Well, YF just told me that he’s pulling for Chicago in the ALCS, so this week it’s…AngelsFan vs. SoxFan (cue music). How does it feel to be the SoxFan, YF?
I realize this series has less glamour than if the Yankees and Red Sox were in it but really, it’s not all that fair that there are only two teams in thirty who are considered legitimate in postseason play.
This is going to be a good series, if only because the teams are so similar. It’s all about starting pitching, good defense, running, etc.
My thoughts on the White Sox: Though my love of baseball runs deep, I am about to reveal myself at my shallowest: since I’ve been a kid, a team’s uniform has a lot to do with whether I like that team. (I’m sure this is a non-issue for fans of “classic” teams like the Yanks and Red Sox who don’t feel compelled to conpletely redesign their uniforms every so many years.) If the Angels ever reverted to their late-90’s blue uniforms I don’t know what I’d do, they were so ghastly. I could never really like the Devil Rays as is because their uniforms look as cheap and ugly as…well, the Devil Rays. (Side topic: one really disturbing trend I’ve seen on at least half of MLB teams this year is the saving-of-money by not sewing individual letters for player names on uniforms, instead putting the name on a patch. This looks so offensively cheap in a jillion-dollar sport, and it really consistently bothers me. Your kid’s freaking soccer team has real letters on their shirts. I hope the Angels don’t do it.)
The White Sox, on the other hand, have great uniforms. I can’t remember when they started using these (black pinstripes on white, black caps) but over the past few years I’ve enjoyed Angels/ChiSox a little more than those of other random opponents because I like the Chicago uniform. Superficial? You bet. But baseball is a game of details, and this is one detail that matters to me. Appearances count.
(Additional side topic: I also really loathe the practice of “alternate” uniforms which bear little resemblance to one another — the Astros are the worst about this, having three home “alternate” uniforms, one with a burgundy shirt, one with a white shirt, and one with pinstripes. Part-time pinstripes! What the hell! And they use either a black or burgundy cap, depending! Someone really ought to reign them in about this; they look like a different team playing from day to day. The Angels and White Sox have fairly sedate alternate uniforms — Angels’s is sleeveless jerseys, White Sox is green stripes rather than black — which are at least consistent and unjarring.)
So I might have been predisposed to like the White Sox, but now the White Sox also have a team that I respect and admire. Or, more specifically, I respect and admire their pitching staff, who I became familiar with as a result of playing fantasy baseball this year for the first time. Their lineup doesn’t particularly interest me, but Garland, Garcia, Contreras, El Duque, even Buehrle (sp) have really brought this team a long way. And now their flamethrowing closer, Bobby Jenks (an ex-Angel) also adds to an already strong mix. A team is led by its pitching squad, and these guys are stand-up. (And I think that’s what really missing from the Yankees this year as opposed to the Yanks of even 2002 — even if Wright, Pavano and Brown were healthy and pitched well all year, I’m just not sure we’d feel that level of dominance and leadership and togetherness that we had with Clemens/Wells/Pettite.)
You’ve also gotta love Ozzie Guillen, who has been the most enjoyably, calculatedly loudmouthed manager in recent memory. The guy is a walking quote factory, and always sounds like he’s about to tear your head off (in a good way, not a Piniella way). He’s also really done great with this team. Sure they had their second-half near-total-collapse, but “near” is the operative word there, and in the last week they stood up when they had to finish the season with 99 wins, and THEN smashed the Red Sox in a great “you best take us seriously” statement.
The White Sox, despite finishing with the second best record in baseball, have oddly assumed the role of lovable underdog in this series, which I attribute mostly to media bias, their second-half collapse, and a long, long legacy of not winning the World Series (1917 was the last time). The media bias part simply comes from the fact that they’re not the Red Sox, Yankees, or even Cubs. They also, like the 2002 Angels, don’t really have any household names on their team. Some of their pitchers have established themselves, and Scott Podsednik has too, but they didn’t start the year that way. So people don’t really know who they are, they nearly choked, and with so much more attention being paid to the Red Sox in general, I think the assumption was that the White Sox would prove themselves to be insubstantial. Not so.
The Angels, on the other hand, don’t get to be the lovable underdog again. They won the World Series only three years ago, and they have suddenly become a big-market (3 million plus fans this year) team with an owner who makes Steinbrenner look like a pauper and who has been unafraid to spend big money to sign established talent (Guerrero, Colon…er, Finley). And, like Steinbrenner, Arte’s been open in his ambition to win the rings every year.
For all that, the Angels of 2005 look less potent than the Angels of 2002, when every single guy on the team was whomping the ball. The changes in their lineup since their championship year have been Cabrera for Eckstein, Guerrero for Salmon, MacPherson (on DL and subbed for by Figgins) for Glaus, Finley for Fullmer, Rivera/Davanon/Izturis for Spiezio. Anderson, Erstad, Molina and Kennedy are still around.
That sounds like an improvement, but it hasn’t clicked. Finley has been a total bust and I still don’t know why Scioscia is playing him, Cabrera’s ok but hardly consistent (though a huge defensive improvement), and the platoon of Rivera/Davanon/Izturis in DH probably makes for the weakest DH by a credible team in the league. And further, the stalwarts are hardly producing like they used to (Erstad has become the strikeout king, GA has back problems and doesn’t pop them like he used to, and neither does AK, for that matter.) Figgins and Guerrero have been immeasurably valuable, despite some extended slumps this year. Molina has hit better than ever. But what you’re not seeing is those five-singles-in-a-row attacks that drove the Yankees insane in the previous ALDS.
So Angels this year, relative to the White Sox, look a little more like the Yankees: an expensive team who doesn’t dominate their opponents like you’d expect, whose weaknesses mean each victory is harder-earned than you’d like.
As for who’s going to win this matchup, I think it’s going to be, like the ALDS, another close series with several nailbiters, and it will probably go to seven. I’ll say it’s going to be the Angels, but that’s only because I’m a fan — this one could go either way. The White Sox clearly have the edge in terms of overall rest — the Angels have played three games in three time zones in three days, but the Angels picking up a victory in Chicago last night against Contreras was huge (big ups to Shields and K-Rod yet again) and suddenly makes me feel more confident about their chances. Of course, the big mystery is who pitches tonight, and is Washburn going to recover from his flu — the Angels might have to start Shields or Escobar if both Colón and Washburn continue to be unavailable.
In other words, I’m ready for some great baseball! Go Halos!