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October 24, 2007
Settling in for the Series
BOSTON-The 36-year-old man wants to write about lineup changes and roster moves. The 12-year-old boy is at the World Series!
The 36-year-old man is conscious of maintaining a professional image. The 12-year-old boy is at the World Series!
The 36-year-old man knows he has a long, cold night ahead of him. The 12-year-old boy is at the World Series!
Thanks to our partners at Sports Illustrated, I am writing this from the auxiliary press box in right field at Fenway Park, about four hours before Game One of the 2007 World Series. I appreciate that I'm here because I've worked as a baseball writer-by some people's definitions, anyway-for a decade, and that I am here to work and be productive. With that said, however, I can't help but feel a tingle, a thrill, goosebumps. I've never been to a World Series game. Thirty years of loving baseball, and tonight I get to watch a World Series game. From the stands.
Really, 12-year-old boys should run the world. They have a much better perspective on the whole thing.
When not gazing out at the Green Monster, the gray sky and the empty red seats that will be overfilled in a few hours, I am thinking about the spate of roster and lineup changes made in the past couple of days. It's rare to see this much movement this late in the year, but what we have is a mix of the liberalized roster rules and managers who are not willing to settle for what got them this far.
Start with Terry Francona, who made what had to be a wrenching decision to leave Tim Wakefield off of the World Series roster, replacing him with long reliever Kyle Snyder. Wakefield's sore shoulder is the nominal reason, but the issues with starting a knuckleballer-any knuckleballer-in the altitude of Coors Field factored in as well. Wakefield did not feel he could make two starts in the Series, eliminating the popular idea of starting him in Games Two and Six. With a choice between Wakefield and…well, Jon Lester is the frontrunner, Francona chose to avoid the knuckleball/thin air combination. Lester is the likely Game Four starter, and he was brought along slowly by the Sox in his return from lymphoma. He was just moderately effective, with a 4.57 ERA in 12 appearances, and just five quality starts in 11. However, according to Clay Davenport, the Red Sox odds of winning jumped considerably with this decision, and combined with the Rockies' rotation decision, make the Sox the favorite in his calculations.
Francona is also sticking with Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, the rookie who hit .353 down the stretch and supplanted Coco Crisp as the starter late in the ALCS. As with Wakefield's injury, Francona has pointed to Crisp's sore knee-he suffered the injury catching the final out Sunday night-as the determining factor, but face let's face it, Ellsbury had the job already, and even with the lefty Francis on the mound, he was likely to start tonight in any case. It takes a lot of confidence in your decision making, as well as a commitment to putting the best team on the field above all else, to bench a veteran starter 170-odd games into the season. At this point, however, Ellsbury is better than Crisp, even conceding that Crisp had a spectacular year defensively. Francona is making the correct call.
Clint Hurdle made a roster move himself, activating Aaron Cook and slotting him into the fourth slot in the rotation. Personally, I don't think this is enough; if you're going to activate Cook, put him in the second slot and get him two starts, with Josh Fogg getting one. Or none. The downside to this move is that it pushes Franklin Morales, rather than Fogg, to the bullpen, and the difference between Cook and Morales is pretty slim, especially against a team like the Red Sox, who have a big lefty power hitter as their best player. Hurdle likes to play matchups in the middle innings, however, and what having Morales in the bullpen means is that he can run lefty relievers at David Ortiz and J.D. Drew throughout the game. It's not the best alignment of talent, but there is at least some tactical benefit.
As far as the whole Series goes, I'm not sure what I can add to Nate's breakdown. I think most people would be surprised to find that these are the top two teams in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, given that both play in bandboxes and are better known for their offenses. These teams are as effective at run prevention-the Red Sox pitchers doing it with strikeouts, the Rox by cutting down walks and homers-as they are at run scoring, which is why they're playing each other tonight.
The Red Sox will have the better starting pitcher in every game but the fourth. They have the better bullpen-at least the guys who will pitch relevant innings. They have the better offense, although losing a big bat in Coors Field closes the gap in the middle three games. The Rockies have a better bench by a touch, and probably a better defense, again gaining an edge in the games at Coors. (If the Red Sox get cute and try to shoehorn Kevin Youkilis in at second, third, or right field, that Rockies edge grows.) Put it all together, and I see the best team in the better league making this yet another quick World Series. Red Sox in five.
Time to be a 12-year-old boy for a little while.