Tuesday, October 11, 2005

ALCS Preview

Boy, my parents sure picked the wrong weekend to come visit and prevent me from watching baseball. I missed most of the Houston/Atlanta epic, and only saw the last few innings of Angels/Yankees games 4 and 5. I don't like commenting on what I haven't seen or heard; all I can offer is, regarding Frankie Rodriguez's adventures in Hanging Slider Land on Monday night, FOR GOD'S SAKE K-ROD, THROW A FREAKIN FASTBALL! I'd also like to take this opportunity to claim my prediction of the Braves/Astros series was correct, because they played the equivalent of 5 games! Ok, maybe not. But to my credit, I was only way off on the Boston series. Now, to preview the ALCS.

Lineup
Two similar lineups, in that they both have only one real danger, and lack super-high OBP guys. The Angels are much more left-handed, but like Chicago, lack a true lefty thumper, though Casey Kotchman could fit the bill if Mike Scioscia were smart enough to play him. Garret Anderson used to be that lefty thumper, and though he had a sub-par regular season, he seems to be catching fire at the right time. Bengie Molina has also picked the opportune time to get hot. These two hitters now offer Vlad a modicum of protection. Paul Konerko isn't quite on the same level as Vlad, but the White Sox have more power in the lineup around him. Over half of Chicago's runs against Boston came via the longball. Not appreciating the top-to-bottom power in Chicago's lineup was the primary factor in my own underestimation of their offense. Such power allows for them to get the runs they need in short bursts, and not have to rely on getting on base and generating chances every inning. Against a team with pitching like the Angels, that is a major advantage. LAnaheim, meanwhile, doesn't have as much pop. A lot more has to go right for them to score 4 runs in an inning than it does for the White Sox. For that reason, I'm saying ADVANTAGE: WHITE SOX, though it's a virtual dead heat.

Bench
This is no real contest. Chicago's bench players are horrible, while LAA has plenty of options. While keeping Kotchman out of the lineup is bad, it at least makes their bench quite impressive. ADVANTAGE: ANGELS

Starters
Aside from the fact that the Chicago starters pitched better in the regular season, they also have the advantage of being well-rested and being scheduled normally. Then there's Bartolo Colon. In the midst of writing this entry, I found out he's off the ALCS roster. Presumably Ervin Santana will replace him. Santana performed admirably against the Yankees, but he'll have to show me a lot more before I consider this anything less than a devastating blow to Anaheim's staff. Contreras continued to be absolute money, and there's no reason to think he'll change against the light-hitting Angels. Add Buehrle's consistency (and LA's vulnerabilty to lefties) to the mix, and it winds up with ADVANTAGE: WHITE SOX

Bullpen
The Angels have the best 'pen in baseball, but are they ever stretched out. The reason why K-Rod refused to throw a fastball is that he's been unable to locate it consistently since returning from injury in the mid-summer. He's been relying completely on his otherworldly slider since then. That's usually fine, but if he hangs it like he did last night, he could be in for some trouble. Kelvim Escobar, who has become a 2-inning bridge, was used extensively in the New York series as well. Chicago's bullpen, meanwhile, pitched out of tough spots consistently during the Boston series. Who knows if Ozzie Guillen will go to Damaso Marte again, but even if he doesn't, Neal Cotts was one of the best lefty relievers in the league. Bobby Jenks, despite his previous success and stuff, is still an unknown quanitity. ADVANTAGE: ANGELS, but not as much as it would have been had they won in 4 games.

Defense
Chicago's defense is slightly stronger, although both teams have plus defenders at key positions (see Division previews for details). The White Sox also had the second best defensive efficiency in the majors, while the Angels were also in the top third, checking in at 10th. ADVANTAGE: WHITE SOX

Bottom Line
Normally, I would tend to go with the bullpen difference in this kind of matchup, but it would surprise me very much if the Angels' 'pen was at full strength by the end of this series. I fully expect it to go 6 or 7 games based on how closely matched these two teams are. It's likely that a lucky bounce or a hanging breaking pitch will determine this series. I have a gut feeling that the Angels are a slightly better team, but they are at quite a disadvantage in regards to the uncertainties in their starting rotation and the possible fatigue of their bullpen. I've also become a believer in Jose Contreras. His splitter might be the most unhittable pitch in this series, and he's pitching twice. Mark Buehrle is as solid as they come, and the Angels are particularly vulnerable to lefthanders. Colon's loss will ripple through the entire Angels pitching staff, and it may force Jarrod Washburn to make a start while under the weather against a team that pounds lefties, and it means that Paul Byrd will start at least 2 games. With all the uncertainty the Angels face, combined with Chicago's masterful pitching and fielding in the division series, means that I'm going with WHITE SOX IN 6.

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