Rox vs. Sox: 2007 World Series

Todd Helton
Oddly enough, according to expected win-loss records, the best team from each league (at least to qualify for the playoffs) made the World Series. Yes, as amazing as winning 21 of 22 is, the Rockies aren't quite the Cinderella they seem to be. No team can ever be expected to win 21 of 22, but it was reasonable to believe the Rockies would make the World Series once they had made the playoffs. Oh, and how much clamoring has their been about the Red Sox offensive firepower lately? There was a point a month and a half ago where some were making them out to be anemic, to the point where they didn't even deserve a playoff spot. Granted, 30 runs in 3 games against a pitching staff as strong as the Indians' is remarkable, but despite Boston's supposed shortcomings that were exposed as the Yankees made their charge over the summer, it is Boston in the World Series. It's as if they are a good team, perhaps even the best team in the American League. Truly, this is the best team in the AL versus the best team in the NL, and here is a look at the numbers to try to shed some light on how this series will play out:

Lineup and starting pitching ratings are based on my hitter and pitcher rating systems. Odds of winning series is based on my adjusted pythagorean formula. The two are completely separate formulas, but in theory should correlate.

Lineup Ratings (parentheses is rating without DH):
Rockies - 82 (82)
Red Sox - 82 (80)

Starting Pitching Ratings:
Rockies - 75
Red Sox - 81

Probable Pitching Matchups (COL listed first, then BOS):
Jeff Francis (80) vs. Josh Beckett (93)
Ubaldo Jimenez (77) vs. Curt Schilling (77)
Josh Fogg (67) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (85)
Aaron Cook (77) vs. Jon Lester (69)

Odds of winning series:
Rockies - 43%
Red Sox - 57%

Bottom Line: The offenses are quite evenly matched, so this series is likely to come down to pitching and defense. The Rockies are stronger now that they have Aaron Cook, and the Red Sox are hurt by the loss of Tim Wakefield. However, Boston still has the better pitching and, not surprisingly, the numbers favor them to win the series. However, with that said, I think Colorado's chances of winning the series are better than the numbers say. First of all, looking at the pitching match-ups, all Boston really has are big advantages with Beckett and Dice-K on the mound, not an advantage in every single game. Furthermore, it's also going to be very interesting to see how Manny Ramirez fares defensively in left field at Coors. It's the biggest left field in baseball, and Manny covers the least ground of any left fielder in baseball. On top of that the Rockies have a very good defense, so they will definitely have a noticeable advantage in Coors that the Red Sox can only combat by striking out lots of batters.

Interestingly, the Rockies did play the Red Sox this year in interleague play in Fenway Park, and outscored them in the series 20-5. Between that and how hot the team has been, I doubt they will have any confidence issues against the Red Sox. However, confidence is one thing and talent is another. Boston can hide their defensive weaknesses (ok, to be more brutally honest, they can hide Manny) better at Fenway Park, and fortunately they do have home field advantage. As much as I am rooting for the Rockies, statistically speaking the three most likely outcomes are the Red Sox in five games (18%), Red Sox in six (19%), and Red Sox in seven (17%). Though I give the Rockies a better chance than the stats do, I'll still say that the Red Sox are going to win the World Series in seven games.

Mariners Better Hire Some Great Coaches

John McLarenThough I know it is the middle of the playoffs, I cannot neglect what the Mariners have already done since their season ended. In case you missed it while watching the Rockies obliterate every team in their path, the Mariners announced that all their coaches except Jeff Pentland would not be coming back (though Gary Thurman will be re-assigned to roving minor league outfield instructor, which was the position he had before Hargrove resigned this season). Considering John McLaren inherited Mike Hargrove's staff, it is not surprising that he wants a chance to hire his own coaches. With that being said, he had better hire some great coaches after letting a few good ones go.

