CHICAGO -- If position-by-position comparisons are any indication, the American League Championship Series that opens here tonight should provide a classic matchup.
It also could be the ultimate test as to whether good pitching always stops good hitting -- or if there can be an exception to that long-standing baseball belief.
The Toronto Blue Jays get most of the check marks in head-to-head matchups -- but the Chicago White Sox appear to have a big edge with their four starting pitchers. Here's a close look at the two teams:
Blue Jays -- It wasn't a fluke that John Olerud flirted with a .400 average for more than half the season. He has developed into one of the best young hitters in the game. He is more of a gap than power hitter, as his 54 doubles will attest. Solid in all offensive phases, he is average defensively and a below-average runner.
White Sox -- There are a lot of people who think Frank Thomas is the best all-around hitter in baseball, and it's hard to argue the point. He hits for both power and average and still is disciplined enough to draw 112 walks. Without question Thomas is the focal point of the White Sox offense. He missed four games at the end of the season with tendinitis in his left forearm, but is expected to be 100 percent for the postseason.
Edge: No weaknesses here, but give the White Sox the advantage.
Blue Jays -- Roberto Alomar is the premier player in the game at this position. He is virtually without a weakness. A superlative defensive player, he has great instincts for the game. A switch-hitter, he's better from the left side, and has surprising power. An ideal hitter to bat behind Rickey Henderson and ahead of the potent middle of the Blue Jays' lineup.
White Sox -- Joey Cora is one of a number of underrated, or overlooked, players in the White Sox lineup. He's also a switch-hitter, but with limited power. A threat to steal a base occasionally, he has good range in the field, but also can be erratic.
Edge: Clearly to the Blue Jays.
Blue Jays -- Ed Sprague is vastly overshadowed in the awesome Toronto lineup, but cannot be taken lightly. Originally signed as a catcher, he has made enough progress to be better than average defensively. He's considered a potential 25-30 home run player. His pinch homer in Game 2 may have been the biggest hit in last year's World Series.
White Sox -- Robin Ventura had an off-year, but still was the second most productive hitter for the White Sox. He has improved tremendously on defense and despite a sub-par average, is a solid threat from the left side of the plate. He has deceptive power, and when he's on a hot streak, he can be destructive.
Edge: White Sox.
Blue Jays -- Tony Fernandez has been better accepted the second time around in Toronto, possibly because the Blue Jays were desperate for someone to plug a gaping hole in the middle of their infield. His acquisition from the Mets at midseason was instrumental in the Blue Jays' success. He's still a spectacular, but erratic, fielder, and another switch-hitter who is better from the left side.
White Sox -- Before a knee injury that sidelined him most of last year, Ozzie Guillen was one of the game's most spectacular players. He doesn't have the same mobility, but he's still an excellent defensive player with a lot of range. He's become a legitimate threat as a left-handed hitter, though he has limited power.
Edge: Very slight to the White Sox.
Blue Jays -- Rickey Henderson has been a disappointment since being obtained from Oakland two months ago, but he's still one of the game's prime-time players. He's not the base-stealing threat he used to be, but Henderson still can disrupt a defense in a lot of ways. He's performed well in the glare of postseason play, and can be expected to do so again. He has exceptional power for a leadoff hitter.
White Sox -- Tim Raines is not the force he once was, but is still a formidable switch-hitter. His power and speed have diminished, but Raines still is capable of stealing a base or hitting a home run.
Edge: Blue Jays.
Blue Jays -- Devon White has no peer defensively and is one of three base-stealing threats at the top of the Toronto lineup. He covers more ground, with ease, than any outfielder in the American League, and is another switch-hitter with surprising power.
White Sox -- Lance Johnson is solid in all phases of the game, with the exception of hitting for power. He's a sound outfielder and a good base stealer.
Edge: Blue Jays.
Blue Jays -- After a strong first half, Joe Carter is regrouping at the right time. He has been the anchor of the Blue Jays' offense for three straight division championships. A better-than-average outfielder with a good arm, he has explosive power and a knack for driving in runs with more than 100 RBI in seven of the past eight years (he had 98 in the other).
White Sox -- Ellis Burks has proven to be a very valuable, and economical, addition for the White Sox. He represents a balance of power and average and is an excellent defensive outfielder.
Edge: Blue Jays.
Blue Jays -- Pat Borders has been a steady contributor for the Blue Jays, though he's generally overlooked on a team of stars. ** He's a decent hitter, with some power, is solid defensively and has an above average arm.
White Sox -- Ron Karkovice is probably the best throwing catcher in baseball and makes up for a low batting average with good power. Mike LaValliere, the backup, also has been efficient against base stealers and has been an effective left-handed hitter, but without power.
Edge: To the White Sox, who should be able to curtail the Blue Jays' running game.
Blue Jays -- Paul Molitor has had a career year -- and he's had a very productive career. He brings all of the tools to the game -- speed, average and sufficient power.
White Sox -- George Bell, an ex-Blue Jay, was once one of the most feared hitters in the game. He has dropped considerably, but remains a power threat.
Edge: Blue Jays.
Blue Jays -- This is Toronto's most vulnerable area. Juan Guzman and Dave Stewart, who will pitch the first two games in Chicago, are the keys. Pat Hentgen, who will start the third game at SkyDome -- where he hasn't been effective -- has shown signs of wearing out in the past month. Todd Stottlemyre is a very good competitor, but has been inconsistent and needs to turn it up a notch. The starters have not been a strong suit for the Blue Jays most of the year, but Stewart has pitched well lately and has always been effective in the postseason.
White Sox -- They finished the season with easily the best four-man rotation in the American League. Jack McDowell can be erratic, but he is a workhorse who doesn't wear out. Alex Fernandez is very close to becoming a dominant pitcher. Left-hander Wilson Alvarez, after a short stint in the minor leagues in August, has been sensational since his return. Rookie Jason Bere has matured rapidly and pitched with a great deal of consistency.
Edge: White Sox.
Blue Jays -- The Blue Jays probably will need strong performances in this department to defend their league title. Danny Cox, Mike Timlin and Mark Eichhorn are the right-handers, Tony Castillo and Al Leiter the left-handers.
White Sox -- Tim Belcher, knocked out of the starting rotation, will be the primary long man, with Jose DeLeon, Kirk McCaskill and Terry Leach the other right-handers available. Scott Radinsky is the only left-hander.
Edge: Blue Jays, and it will have to be significant for them to win.
Blue Jays -- No longer in Tom Henke's shadow, Duane Ward has emerged as one of the league's premier closers. He has spells of wildness, but is usually overpowering.
White Sox -- Since displacing the departed Bobby Thigpen a year ago, Roberto Hernandez has been a very consistent late man for the White Sox. His control is generally good for a power pitcher.
Edge: Blue Jays.
Blue Jays -- Darnell Coles, Alfredo Griffin, Randy Knorr, Dick Schofield and Willie Canate provide maneuverability. But they are likely to be spectators.
White Sox -- Bo Jackson might start against Stewart because Burks has poor numbers against the veteran right-hander. Ivan Calderon, Steve Sax, Dan Pasqua and Craig Grebeck don't figure to play major roles.
Edge: None. This series will be decided by the starters.
Blue Jays -- Cito Gaston quietly has guided his team to three straight division titles and four in the past five years. His low-key approach works with this team.
White Sox -- Gene Lamont was roundly criticized a year ago, but he didn't change his style and his patience paid off this year. He features a laid-back, no-nonsense approach.
Edge: None. The players will settle the score.
This has the makings of a great series featuring the league's best pitching staff against the most potent lineup. The White Sox in seven.