3. Chicago's defense isn't making many mistakes. The infielders put their glovework on display in the American League Championship Series, especially third baseman Joe Crede. For the World Series, the guys in focus might well be the underrated White Sox outfielders, whose fundamental skills and tenacity seemingly make up for blistering defensive speed.
It's tough to call the White Sox bullpen a weakness when no reliever has been used since Game 1 of the ALCS. However, these guys are going to test the notion of too much rest for a pitcher. Rookie closer Bobby Jenks will head into the World Series having been out of game action since the last game of the Division Series sweep of the Red Sox. If Jenks goes unused in Game 1, his absence will be as long as a stint on the 15-day disabled list. Other than Neal Cotts, the arms behind Jenks have seen no more than one game all postseason. That's a lot of rust to try to shake off in simulated games and bullpen throwing.
The White Sox have a lot of batters who used to hit Roger Clemens well before The Rocket jumped to the National League. Crede is 3-for-5 (.600) with two solo homers against him. Konerko is 8-for-18 (.444) with two homers and five RBIs off Clemens, while Jermaine Dye is 6-for-18 (.333) and Scott Podsednik is 5-for-14 (.357). No matter where the Astros pitch Clemens in their World Series rotation, the intimidation factor is not going to be on his side.
Crede is starting to grow an aura of this generation's Scott Brosius, the low-average-hitting third baseman who suddenly becomes clutch once October comes around. He could've made a strong argument for ALCS MVP honors with his 7-for-19 (.368), two-homer, seven-RBI performance, plus his defense was often outstanding. He could go south again -- he went just 1-for-9 (.111) against the Red Sox in the Division Series -- but his recent stretch means he'll require the Astros' attention.
Three reasons the Astros will win
1. Houston might be the one team in the Majors that can match the White Sox rotation for depth. No, Brandon Backe doesn't carry nearly the star power that Jose Contreras does right now, but his performance to keep things close Sunday was worthy of recognition. The remainder of the quartet -- Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt -- don't have to play second billing to anyone.
2. Introducing Minute Maid Park to the AL could erase some of that fear factor surrounding Chicago's pitching. White Sox arms have to deal with their own homer-friendly ballpark, too, but the home run totals at U.S. Cellular Field the past two years have had more to do with jet stream than dimensions. It shouldn't be a huge advantage, but it could be enough to tilt command toward Houston in the middle games.
3. Houston's bullpen is better all the way around, and it gets downright scary when Brad Lidge enters the game. If the Astros starters can simply work to a low-scoring draw entering the late innings and Houston's hitters can raise pitch counts against Freddy Garcia and company, they have more than a fair chance.
The Astros could fall to a similarly quick fate as the Angels did if they don't do a better job of driving in runs. Houston went 2-for-31 (.065) with runners in scoring position through the first four games of the NLCS, but it got away with it because of its pitching. Those struggles become magnified against a White Sox club that moves runners along.
White Sox pitchers were superb at teasing Red Sox and Angels sluggers enough to hit themselves into outs. On paper, that shouldn't be as easy against the Astros' top hitters, who are disciplined as much as they are dangerous. Lance Berkman would've walked well over 100 times this season had he been healthy all year, and Morgan Ensberg didn't fall far off either. Both boast excellent hand-eye coordination and have shown they can cut down on their swings to be perfectly fine singles hitters if they have to be. It might not help them against Contreras, but it could give them a better chance against Mark Buehrle, Garcia and Jon Garland.
Willy Taveras is the one Astros player who could answer the speed advantage the White Sox have on the base paths and take advantage of catcher A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate. The Angels hoped to do that, but Chone Figgins went 2-for-17 (.118) in the ALCS. If Taveras can get on base, and he's been doing that respectably whenever he's played this postseason, he could produce some problems for Chicago and ease some of that pressure with runners in scoring position.
White Sox in six games. When Mike Scioscia compared the White Sox pitching staff to what the 1966 Orioles had, it was high praise on a historic level. Those O's swept the Dodgers with shutouts in Games 2, 3 and 4 of the World Series. That won't happen again, but it'll take spectacular pitching from the Astros to send this series back to Chicago.