Pitching, defense beat the odds
White Sox superior in traditional qualities of playoff success
BOSTON -- History tells us that postseason baseball games are most often won with pitching and defense.
How convenient for the Chicago White Sox, who appear to have a comfortable lead over the Boston Red Sox, particularly in the pitching category. The 2-0 Chicago lead in this AL Division Series is a result of the Chicagoans being better so far in the age-old, tried-and-true postseason categories.
You might reasonably ask: If pitching and defense are the keys, then why were the Red Sox such big favorites coming into this event? What am I, a Las Vegas oddsmaker, that you should ask me such a question? You know why. Name recognition. The Red Sox won the World Series last year. They have the big names with the big bats. Nobody said that those betting lines have to make sense. They are merely what the gambling public will buy.
(We here at MLB.com take an extremely dim view of gambling on baseball, and this brief discussion of the issue should not indicate otherwise. This is why, even though you and I both know that there was serious money to be made by betting on the White Sox earlier this week, I am going to say no more about it.)
It is possible that those booming Boston bats could come back and take over this Series for three straight games. This is an astoundingly powerful lineup. But it is often a long way from conventional wisdom to actual knowledge. This is why some people looked at this Series and determined that the White Sox had no shot. They saw the most obvious thing; a Boston lineup capable of scoring runs early and often, runs in great, big bunches. But this lineup only scored in three of 18 innings in the first two games. And that underscores what we're saying.
The White Sox sent their hottest pitcher out in Game 1. The Red Sox countered with a pitcher who was really effective -- before the All-Star break. The Game 2 matchup appeared, to conventional wisdom, to favor the Red Sox and postseason ace David Wells. But the record will show that the White Sox had their own capable lefty, Mark Buehrle, going, and he gave up one run less than Wells, even if three of Wells' runs were unearned.
The Red Sox could explode at any moment, starting Friday in Game 3 at Fenway Park. Then again, they could lose this Series just because they couldn't pitch as well as the other guys.
The White Sox fully understand and respect Boston's offensive strength. But they also fully understand and respect their own pitching strength. Manager Ozzie Guillen explained how both looked to him on Thursday, just before the White Sox worked out at Fenway.
"You know, we survive and we play good all year because of our pitching staff," Guillen said. "You want to beat those guys [the Red Sox]. The only way you're going to do it is to shut down the offense. I think that team has the best offense in the league right now.
"You know, you look at those guys as a manager and you say, 'We're not going to pitch around this guy to face the next.' You don't have that space on this ballclub. Even [Tony] Graffanino batting ninth. He's one of the dangerous hitters we have to face all year long. All of a sudden you have [Bill] Mueller, you have [Jason] Varitek, you have a lot of people.
"We pitched pretty good against them. But that was our strength. I think that's our toughness. Our pitching staff has been great all year, and they just continue to do it."
And defense? The biggest play of the Series to date was a misplay, Graffanino's failure to field a potential double-play ball. This contributed greatly to Chicago's Game 2 victory. On paper, coming in, the White Sox had a noticeable edge here, too. And until they botch a play of this magnitude, they will still have it.
It could all change here in Boston, but this 2-0 White Sox lead is no accident. It is what the postseason history of baseball tells us would happen. The Red Sox might reverse the trend with a mighty show of offense. But their best October shot would be to produce some very good pitching performances of their own.
The Red Sox came into this Series as the betting favorites. But if you look at the history of these October events, the White Sox don't look anything like underdogs.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.