A position-by-position look at the Colorado Rockies and Boston Red Sox going into the World Series, starting Wednesday night at Fenway Park:
Rockies:@ Todd Helton. Nobody has enjoyed Colorado’s incredible charge to the NL pennant more than Helton, a longtime star who waited 11 years and 1,578 games to reach the postseason. No longer the home run threat he once was, Helton still has gap-to-gap pop and a sharp eye. He batted .320 this year and finished second in the league with a .434 on-base percentage. He slumped through the playoffs, however, batting .154 with one extra-base hit.
Red Sox:@ Kevin Youkilis. Often overshadowed by Boston’s big names, fan favorite “Yooook” is one of the most underrated players in baseball. He’s coming off a huge AL championship series against Cleveland, when he batted .500 (14-for-28) with three homers, a double, a triple, five walks and seven RBIs. He’s hitting .425 in the postseason overall, and he has a reliable glove. The teams will play without a designated hitter when the Series shifts to Colorado, a dilemma for the Red Sox. They won’t want to take David Ortiz out of the lineup, but he’s played only 27 games at first the past three years. If he plays the field, that could put Youkilis on the bench. Edge: Red Sox.
Rockies:@ Kaz Matsui. Cast off by the New York Mets after he was a major bust on Broadway, Matsui was rescued by the Rockies last season in a quiet trade. Now, he’s a switch-hitting threat with speed who often bats second in the lineup. Matsui hit a key grand slam in the first round of the playoffs at Philadelphia and is batting .310 with eight RBIs and two triples in the postseason.
Red Sox:@ Dustin Pedroia. A leading contender for AL Rookie of the Year, Pedroia is a mighty mite who takes a huge hack at the plate. The leadoff batter homered and drove in five runs during Game 7 of the ALCS, helping Boston complete its comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
Edge: Red Sox.
Rockies:@ Troy Tulowitzki. Outstanding defense – he turned an unassisted triple play – and a dangerous bat made Tulowitzki a co-favorite for NL Rookie of the Year along with Milwaukee third baseman Ryan Braun. Already a leader in the clubhouse for the wild-card Rockies, Tulowitzki knows what it takes to win. Still, he batted only .179 (5-for-28) in the playoffs.
Red Sox:@ Julio Lugo. Signed to a $36 million, four-year contract before this season, Lugo struggled at the plate during his first year in Boston. But he can run, and the high-scoring Red Sox rely on his glove more than his offense anyway.
Rockies:@ Garrett Atkins. A good all-around hitter. Stuck in a slump the first two months of the season, Atkins was benched for two days before tweaking his stance and rediscovering his stroke. He went on a tear the rest of the way, including a grand slam at Fenway Park, finishing the year with a .301 batting average, 25 homers and 111 RBIs. He struggled in the playoffs, however, going 5-for-27 (.185).
Red Sox:@ Mike Lowell. Some consider the steady Lowell to be the most important cog in Boston’s powerful lineup because he bats fifth, protecting Ortiz and fellow bopper Manny Ramirez. Lowell had an excellent season, hitting .324 with 120 RBIs. Then he batted .333 with a homer and 11 RBIs in the playoffs. Good glove, too.
Edge: Red Sox, barely.
Rockies:@ Yorvit Torrealba. An unsung but important component on this team, Torrealba draws praise for expertly grooming Colorado’s no-name pitchers and handling the young staff. His bat has come on in October, too. He hit .320 with a clutch homer and seven RBIs in the playoffs.
Red Sox:@ Jason Varitek. One of the most respected leaders in baseball, Varitek is Boston’s no-nonsense captain. He helped the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series, ending an 86-year title drought, and is still productive at 35 years old. Playing his 11th season in Boston, he batted .243 with a homer and five RBIs in the playoffs. Doug Mirabelli catches knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
Edge: Red Sox.
