In a town known for losing, the White Sox have left Chicagoans pinching themselves. They have left Chicago with an icon. They have left Chicago two games away from breaking one of sport's most embarrassing streaks.
The buzz in Chicago is like nothing I have ever seen. It is amazing how quick it has become a baseball town. Even more amazing how quick it has become a White Sox town. And no, I'm not bitter. This is the White Sox moment, and it's a crime for any Cub fan to root against them.
Some will call me a traitor. Others will say I didn't belong. Either way, I was in U.S. Cellular Field for Game One, rooting loud and proud for the Pale Hose. And I found myself in the loudest baseball stadium in recent Chicago memory, including that old park on the north side.
This White Sox team is reminiscent of the 2002 Angels, in the sense that it's a team America is falling in love with, despite a lack of face. Well, other than the manager. Ozzie has taken control of this team, while becoming the "Ditka" of the 21st century. "Who would have thought Ozzie Guillen could control a pitching staff," was overheard during Game One. And how true it is, when considering both his big mouth and weak playing career. However, Guillen is a master, pushing all the right buttons in Game One, and stopping the bleeding in Game Two. Also, in a town so used to watching starters become a manager's torture victims, Ozzie rarely pushes his starters too hard.
But as much influence Guillen has, he has received too much attention during the playoffs. The face of the team, maybe. Occasionally unrecognizable when standing next to King Midas? Yes. But he is not the driving force behind the Sox; in fact, far from it. Today I want to take a more in-depth look at the White sox that we know so little about, and show that this team is just too much fun to have half their home city rooting against them.
Despite yesterday's antics from both Paul Konerko and Scott Podsednik, this postseason still belongs to Joe Crede from where I'm standing. This was a player that entered Chicago with the highest of expectations, after winning minor league MVP awards in both 1998 and 2000. Furthermore, he finished his 2002 season with a .285 average and 12 home runs (after hitting 24 in AAA) in 200 Major League at-bats. However, in the three years since, Crede's batting average hasn't broken .265, his OBP has been shy of .310, and just this year did his slugging eclipse .450.
With Major League performances that have turned jeers to cheers, Crede was the last on anyone's postseason picks to click list. Only a good September (.379/.419/.759) came as foreshadowing for what October would bring. In all but three postseason games in 2005, Joe Crede has had an RBI. He's hit three playoff home runs, including a game-tying shot in Game 5 of the ALCS, and the go-ahead home run on Saturday. But more important than his bat has been his glove, one that deserves a Gold Glove this season. In fact, Crede's lack of pre-October exposure will likely be the reason that he does not win, likely falling short to Alex Rodriguez.
Instead, the team's Gold Glove winner might be Paul Konerko, king of the (flawed) fielding percentage statistic. While Konerko doesn't quite deserve that recognition, he is without question the best hitter on the team. Many argue his MVP merits are non-existent, but considering the trophy's dependence on team player (either right or wrong), he deserves to garner a top five vote.
Paulie also deserves a raise at the end of the season, when he will become the key White Sox free agent. With a heightened fan base, as well as extra money coming from the MLB, Ken Williams should have some extra money to play with this winter. Look for him to go after Paul hard, and probably sign him, despite the best efforts of teams like the Red Sox, Mets and Giants. Outside of Konerko, I should mention, much of this team will be back in 2006.
While Konerko and Crede have managed to steal the postseason spotlight, the unsung hero has been the only White Sox hitter with a .300+ average in October: Juan Uribe. The shortstop has been freakishly consistent in the last ten games, collecting hits in nine of them. He has, without doubt, one of the more dangerous players on the field in Game Two. This should have been expected, of course, considering Uribe tattooed southpaws in 2005, continuing a career-long trend.
Uribe is also an Ozzie Guillen favorite, and considering his newfound popularity, that is the right place to be. While Uribe was probably no better than the 7th or 8th best AL shortstop, his power and defense should keep him on the South Side for a long time.
One player that should not be kept is Scott Podsednik. There, I said it, even after yesterday. Because what will be lost in the hysteria created by his homer is his outfield play in the top half of the inning. Jose Vizcaino's single was well-hit enough that Podsednik should have thrown out Chris Burke with ease. Or, as the Cheat said after the game at South Side Sox, "Timo Perez' arm has the ball to Pierzynski with enough time for AJ to sign it as a parting gift to Burke." This play also should have left Houston kicking themselves for not sending Wily Taveras home on a Lance Berkman single in Game One.
Podsednik's arm, mixed with his lack of power, mixed with his stolen base percentage, mixed with his average OBP should leave Ken Williams selling high. The Red Sox didn't even have a chance to trade Dave Roberts after the World Series last year, but you have a feeling they would have. Podsednik is a similar case, but one in which the White Sox are giving WAY too many at-bats to. The answer to this equation is to trade Podsednik to someone who thinks he can play center, and to allow Brian Anderson 500 at-bats in 2006.
It is that confidence in the farm system that we have seen pay dividends during this series. The player that comes to mind is Bobby Jenks, Game One's savior. When on his game, Jenks throws one of the three 'heaviest' fastballs in the game. However, his endurance is not that of a Billy Wagner yet, as his velocity slipped to 95-97 mph in Game Two. Furthermore, he does not trust his power curve, a fantastic pitch that garnered one strikeout on Saturday.
Jenks will likely be the unquestioned closer next year, jumping right into the 40 saves category. His October has not brought Francisco Rodriguez-like attention, but no longer is he a fantasy sleeper. People have quickly come to know his big frame and big fastball, and he should become a fan favorite in short order. Moving players like Jenks and Neal Cotts to the bullpen is proving a genius move, and eventually, you have to figure all this adds up to a raise for Don Cooper.
Cooper has remained in the background for most of the postseason, but he deserves quite a bit of credit for turning this staff into what it has become. Cooper was behind Jose Contreras learning to trust all of his pitches, making the splitter become more effective. Cooper helped turn around Jon Garland, as the big right-hander better pitches down and in now than he used to. The Sox pitching coach should be given a pat on the back for his work with Brandon McCarthy (improved change up) and Freddy Garcia. While Ozzie is a magnificent director, there is no better teacher in this organization than Cooper.
I still believe the White Sox will win the World Series in six games. Look for losses in Games Three and Five, and for a Mark Buerhle masterpiece in the clincher. And with that, Chicago will have a World Series winner for the first time in nearly ninety years. And for once, I hope all of Chicago can appreciate it.