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World Series Preview

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2007

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

CATCHER

Rockies: Career backup Yorvit Torrealba finally got a chance to play every day this season. He's in the lineup more for his glove than his bat, but he did come through with a big home run in Game 3 of the NLCS.

Red Sox: There's a reason Jason Varitek was anointed Boston's captain. "Tek" makes the Red Sox run. Pitchers rave about his game-calling ability, and he's hardly a slouch at the plate. One of the best all-around catchers in baseball.

Edge: Red Sox

FIRST BASE

Rockies: Todd Helton is a veteran who has finally made the World Series with the only franchise he has played for. He's not an elite power hitter anymore, but he has never hit less than .300 in a full season and remains the team's leader.

Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis will be in the lineup for Games 1 and 2 (and 6 and 7 if necessary), but the real question is: Who plays there for Games 3, 4 and 5 in Denver? With no DH in NL parks, Terry Francona may have no choice but to play David Ortiz in the field. Still, not a bad problem to have.

Edge: Even at Fenway, Red Sox at Coors

SECOND BASE

Rockies: A bust with the Mets, Kaz Matsui has enjoyed a career renaissance in Colorado. The speedy second baseman filled in admirably atop the lineup when Willy Taveras was hurt and has filled in nicely in the 2-hole since.

Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia is a rookie, but he sure doesn't play like it. The 24-year-old showed patience at the plate (with a .380 OBP) and hit .345 in the ALCS.

Edge: Red Sox

THIRD BASE

Rockies: Garrett Atkins is one of the better young hitters in the game. Matt Holliday received all the attention this season, but Atkins hit .300-25-110 for the second straight season. Not great in the field, though.

Red Sox: Veteran Mike Lowell had a career year, hitting .324 with 21 homers and 120 RBI, and has carried it over to the playoffs (.333 average). On top of that, he plays a mean third base (even if his 15 errors this year were a career high).

Edge: Even

SHORTSTOP

Rockies: Rookie Troy Tulowitzki is a fundamentally sound player who has a knack for timely hitting while evoking comparisons to Jeter and Ripken in the field.

Red Sox: If there is a weakness for the Red Sox, this is it. Julio Lugo had a miserable season (.237 average, 19 errors), and he hasn't been much better in the playoffs. His dropped popup in Game 7 of the ALCS could have been devastating.

Edge: Rockies

LEFT FIELD

Rockies: No player in the National League had a better offensive season than Matt Holliday, who hit .340 with 36 homers and 137 RBI. The MVP candidate got off to a slow start in the playoffs but came on strong late in the NLCS with a couple home runs.

Red Sox: Manny Ramirez had a down year by his lofty standards (.296-20-88) but not in the postseason, in which one of the game's most-feared hitters has dominated again. In his last 17 playoff games, Manny has hit .386 with seven homers and 22 RBI.

Edge: Red Sox

CENTER FIELD

Rockies: Colorado got a real boost when Willy Taveras returned from a quadriceps injury to play in the NLCS. Perhaps the fastest player in baseball, Taveras beats teams by tracking down shots to both gaps and by dropping down bunts.

Red Sox: Coco Crisp has struggled in the postseason, so much so that Terry Francona went with rookie Jacoby Ellsbury in Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS. Crisp plays better defense, but Ellsbury could be the answer if given another shot.

Edge: Rockies

RIGHT FIELD

Rockies: Brad Hawpe is another one of those underrated Colorado hitters who should receive more credit than he does. He hit .291 with 29 homers and 116 RBI. Not bad for a No. 6 hitter, though he doesn't have an extra-base hit in the playoffs.

Red Sox: J.D. Drew suffered the wrath of Red Sox fans all season, then won them back with his grand slam in the ALCS. Still, it's hard to predict the play of either Drew or Eric Hinske, who could get a couple starts.

Edge: Rockies

BENCH

Rockies: Clint Hurdle hasn't used his bench much in the postseason, but he does have some interesting options. Ryan Spilborghs started in center field until Willy Taveras came back from injury. Jeff Baker had a clutch pinch-hit double in the NLCS. And ex-Nationals player Jamey Carroll also is an asset.

Red Sox: Terry Francona's bench will receive a huge boost in the middle three games of the series, when the lack of a DH forces either David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis or Mike Lowell into a reserve role. Until then, he will rely on the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Eric Hinske and Bobby Kielty.

