White Sox seek first title since 1917

Posted: Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Trying to end an 88-year championship drought, the White Sox need only look across the field to find hope.

After all, the Red Sox finally won it all. Why not Chicago?

''It would be comparable if we could ever pull this thing off, it would be a lot of parallel lines to what they have done,'' slugger Paul Konerko said Monday.

Shoeless Joe Jackson, Happy Felsch and Eddie Cicotte led Chicago to its last World Series title in 1917, just a few years before the famous Black Sox scandal ended their major league careers.

As these White Sox prepared for their playoff opener against Boston, other teams were thinking big, too.

The St. Louis Cardinals want to make up for last year's wipeout in the World Series, and the Atlanta Braves are tired of their annual October flops.

In the American League, Derek Jeter and the Yankees haven't won it all in five years, and that's too long as far as they're concerned. The Los Angeles Angels have the bullpen to get deep into October, and the Red Sox are hoping to repeat after winning their first title since 1918.

Boston is the AL wild card for the third straight season — and that might be the perfect spot in these playoffs, which begin Tuesday afternoon with the NL West champion San Diego Padres playing in St. Louis.

The last three World Series champions have been wild cards, including the Angels in 2002. They upset New York that year and are looking forward to opening the rematch at home Tuesday night.

''I don't think what happened in 2002 is going to affect what will happen in this series,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after his team's workout. ''That's long gone. They're a terrific ballclub and we've got challenges. We're playing at a high level right now, and that's what we're going to focus on.''

Houston won the NL wild-card spot for the second year in a row and also gets a first-round rematch, with Atlanta. The Astros beat the Braves in five games last season and are still built to win in the postseason thanks to their pitching prowess.

Andy Pettitte (17-9) will start Game 1 on Wednesday, followed in the rotation by Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt. Then there's closer Brad Lidge, one of the best in the business coming out of the bullpen.

''We obviously know who they have in their rotation, so it's important that we get an early lead and build some kind of momentum,'' Braves pitcher John Smoltz said. ''It should be an exciting series, but I don't foresee a lot of runs being scored.''

The Braves have several concerns, actually — and Smoltz is one of them. His ailing shoulder is expected to push him back to a Game 2 start at Turner Field. Star slugger Andruw Jones and rookie Jeff Francoeur are slumping, and reliever Blaine Boyer could be left off the postseason roster because of a sore shoulder, a major blow to the shaky bullpen.

''If we can't get ourselves together,'' second baseman Marcus Giles said, ''we'll be looking at the same results as last year.''

Most years, actually. The Braves have lost in the first round three seasons in a row — all with Game 5 defeats at home. Their only World Series crown during the current streak of 14 consecutive division championships came 10 long years ago.

The only team in the majors to win 100 games, the Cardinals are favored to win their second consecutive NL pennant, thanks in part to their first-round opponent. The Padres (82-80) nearly became the first division winner in a non-strike year to enter the playoffs with a losing record.

But Jake Peavy is a formidable, young ace, and Trevor Hoffman anchors a stout bullpen, so maybe San Diego can surprise some people.

''The bottom line is we're here, we're excited to be here, and we expect to win,'' Peavy said.

The Cardinals were swept in the World Series by Boston last year and are missing star third baseman Scott Rolen, who had season-ending shoulder surgery in August.

But their pitching is better than last year, with leading Cy Young Award candidate Chris Carpenter (21-5) set to start the opener, followed by Mark Mulder. ''These guys are going to have to step up and be the pitchers they were the majority of the season for us to have a successful postseason,'' pitching coach Dave Duncan said.



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