THE ROCKIES are playing their best baseball of the season for the simple reason that they are a much better team than they were earlier in the year. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the odds-on favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, has steadily improved. Rookie righthander Ubaldo Jimenez, the team's best starter after Jeff Francis, wasn't even on the roster until July 17. Third baseman Garrett Atkins, who slumped terribly during the first two months, hit .338 with power after June 1.
But let's get this out of the way: Though less than perfect in October (three losses to Colorado's zero), the Red Sox are the better team in the 2007 World Series. They had six more wins than the Rockies during the regular season while playing in the tougher league. In Baseball Prospectus's Adjusted Standings Report, which takes into account schedule strength and the variables behind a club's run-scoring and run-prevention, that gap grows to 13 games (an adjusted record of 103--59 for Boston to 90--73 for Colorado). On paper it's a mismatch.
That isn't to say that the two teams are without similarities. Both are pitching-and-defense clubs playing in hitters' yards. Set aside Boston's and Colorado's high fielding percentages—which don't take range into account—and look instead at their Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, which evaluates a team's defense on one criterion: the percentage of balls put into play that are converted into outs. The Red Sox were the best defensive team in the majors by this measure, the Rockies were the second best, and no other team was close. That is one reason why Boston led the AL in fewest runs allowed and why Colorado had its best showing in that category, by far, in franchise history (eighth in the NL). They took away hits.
The pitching staffs also excelled at thwarting opposing hitters. The Red Sox were fifth in the AL in both fewest walks per nine innings and homers allowed, while the Rockies were third and fifth, respectively, in the NL. Boston has a big edge in power arms, however, striking out nearly 200 more batters in '07 than Colorado did. That difference is important in that Red Sox pitchers will allow fewer balls to be put in play into the cavernous Coors' outfield. While the late-season additions of Jimenez and lefty Franklin Morales to the Colorado rotation close that power gap slightly, the staff remains a low-strikeout group overall.
Another Baseball Prospectus gauge, Equivalent Average (EqA), gives Boston an edge at the plate as well. Though they scored only seven more runs than the Rockies in the regular season, the Red Sox had a significantly better EqA, .270 to the Rockies' .263. (EqA incorporates numerous offensive variables, including walks, total bases and stolen-base efficiency, and considers such factors as a team's home park and league.) It should be noted that Boston will lose a big bat—that of either David Ortiz or the suddenly hot Kevin Youkilis—for the middle three games in Denver because of the no-DH rule at NL parks. That, however, is about the only break the Rockies will catch in this Series. The Rockies are an amazing story, but this is the best team they've played in a very long time. The pick: Red Sox in five games.
MARK J. REBILAS/US PRESSWIRE
CATCHY Tulowitzki is a defensive whiz, but Boston has the edge in the field.