NL Division Series

October 09, 2001|By Roch Kubatko

NL Division Series

Atlanta Braves vs. Houston Astros

Schedule (best of five)

Today: Atlanta (Greg Maddux 17-11) at Houston (Wade Miller 16-8), 1:12 p.m. (Fox Family)

Tomorrow: Atlanta (Tom Glavine 16-7) at Houston (Dave Mlicki 7-3), 1:12 p.m. (Fox Family)

Friday: Houston (Shane Reynolds 14-11) at Atlanta (John Burkett 12-12), 4:20 p.m. (Fox)

Saturday: Houston at Atlanta, 1:12 p.m., if necessary (Fox Family or FX)

Sunday: Atlanta at Houston, 1:12 p.m., if necessary (Fox Family or FX)

Matchups

Starting lineup: Injuries, including the latest to catcher Javy Lopez, have challenged the Braves all season. With former Oriole B.J. Surhoff having his worst RBI total in seven years, third baseman Chipper Jones has been used in left field. Desperate for run production, the Braves grabbed Julio Franco off the scrap heap. Once looking to trade Brian Jordan, the Braves are glad they kept him, but must hope Andruw Jones gets hot. The Astros are more threatening with Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Moises Alou, Vinny Castilla and Richard Hidalgo. Castilla, a bust in Tampa Bay, has resurrected his career in Houston. Berkman's average dropped 23 points in August and September, and he hit only five homers after having 28 the first four months. Biggio (.119, one extra-base hit) and Bagwell (.128, 0 HRs) have been terrible in 11 career postseason games.

Starting pitching: The Braves aren't the same powerhouse as in the '90s, but they still bring a formidable rotation with Maddux, Glavine and Burkett. They're watching Burkett closely after he surpassed 200 innings for the first time since 1996 and showed some signs of wear. Maddux lost his last four decisions, raising questions whether the hyperextended elbow he suffered Sept. 22 remains bothersome. The Astros' season turned around after they turned to their farm system for pitching help. Roy Oswalt's groin strain had club officials worried, but that's been the only concern with the rookie, who joins Reynolds and Miller.

Bullpen: Getting rid of John Rocker was a wise move by the Braves, who became deeper with Steve Karsay and Steve Reed. They join Mike Remlinger, Kerry Ligtenberg and John Smoltz, whose conversion to closer has been a huge success. Houston's bullpen was a sore spot in 2000, but it has rebounded behind Billy Wagner's surgically repaired left arm. Setup man Mike Jackson leads a strong supporting cast that includes Octavio Dotel, left-hander Ron Villone and former Pittsburgh closer Mike Williams.

Bench: Depending on which players start, the Braves could have Surhoff or Ken Caminiti available as pinch hitters. Dave Martinez, Rey Sanchez, Keith Lockhart, Bernard Gilkey and Wes Helms also closed the regular season as reserves. Astros manager Larry Dierker has some maneuverability with Daryle Ward, Jose Vizcaino, Orlando Merced and Tony Eusebio. Vizcaino helped the New York Yankees to another world championship last season.

Outlook: The Astros improved by 21 games over last season while winning the National League Central for the fourth time in five years, but the past few weeks have been a struggle. Even so, they retain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Braves' 88 wins are the fewest of any playoff team this season, and they have a long list of injuries and issues. They've won 10 straight division titles but never have appeared so vulnerable.

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Schedule (best of five)

Today: St. Louis (Matt Morris 22-8) at Arizona (Curt Schilling 22-6), 8:15 p.m. (Fox Family)

Tomorrow: St. Louis (Woody Williams 15-9) at Arizona (Randy Johnson 21-6), 4:20 p.m. (Fox Family)

Friday: Arizona (Miguel Batista 11-8) at St. Louis (Darryl Kile 16-11), 8:15 p.m. (Fox Family)

Saturday: Arizona at St. Louis, 1:12 p.m., if necessary (Fox Family or FX)

Sunday: St. Louis at Arizona, 7:50 p.m., if necessary (Fox)

Matchups

Starting lineup: The Cardinals' lineup can be downright scary if Mark McGwire, who set a major-league record for most homers (29) by a sub-.200 hitter, finds his stroke. Rookie Albert Pujols joins Jim Edmonds and J.D. Drew in a vaunted middle of the order, and Fernando Vina had his best season as a leadoff hitter. The Cardinals will try not to let Luis Gonzalez (57 HRs) beat them, so the slumping trio of Mark Grace, Reggie Sanders and Matt Williams had better heat up. Tony Womack, who batted .327 after the break, has moved atop the order after being near the bottom most of the season.

Starting pitching: Arizona's one-two punch of Johnson and Schilling is unequaled, but what about the rest of its rotation? Batista and Albie Lopez won't scare anyone. The Cardinals offer more balance with Morris, who has made a full recovery from ligament-transplant surgery in 1999, Williams, Kile and Dustin Hermanson or rookie Bud Smith, who threw a no-hitter this season. Williams was a key acquisition from San Diego.

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