Rockies:@ Matt Holliday. One of the best hitters in the game, Holliday is a top contender for NL MVP – he might have wrapped it with that headfirst dive at home plate that won the wild-card tiebreaker against San Diego. He led the league in batting (.340) and RBIs (137) while ranking high in several other major categories. He’s off to a strong start in his first postseason with four homers and seven RBIs. Holliday was the NLCS MVP after leading Colorado to a four-game sweep of Arizona.
Red Sox:@ Manny Ramirez. A mysterious slugger with Hall of Fame hitting credentials, Ramirez makes people shake their heads with his on-the-field antics and rare, curious comments from the clubhouse – he said, “Who cares?” during the ALCS, but clearly he did. He’s been on a tear since returning from an injured side muscle late in the regular season. He batted .400 with four home runs, 14 RBIs and 14 walks in the playoffs, and he holds the postseason record with 24 career homers.
Edge: Red Sox. Ramirez’s past success in October gives him a close nod.
Rockies:@ Willy Taveras. A speedy leadoff hitter with great range in center, Taveras also went to the 2005 World Series during his rookie season with Houston – and played well. After a thigh injury sidelined him for the final three weeks of the regular season, he returned for the NLCS and made some key contributions, including a diving catch to save a key run in Game 2.
Red Sox:@ Jacoby Ellsbury. The poised and pesky rookie started in place of slumping Coco Crisp in the final two games of the ALCS and held his own. It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox messing with success now, so the speedy Ellsbury could make a name for himself in the Series. He batted .353 in only 116 big league at-bats this season and went 9-for-9 on stolen base attempts.
Rockies:@ Brad Hawpe. A quiet but consistent producer, Hawpe has knocked in 200 runs over the past two seasons with his smooth left-handed swing. He also boasts a strong arm that deters baserunners. Hawpe, who sometimes struggles against left-handed pitchers, batted .304 without an extra-base hit in the playoffs.
Red Sox:@ J.D. Drew. After signing a $70 million, five-year contract in the offseason, Drew was a bust for most of his first season in Boston. But he delivered a huge performance when it counted in the ALCS, hitting a first-inning grand slam and driving in five runs during Game 6 at Fenway Park. Bobby Kielty occasionally starts in right against lefties.
Rockies:@ Ryan Spilborghs. A hard-nosed player who was called up from the minors in May, Spilborghs was a pleasant surprise all season. He subbed in center while Taveras was hurt and hit .356 against lefties with more power than expected. Spilborghs, Jeff Baker and Seth Smith are Colorado’s likely options at DH in Boston.
Red Sox:@ David Ortiz. One of the best clutch hitters in baseball history, Ortiz is at it again this October. He batted .387 with three homers, six RBIs and 12 walks in the playoffs for a .543 on-base percentage. Might be interesting to see how he runs the bases in the mile-high altitude at Coors Field.
Edge: Red Sox.
Rockies:@ A surprising success, Colorado’s rotation is made up of rookies and unheralded arms behind Jeff Francis, the team’s homegrown ace. The 26-year-old lefty has delivered like a champion in October, going 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA in two playoff starts. He’ll get the ball opposite Josh Beckett in Game 1 at Fenway Park, where Francis pitched five shutout innings to beat Beckett in June. After that, the Rockies turn to hard-throwing rookie Ubaldo Jimenez, who had a 1.59 ERA in two playoff starts. Josh Fogg figures to get a start – he’s 2-
0 with a 1.13 ERA in the postseason. The other assignment probably will go to rookie left-hander Franklin Morales or veteran Aaron Cook, out since Aug. 10 with a strained muscle on his side. Cook was the club’s opening-day starter.
Red Sox:@ Pitching has been Boston’s biggest strength all season, and the playoffs were no exception. The Red Sox boast a daunting 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in Beckett and Curt Schilling, two of the best pressure pitchers in baseball history. Beckett won 20 games during the regular season, then went 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in the playoffs and won the ALCS MVP. He is 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in his postseason career – with three shutouts in eight starts. The 40-year-old Schilling doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, but he knows how to attack hitters and he’s always at his best in big games. The right-hander went 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in three playoff outings and is 10-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 18 career postseason starts. Daisuke Matsuzaka, the $103 million rookie from Japan, flopped in his first two playoff starts before tossing five solid innings to beat Cleveland in Game 7. Tim Wakefield came back from a shoulder problem and returned to the rotation in the ALCS. He got off to a strong start in Game 4 against the Indians, then faltered in the fifth and took the loss.
