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AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

First Look

October 11, 2005|TIM BROWN

* Batting: Like the Angels, the White Sox aren't rich in power threats and use other ways to score. Unlike the Angels, the White Sox hit 200 home runs in the regular season. Paul Konerko hit 40 homers in the regular season and two in the division series sweep of the Red Sox, and Jermaine Dye hit 31 in the regular season. Seven other White Sox hit between 12 and 23 home runs, but only Konerko drove in 100 runs. Leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik (59 steals in 129 games) sparks the offense, just as Chone Figgins drives the Angels. Aaron Rowand, Juan Uribe and A.J. Pierzynski each hit .400 or better in the division series. Even with the power potential, Ozzie Guillen's White Sox led the league in sacrifices. Tadahito Iguchi, who bats second, and Uribe, who bats ninth, sacrificed 11 times each in the regular season.

* Starting pitching: The White Sox have scheduled right-hander Jose Contreras for Game 1. He will be followed by left-hander Mark Buehrle and right-handers Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia. Contreras has won nine consecutive starts, including Game 1 of the division series, in which he gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings. Guillen had indicated that Garland would be his Game 1 starter but chose to keep Contreras and Buehrle on something close to regular rest. He also preferred to have Buehrle pitch at home, where he was 11-2 in the regular season. Garcia has pitched better on the road. Garland, who won 18 games in the regular season but was 5-6 after the All-Star break, will pitch on 13 days' rest, a potential problem for a sinkerball pitcher. With the injury to Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Washburn still sick, the Angel rotation is up in the air. Paul Byrd, who got hit hard by the Yankees in Game 3 of the division series, will be the Game 1 starter.

* Bullpen: White Sox rookie Bobby Jenks, waived by the Angels last winter, saved the second and third games of the division series. He sprinkles off-speed pitches around a fastball that touches 100 mph. Left-handers Neal Cotts and Damaso Marte and right-handers Cliff Politte and Luis Vizcaino each made at least 65 appearances in the regular season, but it was former starter Orlando Hernandez who made their most critical relief appearance. Holding a one-run lead in the sixth inning Friday night at Fenway Park, Hernandez came in with the bases loaded and retired Jason Varitek, Tony Graffanino and Johnny Damon. Veteran right-hander Kelvim Escobar has brought the same middle- to late-inning stability to the Angels. Closer Francisco Rodriguez apparently has rediscovered his touch since his earned-run average drifted above 3.00 in late August, when hitters began laying off his vaunted slider and looking for his fastball.

* Outlook: The story of the series will be the similarities of teams that rely primarily on pitching and defense to win. The White Sox hit for more power, the Angels for a higher average, and they both take runs where they can find them. They finished Nos. 2 and 3 in the AL in ERA, tied for No. 3 in fielding percentage and Nos. 1 and 3 in steals. The real contrast rests with the managers. Guillen is lively, opinionated and, on the bench, often animated. Mike Scioscia is much more even keel and usually keeps his opinions to himself. Despite 99 regular-season wins, the White Sox say they are underappreciated, so they push the theme of playing the underdog role.

-- TIM BROWN

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