National League Division Series

October 01, 2002|By Peter Schmuck

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

Schedule (best of five)

Today: St. Louis (Matt Morris 17-9) at Arizona (Randy Johnson 24-5), 11:06 p.m. (ABC Family)

Thursday: St. Louis (Chuck Finley 7-4) at Arizona (Curt Schilling 23-7); 4:06 p.m. (ABC Family)

Saturday: Arizona at St. Louis, TBA

Sunday*: Arizona at St. Louis

Monday*: St. Louis at Arizona

*-if necessary; times TBA

Matchups

Starting lineup: The Diamondbacks feature a resourceful, top-to-bottom lineup that doesn't depend on any one hitter to produce consistently, but that doesn't mean the recent loss of outfielder Luis Gonzalez won't have a significant impact. Gonzalez, who separated his shoulder in an outfield collision, was the unquestioned leader of the offensive attack. The D'backs are going to have to depend on more production from veterans Matt Williams and Mark Grace and hope that their two potential Cy Young Award winners - Johnson and Schilling - can get them a 2-0 lead over the Cardinals. That will be a tall order against a St. Louis offense that is studded with star-quality hitters. Newcomer Scott Rolen has become a major force since he was acquired from the Phillies, completing a Cardinals lineup that already included three bona fide power guys in Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Tino Martinez.

Starting pitching: Johnson and Schilling might be the most dynamic pitching duo in baseball history - at least over the short term - and their performance in the first two games of the NLDS could set the tone for the entire postseason. If they can win the first two, the D'backs have a chance to make short work of this series. There isn't a lot behind them. Miguel Batista and Rick Helling both had sub-.500 seasons, leaving manager Bob Brenly to consider alternatives. The Cardinals weathered the death of starting pitcher Darryl Kile early this summer. Morris has assumed the leadership role in the rotation and is coming off another outstanding season, but the Cardinals will have to depend heavily on newcomer Finley and reclaimed starter Andy Benes. However, everything seemed to be falling in place for the Cardinals during the final month of the season.

Bullpen: The Diamondbacks have to hope that closer Byung-Hyun Kim doesn't start having flashbacks from the 2001 World Series. He was the victim of a series of late-inning comebacks that had to shake his confidence, but came back this year to re-establish himself as one of the best closers in the NL (36 saves, 2.04 ERA). The D'backs feature some dependable middle relievers - including midseason acquisition Mike Fetters - but they have shown some inconsistency in September. Statistically, the Cardinals have a firm advantage here, getting a solid performance from closer Jason Isringhausen and featuring more depth in middle relief. Dave Veres and Steve Kline can close if needed, and Mike Crudale was effective in setup and spot situations.

Bench: The Cardinals are pretty much a set lineup team, with six players who appeared in more than 140 games and eight who appeared in at least 130. Manager Tony La Russa will mix and match a little at the corner outfield positions, but the Cardinals aren't going to win this series off the bench. The D'backs might be another story, featuring only three available players who appeared in more than 140 games this year, but the bench will be short a key player because somebody has to come off the bench to replace Gonzalez.

Outlook: The Cardinals just swept the Diamondbacks in a head-to-head series last week and finished the regular season on something of a roll. They're the more balanced team and they've got everyone ready to go, which should carry them to a four-game victory if they can get one of the first two games against Schilling and Johnson. That's a big if, but that will be the key to the series.

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