrounding the Red Sox rotation, Colorado’s doesn’t exactly instill confidence either. None of their likely starters had an ERA under 4.00 for the season. As unheralded as their everyday players are, their pitchers are probably even more unknown. Jeff Francis? I thought that was a hockey player. Josh Fogg and Ubaldo Jimenez? Seriously? Ubaldo? Aaron Cook is still alive? Now, that’s not to say they are bad pitchers, none of them had an ERA over about 4.50 either. Fogg, Jimenez, and Francis have all pitched exceptionally well in the postseason with ERA’s well under 3.00. The question is can they stay hot? If Jeff Weaver and that Reyes guy from St. Louis could do it, you’ve got to think these guys may have a chance too, right? Then again, the Arizona Diamondbacks are not the Boston Red Sox. But the Phillies kind of are. Sorta.
What may have been problematic in years past for the Sox, could now be considered a strength. Statistically, the Red Sox had the best bullpen in baseball. Besides Jonathan Papelbon’s emergence as perhaps the games best closer, the Sox have a strong crew in front of him of Manny Delcarmen (ERA 2.05), lefty Hideki Okajima (held right handed batters to an .182 AVG.), and capable middle relief and mop-up men Mike Timlin and Javier Lopez. If Terry Francona can resist the urge to put Eric Gagne in the game at any point, the pen should be solid. If he doesn’t, then the odds are 3-1 a Sox fan takes Gagne out with a high-powered rifle from the top of the Coke bottle as he makes his way to the mound.
Relief pitchers are, almost by definition, relatively unknown and unappreciated. So if you happen to be a reliever for the Colorado Rockies, you’re really unknown and unappreciated. And like their starting pitching counterparts, this Rockies bullpen has been outstanding in the playoffs, caring an ERA under 2.00 into the Series. Can this hodge-podge of up-and-comers, has-beens, and never-were’s continue their success? Time will tell friends, time will tell.
The Sox boast a pretty solid bench. They’ll have speed if they need it from either Crisp or Ellsbury. They have a reliable backup catcher and they have Carrot Top to help keep things loose in the dugout. What, that’s Bobby Kielty? That’s probably for the best. Carrot Top would bring the suspicion of steroids to the clubhouse. Have you seen that guy’s arms! In Colorado it’ll be even stronger as they’ll likely have Youkilis to pinch hit in the late innings.
The Rockies subs aren’t nearly as strong. In Boston I would assume that both Tavares and Spillborghs will be in the lineup, which makes their bench on the road even shallower. Backup catcher Chris Iannetta is a prospect, but didn’t show much during the regular season, but I wouldn’t expect much at this point. That’s right Ianetta, I’m calling you out! Prove me wrong!
Francona will have the benefit of having been here before, which really isn’t good for much. The Boston public and media haven’t harkened back to their Revolutionary roots and tarred and feathered him for anything yet, so he must be doing a pretty good job. The one major knock that I’ve heard on him is that he is sometimes too loyal. If he lets this affect his leaving a pitcher in too long against a frenzied Rockies offense it could spell trouble.
The Rockies are helmed by the swarthy, gum-popping Clint Hurdle (I’ve always wanted to describe someone as swarthy). I knew precisely nothing about Hurdle prior to these playoffs, but what I’ve seen I like. He’s an upbeat guy, he believes in his team and they appear to be buying whatever he’s selling. Winning 21 out of 22 makes for easy salesmanship.
So there it is. I think this could be a very entertaining series. When a team is playing with as much confidence as the Rockies are right now, they have no idea that they are supposed to be the underdog. This Red Sox team is a very complete, well-rounded team and right now is getting contributions from all over the lineup. Both teams seem to be hitting on all cylinders at the right time. Eight out of ten experts on ESPN are picking the Red Sox and on paper that looks like the smart pick. But this is baseball, the less you think about it the better.
Rockies in six.