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Stephen Cannella's Breakdown
Mariners    White Sox 
A Seattle lineup stocked with patient veterans will force Chicago's young pitching staff to throw strikes. The M's walked more than any other team in the majors and only the Indians reached base more often. Seattle blends speed (Rickey Henderson, Mark McLemore and Mike Cameron each stole at least 24 bases) and power (hello, Edgar Martinez, 37 homers, and Jay Buhner, 26) -- and, oh yeah, that shortstop named Rodriguez broke out of his September slump on the season's final weekend. Remember this: The Mariners, likely to face lefties in Games 1 and 2, were 20-11 against southpaw starters.   OFFENSE

The Edge:

Pitchers, pick your poison: Six White Sox starters hit .290 or better, five scored at least 100 runs, and five knocked in at least 90. There are no soft spots in Chicago's lineup. The ringleader of this nine-ring circus is Frank Thomas, who had a career year in a career of career years, but Seattle can't pitch around the Big Hurt: He's followed in the lineup by Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee and Paul Konerko, who among them averaged 26 homers and 105 RBIs. Especially scary is the discipline showed by such a young, aggressive lineup: Only three AL teams whiffed less often than the White Sox. 

Cleveland was the only AL team to commit fewer errors than the M's and -- with Cameron in center, Rodriguez at short and McLemore at second -- Seattle is particularly strong up the middle. Third base is a trouble spot, though. Catchers Dan Wilson and Joe Oliver threw out just 30 of 94 base-stealers.   DEFENSE

The Edge:

Defense is Chicago's Achilles' heel -- only the A's and Rangers made more errors. Shortstop Jose Valentin alone committed 36. The Sox covered up their defensive deficiencies by outslugging opponents in the regular season; giving away extra outs in tight postseason games is just asking for elimination. One strong spot: Catcher, where Gold Glover Charles Johnson is one of the game's best.  

Top to bottom, this rotation is one of the AL's strongest. Seattle starters had the league's second-best ERA and won 71 games, tied for most in the AL. They'll show the White Sox a different look each day: Game 1 starter Freddy Garcia is a classic power pitcher, Aaron Sele has one of the game's best curveballs, and left-handers John Halama and Jamie Moyer lull hitters to sleep with offerings that barely reach 85 mph. Cause for concern: Each starter had an ERA of at least 4.85 against the White Sox this season.   STARTING PITCHING

The Edge:

Chicago's rotation was a strength for most of the season, but injuries have left it in tatters. Ace James Baldwin, a right-hander, has a sore shoulder and made just two September starts. Righty Cal Eldred will pitch with a five-inch screw in his elbow. Game 1 starter Mike Sirotka, a southpaw, has a sore elbow. Left-hander Jim Parque (13-6) is the only proven winner who's healthy; if any of the walking wounded can't pitch, Chicago may have to trot out rookies Jon Garland or Kip Wells, or reliever-turner-starter Sean Lowe.  

Words you never thought you'd hear: Seattle's bullpen is strong. Only the Blue Jays blew fewer saves. Closer Kazuhiro Sasaki set a rookie record with 37 and blew just three. Before going to Sasaki, manager Lou Piniella has: Left-handed setup man Arthur Rhodes who is effective against hitters on both sides of the plate, and right-hander Jose Paniagua, who held lefties to a .206 average. Righty Jose Mesa is shaky at times but has postseason experience.   BULLPEN

The Edge:

Deep, versatile and unknown, Chicago's pen led the AL in relief wins and was fourth in ERA. Kelly Wunsch, Bobby Howry, Mark Buerhle and Bill Simas can all be used in virtually any late-inning situation. Closer Keith Foulke converted 34 of 39 save opportunities. The White Sox's recipe for advancing to the ALCS is this: Grab an early lead, squeeze six strong innings out of the starters, and let this group take them home.  

Only the White Sox (.192) had a worse pinch-hitting average than the M's (.202). Piniella can call on veterans Stan Javier (a switch hitter) and Al Martin and, if he doesn't start, outfielder Jay Buhner. For the most part, though, Seattle lives and dies by its starting nine.   BENCH

The Edge:

Harold Baines, as experienced a hitter as any in the majors, may make the postseason roster as a pinch hitter. After him, the pickings are slim: Greg Norton, Tony Graffanino and Jeff Abbott. If the Sox need their bench to win the series for them, they're toast.  

Piniella is one of the game's best, and managed the Reds to a World Series win in 1990. He has expertly guided the Mariners' transition from a team reliant on the home run to one built around pitching and timely hitting. In the season's final week he said Seattle had been winning all season with "smoke and mirrors." If so, he's the magician.  MANAGER

The Edge:

Jerry Manuel should win the AL Manager of the Year Award for guiding a young team not even expected to contend to the league's best record (95-67). Intelligent and thoughtful, he exudes a Zen-like calm that pervades the White Sox clubhouse. He's the perfect skipper for an inexperienced team treading the postseason waters for the first time. 

Jay Buhner. He played only 112 games because of injuries and struggled down the stretch, hitting just .212 in September. The M's need his powerful right-handed bat and leadership, especially with the White Sox starting two left-handers in the series. One good omen: In 15 career postseason games Buhner, 36, has hit .350 with six home runs.  'X' FACTOR

The Edge:

Youth and inexperience. Only three Chicago starters -- Thomas, Johnson and Herbert Perry -- have played in the postseason. How will such a green team, especially one that struggles on defense and has huge holes in its rotation, respond to the October pressure? Bashing opponents during the summer is one thing, surviving them in the fall is quite another.  
Cannella's Prediction: Mariners in 5

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