Playoff Preview: White Sox-Angels

TEAM                W      L     WIN%      RS      RA     ExW-L
Los Angeles        95     67     .586     761     643     93-69
Chicago            99     63     .611     741     645     92-70
OFFENSE            RS/G      AVG      OBP      SLG      2B      HR      BB      SO
Los Angeles        4.70     .270     .325     .409     278     147     447     848
Chicago            4.57     .262     .322     .425     253     200     435    1002
DEFENSE            RA/G      AVG      OBP      SLG      2B      HR      BB      SO
Los Angeles        3.97     .254     .312     .401     285     158     443    1126
Chicago            3.98     .249     .310     .397     275     167     459    1040

It was difficult writing this preview on such short notice—I didn’t know whether the White Sox would be matched up against the Angels or Yankees until very late last night, after all—so you can imagine how the short turnaround handicaps the Angels. You know, because rather than write about the series, they actually have to play a game about a dozen hours after arriving in Chicago in the wee hours this morning.

While any team in the Angels’ situation would be at a disadvantage, Los Angeles is in particularly bad shape because of the mixing and matching they’ve had to do with their pitching staff just to get to the ALCS. Jarrod Washburn was scratched from his start Sunday because of a throat infection, John Lackey went on short rest in his place, Bartolo Colon left last night’s game in the second inning with a shoulder injury, and projected ALCS Game 1 starter Ervin Santana relieved him in the biggest game of the season.

Fortunately for the Angels they have five quality starters, with the aforementioned four and Paul Byrd, and their bullpen is extremely deep. In fact, aside from the White Sox, there may not be a team in baseball that is better equipped to fill in the gaps with emergency starters and creative bullpen management than the Angels. What makes this series especially interesting is that the similarities between the two teams don’t end there.

Despite what you may have heard about “small-ball” and “doing the little things,” both Chicago and Los Angeles won this season because of very good pitching. The Angels allowed 3.97 runs per game to rank second in the league, while the White Sox allowed 3.98 runs per game to rank third. The Angels held opponents to .254/.312/.401; the White Sox held opponents to .249/.310/.397. The Angels walked 443 batters, gave up 158 homers, and allowed 285 doubles; the White Sox walked 459 batters, served up 167 homers, and allowed 275 doubles.

Both teams have a legitimate Cy Young candidate leading the rotation (Mark Buehrle, Colon); both teams have a hard-throwing right-hander who had a breakout season after entering the year as a bit of an enigma (Jose Contreras, Lackey); both teams have a hotshot rookie who was called up from the minors in the middle of the year and has made big contributions down the stretch and into October (Brandon McCarthy, Santana).

But perhaps the biggest similarities between the two pitching staffs are with the bullpens, as both the Angels (Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, Kelvim Escobar, Brendan Donnelly) and White Sox (Bobby Jenks, Dustin Hermanson, Cliff Politte, Neal Cotts, Damaso Marte) feature a deep group of relievers. But what really makes the relief corps similar is the unique ways in which their managers use them.

Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen is not as beholden to saves or strict bullpen roles as most skippers, going with specific matchups in the late innings. For instance, Hermanson saved 34 games with a 2.04 ERA during the regular season, but it was Jenks who closed out both of the White Sox’s two close wins over the Red Sox in the ALDS. Meanwhile, Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia relies on Rodriguez as his closer, but runs the rest of his bullpen like it’s the 1970s. Shields and Escobar frequently pitch multiple innings at a time, and there isn’t a single southpaw to be found.

The offenses in this series aren’t quite so similar, although they’re close. The Angels hit .270/.325/.409 while averaging 4.70 runs per game and the White Sox hit .262/.322/.425 while averaging 4.57 runs per game. However, the hitting styles are quite a bit different. Chicago ranked fourth in the league with 200 homers and struck out over 1,000 times, while the Angels ranked just 10th with just 147 long balls and had the second-fewest whiffs in the league at 848.

On the other hand, both teams like to steal bases, bunt, and hit-and-run a lot more than an average team. Plus, a player-by-player breakdown of the lineups reveals some interesting parallels. First and foremost, both lineups are built around a right-handed slugger who had a great year, with Vladimir Guerrero and Paul Konerko each leading their teams in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, homers, and RBIs.

In Darin Erstad and Scott Podsednik, both teams have a left-handed hitter who provides little offense and is overrated almost as often as he is called a “gamer” or a “sparkplug.” (And yes, I realize I just guaranteed myself angry e-mails from two separate fan bases with just one sentence.) Both teams have a center fielder (Steve Finley, Aaron Rowand) who was disappointing in 2005 after a very good 2004 season. Both teams have a light-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop (Orlando Cabrera, Juan Uribe). And both teams got quality run production from their starting catchers (Bengie Molina, A.J. Pierzynski).

There are probably another dozen or so similarities to be examined, but to be honest I’m a little tired of typing “both teams” (and I’m sure you’re just as tired of reading it). So let’s a pick a winner, shall we? In a series as close as this one—and really, I don’t see how the matchup could be any closer—logic dictates that it may come down to the little advantages that the White Sox hold.

Game 1 of the ALCS will be the Angels’ third game in the span of 51 hours. Because of that the White Sox have their starting rotation set up exactly how they want it (Contreras, Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia) and their bullpen completely rested, while the Angels will be scrambling to find starters (especially if Colon and/or Washburn are out) and had to use both Escobar and Rodriguez last night. And last but not least, the White Sox have homefield advantage.

White Sox in seven.

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