I'll start with the positions I am not concerned with, bullpen coach, first base coach, and bench coach. Frankly, I don't know how much more the bullpen coach does than pick up the bullpen phone and tell a pitcher that they need to warm-up. Perhaps they give a reliever some advice while warming up in the bullpen, but not much else. It seems to be an easily replaceable job, and no Mariner player seemed to have a particularly strong connection to Jim Slaton. One guy McLaren is rumored to be looking at is Norm Charlton, who I think would make a great bullpen coach. I wouldn't mind seeing his bulldog mentality rub off a little on the relievers (though all the relievers are already pretty good at going right after the hitters), and he provides a link to the two greatest years in Mariners history, 1995 and 2001.

As for first base coach, it is a position similar to bullpen coach. All the coach really does during the game is pat a player on the back when he gets to first base, and time how long the pitcher is taking to throw a pitch so that a runner knows if it is worth trying to steal or not. Usually a first base coach is also either the infield or outfield instructor as well, so that is what makes this role slightly more important than bullpen coach. Gary Thurman did a fine job, but he was only around for half the season and this is another very logical spot where McLaren can bring in one of "his guys."

Bench coach is arguably the most pivotal role on a coaching staff outside of manager. Bench coaches are the manager's right-hand man. They tend to look at potential scenarios a couple innings ahead in the game so that the manager can keep focused on the present situation in the game, and then the bench coach is also the sounding board for the manager when considering a move to make. The bottom line is that the manager and bench coach work closely together every game, so their needs to be a good rapport between the two. I doubt that John McLaren and Mike Goff had a bad working relationship, but at the same time this is the one position where McLaren absolutely needs to hire someone he really respects and trusts.

Now to look at the spots I am not so pleased about. I'll start with the lone holdover, Jeff Pentland. Though the Mariners have posted a nice team batting average the last couple years, they simply never walk. Likely, this has more to do with the type of players the M's have than it has to do with Pentland, but I also wonder how Jose Lopez has gone from a prospect that knew how to turn on a ball and smoke it, to a step above an anemic hitter hoping to just spray the ball around the field. I know there was a conscious effort to force Lopez to hit the ball the other way and master situational hitting, but it seems that in the process of teaching these supposedly valuable things they took away Lopez's power, which was one of the biggest reasons he made the majors in the first place. On the other hand, Yuniesky Betancourt is progressing very nicely as a hitter under Pentland's tutelage. All things considered I don't have much against Jeff Pentland, but this was a spot where I would have brought in one of "my guys," yet McLaren chose not to.

That leaves the two positions I am most concerned about, third base coach and pitching coach. Carlos Garcia has been the third base coach, as well as the infield coach. Garcia seemed to not do much to help or hurt the club in his role, so it is plausible to think that McLaren can hire somebody he knows better that will be able to capably replace Garcia. In fact, I would have no problem with this move at all if it weren't for the close relationship Felix Hernandez has developed with Carlos Garcia. I do not believe in catering to stars, but I see no reason to change personnel if they are doing a fine job in their role and a player like Felix really likes them.

In the end, I am by far the most disappointed that John McLaren is not bringing Rafael Chaves back. Yes, the Mariners pitching staff had a high ERA this year, but an outfield defense that featured statues in left and right field certainly had a large impact on that. Chaves is young, but his concept of pitching is fantastic, and there are numerous examples of the fine work he did. Remember when Jeff Weaver was horrific, went on the DL, and then came back a seemingly re-born pitcher? Rafael Chaves worked with Weaver to change his delivery, so that it would be consistent and improve his control. Remember when Brandon Morrow started walking every batter he faced mid-way through the season? It was Chaves who simplified his delivery, which instantly led to Morrow's most dominating stretch of the season. Remember when John McLaren said at the end of year that he wants to see his starting pitchers throwing at least 120 pitches every game? It was Chaves who suggested that maybe the pitchers could become more efficient with their pitches, allowing them to pitch deep into ballgames but without the tax that 120 pitches would put on their arms. As if all these positives were not enough, King Felix considers Chaves a fatherly figure. As far as I can tell, the only "good" reason McLaren has for letting Chaves go is that he does not want to see starting pitchers throw 120 pitches on a consistent basis. At the very least I will give McLaren credit for realizing he needs to find coaches who share some of the same basic beliefs as him, but in the case it is a shame because the M's are not going to find a better pitching coach for this staff than Rafael Chaves.

