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OFFENSE

Braves (Team EqA: 275, 3rd in the NL)
Walt Weiss SS .280/.386/.343 .272 EqA
Keith Lockhart 2B .257/.311/.388 .243 EqA
Chipper Jones 3B .313/.404/.547 .323 EqA
Big Cat Galarraga 1B .305/.397/.595 .326 EqA
Ryan Klesko LF .274/.359/.473 .287 EqA
Javy Lopez C .284/.328/.540 .289 EqA
Andruw Jones CF .271/.321/.515 .285 EqA
Michael Tucker RF .244/.327/.418 .260 EqA

Padres (Team EqA: .272, 4th)
Quilvio Veras 2B .267/.373/.356 .283 EqA
Tony Gwynn RF .321/.364/.501 .311 EqA
Ken Caminiti 3B .252/.353/.509 .308 EqA
Greg Vaughn LF .272/.363/.597 .328 EqA
Wally Joyner 1B .298/.370/.453 .300 EqA
Steve Finley CF .249/.301/.401 .259 EqA
Carlos Hernandez C .262/.305/.369 .248 EqA
Chris Gomez SS .267/.346/.379 .271 EqA


These are two good offensive teams with good power and that don’t run
much.


The Padres’ lineup is a more solid unit from top-to-bottom than the Braves.
It’s generally better at getting on base than the Braves’ offense, but the
Braves’ rotation isn’t much on giving up big innings. Because the Pads can’t
run much, and they don’t have a group of blazing baserunners in the first place,
that can mean trouble as far as stranding the baserunners they do get. Facing
the three great pitchers the Braves will run out to the mound, it will be interesting
to see how much Bruce Bochy either gets frustrated or decides to take a few risks with
plays like the hit and run against the Braves’ mighty trifecta. The Padres best
chances probably lie with working deep into the count as much as possible
for as long as possible, and then taking their chances with the Braves’ pen on
the off chance Bobby Cox screws up and actually uses Dennis Martinez. If they can
get into the Braves’ pen early enough or frequently enough, the Padres have
the ability to draw blood, but if they’re dependent on set-piece lineup vs.
Smoltz, Maddux, and Glavine, they’ll struggle. Against Tom Glavine, they may
have to worry about Tony Gwynn’s pronounced skittishness against southpaws in
postseason play. At this stage of the season, I’d junk starting Hernandez
at all, and just plug Leyritz in full-time.


The Braves’ offense is distinctly better at hitting for power, which can
give them a distinct advantage in low-scoring games involving few baserunners
or opportunities. Cox’ team is also faster on the basepaths, which might be
some small comfort when it comes to trying to stay out of deuce when they mash
another Kevin Brown pitch into the ground for a two-hopper to short. But the
advantage in power is critical, because that translates into the Braves’ having
a better chance of capitalizing on their baserunners. The Braves will finally
get to face a left-handed starter in the postseason (Sterling Hitchcock), which
will allow them to put Gerald Williams to good use, but the Braves aren’t as
susceptible to lefty-righty-lefty pitching switches, so if/once they chase
Hitchcock, they can comfortably bring in Klesko or Lockhart off the bench.


DEFENSE


This one isn’t really close. The Braves get outstanding outfield defense from
Andruw Jones and Michael Tucker, have two reliable middle infielders in Weiss and
Lockhart, and two of the best gloves at the infield corners playing today in Big Cat
and Chipper. The Lopez-Perez combo provides agile receivers behind the plate who also
do a good job controlling the opposing running game. To ice this cake, Glavine and
Maddux are two of the best-fielding pitchers in baseball. Yes, Klesko isn’t a great
fielder, but they have a pair of ex-centerfielders in Williams and Bautista to caddy
for him and come in as defensive replacements once Cox decides he has a lead he doesn’t
want to risk on a long fly to the corner or the gap.


The Padres’ defense isn’t bad in itself, it just features several reliable veterans
who aren’t the great defensive players they used to be. Joyner, Caminiti, Gwynn, and
Finley have all seen better days. The Gomez-Veras combo up the middle is serviceable,
but the outfield corners feature two slow-and-getting slower veterans, and that should
end up costing the Pads an extra base or two. Behind the plate, Carlos Hernandez is
the best receiver they have, but given the Braves’ general absence of any great base
thieves, plugging in Leyritz may not hurt them too badly.