Edge: Red Sox.
Rockies:@ Another surprising strength, Colorado’s bullpen had a 1.60 ERA in the playoffs, allowing five runs in 28 innings. There aren’t many big names out there, but they’ve been extremely effective. Manny Corpas took over the closer’s job from struggling All-Star Brian Fuentes at midseason and has done an outstanding job. Opponents batted .167 (5-for-30) against Corpas in the playoffs and his five saves are the most by a closer in the postseason since 2003, when Mariano Rivera saved five games for the Yankees. Fuentes has bounced back as a strong setup man with his unusual left-handed delivery. Even journeymen LaTroy Hawkins and Matt Herges have been solid, combining for 6 2-3 scoreless innings in the postseason. Jeremy Affeldt has been a reliable left-handed specialist, appearing in 75 games during the regular season.
Red Sox:@ There’s plenty of balance in Boston’s bullpen, which features hard-throwing closer Jonathan Papelbon and left-handed setup man Hideki Okajima. Those two plus right-hander Mike Timlin have combined for 17 shutout innings this postseason. Eric Gagne, the 2003 NL Cy Young Award winner, was acquired from Texas at the trade deadline in a much-ballyhooed deal that hasn’t worked out at all. He rarely pitches in tight situations anymore, and he took the loss in Game 2 against Cleveland. Manny Delcarmen and Javier Lopez struggled in the playoffs after solid seasons.
Edge: Red Sox.
Rockies:@ Colorado has a typical bench for a National League team, featuring a handful of versatile players who can run and play defense. There’s not much power, though, other than Baker. His tiebreaking single as a pinch-hitter helped the Rockies complete a first-round sweep of Philadelphia. Smith was added to the postseason roster after getting five hits in only eight big league at-bats this year. A left-handed bat, he came through with a couple of soft hits at key moments in the playoffs. Jamey Carroll often replaces Atkins for late-inning defense at third. Cory Sullivan is a backup outfielder.
Red Sox:@ Some of Boston’s backups get spot starts – even in October. Kielty, Mirabelli and Ellsbury have all seen playing time this postseason. Kielty is a switch-hitter who was signed in early August after he was released by Oakland. Eric Hinske is a left-handed stick off the bench, but he had only one at-bat in the playoffs. Reserve infielder Alex Cora, a slick fielder, hasn’t come to the plate in the postseason. He could be used as a pinch-runner. If Youkilis or Drew wind up on the pine at some point, it gives the Red Sox a major weapon off the bench. Boston’s bench is more experienced – and expensive – than Colorado’s unit.
Edge: Red Sox.
Rockies:@ Clint Hurdle. The Rockies remained patient with Hurdle, who had a losing record in each of his first five years before getting a surprising contract extension just before this season started. It proved to be a smart move. Well-liked and respected in the clubhouse, Hurdle had the perfect touch as the young Rockies matured into a winning team this summer. Now, they’ve won 10 straight games and 21 of 22 heading into the World Series. He goes with his gut on certain decisions, and he’s done a fine job handling a no-name pitching staff. Hurdle definitely knows his team – even if nobody else does.
Red Sox:@ Terry Francona. A familiar face in October after leading Boston to two pennants and three playoff appearances in four years at the helm. Francona has become adept at handling the tough Boston media in a town where every minor move is scrutinized. He shrugs off criticism and sticks to his plan, trusting his players to perform. And his teams never quit – especially in the postseason. Francona’s experience in guiding the Red Sox to the 2004 title should be an asset here. He has a relentless lineup and a back end of the bullpen that any manager would envy. But he has some tough decisions on tap, especially without a DH in Colorado.
Edge: Red Sox.