Saturday, October 22, 2005

« A World Series without a powerhouse »

By Suss
The last five World Series have featured classic "David vs. Goliath" matchups:
  • 2000: The defending champion Yankees vs. the "other" New York guys, the Mets
  • 2001: Those Yankees again vs. the nascent Arizona Diamondbacks
  • 2002: Bonds & the dangerous Giants vs. the "Rally Money" Angels
  • 2003: The Yankees + Giambi + Contreras + Matsui, vs. the young-team-old-manager Florida Marlins
  • 2004: The 105-win St. Louis Cardinals vs. the any-minute-they'll-choke-again Red Sox
Even 1999's World Series featured two "powerhouses," when the Braves and Yankees was touted as the final showdown of the two best teams from the '90s.

But this year, whose the favorite?

Hmm. Well, let's see. The White Sox won 99 games, but ... no ... the Astros have great pitching -- er... the Sox are fundamentally sound ... then again the Astros ....

You could go back and forth forever, until the series is over. Neither of these two teams have a distinct advantage. But it's beyond being close. If the Astros played the Yankees or Red Sox, then the Astros would be the team heralded as the underdog. Moreover, if the White Sox played the Cardinals or Braves, then the White Sox are the team looking to dethrone a team with tons of recent success.

Both of these team have had long droughts of disappointment. While the White Sox haven't won the World Series since 1917, they haven't even been around this late in the game since '59 when they were "upset" by the L.A. Dodgers in six games.

The Astros never even saw the World Series up close. An expansion team in 1962, the Astros have made the playoffs eight times -- five of those coming in the last nine years -- and didn't win a postseason series until last year.

To put it simply, there is no powerhouse team this year.

Quick, name one player on the White Sox. (And Frank Thomas is injured.)

As for the Astros, guess who led their team this year in homers, RBI and OPS: Nope, not Jeff Bagwell or Craig Biggio. It's Morgan Ensberg.

Bagwell and Biggio no longer play the vital roles they used to. Bagwell has been hurt all year, and although Biggio is still a contributor, his on-base percentage was the lowest mark (.325) since his first full season in 1989.

So with Bagwell, Biggio and Thomas -- three players known for being overlooked in their career -- even further from the spotlight than normal, will people even care about this series?

Sure, Illinois and Texas will care, because those two states combined haven't seen a World Series win in almost 90 years, but will the two coasts tune in?

Maybe if they're fans of fundamentally sound baseball. And relief pitching.

Houston had arguably the best bullpen in the NL: 4th in ERA, 2nd in batting average against,
1st in WHIP, 1st in save percentage, and half of that being done in a "hitters park" -- Minute Maid Park.

Chicago's relievers can practically be ranked 2nd in the AL: 3rd in ERA, 3rd in batting average against, tied for first in total saves, and not one reliever with an ERA over 3.80.

Too close to call

POSITION BY POSITION, this series is way too close to find a spot in this lineup and declare an advantage.

The screenshot of MLB's "World Series Fantasy Player Challenge" game displays the level playing field. Aside from the subliminal marks on the White Sox players, every position battle is settled on gut instinct.

Lance Berkman is a big RBI producer, but so is Paul Konerko. Ensberg was large in the regular season, but Crede has been clutch in the postseason. Chris Burke has provided some big hits, but Scott Podsednik is always dangerous as a baserunner.

Even the computers are undecided. A baseball simulation Web site called Diamond Mind played out the World Series 100 times. The Astros won 55 times. The distribution of wins was as follows:
Houston in 4 -- 3
Houston in 5 -- 19
Houston in 6 -- 16
Houston in 7 -- 17
Chicago in 7 -- 12
Chicago in 6 -- 16
Chicago in 5 -- 13
Chicago in 4 -- 3
So this World Series will be one predicted on instinct or favoritism. There is no underdog. There is no favorite.

My pick? Don't ask me, I've been wrong every series.

But I'd love to see the White Sox win, so Astros in 6.