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October 12, 1999

Playoff Prospectus

Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets

by Joe Sheehan

America's Team against the Amazin' Mets. Does anyone think the boys from Queens have a chance?

Lineups

The Mets' best chance to win this series is to get the games into the six- and seven-run area. They have one of the best offenses in the league, driven by a league-leading .363 OBP and seven above-average hitters, and will have Mike Piazza back in Game 1.

The Mets finished second in the National League in walks drawn with 717, and that plate discipline is where their chances lie. Since it appears the Braves will again carry just nine pitchers, the Mets need to be patient at the plate against the stellar Braves rotation. If they can push the pitch counts up early, they might be hitting off tired starters or someone like Kevin McGlinchy in the sixth and seventh innings. McGlinchy isn't Jaime Navarro, but you'd rather be hitting off him than Greg Maddux, n'est ce pas?

The Braves' lineup got a big boost in the Division Series, when Brian Jordan's power made a comeback. Jordan slugged just .315 in September and October while nursing an injured right hand. He slugged .706 in the NLDS, and all-but-singlehandedly won the pivotal Game 3 with a three-run home run and a two-run double.

Jordan's presence is important because the Braves regularly play four ciphers. Gerald Williams, Bret Boone, Jose Hernandez and whichever of Greg Myers and Eddie Perez catches are all below-average hitters whose specific problem is they do not get on base. The Braves lean heavily on Chipper Jones, who beat the daylights out of the Mets in September. Jordan and Ryan Klesko will have to hit, though, because the Mets will pitch around Jones most of the time.

Bench

Bobby Cox's primary weakness as a manager has been his inability to assemble a productive bench. Despite going with 16 position players, he still manages to have a weak one thanks to carrying people like Ozzie Guillen, Walt Weiss and Jorge Fabregas. Keith Lockhart and Randall Simon can spank pinch-hit singles, but overall, this is a terrible bench that won't give Cox many tactical options, and has almost no power whatsoever.

The Mets, on the other hand, have a good bench. Division Series hero Todd Pratt is the anti-Fabregas, a quality hitter who can be used in important pinch-hit situations. Shawon Dunston has struggled mightily when used in the outfield, but his willingness to try and play six positions gives Bobby Valentine multiple in-game options. Matt Franco is a great left-handed pinch-hitter, particularly early in the inning, and Benny Agbayani is a right-handed power threat.

Both in the starting lineup and on the bench, the Mets have significant offensive advantages.

Starters

Sometimes, you really don't need "expert" analysis. If you can identify the object in front of you as a computer monitor, you really don't need to be told that the Braves' starters are so much better than the Mets' that it's not funny. Even given the recent sterling runs of Al Leiter and Rick Reed, the Mets can't match up with Maddux, Kevin Millwood and the three other Cy Young awards in the Atlanta rotation.

There's an excellent chance that the Braves will simply take the Mets out of the series by shutting down their lineup. It was their formula for success in winning nine of 12 from them during the regular season: the four starters the Mets will see this week posted a 2.82 ERA in 73 1/3 innings against them this season. The Mets rely on their plate discipline to get runs, and the Braves' starters don't walk a exceptional number of people. I expect the Braves' rotation to control this series

Bullpen

A strength for both teams, especially since Bobby Cox appears to have his two best starters available for spot duty. Even without any extra Maddux or Millwood, the Braves have an effective, if anonymous, bullpen, led by John Rocker. Any of the Braves relievers can be used in matchup situations or for multiple innings, which is what allows Cox to carry just five.

The Mets will need their pen to be flawless, as it is not likely they will have much room to be ineffective. If New York can get into the seventh inning with the game close, they have a deep and talented assortment of arms. Bobby Valentine needs to resist the urge to overmanage with this group, something he did a bit down the stretch, but avoided in the Division Series. One pitcher to watch is Dennis Cook, who has been brutal since August and who will be important as the Mets work their way through Klesko and Myers late in games.

Defense

You may have heard something or other about the Mets' infield defense , particularly the infield. While it's not as good as the hype--what could be?--it is a unit that helps a rotation that just doesn't strike anyone out and puts runners on base. The outfield defense isn't as good: Darryl Hamilton shouldn't be in center field anymore, and when Dunston and Agbayani are out there, it's a terrible, don't-let-the-kids-watch outfield.

The Braves' take a significant offensive hit to play players like Boone and Williams. Boone is sure-handed, but the double-play combination of him and Hernandez is average at best. The Braves' outfield defense is stellar, as Andruw Jones is an All-Century glove in center field, and Williams and Jordan well above average, practically extra center fielders, on the corners.

Overall

The Braves won just six more games than the Mets did this year, and went into the last two weeks of the season trying to shake them. The frontline talent on the two teams isn't that close, however, and it's the frontline talent that will determine this series. The Braves' starters are just too good. Atlanta in 4.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Bobby Cox,  The Who,  Mets,  Braves

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