Sox to ride the hot hand in World Series
Battle of the arms likely will decide the Fall Classic
The World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros looks like a purist's delight and a prognosticator's headache.
There are three reasons for both of those conditions: pitching, pitching and more pitching.
Both teams have it. Both teams rely on it. Both teams have reached this lofty level because the opponents simply can't reach the scoreboard often enough. This is fine. This is better than fine. This is the essence of the postseason. Now, pick one. Rooting interest aside, this is not at all easy.
Those of us who picked the White Sox, against the known odds, in both rounds of the American League playoffs, did so because we saw embodied in this club an age-old postseason fact of life: The team with the better pitching is supposed to prevail.
There is very little of the boast in this. You didn't have to be the Albert Einstein of seamheads to see that the White Sox had better pitching than the Red Sox, by roughly light years. And the White Sox had a pitching edge over the Angels, too, particularly after Bartolo Colon became unavailable.
But even those of us who voted with the White Sox early and often cannot say with a straight face that we totally got it. Even those of us who touted the strength of the White Sox pitching had no way of knowing that we may have been greatly understating the case.
Four straight complete games in an AL Championship Series? This sort of thing hadn't been done in the postseason in the last 49 years. And 49 years ago, baseball was a different game. The hitters were smaller, the ballparks were bigger and it was a fairly sure thing that nobody was on anything stronger than aspirin.
This kind of thing was unknown in the contemporary game until the White Sox -- Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras -- did it against the Angels, a team that ranked a highly respectable seventh in the AL in runs scored. You knew something was up when the White Sox shut down the powerful Boston lineup, but you didn't know that something was this far up.
Ah, but then there's the other side of the October coin. The Astros have "The Big Three" in their rotation -- Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt. You know what might be wrong with that last sentence? Oswalt was No. 3 and he won 20 games in each of the past two seasons. How big is this trio when Oswalt is routinely thought of as the third?
And for the ninth inning -- and sometimes the eighth -- the Astros have Brad Lidge, possessor of some of the most overwhelming stuff of any closer in the game. Again, he probably hasn't received the recognition that his work merits, but he is the real deal.
The Astros have the edge at closer, no matter how hard Bobby Jenks throws. Jenks is an untested commodity at this level, which brings up another point.
You'd like to be able to say that the White Sox have more bullpen depth than the Astros, because, on paper, they do. But during the Championship Series, the Sox bullpen became a memory. Neal Cotts drew two-thirds of an inning in the opener and then the starters refused to leave the games until they were over. Temporary unemployment for the White Sox 'pen.
Will the White Sox relievers be rusty or simply rested at a record-breaking level? How many contemporary teams get through two rounds of the postseason with their one big problem being the fact that the relievers just didn't get enough/any work? The correct answer seems to be: one, the 2005 Chicago White Sox.
On the surface, the Astros have the pitching edge. They have Clemens, who used to be amazing, but now is doubly amazing, because he can still be dominant at age 43. Pettitte has whatever track record you want; the regular season, the postseason, and he's generally healthier than he has been in a while. Oswalt, again, the star -- the ace almost anywhere else.
As the regular season wound down in the National League, the one team that no one else wanted to draw was the Astros. The Astros had those three starters and that terrific closer, and you know what they say about a short series. And now the reason is there for all to see. The Astros defeated the Cardinals, the team with baseball's best regular season record. How could this happen? The Astros were the team with the better pitching.
Houston has bigger pitching names, with bigger pitching credentials than the White Sox have in their rotation. And it is the furthest thing from an insult to notice that.
But let's got back to the basic postseason premise: The team with the better pitching should win. On paper, that is the Astros. So, they must be the pick, true? Well, after considerable soul-searching, sleepless nights and endless consultation with numerous baseball observers, some of whom knew a great deal and some of whom pretended to know a great deal, no. The pick is the White Sox.
To get from the Astros to the White Sox, you have to amend the team with the better pitching should win. You have to amend it to: The team that is pitching better right now should win.
And nobody could be pitching better than the White Sox. They have pitched so well, and let's face it, they have played so well, that they have won seven of eight games in the AL postseason. They give you a sense of inevitability, much the same kind of thing that the Red Sox produced last October, when some of us were dense enough to pick the Cardinals, on the basis of those 105 victories.
We do not mean to dismiss the importance of every other facet of the game in this discussion, and the talent and the motivation that both of these teams obviously possess. Nor do we diminish the two brilliant managing jobs that have been necessary to reach this point, by Ozzie Guillen and Phil Garner, two dramatically different men in many ways, but two men who share the rare ability to bring out the absolute best in their players.
But pitching is paramount in postseason baseball. It will decide this World Series as it has decided so many other World Series. We go with Chicago, closely, narrowly, barely, even while granting the fact that the Astros, because of their pitching strength, are a team that in some ways is made for October.
We go with the White Sox because they have the historically hot hand in the rotation, because they are rolling like few teams ever could and, because, hey, 88 years seems like long enough to wait. White Sox in seven.
Mike Bauman is the national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.