NLCS preview

October 07, 1998|By Peter Schmuck

San Diego Padres vs. Atlanta Braves

(Best of seven; TV: chs. 45, 5)

Tonight: 8: 15, at Atlanta.

Padres' Andy Ashby (17-9, 3.34) vs. Braves' John Smoltz (17-3, 2.90).

Tomorrow: 8: 15 p.m., at Atlanta.

Padres' Kevin Brown (18-7, 2.38) vs. Braves' Tom Glavine (20-6, 2.47).

Saturday: 4: 15 p.m., at San Diego.

Braves' Greg Maddux (18-9, 2.22) vs. Padres' Sterling Hitchcock (9-7, 3.93).

Sunday: 7: 45 p.m., at San Diego.

Braves' Denny Neagle (16-11, 3.55) vs. Padres (undecided).

Monday*: 8: 10 p.m., at San Diego.

Oct. 14*: 4: 20 p.m., at Atlanta.

1% Oct. 15*: 8: 15 p.m., at Atlanta.

* - If necessary

In the first round: The Braves swept the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series, largely on the strength of their dominating starting rotation. The Padres needed four games to dispatch the Houston Astros, but proved that no starting pitcher is invincible by defeating Randy Johnson twice.

What the Braves have going for them: Tons of postseason experience and the deepest starting rotation of their generation. The five Atlanta starters averaged 18 victories during the regular season. Tom Glavine led the club with 20. This also may be the best offensive club that the Braves have brought into the postseason in the 1990s, following the key off-season addition of big-swinging Andres Galarraga.

What the Padres have going for them: Starting pitcher Kevin Brown will not be cowed by the Braves. He was the ace of the Florida Marlins' pitching staff last year when the Marlins upset Atlanta in the NLCS. Brown looks like he's still on his game and will get at least two shots at the Braves in the series. Tony Gwynn is one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. Closer Trevor Hoffman is the most dominating short reliever in either league. Outfielder Greg Vaughn re-emerged this year as one of the sport's most dangerous power hitters -- one of four major-league hitters to hit 50 homers in 1998.

The flip side: If the Braves have a weakness, it is in the bullpen, where they had to scramble to create a decent late-inning combination after closer Mark Wohlers' career came unraveled early in the season. But even that situation has turned out all right. The Padres pitched well this year, but their starting rotation is not nearly as deep or talented as the Braves', which could be the difference in the series.

Prediction: Top to bottom, the Braves clearly are the better team, but a Marlin-like upset is not out of the question if Brown continues to dominate. Atlanta in six.

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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