Every four years, Major League Baseball's postseason intersects with a presidential election. This is one of those years. In the spirit of the season, we here at MLB FanHouse have divided the playoff teams up for a series of debates. Tom Fornelli and Eamonn Brennan discuss the ALDS between the Rays and White Sox.
All of the debating goodness after the jump.
Fornelli - Listen, Eamonn, I know that you adopted the Rays as your American League team before the season started, so you're probably a little giddy over the fact that both your Cubs and now your Rays have made the postseason.
Congratulations, I'm happy for you.
Unfortunately, I fear that your enjoyment of the Rays postseason will last as long as the joy the Cubs brought you before losing last night, because the White Sox are going to win this series.
Eamonn - Hello, Tom. We meet again.
It's true, I did adopt the Rays as my American League team, just in time for their first actual season as a baseball team. Before 2008, they were merely a collection of naifs and babes, a small assemblage of baseball talent, if, some years, you could even call it that. Now? A loaded rotation, young players with big sticks who field their positions and, perhaps most importantly, a manager that wears the same frames as the anorexic clerks at my local American Apparel. There's nothing not to love.
Anyway, I believe we're supposed to "debate" now. All right, then.
Fornelli - You mention that the Rays have a loaded rotation, and it's true. They have some very young and talented pitchers, but I fear that the youth and inexperience may cost them. As any player who has been in the postseason would know -- and this experience is not common amongst the Rays roster -- the playoffs are a different beast entirely.
Every single pitch matters in October, and the White Sox have some battle tested pitchers who have been there before and know what it takes (okay, so Javier Vazquez may have been there but he doesn't know what it takes).
Sure, this is the first trip to the playoffs for Gavin Floyd and John Danks, but they were both introduced to playoff atmosphere baseball in the last few days. How did they respond? Well, Floyd shut down a powerful Tigers lineup while Danks threw an 8-inning masterpiece against the Twins to get the Sox to Tampa.
And just like they handled the Tigers and Twins, both will work the same magic against the "We're just happy to be here" Rays.
Eamonn - I think there's something to the notion that players that have never played in the playoffs before suffer an adjustment period. At the very least, they take some time to settle down. All's fair there.
But I think it's folly to attribute too much of the outcome to experience, or lack thereof. For every player who freaks out in the spotlight, there are examples of young players who, for whatever reason, have very little trouble transitioning to playoff baseball. The 2008 Red Sox, for example, say hello.
So what that leaves us with is skill. It leaves us with Scott Kazmir, a high-K bonafide ace, and James Shields and Matt Garza, two skilled young pitchers that don't yield a lot of home runs. Gavin Floyd and John Danks are fine; is not. Up against these three, it's hard not to give the pitching edge to the Rays. Experience or not.
Fornelli - I agree that experience isn't necessary in the postseason, but I remind you that while Boston's youngsters had success last October, they also had a lot of veterans around them who had been there before.
The kids didn't have to carry the team for the Red Sox. They do in Tampa. Back to pitching, though.
We'll move on to the area where I fear the Rays do have an edge on my boys in black, and that's the bullpen.
The White Sox bullpen the last few months, well, to put it kindly, has blown. Building a bridge from the starter of the day to Bobby Jenks has been a daily adventure, and one that usually ends in disaster.
No White Sox fan is happy to see Octavio Dotel, D.J. Carrasco, Mike MacDougal, or coming out of the pen. The good news, though, is that since it's October, we're not going to see those guys anymore.
Ozzie Guillen has shown in the past that when the playoffs come, he's going to stick with his starters threw hell and high water. If you see anybody other than Matt Thornton, Scott Linebrink or Bobby Jenks coming onto the field, then something horrible has happened.
Eamonn - Yeah, I suppose that's one benefit of Ozzie's style. If you see a reliever, then you already know: The game is boarded up. The windows, the doors, everything.
