Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Taking Stock: How to Beat the Rox

Over the past three and a half years, we've all gone through a lot of changes as Red Sox fans: we've had our outlook fundamentally changed by a miracle string of victories, sworn we could face adversity without the passionate rages that characterize our past, had those promises shatter like a glass beer mug hitting the floor during one of the many draw-dropping, heart-breaking collapses of 2005 and 2006, come to terms anew with the passion that never left our hearts, seen our faith tested when our GM left in an ape suit, when our star prospect came down with cancer, when our injury-plagued team hit its nadir over eight games in August and tumbled into third place. Three and a half years later, we're better fans: we still care a whole lot freakin' lot, but we're not so crazy, and we don't give up so easily. We've grown, and we should be proud of it. And now we're back in the World Series.

We're facing a team that may not have the same history as the Red Sox had coming into the Fall Classic, vintage 2004, but definitely has that same fire, coming out of nowhere at the last second to pile on win after win, capture wild card and National League pennant, sweep all comers and generally surprise everyone. With their large crop of home grown young players, much smaller overall salary, and inexperience with the limelight, the Rockies are the true underdogs, darling of non-New England fans who love to see the David and Goliath story reenacted once again. I'm not saying we should root for them to win, though; it's just good to know what we're facing on an emotional level. Now for the stats:

Season Record
Thanks to Bud Selig, Boston's actually faced Colorado this year, and thanks to wretched performances by pretty much everyone on the team except for Tim Wakefield (who won't be on the World Series roster), the Rockies left town with a 2 and 1 record against the Sox, while we put up posts with clever titles. Of course, that series fell in the middle of a 54 game stretch where Boston played .500 ball (how did they win the AL East again?), so we can hope that it's not indicative of World Series performance. Otherwise, we're completely screwed.

Batting Versus Pitching
The sample sizes in question between both teams are absolutely useless, I'm going to focus on post-season stats instead. There are three things that interest me:
  1. Colorado put up a 2.33 ERA and a .172 batting average against when playing Philadelphia in the divisional series, and a 1.89 ERA and a .254 batting average against when playing Arizona in the championship series. Arizona was not a particularly strong hitting team this year, but Colorado made both teams look absolutely silly at the plate. The Rockies' game one starter is Jeff Francis, a 26-year-old who posted slightly above average numbers in 34 starts this year, but gave the Sox screaming heebie-jeebies over five innings back in June. Their game four starter is Aaron Cook, a 28-year-old who posted slightly above-average numbers in 25 starts, but who hasn't pitched in two months because of an injury. Somehow this translates to pitching domination in the junior hitting league. If the Sox offense keeps ticking like it did over the last three games of the ALCS, that pitching advantage might be for naught, which is good because...
  2. ...the Rockies hit poorly in the NLDS and wretchedly in the NLCS, cracking a total of 57 hits over 236 at-bats. That's pretty wretched, and wouldn't seem to be a sign of a vibrant offense, except that about half of those hits turned into runs. Boston had a higher success rate overall, but they had four games where they won by seven or more runs, and they've had a much more productive offense in 2007. Colorado seems to have the ability to be productive when it matters, and they'll be a huge threat if they're allowed on the base paths.
  3. Much has been made of the Rockies and their Christian clubhouse, how the team might be operating under a divine mandate to win everything. That may be the case, but remember: we have Curt Schilling, who's more avid about his religious beliefs than 10 Matt Hollidays, and prays on the mound before making a start. Who knows: speculation about who will win might be a moot point when Schilling takes the mound in Game 2, as Jesus might suddenly decide He prefers Armageddon to trying to pick favorites.
Both teams in this series live and die by pitching; the Rockies because they can't seem to hit anything, the Red Sox because they need to keep the Rockies from scoring any runs, because the offense might just disappear in the face of unknown starters. Assuming we all survive Game 2, I'm calling Red Sox in seven.