Rockies have their work cut out against Red Sox
The best team in the American League, on paper and by record, faces possibly the best team in the National League, a club that finished just a half-game off the pace for that circuit's best record. We should see a lot of great defense, a lot of home runs -- can't defend those -- and I'd bet on at least one more knockout start from Josh Beckett.
Keys for Boston• Find the balance between offense and defense in Coors: Good range in the field matters a lot in Denver, most of all in the spacious outfield, so look for whoever's not starting between Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp to log a lot of late innings in the outfield in Games 3, 4 and 5. It's possible both will play against Franklin Morales and/or Jeff Francis, since J.D. Drew has always had a big platoon split. This need for defense, however, presents Boston with a serious problem: David Ortiz is not a good defensive first baseman, but the only way the Red Sox can field their best lineup is to put him at first and move Kevin Youkilis to right field, a position he's never played in the majors.
Keys for Colorado• Beat Beckett or at least wear him out enough to force the Red Sox's bullpen to get involved: Beckett hasn't been just an automatic win for Boston this postseason -- he's been a bullpen saver, requiring only four innings of relief work across his three starts, all with Boston up by at least six runs. • Score on the road: Aside from the Game 2 rout in Philadelphia, the Rockies have played three road games in the postseason and scored a total of 12 runs in 29 innings. During the regular season, they scored about 20 percent fewer runs per game on the road than they did at home, and their road slugging percentage was the third worst in the National League. • Don't get sentimental: Clint Hurdle is reportedly considering using Aaron Cook as the fourth starter over Franklin Morales. Cook hasn't pitched in a game since Aug. 10, and there's no guarantee he'll be effective or able to go more than three or four innings. (He faced only 16 hitters in his last simulated game, which is equivalent to only 3 1/3 innings against the Red Sox and their team OBP of .362.) The Rockies should start Morales, and use Cook as the long man if he gets into trouble. • Look fastball: Matsuzaka won Game 7, but he got into trouble again by overusing his fastball. Schilling can get swings and misses on his splitter, but his fastball is very hittable. Manny Delcarmen can light up the radar gun, but his fastball is straight, and he leaves a lot of them over the plate. The Rockies, meanwhile, have a number of dead-fastball hitters in their lineup, making some of these pitching matchups potentially favorable if they jump on fastballs in the zone. • Keep catching everything in sight: The Rockies have converted 74 percent of balls in play into outs this postseason -- an unsustainable rate for a full season, but something they'll need to keep doing behind guys like Fogg, who allows a lot of contact and relies on his defense. • Get Corpas involved earlier: The Rockies' bullpen has been effective, but Manny Corpas is a game changer, and the Rockies have generally used him in a traditional closer's role. Before the one-game playoff against San Diego on Oct. 1, Corpas had either finished the game or come in for a save in every appearance he'd made since Aug. 20. But in a short series, bullpen management has to change. The Rockies shouldn't be afraid to use Corpas in tie games or even down by a run to keep the game close enough for their offense to win it. If the Rockies win the series, Corpas will probably be the MVP.
PredictionColorado might be the best team in the National League, but the talent gap between the NL and AL is huge right now, and the Rockies have the misfortune to be facing the AL's best team. The Red Sox are healthy and looked strong in finishing off the Indians. It's possible -- albeit not provable -- that the long layoff will hurt Rockies hitters, who haven't faced real pitching in over a week. I could see Colorado taking two in Coors and extending this series to six games, but I think Boston's better top-line talent and roster depth will win out faster than that. Boston in five. Keith Law, formerly the special assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, is the senior baseball analyst for Scouts Inc.
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