World Series Preview: Houston Astros vs. Chicago White Sox

Out of thirty, eight. Out of eight, four. Out of four… Two. On Saturday, the Chicago White Sox will host the Houston Astros for Game 1 of the 2005 World Series. Chicago’s first Series appearance since 1959, Houston’s first… ever. Probably the two best rotations in the majors, setting up what might be among the lowest-scoring World Series since the DH Era began.
So, we can now begin to break down the matchups, from the rotations to the bullpens to the lineups to the managers. One of these two teams will inherit the crown the Boston Red Sox have worn for 357 days. By the end of this article, I’ll give my prediction as to who that will be, and how long it will take.
The Rotation
The bread and butter for each club, the starting rotations are incredibly strong. Houston’s was the very best in the majors by ERA, Best in the NL in OPSA and BAA, 5th in K/9. Chicago’s rotation was tied for 1st in the AL in ERA, tied for 2nd in OPSA, and 2nd outright in BAA; they did not attain success through the K, however, ranking only 9th in the AL in K/9. The starters also went deeper into games than those of nearly any other club; Chicago ranked first in the majors in IP, while Houston ranked 3rd (St. Louis ranked between them). It is absolutely no exaggeration to suggest that these teams combined could average no more than 6 or 7 runs per game. Furthermore, while the White Sox have had a week to set their rotation, the Astros have found themselves in perfect position, with Clemens rested and ready for Game 1.
Houston Rotation (Projected):
Roger Clemens (13-8, 1.87); Home: (7-4, 2.33); Road: (6-4, 1.32)
Andy Pettitte (17-9, 2.39); Home: (10-4, 2.12); Road: (7-5, 2.64)
Roy Oswalt (20-12, 2.94); Home: (12-2, 2.52); Road: (8-10, 3.38)
Brandon Backe (10-8, 4.76); Home: (6-2, 3.41); Road: (4-6, 5.83)
Chicago Rotation (Projected):
Mark Buehrle (16-8, 3.12); Home: (10-2, 2.48); Road: (6-6, 3.86)
Jon Garland (18-10, 3.50); Home: (10-6, 3.56); Road: (8-4, 3.44)
Jose Contreras (15-7, 3.61); Home: (7-5, 3.68); Road: (8-2, 3.38)
Freddy Garcia (14-8, 3.87); Home: (4-5, 4.38); Road: (10-3, 3.40)
ADVANTAGE: Houston, but not by all that much.
The Bullpen
Two excellent pens, in two totally different ways. While Chicago saw overall solid numbers from their pen, top to bottom, they lacked a dependable closer for most of the season, giving Marte, Hermanson, and Jenks – among others – shots at the job before finally settling on Jenks late in the season. Houston, on the other hand, has a strong back end in Chad Qualls and Dan Wheeler, leading to one of the very best closers in the game, Brad Lidge. Chicago’s pen ranked 3rd in the AL in ERA, BAA, and K/9, and 6th in WHIP and OPSA; Houston’s ranked 4th in the NL in ERA, 2nd in BAA and OPSA, and 1st in WHIP, K/9, and K/BB. Two deeply dangerous bullpens, one dangerous from top to bottom but never downright dominant, the other with issues in long and middle relief, but absolutely terrifying late in the game.
Advantage: Houston, but not by all that much.
The Lineup
Much was made this season about Chicago’s ‘smart ball’ approach and how it put a charge in the team; much was also made about their somewhat prodigious HR rate. This has led many to conclude that Chicago has a dangerous lineup, though that conclusion isn’t supported by the numbers. It’s true that Houston’s offense – even in offense-friendly Minute Maid Park – was anemic. Chicago’s, however – and despite the steals, bunts, squeeze plays, and homers – also had its fair share of trouble putting runners across home plate. Part of this is, I feel, Chicago’s biggest weakness; a team that can hit that many homers – though the rest of their SLG potential is amazingly weak – should be able to score more runners. There are twin problems with this; first, Chicago doesn’t get enough men on base, and second, too many of them are lost on the basepaths (1st in MLB in CS by a wide margin, with 67). Homers are good, but solo homers score runs only one at a time. It’s important to note, however, that Houston had similar problems, and ranked 2nd in the NL – tied with the Padres and one behind Washington, for the lead in CS. Houston did steal bases at a somewhat better rate than Chicago, 72% to 67%.