I am trying my best to reserve judgment on the coaching moves until McLaren and the Mariners have hired the 2008 staff. Still, I am worried about what Felix thinks of the ballclub. They just ditched a guy he considered a close friend, and a guy who was a fatherly figure to him. In addition, his best friend in the whole organization, Wladimir Balentien, may be looking at another year in AAA (even though if I were running the ballclub he would be the starting right-fielder). Don't the Mariners realize how critical Felix's development is to their success? They need to create an environment where Felix can grow and realize his vast potential. Clearly, they were doing a good job of that with guys like Carlos Garcia, and especially Rafael Chaves. Felix has to be disappointed on some level right now, and if the M's aren't careful they will drive Felix right out of town one day. No coach, no matter how superior they are, can offset the loss of a good player. I hope McLaren understands this, because by letting Chaves go I'm not convinced that he does. John McLaren better have some great coaches in mind to offset the losses.

2007 Championship Series Previews

None of the division series proved to have much drama, but in a way that created some intrigue seeing if all the series would be sweeps. The quick division series could set up some intriguing championship match-ups, since all of the teams remaining are on a roll and well-rested. Here's a quick preview for each series:

Lineup and starting pitching ratings are based on my hitter and pitcher rating systems. Odds of winning series is based on my adjusted pythagorean formula. The two are completely separate formulas, but in theory should correlate.


Rockies vs. Diamondbacks

Lineup Ratings:
Rockies - 83
Diamondbacks - 76

Starting Pitching Ratings:
Rockies - 70
Diamondbacks - 76

Odds of Winning Series:
Rockies - 66%
Diamondbacks - 34%

Bottom Line: According to the baseball pythagorean theorem, the odds are well stacked against the D'Backs. However, looking at lineup and pitching ratings, the match-up does not seem to be so lopsided. The Diamondbacks do have home-field advantage, they showed the ability to flex their muscles, and they have the stronger pitching staff. It's a match-up between the team that shouldn't have been first (the D'Backs), and the team that never was first but made it somehow anyway (the Rockies). Both teams seem to have destiny on their side, so I'll stick with the numbers and pick the Rockies in five games.

Indians vs. Red Sox

Lineup Ratings:
Indians - 79
Red Sox - 82

Starting Pitching Ratings:
Indians - 82
Red Sox - 82

Odds of Winning Series:
Indians - 36%
Red Sox - 64%

Bottom Line: Both of these teams feature lineups built upon power and patience, and they are accompanying by strong starting staffs. However, the Red Sox have home field advantage and much more playoff experience. Boston made an interesting move flipping Schilling and Matsuzaka in the rotation, and it will be interesting to see if that makes a difference. Ultimately, the pivotal match-ups will be the ones where C.C. Sabathia and Josh Beckett square off. Usually I believe game two is more crucial than game one, but in this series the first game really is as important as it gets. Ultimately, I think the starting pitching is equal but Boston's offense is a little better, so I'm going with the Red Sox in six games.

Sweeps Dominate the Weekend

So much for parody. In the National League, half of the teams were mathematically alive until the last weekend of the season, but then both NLDS series were sweeps. At least the most mathematically probable sweep of the four match-ups, the Red Sox over the Angels, happened. For a team to sweep they pretty much dominate all facets of the game, so there's not too much to analyze. However, here are my two cents on how each of the sweeps happened:

Diamondbacks over Cubs - Some may try to twist this series into an example of how the Diamondbacks used timely hitting all year to win close games, but the reality of this series is that Arizona just out-slugged Chicago. They hit six home runs this series, an average of two a game. That's not too bad for a supposedly anemic offense that scratches and claws their way to wins with timely hitting. Whether the homers were a product of hot hitting or bad pitching is up for debate (my bet is that it was a combination), but once Ted Lilly slammed his glove to the ground in game two it was clear the Cubs were rattled, while the Diamondbacks were staying loose, yet focused. The series was over at that point.

