***STARTING PITCHING Bob Welch set a club record with 27 victories, but Athletics manager Tony La Russa still considers first-game starter Dave Stewart to be the ace. Stewart won 20 or more games for the fourth consecutive season and ranked third in the league this season with a 2.56 ERA. The A's probably will go with Mike Moore as the No. 3 starter. The Red Sox start with Roger Clemens and then use Dana Kiecker (8-9, 3.97) in Game 2. The other starters are 17-game winner Mike Boddicker and left-hander Tom Bolton. Boston is unlikely to use the sore-shouldered Clemens on three days' rest. EDGE: A's.
The Red Sox have Jeff Reardon back from lower back surgery, which would figure to give them good bullpen depth, but the rest of the bullpen is showing signs of fatigue. Rookie Jeff Gray has been a big help, but there is no telling how he'll respond to playoff pressure. Veteran setup man Larry Andersen has been outstanding since he was acquired from the Astros, but even he suffered through a couple of rocky outings recently. The A's have Dennis Eckersley and a host of solid setup men. End of conversation. EDGE: A's.
The Red Sox were looking for on-field leadership when they dipped into the free-agent market last winter. Tony Pena gave them that and more. He was a stabilizing influence on the Boston pitching staff and a solid contributor at the plate. The A's will go with Terry Steinbach most of the time, but Ron Hassey will catch when Welch takes the mound. Steinbach had another solid year at the plate, driving in 57 runs in just 113 games. Hassey has become an offensive liability, but who can argue with Welch's 27 victories? EDGE: Red Sox, slightly.
*** FIRST BASE
Oakland first baseman Mark McGwire ranked second in the league with 39 home runs and third with 108 RBI despite a .235 batting average. He batted only .189 against the Red Sox this year, but still drove in 13 runs in 11 games. Boston first baseman Carlos Quintana (.287, 7 HR, 67 RBI) cannot touch the offensive numbers and made 17 errors to McGwire's 5. No contest. EDGE: A's.
Red Sox second baseman Jody Reed enjoyed another outstanding year at the plate, batting .289 with 5 home runs and 51 RBI. He also does the little things with the bat that make him a solid all-around hitter. Though he committed 16 errors, decent range and a strong arm make him a solid defensive player. The A's will lean toward the offensive capabilities of Willie Randolph, but go with the flashy defense of Mike Gallego at crunch time. EDGE: Red Sox.
Oakland shortstop Walt Weiss has been there before, contributing heavily (.333 average) in the A's playoff victory over the Red Sox in 1988, but his overall postseason numbers are not good. He is an excellent defensive shortstop with decent offensive skills that should not be underestimated. The Red Sox go with Luis Rivera, an average gloveman (18 errors in 118 games) who drove in 45 runs in just 346 at-bats this year. Weiss has more range and committed fewer errors. EDGE: A's.
Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs is the only player in baseball who could consider a .302 season an off year. He is one of the best pure hitters in baseball history and has five batting titles to prove it. He also has better run-production numbers than A's starter Carney Lansford, who turned in his lowest batting average (.268) since 1980. But Lansford has responded better to the pressure of the postseason, batting .316 in 79 playoff and World Series at-bats, and is the superior defensive player. EDGE: Even.
5What is there to say about Rickey Henderson, except that he is the most dangerous offensive player in baseball and he always seems to get better during the postseason. He has a .422 batting average in AL playoff and World Series competition and was the playoff MVP in last year's five-game victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Red Sox LF Mike Greenwell rebounded from a slow start to bat .297, but 14 homers and 73 RBI constitute a disappointing season. Greenwell is a good left fielder who should have a defensive advantage at Fenway Park, but no matter. EDGE: A's.
*** CENTER FIELD
Red Sox center fielder Ellis Burks is coming off an outstanding all-around season. He batted .296 with 21 home runs and 89 RBI and played very well in the outfield, committing just two errors in 152 games. But he fared poorly against A's pitchers, batting just .170 during the 12-game season series. Oakland newcomer Willie McGee won the NL batting title with a .335 average, though he spent the final five weeks of the season in the AL. Dave Henderson is playing again, so the A's have great depth at the position. EDGE: Red Sox.