The Big Threes

The Astros were 11th in the NL in runs scored. The White Sox were 9th in the AL in the same department. However it wasn’t offense that got these two clubs to the Fall Classic.

It was pitching—more pointedly—starting pitching. Before we get into the meat of this week’s column I would like to say this to all non-White Sox and Astros fans: enjoy this World Series anyway. Unless you’re older than my friend Ron B. you’re gonna see something that you’ve never seen before—a team that has never won a Fall Classic in your lifetime. The White Sox haven’t won since 1917; the Astros have never won. Baseball history is going to be made and I for one intend to enjoy every blessed moment.

Both the Astros and the White Sox will look to their 1-3 starters to get the job done: Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt for Houston; Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, and Jose Contreras for the ChiSox. I’m guessing in a seven game series that we’ll be seeing each of these pitchers twice. The White Sox have a little more flexibility in the starting pitching category but it’ll be the preceding six hurlers that this championship will be decided with. So, how are these super-six heading into the series? Who’s hot? Who’s not? What should we look for? Here’s a peek:

White Sox

Mark Buehrle

Games     W-L    ERA   IP    BB    K
Last 20   9-7   3.62  136.2  24   82 
Last 10   5-2   3.17   71    10   46
Last  5   3-0   2.45   36.2   6   23

Notes: Don’t let the ERA fool you. Buerhle has been remarkably consistent down the stretch. His walks per 9 innings and his strikeouts per 9 innings have been pretty static. The only real difference has been the poorly timed home run, which has caused the fluctuation in his ERA. He has been solid to superb all year long. Expect the trend to continue into the World Series.

Jon Garland

Games     W-L    ERA   IP    BB    K
Last 20   8-6   3.33  137.2  32   76 
Last 10   3-4   3.39   71.2  18   48
Last  5   2-1   3.11   37.2  10   28

Notes: Over his last ten starts, Garland’s strikeouts per 9 innings have gone up almost two strikeouts while his walks per 9 innings have gone up almost imperceptibly. He seems to be going into the World Series with a bit more pop in his right arm. After winning the ALCS in just five games, Garland’s arm should still be quite fresh. He’s thrown especially well over his last three starts, with, 22.1 innings, 19 strikeouts and only 5 walks.

Jose Contreras

Games     W-L    ERA   IP    BB    K
Last 20  14-4   3.10  139.1  39   97 
Last 10   9-1   2.44   77.1  13   54
Last  5   4-1   2.36   42     3   30

Notes: This is the guy the Astros have to worry about. Not only has he been hot, his command has been getting downright scary. His walks per 9 innings over his last 20/10/5 starts is 2.52/1.51/0.64 and his strikeouts have remained pretty much the same.

Synopsis: The White Sox three won’t beat themselves; however none are really strikeout pitchers. The best of Chicago’s trio (Contreras) isn’t as proficient as Houston’s “worst” (Clemens). They lean heavily on their defense. The Astros will be putting the ball in play and the Pale Hose had better hope their defense is up to the task.

Astros

Roger Clemens

Games     W-L    ERA   IP    BB    K
Last 20  10-6   2.54  124    37   95 
Last 10   4-4   3.60   55    21   37 
Last  5   3-2   4.05   26.2   9   17

Notes: The last five games include his three inning relief stint in Game 4 of the NLDS. Clemens appears to be tiring. Both his walks per 9 innings and strikeouts per 9 innings have been steadily worsening as the season wears on. Not surprising, since he is 43 years old. Phil Garner will have to keep a close eye on the Rocketman for signs of fatigue. If the Astros get a big lead in any of his starts he would be wise to go to the bullpen.

Andy Pettitte

Games     W-L    ERA   IP    BB    K
Last 20  13-3   2.11  136.1  29   107 
Last 10   6-1   2.48   65.1  11    46
Last  5   1-1   3.31   32.2   6    22

Notes: While Pettitte’s ERA has slowly risen, I don’t see a lot of cause for concern. His strikeout rate has dipped a bit, but that might be a reflection of the level of competition more than anything else. His walk rate has had minor fluctuation at best—he’s still throwing strikes. His 3.31 ERA over his last five games is largely due to his last start in the NLDS (6 innings, 5 earned runs) against St. Louis. Pettitte is coming into the World Series strong.

Roy Oswalt

Games     W-L    ERA   IP    BB    K
Last 20  12-5   3.31  133.1  27   115 
Last 10   8-1   2.67   67.1  14    67
Last  5   5-0   2.62   34.1   6    32

Notes:

The numbers tell the story. The newly minted NLCS MVP is coming into the World Series on a roll. Walks are a bit down, strikeouts are up and only once in his last 20 starts has he failed to pitch at least six innings.

Synopsis:

Clemens will get some much needed rest between now and his start on Saturday. Pettitte is a seasoned World Series veteran and Oswalt is red-hot. For the White Sox to win (barring injury), they’ll either need to win twice in games started by either Pettitte/Clemens/Oswalt, or they’ll need to beat all three (in games they start) at least once. Where the White Sox hold a couple of ace-in-the-holes is in the fourth starter department, where Freddy Garcia (14-8, 3.87 ERA) holds a clear edge over the Astros’ Brandon Backe (10-8, 4.76 ERA), and they have a dandy emergency starter in Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez (9-9, 5.12 ERA). As previously mentioned, I’m guessing we’ll see two starts from each team’s “big three.” Coming into play is “Minute Maid Park,” where being a strikeout pitcher is a definite advantage. The fewer fly balls in play, the less chance it goes over the rather close walls in parts of the park. This favors the Astros triumverate. In the “for what it’s worth” department, over their last 60 combined starts, the White Sox three posted a 3.35 ERA (AL ERA: 4.35); the Astros trio: 2.65 ERA (NL ERA: 4.22).

Prediction: Other factors to take into account are the intangible ones. I believe strongly that experience counts. I’m not saying an experienced mediocre player will be better off than an incredibly talented player without it, but when talent is close—it can spell the difference. Pettitte and Clemens have been in 11 World Series combined and have logged over 100 innings worth of World Series action. They’ve traversed this road before.

My prediction? Astros in seven.

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