Houston (in NL):
BA: 13th
OBP: 13th
SLG: 11th
OPS: 11th
HR: 9th
2B: 13th
RS: 11th
Chicago (in AL):
BA: 12th
OBP: 11th
SLG: 8th
OPS: 8th
HR: 4th
2B:14th
RS: 9th
ADVANTAGE: Chicago, but not by all that much.
The Manager
This is obviously based solely on my gut instinct. Before I talk about that, though, I will say this: there is a school of thought that suggests that an area where a manager’s influence may be quantified is in their team’s Pythagorean Differential. I myself do not really believe this, but it may be worth noting that the White Sox this year played an impressive 7 games above their projection, while the Astros were a fairly standard 2 games below it. To be taken with a grain of salt.
Now for my unfounded opinions: I’ve had more of an opportunity to watch Guillen this year, of course. What I’ve seen is a manager who somewhat flawlessly manages his pitching staff, yet horribly mismanages his offense (and somehow manages to get the media to fawn over it anyway). In Garner, I see a guy who is prone to overmanagement occasionally, but is in general a fairly conservative, by the book manager (which is by no means a put-down, and may actually be a hell of a compliment). I’m not wild about what I’ve seen from Garner’s pen use; too many times this postseason I’ve seen him waste arms as though it were a regular season game, not focusing on the need to squeeze outs from productive pitchers. I’m still not convinced he’s totally taken to NL managing yet, either. Guillen… drives me crazy with the offense, I’ll be honest. The worst thing an offense can do is kill baserunners, and the White Sox did it more prolifically than any other AL team this year (Washington gets the medal in all of MLB, however). All of those SB’s (and CS’s) didn’t stop them from grounding into 122 double plays, either; though it was among the lowest totals in the majors, it’s more than offset by the CS’s. But, I’m getting too bogged down. Bottom line is that Guillen overmanages his offense and perfectly manages his pitching, while Garner overmanages both… maybe.
ADVANTAGE: Chicago, but not by all that much
Stadium
Two of the most painful examples of corporate sponsorship in baseball, Minute Maid Park and US Cellular Field will host the 2005 World Series. Minute Maid Park is notorious for its small dimensions, but that overlooks the incredibly deep (and horrid) center field; Minute Maid did play as a hitters’ park this year, at .076 runs per game above average, but that was almost certainly skewed by the ‘Stros lousy offense and excellent pitching. US Cellular, on the other hand, played as a slight pitchers’ park, at .029 runs per game below average; again, the White Sox’ moribund offense and excellent pitching may have played a role.
The X-Factor
Houston: Jeff Bagwell, DH. Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 will be in the AL this year, meaning that Jeff Bagwell, who has made only a small number of appearances in a pinch-hitting capacity this postseason, could get as many as 20 AB’s at US Cellular. This alone ups the potential of Houston’s offense by decent amount; should Bagwell have a solid series, it could be the difference between 2 runs a game and 3, a difference that might be quite meaningful with Houston’s pitching.
Chicago: The Homerun. Chicago hit more than 10 other AL teams this year, and a lot more than Houston. Mostly they were with the bases empty (119 of their 200 HR’s). If the White Sox can get guys on before they drive the ball out of the yard, they’ll be able to outscore Houston. Look also for them to take advantage of the short LF and RF porches at Minute Maid during games 3, 4, and 5.
The History
Out the window completely (as if such a thing ever mattered in the first place). Houston’s never been here. Chicago has been here exactly twice since World War I, and one of those times they actually tried to lose. Plus, all those guys are either dead or hanging out in cornfields.
ADVANTAGE: Even
The Prediction
Bottom Line: Astros in 7.
Game by Game: Astros win Game 1, White Sox win Game 2, Astros win Game 3, White Sox win Games 4 and 5, Astros win Games 6 and 7.
World Series MVP: Roy Oswalt.
Number of White Sox runners caught stealing by Ausmus: 7
Jeff Bagwell’s line: 4-18, 4 BB, 1 HR, 4 RBI.
Number of times we see George HW and Barbara Bush making out again: Please God Zero.
Astros in 7. You heard it here first, unless someone else already predicted that and you heard them do so.