Friday, October 21, 2005
World Series Preview
At first glance, this looks kind of like a matchup of two teams from the 1960’s. Both Chicago and Houston got here with pitching, pitching, and more pitching, with offense sort of along for the ride. The Sox resemble the ’68 Tigers in a way, with a great pitching staff and a whole lot of home runs. The Astros look more like the ’65 Dodgers, with three aces and a weak hitting attack. Runs won’t be easy to come by in this series, obviously, and we figure to get a lot of games decided by one or two pivotal plays in the late innings. Whichever team is able to score first will get the clear advantage, because neither team really has the kind of offense that can claw its way back from an early deficit, especially not against the type of pitching that will be featured in this series. Both Chicago and Houston showed in the LCS that if they get ahead early, they’re nearly impossible to catch. In Game 6 of the NLCS, after the Astros scored their third run off of Mark Mulder, the game was as good as done, and everybody in Busch Stadium pretty much knew it. Likewise in the ALCS, when Konerko gave the Sox three-run leads in the first inning of Games 3 and 4, the already emotionally sunk Angels found themselves looking up at an Everest-sized mountain.
Here’s a glance at how these teams stack up position to position. If you’re reading this and thinking cliché, well, what can I say? What should I do, compare the players on each team to a Star Wars character and determine who is going to win based on who would kick who’s ass in a fight? Let’s see, Konerko = Boba Fett, and Taveras = Wedge, so the White Sox are sure to win! Sounds fun, but I can’t do it because A) Lucasfilm would surely find this and sue my sorry ass for more money than I’ll see in five lifetimes, and B) I’ve gone almost a year in writing this blog without making a nerdy and completely gratuitous joint Star Wars- Baseball preview, and I’m not going to start now.
1B: Paul Konerko (.283/.375/.534) v. Lance Berkman (.293/.411/.524)
I figure Berkman might DH in the games in Chicago, but he’s been at first for much of the playoffs, so just humor me. So who’s better, Paulie or Lance? This is kind of like trying to figure out who's the hottest between Eva Longoria and Monica Belluci. Frankly, who cares? I'd love to have them both. Berkman gets on base more, but Konerko hits moon shots, and it’s not just a Comisky-fied illusion. Defensively, Konerko’s a little better, but that doesn’t matter; these guys are here to mash. This is basically a wash, but since Konerko hit 40 bombs and generally produced a little more than Berkman, we’ll give the Sox the advantage here. Advantage: Sox
2B: Tadahito Iguchi (.278/.342/.438) v. Craig Biggio (.264/.325/.468)
This matchup provides a good example of why you should actually look at numbers instead of going by what you think you’re seeing. Biggio is a Hall of Famer and seems to be in the middle of every rally, giving the impression that he’s still a star. Meanwhile, Iguchi’s basic purpose is seemingly to bunt Scott Podsednik from second to third and field his position with stylish aplomb. So the ‘Stros have the clear advantage here, right? Um, no. Biggio has forgotten how to draw walks and his fielding has turned into a Soriano-esque wreck at Second Base. His .468 slugging is largely a product of the pansy left-field line at Minute Maid Park (19 of his 26 homers came at home), and at this point he’s surviving largely on name value. Iguchi isn’t a great player, but his defense is very good and he at least showed some ability to take pitches, even if he didn’t hit for much power. Advantage: Sox
SS: Juan Uribe (.252/.301/.412) v. Adam Everett (.248/.290/.364)
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to tonight’s edition of “Who Is More Helpless With a Bat In His Hands?”! Today’s contestants: Juan Uribe and Adam Everett! Before we begin, let’s hear what our contestants have to say about themselves before they square off in this classic bout!
JU: I swing the bat hard and occasionally the ball goes over the fence.
AE: Uh, me and Ausmus really battled to be here, but I finally beat him out for the honor of Team’s Suckiest Hitter. Really, I’m honored. I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing when I’m up at the plate. Apparently you’re not supposed to swing at balls five inches off the corner. Now they tell me!
(crowd laughs and cheers)
ANN: Now, it’s time for you, our viewers at home to decide (studio audience yells along) “Who Is More Helpless With a Bat In His Hands?”!!
Advantage: Sox (Does that answer that question?)