Edge: Red Sox

NO. 1 STARTER

Rockies: Jeff Francis is emerging as a legitimate ace, a hard-throwing left-hander who doesn't back down from anything. Counting the postseason, the native Canadian already has won 49 games in just more than three seasons.

Red Sox: Josh Beckett already is an October hero, and his legend continues to grow. In nine career postseason games, he is 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA. All that and he's only 27 years old? Meet the new face of the playoffs.

Edge: Red Sox

NO. 2 STARTER

Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez, 23, struck out 7.46 batters every nine innings. No other pitcher in this series will regularly reach 100 mph.

Red Sox: Which Curt Schilling will we see: the gutsy pitcher with the impeccable postseason pedigree or the aging right-hander who did not look like himself in Game 2 of the ALCS? If he's on, few pitchers can match his big-game prowess.

Edge: Red Sox

NO. 3 STARTER

Rockies: Josh Fogg was given the nickname "Dragon Slayer" after he beat Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling this season. But overall, he may be the epitome of average — a .500 pitcher whose ERA rarely dips below the high 4.00s.

Red Sox: Has a team ever paid $100 million for a No. 3 starter who probably isn't even worth that distinction? That's life for Boston, which hasn't exactly gotten its money worth with Daisuke Matsuzaka. "Dice K" has a 5.65 ERA in three playoff starts, but give him credit for winning Game 7 of the ALCS.

Edge: Rockies

NO. 4 STARTER

Rockies: Aaron Cook receives the surprising nod after missing the last two months with a strained oblique. The veteran right-hander could be a better option than rookie Franklin Morales, who has been shuttled to the bullpen, but it will be hard to be sharp after the long layoff.

Red Sox: In another surprise move, Tim Wakefield was dropped from the World Series roster because of shoulder inflammation. Terry Francona hasn't announced who will start Game 4 yet, but Jon Lester is the most likely option. The left-hander, who overcame cancer, was 4-0 in 12 games this season.

Edge: Even

BULLPEN

Rockies: If there's one facet of the game in which Colorado truly can claim an advantage, this is it. The Rockies have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball, headlined by young closer Manny Corpas and closer-turned-setup-man Brian Fuentes.

Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon is a feared man in the ninth (and sometimes eighth) inning, but how do the Red Sox get the ball into his hands? Hideki Okajima? Mike Timlin? Count on this: Eric Gagne won't be allowed to touch the ball in any situation of consequence.

Edge: Rockies

MARK ZUCKERMAN'S BOTTOM LINE

The focus is on the Red Sox, but don't discount the Rockies. They have a legitimate lineup, a legitimate bullpen and legitimately good defense. So this won't be a rout for Boston. That said, the Rockies just don't have an ace to counter Beckett or the rotation depth to get them through a full series. It won't be easy, but the Sox will win.

Prediction: Red Sox in seven.

THOM LOVERRO'S BOTTOM LINE

The Red Sox got to Game 5 of the ALCS behind the bats of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz and not much from the rest of the lineup. Then they clinched the series when Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis and other hitters came through. If they continue to hit, they will slam their way to their second World Series championship in four years.

Prediction: Red Sox in five.

KEY QUESTIONS

1. Will the layoff kill the Rockies' momentum?

Only one team has had to wait longer for the start of the World Series " the 1910 Philadelphia A's, who had 10 days of rest. The Rockies sat idle for eight days, and that could hurt this team's incredible run (21 wins in 22 games).

2. Which Red Sox hitter sits at Coors Field?

David Ortiz. Kevin Youkilis. Mike Lowell. They can't all be in the lineup for Games 3, 4 and 5 with no DH in Colorado. Manager Terry Francona can't sit Big Papi, so the choice comes down to Youkilis or Lowell. Youkilis is playing extremely well, but he's hardly the defensive third baseman that Lowell is. Tough decision.

3. Can the back ends of both rotations hold up?

These two pitching staffs don't look nearly as formidable now as they did a week or so ago. Tim Wakefield is not on Boston's World Series roster. Colorado, meanwhile, is activating Aaron Cook after a two-month stint on the disabled list. The teams need their bullpens rested for Monday's game in Denver.

4. Can anyone beat Josh Beckett?

No one has been able to this postseason. The Rockies, though, pose a greater challenge than Beckett has seen in the playoffs. This a deep and talented lineup, built more in the AL mode than the NL. Still, if they can't touch the Red Sox ace, they won't win the series.