NLCS scouting report

October 16, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,Sun Staff

Arizona players listed first

1B

Mark Grace vs. Julio Franco: To illustrate how poorly the Braves had gone about filling this position, Franco emerged as their best option despite his advanced age (43) and the gap between his last major-league appearances. He batted .308 with a home run in the Division Series, though that covered only three games because of the Braves' sweep. Atlanta went through four first basemen before signing Franco, who had been playing in Mexico, with a month remaining in the regular season. The Diamondbacks had a firmer plan last winter when they signed Grace as a free agent, and he rewarded them with a good season, though he batted only .214 in the Division Series.

EDGE: ARIZONA

2B

Craig Counsell vs. Marcus Giles: Counsell brings more postseason experience, earning a World Series ring with the Florida Marlins in 1997. He's also been clutch in October dating back to '97, when he lifted a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning that tied Game 7, and scored the winning run in the 11th. On Friday, Counsell hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in the seventh inning in Game 3 of the Division Series. Giles, a rookie whose brother, Brian, plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates, has been a sparkplug atop the Braves' order since replacing Quilvio Veras. The Braves released Veras after it became apparent he wasn't the same player after knee surgery. They also needed Giles to bat leadoff after prized shortstop Rafael Furcal's season-ending shoulder injury.

EDGE: EVEN

SS

Tony Womack vs. Rey Sanchez: Womack once led the National League in stolen bases for three consecutive seasons (twice with the Pirates), though Diamondbacks fans will remember him more for delivering the two-out ninth-inning single in Game 5 of the Division Series that advanced Arizona to the next round. He committed 22 errors during the regular season, and two more against the Cardinals, so any ground ball or off-balance throw could leave manager Bob Brenly squirming in his seat. He did, however, bat .327 after the break while moving up the order. Sanchez brings a steadier glove, but not much offense since the Braves traded for him after Furcal's injury.

EDGE: ARIZONA

3B

Matt Williams vs. Chipper Jones: Once among baseball's most feared hitters, Williams was booed in his home ballpark until collecting his only hit of the Division Series -- a leadoff double in the ninth inning of Game 5. Williams has a no-trade clause in his contract, but the Diamondbacks still could try to move him during the winter. His best days are far behind him, though he's still capable of turning on a bad pitch. Jones put together his best offensive season, batting .330 with 38 homers and 102 RBIs. He then hit .444 with two homers and five RBIs in the Division Series. Jones may be moved to left field next season, but in the NLCS, he gives Atlanta its biggest advantage at any position.

EDGE: ATLANTA

C

Damion Miller vs. Paul Bako / Eddie Perez: Miller isn't a household name -- unless your home is in Phoenix -- but he batted .271 with 13 homers in 380 at-bats during the regular season and hit .267 in the Division Series. He also showed some grit by staying behind the plate after being struck by a foul ball. Not many people know Bako, either, but he went 2-for-2 with a homer and three RBIs in the decisive game of the Division Series. Perez was injured most of the season, and the Braves suffered their greatest loss when Javy Lopez went down before the playoffs. Edge: Arizona.

EDGE: ARIZONA

LF

Luis Gonzalez vs. B.J. Surhoff: Surhoff, the former Oriole acquired before the 2000 waiver deadline, ranked among the Braves' biggest disappointments this season. Manager Bobby Cox began playing Jones in left field to prod an offense that often went dormant, in part because of Surhoff's quiet bat. He began resembling his old self, rather than an old outfielder, as the season wore on, but his home runs (10) and RBIs (58) didn't measure up to his reputation. Gonzalez, meanwhile, carried the Diamondbacks' offense by hitting .325 with 57 homers and 142 RBIs. It was totally unexpected, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

EDGE: ARIZONA

CF

Steve Finley vs. Andruw Jones: When inspired, Jones ranks among baseball's best players in all facets of the game. His disappearing act in the second half baffled club officials and can't be repeated if Atlanta's to have any chance in this series. Even in a down year, he drove in 104 runs, but his .251 average was inexcusable. Finley remains a defensive marvel in center field, but his power numbers were down this season after being an All-Star in 2000. He heated up in the Division Series, settling at .421 after raising his average to .467 in Game 4.

EDGE: EVEN

RF

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