White Sox hitters vs. Astros pitchers
The Astros may have the best top three pitchers in all of baseball with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt (and No. 4 Brandon Backe is no slouch). But, separately, the White Sox haven't been intimidated. Against the impressive trio, the current White Sox lineup has batted .304 (82-270) with six homers and 33 RBIs. Team leader Paul Konerko has never faced Oswalt, but he is 18-for-41 (.439) with three homers and 12 RBIs combined against Clemens and Pettitte. Against Clemens, Konerko has two homers and five doubles in just 18 at-bats. Jermaine Dye also has done well against the two former Yankees, with six hits in 18 at-bats versus each. The only White Sox hitter to face Oswalt more than 10 times is outfielder Scott Podsednik, who is 6-for-23 (.261) with a double and one RBI. Dye has fanned three times in three at-bats against Oswalt, while catcher A.J Pierzynski (5-for-8) and utility player Timo Perez (4-for-7) have hit him well in limited duty. Oswalt has never faced the White Sox as a team, but Clemens and Pettitte in their history are a combined 30-18 with a 3.43 ERA.
Advantage: Astros. Despite what the matchup numbers may indicate, Houston's pitchers are still among the best in the game. But they shouldn't have it easy.
Astros hitters vs. White Sox pitchers
Houston is going to have to rely on scouting reports and video to decode the White Sox starters, because there is little practical experience. That works both ways, but the advantage of unfamiliarity goes to the pitchers. Freddy Garcia is the only Chicago starter who has faced a chunk of the Astros' hitters, and that was in one game in 2004 when he allowed three runs in an eight-inning loss. Only reserves Mike Lamb (5-for-17) and Orlando Palmeiro (2-for-19), and catcher Brad Ausmus (1-for-12) had more than 10 at-bats against Garcia. No other hitter had 10 or more at-bats against any of the four projected Chicago starters. And no Astros hitter has homered against Mark Buehrle, Garcia, Jon Garland or Orlando Hernandez. Jose Contreras has faced just one Astro - reliever Dan Wheeler, who was hitless in a lone at-bat.
Advantage: White Sox. Facing guys like Contreras and Buehrle is never fun. Facing them for the first time could be brutal, especially for a team that ranked 14th in hits and 11th in average in the NL.
Astros manager Phil Garner vs. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen
Both have seen their teams avert disaster. Garner did it when his team started 15-30, and Guillen's nervous moments came in August and September before the White Sox won eight of their final 10. Both men are high-energy former infielders with bang-bang styles, and their teams mirror that spirit. They like to play little ball with speed at the top of the lineup and versatile hitters throughout. They also have a knack of keeping their teams loose with strong senses of humor.
Advantage: Astros. Everyone loves the outspoken Guillen, but Garner is in his third stint as a manager and has been in more big games, so he gets the slight edge.
Astros relief vs. White Sox bench
The Astros are just 25-21 in one-run games this season and 4-4 in extra innings. And the bullpen's record was just 16-20 in 2005. But the Astros' relief corps is considered one of the toughest in the NL. It is led by closer Brad Lidge, who gave up the deflating ninth-inning homer to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the NLCS. But he converted 42 of 46 saves and posted a 2.29 ERA in the regular season. Two other relievers, lefty Mike Gallo and Wheeler, had ERAs under 3.00. The White Sox don't have much punch coming off the bench, but there is plenty of speed. Guillen prefers to stick with his starters, and use his bench for situational hitting and running. Timo Perez was just 4-for-24 (.167) as a pinch hitter. Former Oriole Willie Harris had the next highest number of pinch-hit chances at 10, and he had just one hit. In games in Houston without the DH, Carl Everett will be a bench option.
Advantage: Astros, so long as Lidge can forget about the Pujols homer.
White Sox relief vs. Astros bench
Chicago's bullpen is well-rested, maybe too much. Lefty Neal Cotts was the only reliever to appear in an ALCS game, and he threw seven pitches for two outs. The White Sox can hold leads. They were 35-19 in one-run games, but they are depending on rookie Bobby Jenks, 24, as their closer. The next game he appears in will be the biggest of his life. Being a NL team, Garner uses his bench often. And he has solid choices in Palmeiro (15-for-52, eight RBIs), Jose Vizcaino (14-for-50, nine RBIs) and Mike Lamb (8-for-37, nine RBIs). There's also longtime star Jeff Bagwell, who is recovering from right shoulder surgery.
Advantage: White Sox. Although rusty, they have a balanced bullpen that now includes former starter and postseason rock Orlando Hernandez.
The designated hitter factor