CHICAGO -- According to some of the expert opinion, the Toronto Blue Jays, who are next for the Chicago White Sox, will have the edge because of their experience in postseason play. This will be their third consecutive appearance in the American League playoffs. And they beat the Atlanta Braves in last year's World Series.
It also is acknowledged that the White Sox have the stronger four-man pitching rotation, but there seems to be a tendency to discount this advantage because two of the Sox starters, Jason Bere and Wilson Alvarez, are virtual apprentices. Bere is a rookie and has made only 23 big-league starts. Alvarez, 23, a year older then Bere, has made 47 starts, the equivalent of slightly more than one full season.
Alvarez and Bere have won all of their starts since Aug. 24. Bere is 6-0, Alvarez 7-0; their combined ERA in this stretch is 1.70; together, they have allowed an average of only six hits per nine innings, heady stuff almost without compare.
The sturdy Alvarez, with relief help from Kirk McCaskill, had the distinction of winning the clincher at Comiskey Park last night, a 4-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners that lifted the White Sox to the title in the AL West. Before giving up two runs in the eighth, Alvarez extended his streak of scoreless innings to 31.
Lou Piniella, the Seattle manager, was asked for his opinion: Did he think that because of their inexperience, Alvarez and Bere would be adversely affected by the postseason pressure?
"If you can pitch, you can pitch," Piniella observed.
My thoughts precisely. Which is why my instincts tell me the White Sox will beat the Blue Jays. Let's say in six games. This opinion is based principally on the four-man Sox rotation of Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Bere and Alvarez.
"When it comes down to it," Piniella said, "they [the White Sox] might have the best pitching in the American League."
I asked which club has better pitching?
"I don't think there is any better," Piniella said, correcting himself.
In a best-of-seven series, the team with the better pitching usually wins. There have been exceptions, of course, but not many.
Piniella agreed that pitching wins. "If you count on your hitters to win a short series, you're counting on the wrong end," Piniella said. "You've got to have some hitting, but good pitching and lTC good defense -- that's what wins."
Piniella said there is more pressure in the playoffs than in the World Series. This view is shared by almost all baseball insiders. There is considerable satisfaction in winning the Series, but getting there is more important.
Sammy Ellis, the former White Sox pitching coach now with the Mariners in the same capacity, was nearby. Like Piniella, he was being questioned on the subject of youth vs. experience. It is a topic that will be heavily discussed before the AL playoffs and also the World Series, especially if the pitching-rich Atlanta Braves win the NL pennant.
"Do I think the pressure will get to these kids?" Ellis said, echoing a questioner.
"If you can pitch in a pennant race, you can pitch in a playoff," Ellis said. Then, referring to Bere and Alvarez, Ellis said: "They're tough kids. They'll be nervous going in. Everybody's nervous. But after they throw two or three pitches, no matter what the hype, if your mind is in the right place, it's just another game."
I couldn't agree more, and will go one dimension further. After the first inning, or sooner, Bere and Alvarez not only will be unaware of the pressure, but also will be on automatic pilot. They will block out everything. All they will see is the hitter and their catcher.
Whatever, White Sox fans should not be misled. There is no intention here to predict that the White Sox will romp in a pitching blitz.
The Jays are a strong club, with an explosive offense. Three of their hitters -- John Olerud, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar -- are in the AL's top five. And they have a big thumper in Joe Carter.
They also have a decisive edge in team speed. But I believe Ron Karkovice and Mike LaValliere should neutralize this advantage. I am not saying the Jays won't have some success on the bases. Karkovice and LaValliere won't throw everybody out. And, of course, McDowell, Fernandez, Bere and Alvarez aren't likely to go undefeated. Six games sounds like a good number.