Before we actually break down the World Series, we need to consider a couple quick points to illustrate the difference between the AL and NL this season.
First, the AL went 137-115 in interleague play, good for a .544 winning percentage. Over a 162-game season, that would translate to 88 wins. The NL’s .456 winning percentage would translate to 74 wins. Does that mean the average AL team is 14 games better than the average NL team? No, but it does demonstrate the gap in talent between the leagues.
Second, the AL had four teams win at least 94 games this season. The NL didn’t have a single team win more than 90 games.
The Red Sox just finished playing what were probably two of the four best teams in the major leagues, outscoring them 70-36 to go 7-3 over a 10-game span. Add that to their regular season numbers, and they’ve outscored their opponents 937-693. With that kind of run differential, they would be expected to go approximately 111-61 over 172 games, so they’re probably even a little more talented than the 103-69 mark they’ve posted so far.
The Rockies, even with their 42-16 scoring advantage in the playoffs, have outscored opponents 902-772 this year. That should give a team about a .577 winning percentage, which would project to 98-72 over 170 games. The Rockies have hit that number almost exactly, going 97-73.
So, the Red Sox played in the better league, posted a better record and were probably even more talented than their record showed.
The disparity that those numbers paint between the two teams becomes apparent when you look at the individual players. In the lineup, there’s only one position where you would definitely say the Rockies have a big advantage: Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is a lot better than Boston’s Julio Lugo. Colorado first baseman Todd Helton is a better hitter than Kevin Youkilis, but it’s not a huge gap. Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe had a better season than J.D. Drew, but Drew’s shown the ability to match or surpass what Hawpe did this season.
The Red Sox have large advantages at catcher (Jason Varitek over Yorvit Torrealba) and second base (Dustin Pedroia over Kaz Matsui), and third baseman Mike Lowell is a little better than Garret Atkins. In the games at Boston, the difference between designated hitter David Ortiz and Ryan Spilborghs will be massive.
Matt Holliday was Colorado’s best hitter and you could try to make an argument that he’s better than Boston left fielder Manny Ramirez, but Holliday’s numbers on the road (.301/.374/.485) were pretty similar to the line Ramirez put up on the road (.289/.373/.498). And all Ramirez has done in the postseason is hit .400/.578/.833.
Center field would be about a wash if the Red Sox use Coco Crisp, but there’s a good chance they’ll start Jacoby Ellsbury instead, which would give them an advantage over Colorado’s Willy Taveras.
In all, Boston’s offense posted a 107 OPS+ this season (meaning it was about seven percent better than average, adjusted for league and park), compare to a 103 for Colorado. Since both teams have used mostly the same position players all season, those numbers are fairly indicative of the advantage the Red Sox should have offensively in the World Series.
The problem comes with the pitching.
Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez, Manny Corpas, Josh Fogg, Franklin Morales and Brian Fuentes have pitched 82.5 percent of Colorado’s innings so far in the postseason. Those six pitchers threw only 43.6 percent of Colorado’s innings during the regular season.
The difference isn’t quite so stark for the Red Sox, but Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon have combined to pitch 77.4 percent of Boston’s postseason innings compared to 47.5 percent in the regular season.
Since the pitching is being distributed so differently, it hardly makes sense to compare Colorado’s 111 ERA+ to Boston’s 123 ERA+.
Going game by game, the matchups do not seem to favor the Rockies.
In games one and five, Josh Beckett will face Jeff Francis. Beckett posted a 145 ERA+ compared to a 114 ERA+ for Francis. Both have been excellent in the postseason, with Beckett going 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings and Francis posting a 2-0 mark with a 2.13 ERA. Based on what he’s done so far this postseason, it’s hard to bet against Beckett.
Games two and six should feature Curt Schilling against Ubaldo Jimenez. During the regular season, Schilling (122 ERA+) was better than Jimenez (112 ERA+). In the postseason, Schilling has two excellent starts and one poor start for a 3.38 ERA in 18 2/3 innings. Jimenez has an excellent 1.59 ERA in his two starts, but you have to wonder how he’s done it while walking eight batters in 11 1/3 innings. Against a patient and powerful team like the Red Sox, that kind of wildness could be disastrous.
Games three and seven will likely be Daisuke Matsuzaka against Josh Fogg. Matsuzaka’s been very inconsistent, but he was better than Fogg over the course of the season (108 ERA+ to 97). Fogg has pitched well during the postseason so far, but at best this matchup is a push for the Rockies.
Game four is something of a wild card. With Tim Wakefield off the World Series roster, the Red Sox will probably turn to Jon Lester, who was solid but not spectacular this season (104 ERA+). The Rockies will start Aaron Cook, who posted a 116 ERA+ this season but hasn’t pitched since Aug. 10. It’s hard to know how he’ll fare in his first action in more than two months.
The bullpens may be a tossup for the series. Papelbon (1.85 ERA in the regular season, 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs) and Okajima (2.22 ERA in the regular season, 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs) have been excellent for Boston, but so have Colorado’s Corpas (2.08 ERA in the regular season, one run in 8 2/3 playoff innings) and Matt Herges (2.96 ERA in the regular season, 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs).
The biggest concern for Boston being able to win the series is that they’ll have to play three games in Colorado. There are at least two reasons why that is worrisome.
First, there’s no designated hitter. That means either Boston has to lose Ortiz’s lethal bat, or it has to weaken its defense at first base and lose the quality bat of Youkilis. Neither option is good for the Red Sox.
Second, while Ramirez can appear to be an acceptable defensive left fielder at Fenway Park, he will be exposed as a brutal defender in the spacious outfield in Colorado. The Red Sox will be able to mitigate this in the late innings with defensive replacements (either Ellsbury coming off the bench to play left or Crisp coming off the bench to play center and Ellsbury moving to left).
Still, the Red Sox have a significantly better offense for the four games in Boston, and the teams are probably fairly even offensively for the games in Colorado. With the starting pitching favoring the Red Sox and the bullpens pretty evenly matched, the Red Sox should be able to take care of the Rockies in six or seven games.