Commentary

Starting Ortiz at Coors a big question for Boston

Originally Published: October 21, 2007
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

WORLD SERIES

Rockies-Red Sox
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The Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies. One team has one of the richest traditions in baseball history, and the other has been around for only 15 seasons. One team made a terrific comeback to win the American League Championship Series, while the other made a miracle comeback to make the playoffs. One is filled with veteran players known by all, and the other is loaded with good young players everyone will soon know. It should be a great Series, filled with seven games of fascinating story lines.

Here are five key questions about the 2007 World Series.

1. What will the Red Sox do with DH David Ortiz at Coors Field?

They have to play him at first base. He hit .332 this year, .352 the second half of the season, .396 in September and is, without a doubt, one of the most dangerous and decorated hitters in postseason history.

David Ortiz
Ortiz

How can he not start at first base? And yet, how can you take first baseman Kevin Youkilis out of the lineup? He had 10 hits in his last 16 at-bats in the ALCS. He is the perfect grinder for the No. 2 hole. And no 2-3-4 hitters have ever had a higher on-base percentage and higher slugging percentage in any postseason series than Youkilis, Ortiz and Manny Ramirez had against the Indians in the ALCS.

But if Youkilis doesn't play first base, where does he play? Anywhere? He can play left field, but playing him in left, Ramirez in right and Ortiz at first weakens the Red Sox in three positions defensively (Youkilis didn't make an error at first base this season). How about Youkilis at third and Mike Lowell at shortstop? That weakens them even more at three spots. Either Youkilis or Ortiz is going to have to sit. No matter what the Red Sox do, they will be at a disadvantage in Denver.

2. How much will the layoff hurt the Rockies?

"A lot," said one scout who saw the Rockies through most of the postseason, and several times down the stretch. "They are a very, very good team. But the run they went on [21 wins in 22 games] was unlike anything I've ever seen, or anyone has ever seen. It wasn't luck, don't get me wrong, but everything bounced their way. And that probably isn't going to happen with eight days off.''

The Rockies are going to be rusty; playing simulated games isn't like playing real games. The Tigers had a long layoff before last year's World Series, then played poorly, especially defensively, in the Series. But what separates the Rockies from the Tigers -- and from every team this year -- is their defense. They had the highest fielding percentage of any team in baseball history. The finer points of defense can indeed be lost for some teams with too much time off, but really, do you think with eight days off, Troy Tulowitzki is going to forget how to catch a ground ball at shortstop?

Ubaldo Jimenez
Jimenez

3. How good is Colorado's pitching?

It is an amazing story. The first half of the season, the Rockies' ERA was 43 points higher than the league average. The second half of the season, the Rockies led the NL in ERA. That simply doesn't happen.

Their ERA during their incredible streak of 21 wins in 22 games is 2.80. Their ERA in the postseason is 2.08. They have two of the hardest-throwing young pitchers in the game in Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. They have a smart, savvy pitcher at the top of the rotation in Jeff Francis.

Their bullpen is really good. Since Manny Corpas ("tremendous stuff'; unhittable at times,'' one scout said) became the closer in July, the bullpen has flourished. Deposed closer Brian Fuentes has been fabulous as a set-up man who can get a strikeout when he needs it. In the National League Championship Series against Arizona, the Rockies' bullpen allowed 18 hits, five earned runs (1.59 ERA), walked six and struck out 24 in 28 1/3 innings.

Josh Beckett
Beckett

4. What is Boston's biggest advantage?

Josh Beckett. He is the hottest pitcher in the world. In his postseason career, he has a 1.78 ERA. Of pitchers with at least eight career postseason starts, only Christy Mathewson and George Earnshaw, neither of whom has pitched in the last 70 years, have a lower ERA than Beckett. In this postseason, he has been dominant. He has thrown 297 pitches, 210 for strikes, in three starts. The Indians had no chance against him in two starts in the ALCS.

"I knew after the second inning [of Game 5] that there was no way they were going to score again off him,'' said Boston pitcher Curt Schilling.

And almost everyone else watching the game had the same feeling. Beckett is throwing in the high-90s with a great curveball and changeup. He's throwing the curveball for strikes whenever he wants. Plus, Beckett will be on full rest. He could, in theory, make three starts in this series, and he might have to. No. 4 starter Tim Wakefield still isn't 100 percent with a back/shoulder injury.

5. Are the Rockies a Cinderella story?

Yes, but that doesn't mean they're not a really talented team, because they are. The Rockies led the NL in runs scored.

"They have six guys in their lineup who can kill you,'' one NL coach said.

They led the league in ERA the second half of the season. They had the best defense in baseball by far. They had the best record in the NL after May 1. And they came to Fenway in June and took two out of three from the Red Sox, outscoring them, 20-5. They hammered Beckett, and they hammered Schilling. Coming to Fenway for the first time can be intimidating for a young team, but this team wasn't in awe when it went in there.

And after what the Rockies have been through, their remarkable journey, they won't be seeing stars, and won't play tight, because it's the World Series. They belong here in every way.

Prediction: Red Sox in seven.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Is This a Great Game, Or What?", has been published by St. Martin's Press and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

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