Monday, October 17, 2005

White Sox ascendant

Congratulations to the AL Champions, whom I ridiculed as paper tigers all year. To all those who complain that the WhiteSax won game 2 on a bad ump call and that changed the series, remember that the game was still tied after the Pierzynski non-whiff and the WhiteSax had to go out and win it, which they did. Just like the '96 Yanks after the Jeffrey Maier homerun catch (tied the game, Yanks won in extra innings). And then the White Sax went ON THE ROAD and dominated the Angels . . . just like the '96 Yanks against the Orioles. In other words, the Angels lost game two, but had three games at home to do damage and did none.

I'm impressed that the ChiSax' pitchers have allowed all of 20 runs in 8 playoff games, including a mere 9 in their sweep over the big-bopping RedSax. I'm also impressed that Ozzie Guillen has revived the concept that a starting pitcher should finish his work -- four complete games in the ALCS, only 2/3 IP for the relievers in the whole series. Talk about throwbacks! The last time a team had four consecutive complete games in the postseason was 1956 when the Yanks beat the Dodgers in the World Series (the Yanks pitched complete games in games 3-7, and they lost game 6, 1-0 in 10 innings). More importantly, in the last two games of the ALCS, Guillen kept his starters in for the bottom of the 9th even though both games were "save situations" -- 5-2 and 6-3 leads on the road.

Obviously part of the reason Guillen's starters pitched complete games in games 3-5 is the lack of any better arms. Simply stated, the White Sox cannot upgrade significantly over Garland, Garcia and Contreras even after those men have pitched 7 or 8 solid innings and tossed 100+ pitches (unlike his cohorts, Buerhle had thrown just 99 pitches and had a tie game after he finished 9 innings) because their "closer" is a fill-in and their original closer is battling injury. It's not like the Palehos have a Rivera, Hoffman, Lidge, Gagne or even an Isringhausen. Nonetheless, it speaks volumes for his pitchers that they are remaining strong for the whole game (Contreras set down the last 15 Angels he faced in Game 5).

Here's a scenario I'd actually root for: the White Sox and Cardinals, with the ChiSax winning by pitching their starters for complete games whilst the Cards lose as the LaRussa bullpen matchups backfire. The "creeping LaRussaism" that Peter Gammons decries has elevated the role and importance of middling arms and questionable mentalities in the 7th and 8th innings of games while denigrating the mental fortitude of starting pitchers who no longer think to pitch their full nine.

And a final thought: the White Sox are the first team into the World Series. That has some significance because for the 10 seasons that the three-tier playoffs have been in effect since 1995, only one team that won its League Championship Series first has lost the World Series (2000 Mets). Naturally, the importance of this factor will fluctuate: in 2002, both the Giants and Angels had plenty of rest for the World Series because they polished off their LCS victims on the Sunday or Monday before the Series started on the next Saturday. But in other cases (2003, 2004 when both LCS went seven games and wore out the two teams), the early pennant-winner has been fresher with the extra rest. That's why the White Sox are rooting for the Cards tonight.

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