Sox catch break with snoozy foe
Five-game ALDS, 1,700-mile overnight trip will have Angels tired
CHICAGO -- After an 88-year wait, the Chicago White Sox appear to be catching the occasional break.
Oh, they're making their own good fortune, too, as they did in their sweep of Boston in the American League Division Series. You get clutch hitting, pitching, and defense, and you don't have to rely much on which way the ball is bouncing.
But consider the circumstances as the White Sox open the 2005 American League Championship Series at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday night. The opposition, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, will be sleepless in Chicago.
The Angels were in the Bronx on Sunday night, in southern California on Monday night, and now they will be asked to appear, game-ready, Tuesday night on the South Side. You know, they don't call these red-eye flights for nothing. The Angels could have difficulty setting their watches, much less finding a way to be in peak form for the third straight night after a third straight long-distance flight.
But this is far from the most serious of the Angels' current concerns. The ace of their staff, the likely AL Cy Young Award winner, Bartolo Colon, departed Monday night's deciding Division Series game against the Yankees with an inflamed right shoulder. Colon had already been troubled by a back problem.
And, left-hander Jarrod Washburn had missed a scheduled start in the Division Series due to illness. Pitching, which has been a fundamental strength of the Angels ever since their World Series championship season of 2002, is now, with the ace suffering multiple maladies, surrounded by serious questions. The rest of the staff could be totally healthy, but without Colon, this series will be a significantly more difficult proposition for the Angels.
Contrast this with the state of White Sox pitching, which is just fine, thank you. The starters will be well-rested and pitching in turn. Jose Contreras, 11-2 in the second half, the man who set the tone by beating Boston in the Division Series opener, will go in Game 1 of the ALCS. He will be pitching on a week's rest, but at this point in the marathon season/postseason, that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The Angels will likely oppose Contreras with Paul Byrd, a crafty veteran, but not the Angels' first choice in this slot. Even if Colon were healthy, the fact that the Angels' Division Series went the distance forced them to use him in Game 5.
The worst thing you can say about the White Sox rotation is that the probable Game 4 starter, Jon Garland, will not have pitched since the regular season's final weekend. This is a small price to pay for a sweep in the Division Series. And Game 1 is way too early to start worrying about Game 4, anyway.
The ironic thing is that, everything else being equal, the White Sox would have matched up better against the Yankees. Is that heresy? No, it's pitching.
The White Sox had a monumental edge in pitching over the Red Sox. Their pitching edge against the Yankees would not have been that much of a landslide, but it still would have been decided. The White Sox would have entered a Series against the Yankees as betting underdogs, but the history of postseason play, which says that pitching wins, would have made them the real-life favorites.
Against the Angels, that kind of pitching edge wouldn't have existed, with a healthy Colon in the rotation. The Angels, at full strength, have a solid rotation and a superb bullpen.
Plus, they play small ball, too, and they've played it longer and with more success than the White Sox, even if they refer to it as "little ball." The Angels have a diverse offense, speed, and oh, yes, they are also very good at catching the ball. They are very much like the White Sox in these ways, except that they have more experience at this level.
So, at peak strength, this would be the most difficult American League opponent the White Sox could draw. But it appears that with Colon's status iffy at best, the Angels cannot be considered to be at full strength.
But the Angels have no record of taking the easy way out, regardless of circumstances. It is not like no one will take Colon's spot. Ervin Santana came on Monday night to become the winning pitcher of the deciding Game 5 against the Yanks. Thus, the Angels turned adversity into triumph. This was hardly the first time they had beaten the odds or the circumstances.
Colon's status turns a virtual dead heat into a White Sox advantage. The pick here is the White Sox in seven, with the South Siders taking one more giant step toward ending that 88-year World Series championship drought.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.