Not so with the Rays. While the bullpen isn't the deepest in the AL, or the most overpowering, the steadiness of Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell, and crew has been a boon. Speaking of "not overpowering," Troy Percival isn't exactly the closer of anyone's dreams, but after his back problems, he might not even be in the mix.
The most interesting guy could be David Price, who has been earning raves as a future ace for as long as he's been in the Rays organization. (Which isn't all that long.) A dream scenario, at least for a relatively objective observer, would be for Price to take over Percival's closer role and just dominate. Not going to happen, but a guy can dream.
Anyway, yeah, the White Sox suck at relief. The Rays: less so. On we go.
Fornelli - Considering the amount of homers the White Sox hit, most people tend to forget that these guys can pick it pretty well in the field. Sure, Ken Griffey Jr. in centerfield is a nightmare at times (thankfully the Sox have defensive closer Brian Anderson to take over in the late innings), but other than that, the Sox are solid all around.
DeWayne Wise and Nick Swisher aren't going to win any gold gloves out in left field, but both are adequate at the position, and Jermaine Dye may just be the most underrated defensive outfielder in baseball today.
While he's lost a step or two to Father Time, he still reads the ball well off of the bat and makes a lot of fantastic plays most right fielders won't make. Not to mention he has a cannon for an arm as well.
In the infield, the Sox have to be strong thanks to the type of ground ball inducing pitching staff they employ, and the Sox infield does just that. A lot of people thought that their defense would struggle without Joe Crede, but Juan Uribe has stepped right in and made White Sox fans forget all about #24.
Then there's Gold Glove collector at shortstop, and Alexei Ramirez at second. Together the two of them make up one of the best double play combos in baseball. Not to mention, if there's an infield in baseball with a collective set of strong-armed infielders like the White Sox have, I haven't seen it.
Thankfully there's Paul Konerko at first base who has no problem reeling in the rocket throws he receives on a regular basis. And even though Paulie's athletic ability would best be described as non-existent, he's surprisingly strong in the field. I mean, if a ball is hit within two feet of him, he's going to get it every time. Thankfully the team can also bring in Swisher to play first, where he's at his best.
Eamonn - Before the season began, Baseball Prospectus, in its not-infallible-but-usually-impressive wisdom, made the argument that before 2008, the Rays would be a group of talented hitters, but not a team, not until they shuffled defensive players into something resembling a professional defense. They did that, and the Rays managed to turn the league's worst defense (-115 FRAA, or Fielding Runs Above Average) to one of the league's better ones (+59 FRAA). This, as you can imagine, changed everything.
The Rays no longer had to plead for strikeouts to get out of innings; no longer were their pitchers, young and talented, stranded on a island against the monsters of the AL East. This year, the Rays played defense, and played it well at all but a few positions. No reason to expect any difference against the White Sox.
Fornelli - There's plenty of reason to expect a difference against the White Sox, for the Rays will surely be distracted by A.J. Pierzynski's antics, and Ozzie Guillen's off-color humor while in the field.
Anyway, on to the next area of this great debate.
The White Sox lineup is the most dangerous in baseball, as they can take you deep from anywhere at anytime. That harmless two-out walk you just gave up? Yeah, that's a two-run mistake on your very next pitch.
While the White Sox tend to be more aggressive than I'd like, attacking the pitcher early in the count instead of working him for their pitch, they're still a very tiring offense to face for a pitcher just because he can't relax.
Orlando Cabrera isn't your prototypical lead off guy, and his OBP leaves something to be desired, but he does a decent enough job of getting on base for the thumpers in the middle of the order.
Then there's the fact that Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko have a history of coming alive come the playoffs (something Paulie started early this season with four homers in the last five games), and they have some guy named JI
Eamonn - Carlos Quentin
Fornelli - Carlos Pena
Eamonn - Josh Fields
Eric Hinske Rocco Baldelli Ben Zobrist Fernando Perez Willy Aybar
Fornelli - Joe Maddon Ron Gardenhire