The NL West is a crowded place. With the top four teams in the division separated by just four games, the Red Sox are in the middle of a gauntlet against three of those teams. So far, so good. The Sox swept the Dodgers out of Fenway park on Sunday, capping off an 8-1 homestand. Now, riding a six game winning streak, the Sox are headed out west to Coors field for the first time since the 2007 World Series.
Contrary to what one might expect out of a team playing in Coors, the Rockies are more of a pitching-heavy team than an offensive juggernaut. While the Rockies certainly have some solid bats on their team, without the recently injured Troy Tulowitzki it's hard to find any one that's really an impact bat. Catcher Miguel Olivo is the closest to fitting the bill, but he's largely a product of his BABIP. It's also a problem that their other four above average bats on the year are all outfielders. With Troy out, though, the infield is completely non-threatening.
The Rockies are also not a particularly impressive defensive team, at least when it comes to balls in play. Without Tulo providing a plus glove at short, only Gonzalez and Helton are really above average defenders. That leaves a lot of space for balls to fall or get through, especially if Melvin Mora or Jason Giambi are playing the field. Should pitching changes force the Rockies into throwing their bench on the field early, there could be trouble for them in holding late leads.
Luckily for the Rockies, then, their starting pitching is a strength, with five starters having FIPs under 4.00—though Jeff Francis and former Red Sox prospect Jorge De La Rosa have combined for only 11 starts. The Red Sox will be facing the other three of those starters: Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, and of course, Ubaldo Jimenez.
Chacin, a rookie, is an off-speed type of pitcher who only throws his fastball about 50% of the time, though it does sit around 90 MPH. Not a bad idea given the results he sees with his curve and slider—the latter of which is a particularly dangerous offering. He'll strike out a good number of guys, walk a few, and give up an average number of fly balls.
Jason Hammel, who you may remember as sucking for the Rays, took a big step forward last year when he stopped walking half the lineup. Aside from cutting his walk rates in half, Hammel is a lot like Chacin. A few more miles on the fastball, same curveball-slider combo, though it's the curve that does much of the damage for Hammel. Who knows, maybe the Sox will make him remember the AL East and start offering up free passes again.
Finally, there's...Ubaldo. Now, there's no doubt that Ubaldo has gotten lucky: a .239 BABIP, 91.2% strand rate, and 3.8% HR/FB rate (in Coors!) all paint a picture of future regression. Still, there's no question that he's a great young pitcher, and even the strong Sox offense will likely be hard pressed to do much damage against him. Still, that's what we thought about Halladay, too...
The Rockies also have some solid arms in the bullpen. Matt Belisle is having a career year at 30-years-old, striking out more than a batter an inning and walking very few. Joe Biemel has also done well, though as a contact pitcher it's questionable how long that will last. Rafael Betancourt has been a victim of a remarkably high BABIP, and is arguably pitching better than anyone else in the pen despite his 5.40 ERA with a K/9 of over 11. His flyball tendencies can't help in Coors field, either. Manny Corpas has been solid if unimpressive. Perhaps most importantly, though, Huston Street will return from the DL for this series, pitching for the first time this season. If the Sox are lucky, they'll get a guy covered in rust. If they're unlucky, they'll find a lockdown closer.
The Sox have Lester starting off the series, and we'll see Daisuke making his first start in over a week (oh, and we'll get to see them bat! Joy! Here's to nobody pulling anything). Really, this series will be more a matter of the Papi-less offense (though he'll likely get at least one start) performing against some above-average NL starters. Those are games that could really go either way. Against Ubaldo, well, you take what you can get.