Konerko, Ensberg are mirror images
Corner infielders post eerily comparable regular-season stats
CHICAGO -- The two World Series teams have reached this level on the strong backs of pitching staffs that are the envy of the rest of baseball, but don't get the idea that the White Sox and Astros are soft in the middle, offensively.Both teams have power men in the core of their lineup that any club would love to have. White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko and Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg had the types of performances in 2005 that teams seek from corner infielders, typically run-producing positions. The results in the regular season tell you that they've done those jobs well, to much the same degree. In fact, the two put up regular-season numbers that not only exemplify a corner man's goals but actually mirror each other starkly. Both hit .283 on the year, with Konerko going for 40 homers and 100 RBIs and Ensberg delivering 36 homers and 101 RBIs -- and the numbers are close all the way down the line. "Same uniform number, too," said Ensberg, who wears the same No. 14 that Konerko wears for the Sox. The mirror image goes beyond the regular-season numbers -- and the uniform number. "They're pretty similar as hitters, I think," says Geoff Blum, the White Sox utility man who played for the Astros two years ago, actually getting supplanted by good friend Ensberg at third base there. "Each one has a different stance up there every time they hit, they're both total workaholics, and they both have a good idea of the strike zone." And they certainly both have the mentality to drive in runs. Konerko might be part of an offense that's been lumped in with the "small ball" approach the White Sox have taken all the way to the AL pennant, but he knows what his role is. "With guys on base, I try to drive them in, regardless of what everybody else is doing because that's what I do," said Konerko, who earned ALCS MVP honors with two homers and seven RBIs vs. the Angels. Ensberg is a little more, shall we say, direct in his take on his middle-of-the-lineup role. "I take the overall approach that I'm going to swing the bat as hard as I can," he said. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is Konerko, 29, has been producing runs at a high level a bit longer, establishing himself as a powerful force from the time he first put on a White Sox uniform in 1999 after being traded by the Dodgers. A two-time All-Star, Konerko notched his second consecutive 40-homer season and surpassed the 200-homer career mark this past regular season. Ensberg, 30, didn't stick as the Astros' full-time third baseman until 2003, but after a down year in homers last year he burst out and carried the Astros for much of the first half of this season, earning his first All-Star nod. Overall, each has fit into his team's offensive approach well, but neither has had to alter his own approach to do so.
If the White Sox do in fact play "small ball," then Konerko's their Mr. Big. The best thing about it is all he's had to do is be himself."I probably have the easiest job of anybody, because I haven't had to change a thing," Konerko said. "It's been simple -- well, maybe not simple, but I just do what I do." That said, White Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand says Konerko's game fits the small ball mentality as well. "Paul will be the first to tell you that when there's a runner on second and nobody out, he's not going to just try to knock one out, he's going to hit it to the right side and make sure we get that guy to third base," Rowand said. Added Blum: "He knows the game, so he's not going to try to do too much in situations like that. But he's not just looking to hit a little grounder over there, he's going to drive the ball the other way." As Ensberg made clear, that's not exactly the way he goes about things. "There are a handful of times that I'll go up there looking to go the other way and move a guy over, maybe five times in a season," he said. "Other than that, I'm absolutely swinging, no doubt about it." And when the Astros needed it most during the regular season, he was connecting. It was Ensberg's big June performance as much as anything that helped the Astros turn their season around after a 15-30 start. Ensberg went for 10 homers and 28 RBIs in June, and wound up becoming the first Astros third baseman to hit 30 homers or more in a season, also joining Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman as the only Astros to post 30 homers, 30 doubles and 100 RBIs in a season. "He was huge," said Astros shortstop Adam Everett. "We needed somebody to step up for us with Berkman hurt at the beginning of the year and Bagwell hurt, and he did it for us. "And it's not just that he did it, it's the way he did it. It wasn't just if we were up five runs, he'd hit a three-run homer. It was when we were down a run and needed a two-run homer, and he'd hit it."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.