How the Yankees, Braves match up

October 23, 1999|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,SUN STAFF

The Braves and Yankees meet for a rematch of the 1996 Fall Classic that propelled the Yankees back to prominence and established Joe Torre as one of the best managers in the game. Now, the Yankees are back in the World Series for the third time in four years and the stakes may be higher than ever.

The winner likely will be remembered as the team of the 90's, and why not? The Braves have appeared in every postseason since 1991 and would end the decade with two world championships, five National League pennants and eight division titles. The Yankees got a later start, but have appeared in the postseason every year since 1995 and -- with a victory -- would finish the decade with three world titles to just one for the Braves.

First base

Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez is one of the cornerstones of the New York offensive attack, but has yet to be a major offensive force in this postseason. He had just two singles in the Division Series and three RBI in the five-game playoff against the Red Sox. Still, he is a consistent run producer who has averaged 119 RBI over the past five seasons, so he could pop at any time. The Braves counter with a first base platoon of Brian Hunter and Ryan Klesko, who filled in admirably for Andres Gallarago during the regular season, but combined for just two hits in the NLCS.

Advantage: Yankees.

Second base

Braves starter Bret Boone put up strong all-around numbers during his first season with the club and was one of the offensive standouts (.474) in the Division Series victory over the Houston Astros. He didn't do much in the NLCS, but that could be said for a lot of guys in the Atlanta. Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch is the more accomplished hitter, but his unexplainably erratic defensive performance -- which figures to be magnified in the World Series spotlight -- has made him a clear liability in the field.

Advantage: Braves.

Shortstop

The Braves have no complaints about the performance of veteran shortstop Walt Weiss, who plays strong defense and had more hits in the NLCS than anyone in the Atlanta lineup except catcher Eddie Perez, but this category isn't even close. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is one of the most exciting and productive players in the sport, and has proven to be an extremely clutch postseason performer. Just look at the numbers. He led the Yankees with a .455 average in the Division Series and came right back to lead the club with a .350 average in the ALCS. His glove is as good as it gets, too. No contest.

Advantage: Yankees.

Third base

Scott Brosius basked in the postseason spotlight a year ago, winning World Series MVP honors after a fabulous first season in pinstripes. This year has been a mild disappointment, but he delivered some big swings in the ALCS and remains a dangerous proposition at the far end of the Yankees lineup. Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is the best bet to be the National League MVP, but he has not been a major offensive force in the postseason. He has just two extra-base hits (both doubles) and two RBI in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Still, he's got the most upside potential, especially when he's swinging from the left side at Yankee Stadium.

Advantage: Braves.

Catcher

Neither team is looking at a best-case scenario behind the plate. Braves backup Eddie Perez has been the starter since starter Javy Lopez went down with an injury in July, and he has filled in admirably -- especially in the postseason. He led the club with a .500 batting average (10 for 20) in the NLCS and leads the Braves with a total of 14 postseason hits. Yankees manager Joe Torre can toss a coin to decide between his two catchers, since veteran Joe Girardi and young Jorge Posada are each a combined 2 for 14 (.143) in this postseason. Girardi played very little during the regular season, but his role has increased because of his extensive (37 games) postseason experience.

Advantage: Braves.

Left field

The Yankees have all but turned left field over to up-and-coming Ricky Ledee, and he has not disappointed them this October. He's a combined 8 for 19 with six RBI in the first two rounds of the playoffs and has played well in the outfield. He went 6 for 10 in the 1998 World Series, his .600 average the highest ever by a rookie. When Ledee's not out there, Torre will go with either Shane Spencer or veteran Chad Curtis, neither of whom have had a significant impact on the postseason. The Braves went 39-14 down the stretch after moving Gerald Williams into the full-time leadoff role in August. He has been one of the club's steadiest hitters in the postseason, though at .250 that's not saying a whole lot.

Advantage: Even.

Center field

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