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Archive for Friday, October 28, 2005

Commentary: AL dominance in Series won’t end anytime soon

October 28, 2005

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— Despise the designated hitter if you like, but recognize the empirical evidence. Consider this year's sweep of the Astros by the White Sox, or last year's sweep of the Cardinals by the Red Sox, factor in that there have been just three National League World Series winners during the last 10 years, include the slew of recent All-Star Game results, and give me your alternate conclusion.

Tell me why National League baseball is not inferior to the American League brand, at least the way the current ultimate rewards are constructed. Tell me why you see the last 10 years as more a blip than a concern. Tell me how the National League, without either adopting the designated hitter or having it extinguished, isn't at a disadvantage every time October rolls around.

Here's what I see: American League contenders and champions, with the presence of highly paid, bomb-blasting designated hitters, have better lineups. American League contenders and champions, because of that DH, overall have better bullpens, too, if for no other reason than they are more playoff conditioned by how they are used in the regular season.

Jermaine Dye, the 2005 World Series Most Valuable Player, was an Atlanta Braves rookie when the Yankees started this decade of AL dominance in 1996. A free agent last winter after stints with Kansas City and Oakland, Dye said he sat down with White Sox general manager Kenny Williams and scoured the roster before signing for less than he could have received elsewhere.

As the White Sox showed in this latest sweep that ended with Wednesday night's 1-0 victory, starting pitching still is paramount in the Fall Classic. The National League team can overcome its perennial disadvantage if its staff is loaded with great starting arms, the way the Marlins were in 2003 or the Diamondbacks were in 2001 - and the way the Astros hoped they were this year. But it is instructive that the last complete game in the World Series occurred when Florida's Josh Beckett closed out the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.

That 2-0 shutout in '03 is the exception, and comes with its own set of qualifiers. For the National League team to overcome with starting pitching, the AL team can't have equal or superior arms - as the White Sox had in this postseason. In their four victories over the Astros, the White Sox scored just six more runs.

Losing Roger Clemens to a strained hamstring in Game 1 hurt the Astros, for sure. Having Roy Oswalt underperform in Game 3 on Tuesday night, surrendering a four-run lead in a single inning, was worse.

It was pivotal.

It rendered Brandon Backe's seven shutout innings Wednesday night as a mere footnote.

"We could be very easily 3-0 and they could be 0-3," Craig Biggio said before Wednesday night's loss, a sentiment expressed by several Astros after Tuesday's 7-5, 14-inning loss.

No they couldn't, and the truth is right there on the stat sheet. The Astros left runners in scoring position throughout these games, a characteristic they got away with against St. Louis because of their pitching.

On Wednesday night at home, Houston put the leadoff runner on in four of the first five innings and couldn't push a run across. And the timing was awful. In the sixth inning, Jason Lane struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning.

In the ninth inning, Lane led off with a single.

The game ended on a grounder to short, with Lane inches from home plate.

Of the four runs Houston scored to take its early lead Tuesday, only two were earned. And lost in all the teeth-gnashing about the Astros leaving 15 runners on base over the course of Tuesday's 14 innings is that the White Sox had also left 15 on base.

The White Sox probably made as many mistakes as the Astros in this World Series. Despite constant bemoanings to the contrary, they received and were denied about the same number of breaks. They swept the Astros because they had better tools to overcome and take advantage of the luck that came and went, tools they needed to compete in a league more conducive to producing World Series winners than the league Houston plays in.

It was a banner year for baseball, with races that went down to the final weekend - some the final day. This World Series again was a cold tsunami to that season, the fourth American League sweep over the National League in the last 10 years.

If Bud Selig and baseball's rainmakers aren't concerned, they ought to be.

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