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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.

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