With another win over the National League Champion Colorado Rockies, the American League Champion Boston Red Sox are only two wins away from winning their second World Series in four years after 86 previous years of disappointment.
Thursday night’s 2-1 victory gives the BoSox a commanding series lead over what was the hottest team in baseball. It’s funny how important momentum can be in baseball, as opposed to how long a very long layoff can be.
Playoff veteran Curt Schilling earned the victory over Ubaldo Jiménez, who clearly struggled with nerves when looking at Jiménez’s 2:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio (as compared to his regular season K/BB of nearly 1.8). Schilling, on the other hand, during his 5.1 innings of work struck out four while walking two.
With baseball’s new playoff format, managers have a much easier decision when it comes to pulling struggling starters in favor of fresher relievers. While Jiménez managed 4 2/3 innings, Schilling only lasted two more outs while bullpens for both teams figured prominently in shutting down their opponent’s offense.
If the baseball gods had anything to do with the outcome of this year’s WS, the rest of the games will play out like Game Two with pitching duels. But more likely, Games Three and Four will probably look more like game one with dominate Boston pitching, like Josh Beckett being completely godlike in dismantling the Rockies fundamental offense.
Rockies starter Jeff Francis only lasted four innings in game one, while also throwing 103 pitches (including three strikeous). Beckett used his arm for only 93 pitches (including nine strikeouts). Jiménez was better with his pitches in using only 91 of them with Schilling a paltry 82. The Rockies need to reduce that pitch count and be more efficient. They need to trust that defense that ranked as baseball’s best.
Ultimately the playoffs reward either power pitching or power hitting. Boston has both, while Colorado has some of both. The reason the Rockies probably won’t win is that, while their power pitching was effective during the National League Divisional Series and League Championship Series, none of their playoff opponents were nearly as deadly as the BoSox. The Philadelphia Phillies were pretty loaded offensively, but their ace was a 44-year-old named Jamie Moyer. You get the idea.
The Rockies wore out the Phillies pitching like the Sox will do to the Rockies. Francis, Jiménez, and Game Three hopeful-savior Josh Fogg don’t match up any which way to Boston’s 2-through-6 hitters of Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, and J.D. Drew. That’s not even including hot lead-off hitter Dustin Pedroia and team captain Jason Varitek.
Who does Daisuke Matsuzaka have to fear in Game Three, besides probable 2007 NL MVP Matt Holliday? An aging Todd Helton who has batted .182 in the playoffs with no home runs or Garrett Atkins who has somehow managed to hit worse than Helton at .171 (also homerless)? Even much-praised Troy Tulowitzki has only batted .212 in the playoffs including his 2-5 hitting in the WS (both hits being doubles in Game One).
How does that compare to Ortiz hitting .375, Manny hitting .500 in the WS, or 2007 regular season bust Drew batting .571? It doesn’t. A very telling statistic in the mental approaches that both teams are taking (experience plays a role as well) is the fact that the Rockies as a team struck out ten times while only taking two walks. The more patient (and more experienced) Red Sox struck out only three times while drawing seven walks.
Maybe the Rockies are trying too hard to make something happen.
If you take out reliever Franklin Morales’ terrible 1/3 inning of work in game one, the Rockies relievers have only allowed four hits in 6 2/3 innings, which is way better than what supposed ace Francis or Jiménez has done.
My advice is to not start Fogg in game three or Aaron Cook in game four, and just to use relievers for 1-2 innings of work at a time. They’re much more effective than the starters, and you could still use the starters in the middle innings. Plus, there are theoretically only five games left with days off every two to rest those hard-throwing arms. Go for broke.
Chances are the Rockies won’t win, and a radical managerial approach for Clint Hurdle in game-planning and game-calling is in order if the Rockies have ANY change to beat the Red Sox. At the season’s start, the Colorado had 75-1 odds of winning the WS, and those young pitchers have finally realized what facing hitting duo Ortiz-Ramirez is like.
With the A.L.’s designated hitter rule in place, any A.L. team automatically has an advantage over their N.L counterpart. Interleague play excluded, N.L. pitches are used to facing weak 7-9 hitters as pitching safety nets. Granted, Julio Lugo sometimes imitates hitting like career pitchers, but N.L. pitchers just don’t have that bulldog mental approach to 1-9 hitters that A.L. pitchers do.
This only applies to the Rockies when playing at Fenway Park, whereas playing at Coors Field eliminates having to stare down Ortiz at the plate for anything more than a pinch-hit at-bat. Having a Rockies pitcher hit might actually benefit the team considering five hitters (Willy Taveras; Holliday, who needs to step up; Brad Hawpe; Yorvit Torrealba; and Ryan Spilborghs) are hitless. The only Boston regular without a hit is rookie Jacoby Ellsbury who more than makes up for those somewhat hitless at-bats with his walks and above-average center field defense.
Games Three and Four will be crucial for the Rockies to try to even the series. But looking at the Fogg-Dice-K matchup, it doesn’t look good in Denver. And even if the Rockies did somehow manage to win those games, they still have to face Beckett and Schilling again.