3B: Joe Crede (.252/.303/.454) v. Morgan Ensberg (.283/.388/.557)
No contest. Crede had a good ALCS, but that doesn’t wipe away 432 mediocre regular season at-bats. Ensberg didn’t do a darn thing against the Cardinals, while Crede won Game 2 against the Angels with a double and tied Game 5 with a home run. Apparently this makes Crede clutch, and makes Ensberg a postseason dog. Whatever. I’ll take Ensberg’s 36 home runs any day of the week. Advantage: ‘Stros
LF: Scott Podsednik (.290/.351/.349) v. Chris Burke (.248/.309/.368)
Burke might not be the regular left fielder for the entirety of the series, but his hot hitting this postseason has earned him the benefit of the doubt. Both are fine fielders with lots of speed. Podsednik demonstrated a stellar batting eye in the Angels series, walking five times in the last two games and starting several key rallies. Burke had the game-winning homer against Atlanta and hit well against the Cards. Podsednik is a terror if he can get on base and can cause mayhem with his speed. Burke showed no ability to hit in the regular season, but right now he’s looking like the 2005 version of Mark Lemke. Advantage: Sox
CF: Aaron Rowand (.270/.329/.407) v. Willy Taveras (.291/.325/.341)
Rowand’s .736 OPS certainly looks ugly, but Taveras’s .666 mark is positively evil. The Sox have the dubious advantage here, but neither of these guys are any good, at least not at the plate. Taveras got a lot of praise as a rookie for his .291 average and 34 steals, but he was one of the weakest hitters at the top of a batting order. His specialty is speed, but 20 extra base hits in 592 at-bats is horrendous no matter what your game is. Taveras gets a lot of high marks from coaches for his wheels, but he’s a guy White Sox pitchers will be delighted to see at the plate in a pivotal spot in the Series. Advantage: Sox
RF: Jermaine Dye (.274/.333/.512) v. Jason Lane (.267/.316/.499)
These two guys are basically the same player. They both field adequately, don’t take walks, and are above average sluggers whose home run totals are boosted by a great hitting environment. With that said, they’re both pretty good hitters who provide needed punch in weak lineups. Dye is just a tad better, soooooo….Advantage: Sox
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski (.257/.308/.420) v. Brad Ausmus (.258/.351/.331)
Brad Ausmus is soooooooooo bad…
“How bad is he???” Well, you can see the numbers. Pierzynski is most likely to impact the series by doing something characteristically controversial, like snapping Craig Biggio’s jockstrap as he tries to beat out a ground ball. Frankly, the way this postseason is going, if Pierzynski just went ahead and took a whiz in Houston’s water cooler in between innings, I don’t think anybody’d bat an eyelash. Advantage: Sox
DH/Bench: This is one instance where the DH rule in the series won’t be an advantage for the NL team, because who the hell is going to be the DH for Houston? Mike Lamb? Eric Bruntlett? Can Jose Cruz still hit? All the other options are just as unappetizing. The Sox, meanwhile, can start resident crazy man Carl Everett in their home games, then bring him off the bench to pinch hit in Houston. The rest of the White Sox bench is so poor that in the ALCS, other than sending Pablo Ozuna to pinch run in Game 2, Ozzie Guillen didn’t even bother sending any subs in, as none of the other bench players saw the light of day. Unfortunately for the Astros, their bench stinks even worse. Advantage: Sox
Jose Contreras (15-7, 3.61) v. Roger Clemens (13-8, 1.87)
Mark Buehrle (16-8, 3.12) v. Andy Petitte (17-9, 2.39)
Jon Garland (18-10, 3.50) v. Roy Oswalt (20-12, 2.94)
Freddy Garcia (14-8, 3.87) v. Brandon Backe (10-8, 4.76)
The White Sox had the best pitching in the AL and their four starters are a formidable bunch, but the Houston starters are even better, and frankly I don’t think it’s even close. The Sox throw out four guys with ERAs under 4, something that just about every team in the majors would envy. Unfortunately, the Astros have two guys under 3 and one guy under 2. Are you kidding me? The difference between very good pitching and phenomenal pitching is greater than you might think. Houston’s only mismatch is in Game 4; otherwise, they’re throwing Cy-Young caliber pitchers in six of the seven games. That’s a hell of an advantage and it more than makes up for Chicago’s lop-sided win in the batting order matchups. Advantage: ‘Stros
Bullpen: Brad Lidge, Brad Lidge, Brad Lidge. ‘Nuff said. Despite his hiccup in Game 5 of the NLCS, Lidge anchors a solid bullpen. Facing Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, and then Lidge after going up against Houston's Cy Young trinity is a nightmare for any team. The ChiSox have a good bullpen, but newly appointed closer Bobby Jenks has never been the paragon of cranial stability. Imagine this situation: it’s Game Seven, Sox are up by a run, with the middle of the order coming up, and Jenks is on the mound. Do you feel confident with this lead? Ehhhhhh…. Advantage: ‘Stros
“OK, man, just shut up and tell us who you think is going to win.”
Fair enough. This series is going to be touted as a nail-biter, but I don’t see it. I just can’t imagine the White Sox hitting enough to beat the Astros’s starters. Their offense is built around hitting home runs, but none of the four Astro starters gave up more than 19 homers all year, despite playing in a ballpark that's very homer-friendly. The Astros have a pretty crummy lineup, but they have such an imposing pitching staff that they won’t need to score a whole lot of runs to make this a short series. I figure that in the first few games, if Houston can get out and score a few early runs, then it’s pretty much over. Their pitchers made mincemeat of a Cardinal lineup that was a hell of a lot better than Chicago’s, and their hitters did just enough to win. Of course, Chicago proved me way wrong before and they seem to have the mojo this year, but I’m thinking the magic carpet ride is about to end.
Astros in five.
Series MVP: Roger Clemens