Rockies over Phillies - In a clash between the two Cinderella stories, Colorado proved to be the hotter of the two teams. In game one, Jeff Francis stepped up and out-dueled Cole Hamels, then in game two Kaz Matsui stepped up, and game three featured an all-around great pitching effort that the Rockies just squeezed out. The Phillies did not play too badly; they just went against the one team hotter than them (and some curious pitching moves by Charlie Manuel did not help the team either).

Red Sox over Angels - The Red Sox were simply the better team on the field from the first pitch to the last. Josh Beckett was overwhelming in game one, and the heart of the Red Sox order proved to be too much in games two and three. Granted, the Angels did have significant injury concerns, and maybe they were significant enough to impact the outcome of this series. However, the Red Sox were so superior I wonder how much of a difference Gary Matthews Jr. in center field would have made.

As for the Yankees and Indians series, the Yankees are still in bad shape even after their victory tonight. C.C. Sabathia will go for the Indians if the series goes five games, and they had no chance against him in game one. Plus, the pressure of winning multiple must-win situations in New York with the manager's job on the line has to wear on the team some.

2007 Division Series Previews

The playoffs are finally here, and if Monday night's 13-inning thriller between the Padres and Rockies is a harbinger of things to come, this will be a sensational October. Here's a quick look at each of the Division Series match-ups:

Lineup and starting pitching ratings are based on my hitter and pitcher rating systems. Odds of winning series is based on my adjusted pythagorean formula. The two are completely separate formulas, but in theory should correlate.

Angels vs. Red Sox

Lineup Ratings:
Angels - 81
Red Sox - 82

Starting Pitching Ratings:
Angels - 80
Red Sox - 82

Odds of Winning Series:
Angels - 36%
Red Sox - 64%

Bottom Line: Talent-wise, these two teams are fairly evenly matched. However, Mike Scioscia's absurdly aggressive base-running hampers the Angels offense much more than it helps it. John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Vladimir Guerrero might be good enough to bail the Angels out, but I doubt it. The Red Sox are the better team to start with, they are managed better, and they also have home-field advantage. I'll take the Red Sox in four games.

Yankees vs. Indians

Lineup Ratings:
Yankees - 83
Indians - 79

Starting Pitching Ratings:
Yankees - 78
Indians - 82

Odds of Winning Series:
Yankees - 59%
Indians - 41%

Bottom Line: The Yankees offense is scary good, but so are C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. I tend to not put much stock in playoff experience, but I doubt Sabathia and Carmona are resting real easy knowing they are facing such an intimidating lineup that won't be intimidated by playoff baseball at all. New York's starting pitching is not great, but it's good enough with that potent lineup. Grudgingly, I'm picking the Yankees in four games.

Cubs vs. Diamondbacks

Lineup Ratings:
Cubs - 79
Diamondbacks - 76

Starting Pitching Ratings:
Cubs - 80
Diamondbacks - 76

Odds of Winning Series:
Cubs - 59%
Diamondbacks - 41%

Bottom Line: The Diamondbacks are the best team in the NL only by wins and by no other sort of measurable. Granted, wins are ultimately all that matter, but at some point reality will catch them. The Cubs clearly have the better offense, and they also have the better starting staff (though Brandon Webb is the best pitcher in this series). Bob Melvin is a terrific manager, but Sweet Lou is no slouch, and he's got the better hand to play with. The Cubs in five games are my pick.

Rockies vs. Phillies

Lineup Ratings:
Rockies - 83
Phillies - 83

Starting Pitching Ratings:
Rockies - 70
Phillies - 76

Odds of Winning Series:
Rockies - 54%
Phillies - 46%

Bottom Line: Both teams rely on their offenses and hope their pitching is good enough to win. This wasn't so much the case with the Rockies at the start of the season, but their staff has taken major hits thanks to injuries. Still, this is the staff the Rockies have won 14 of their last 15 games with. It's great that the two feel-good stories of the past few weeks will face each other, because it guarantees one of them will play for a World Series berth. If Colorado had Aaron Cook and/or Rodrigo Lopez I would pick them to win, but because they don't I'll go with the Phillies in five games.