STARTING PITCHING

Braves
John Smoltz 2.90 ERA
Tom Glavine 2.47 ERA
Greg Maddux 2.22 ERA
Denny Neagle 3.55 ERA

Padres
Andy Ashby 3.34 ERA
Kevin Brown 2.38 ERA
Sterling Hitchcock 3.93 ERA
Joey Hamilton 4.27 ERA


Does the Pads’ rotation have the chance to pull off the upset that the Marlins’
rotation did last year? It essentially depends on which Andy Ashby and which
Sterling Hitchcock show up. I’m taking it for granted that Joey Hamilton will
earn a quick trip to the showers, or if Bruce Bochy is smart, will be granted
a quick hook before matters get out of hand. Hitchcock doesn’t have the same
knee-knocking changeup that froze and confused the Braves like Tony Saunders;
he’ll either have his hard stuff working, or he’ll be gone. Although things
would be considerably more interesting if Bochy had elected to put Brown on the
mound in games 1, 4, and 7, that may well have endangered Brown’s chances to win
two games in the series, and the Pads would have to win three of the first six
just to get to a seventh game in the first place. If Ashby pitches like he did
earlier in the season… except that he wasn’t sharp against the Astros. That
bodes ill for the Pads. They’re staring at a rough outing by Ashby in the first
game, Hamilton in the fourth game, Ashby again in the fifth game… those are
some pretty long odds to overcome.


BULLPEN

Braves
Kerry Ligtenberg 2.71 ERA
Rudy Seanez 2.75 ERA
John Rocker 2.13 ERA
Odalis Perez 4.22 ERA
Dennis Martinez 4.45 ERA
Kevin Millwood 4.08 ERA

Padres
Trevor Hoffman 1.48 ERA
Danny Miceli 3.22 ERA
Randy Myers 6.28 ERA (w/SD; 4.46 w/Toronto)
Donne Wall 2.43 ERA
Mark Langston 5.86 ERA
Brian Boehringer 4.36 ERA


It’s widely reported that the Padres have the advantage here, but I don’t see it.
Hoffman looked bad against the Astros in two of his outings, blowing one game
and almost blowing another. Danny Miceli’s performance was far more critical,
but the Astros lack the power from the left side of the plate that the Braves
enjoy, and that significantly hampers Miceli’s ability to contribute. Randy Myers
is not a major asset in chasing or retiring left-handed batters, and Mark Langston
is even more explosive than El Presidente. The Braves feature great gas from from
Ligtenberg and Seanez, two good lefties in Rocker and Perez, and a very good long
reliever in Millwood should a starter get injured. The Braves’ unheralded and
frequently maligned pen may keep its scoreless streak alive, while I’m not going
to be shocked should the Pad pen blow a game wide open.


BENCH

Braves
Ozzie Guillen, INF .277/.337/.352 .241 EqA
Greg Colbrunn, 1B .307/.361/.452 .279 EqA
Tony Graffanino, 2B .211/.275/.318 .202 EqA
Eddie Perez, C .336/.404/.537 .317 EqA
Ice Williams, OF .305/.352/.504 .291 EqA
Danny Bautista, OF .250/.281/.389 .232 EqA
Marty Malloy, INF .179/.233/.321 .183 EqA

Padres
Jim Leyritz, C-1B .266/.384/.420 .301 EqA
John VanderWal, PH .279/.382/.512 .319 EqA
George Arias, 3B .194/.293/.361 .243 EqA
Andy Sheets, INF .242/.318/.407 .270 EqA
Mark Sweeney, OF .234/.324/.339 .251 EqA
Ruben Rivera, OF .109/.325/.378 .267 EqA
Greg Myers, C .246/.312/.374 .253 EqA


Both teams feature good benches, and neither manager is afraid to use them.


The Braves’ bench is relatively straightforward: Williams, Bautista, and
Graffanino will start against Joey Hamilton, Colbrunn will pinch-hit,
Perez will catch Maddux, and Guillen and Malloy will be used if necessary.
The Braves won’t do much double-switching, and Cox will pinch-hit only if
feels compelled.


The Padres have greater opportunities to take advantage of their bench.
Both Leyritz and VanderWal have gotten due recognition as ace pinch-hitters,
but in Sheets the Pads have a very good backup to plug in at second or short
should they use Leyritz or VanderWal or Sweeney to pinch-hit for Gomez or
Veras. Besides deciding whether or not to start Leyritz against Maddux or
Smoltz, when Bochy elects to use his pinch-hitters is critical. If he waits too late
into the game (say, the 7th or 8th innings), he’ll be handing Cox the chance
to respond with a reliever to reclaim the platoon advantage.


OVERALL


If the series goes to six or seven games, things obviously broke the Padres’ way,
as they survived the three games started by Ashby and Hamilton. With Brown and
Hitchcock in the sixth and seventh games, they could win if the NLCS goes the
distance. I don’t see the Braves letting that happen. So much of the Padres’
success is going to have to depend on Jim Leyritz making people forget Reggie
Jackson
or Mickey Mantle, or on a great Braves staff and pen just completely
losing it once or twice. Things like that happen in short series all the time,
but this may be the strongest Braves team yet. Braves in five.

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