Astros, White Sox pitch Classic script
Deep staffs set to duel in 101st World Series
The Boston Red Sox ended 86 years of World Series futility last season. This time either the Chicago White Sox or the Houston Astros will end their decades-long drought in the 101st World Series.
The White Sox and Astros, two teams with great starting pitching and National League-style offenses that rely less on the long ball and more on small ball and defense, will face each other in a Fall Classic that in many ways will have a retro feel.
The Astros arrive in the World Series having bounced back from a punch in the stomach in Game 5 of the NLCS when Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols hit a three-run homer off closer Brad Lidge to give the Redbirds a stunning 5-4 victory that sent the series to St. Louis. But Roy Oswalt proved correct the old adage that momentum lasts only as long as your next starter by tossing seven marvelous innings as the Astros closed out the series with a 5-1 victory in the final game played at Busch Stadium. The White Sox will be ending the second-longest World Series drought in baseball with their first appearance since 1959. The Astros will be making their first World Series appearance in the 46 seasons since the franchise began play in 1962.
Both arrived at this October showdown the old-fashioned way: with pitching and defense.
"This team is successful because we do the little things you have to do to win," White Sox designated hitter Carl Everett told MLB.com recently. "This is an unselfish team where everybody knows their role and does their job. That's the way we played the game when I was with Houston; to me that's National League baseball."
The best-of-seven World Series, which begins Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, shapes up as one of the most pitching-dominated matchups in a generation. Each staff is stacked with multiple aces, Chicago with Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras and Houston with Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt.
The quality doesn't stop there. Both staffs are as deep as they are strong.
Houston (3.51) had the second-best team ERA in the Majors this season while Chicago was fourth (3.61). Houston's 1,164 strikeouts ranked third only to the Cubs and Brewers. The White Sox staff racked up 1,040, the 11th-highest total in baseball.
Astros pitchers walked only 440 hitters in 2005, the third-fewest in baseball and tops in the NL. The White Sox issued 459 walks, good for eighth in the Majors. Opposing hitters had a .308 on-base percentage against Houston's staff, the third best figure in baseball and just ahead of the fourth-ranked White Sox (.310).
Opposing batters hit .246 against Houston's staff in 2005, with only Oakland (.241) faring better. The White Sox finished the regular season fourth (.249).
Both teams ranked among the top 10 in fielding percentage, total chances and fewest errors committed. The Astros did a better job holding runners on (only 53 stolen bases allowed, the third lowest total in baseball).
The White Sox gave up 103 stolen bases, only six teams surrendered more, and the 25 runners caught stealing by the White Sox tied for the lowest total in the Majors this season.
Such stingy pitching figures to make for a low-scoring series. Both teams have speed and modest power. Both are adept at manufacturing runs, a trait they will certainly need.
The White Sox have one of the premier base stealers in the game in former National Leaguer Scott Podsednik (59 stolen bases) to go with their main power threats in Everett (23 homers, 87 RBIs) and Paul Konerko (40 homers, 100 RBIs).
Houston rookie Willy Taveras hit .291 and swiped 34 bases while teaming with veteran Craig Biggio (career-high 26 home runs and 94 runs scored) to set the table for sluggers Morgan Ensberg (.283, 36 homers and 101 RBIs) and Lance Berkman (.293, 24 homers and 82 RBIs).
Neither Houston (693 runs scored) or Chicago (741 runs scored) finished among the top 12 in team offense this season. The White Sox hit .262, which ranked 18th, while Houston's .256 was 27th among the 30 Major League teams. Both teams had a .322 on-base percentage, which ranked 22nd.
White Sox starters recorded four consecutive complete games from Games 2 through 5 in the American League Championship Series win over the Angels, an LCS record for most complete games in a single LCS of any length, and the first time a team has thrown four consecutive complete games in one postseason series since the 1956 New York Yankees threw five consecutive complete games from Games 3 through 7 against Brooklyn.
Both teams surprised a lot of observers by getting this far.
The Astros became the first team to go from 15 games under .500 (15-30) to 15 games over and reach the playoffs in the same season since the 1918 Boston Braves.
The White Sox started fast before slumping in September but managed to hold off hard-charging Cleveland to win the AL Central crown.
"We took a lot of beatings this year ... and we just kept playing," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Good thing my players don't listen to what I was saying to the media, and we stick together and I think they deserve it. They earned it, and that's why I let them enjoy themselves."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.