Playoff Previews

San Diego vs. St. Louis



STRENGTHS -- Padres hopes hinge on the front of the rotation and the back of the bullpen. Jake Peavy (13-7, 2.88 ERA), who will start today, can be dominant when he has his best stuff. He struck out 216 in 203 in nings. Adam Eaton (11-5, 4.27) is an other quality starter. Trevor Hoff man (43 saves) is one of the best closers in baseball. The offense re volves around outfielder Brian Giles. If speedy center fielder Dave Roberts is able to play, the lineup and the de fense improve. If Roberts is sidelined because of the pulled leg muscle he suffered Sept. 24, Robert Fick, Eric Young or Ben Johnson would start.

WEAKNESSES -- Any team that makes the playoffs with an 82-80 re cord has significant flaws. The Pa dres' offense ranked 27th in runs, and nobody hit 20 home runs or drove in 85 runs. Defensively, they are suspect as well, especially if Rob erts can't patrol center field.

KEY TO THE SERIES -- Getting dominant performances from Peavy in Game 1 and a potential Game 4 are essential. Another pitcher must step up as well. The most likely candidate is Eaton, who struck out 11 Dodgers on Sunday. The Padres are unlikely to score many runs, so any slim late lead must be protected by Hoffman.


STRENGTHS -- The Cardinals posted 100 victories and have the depth and balance to sweep the series. They led the National League in ERA and will send out a quality starter in each game, beginning with Cy Young Award candidate Chris Carpenter in Game 1. They also can bump two starters into the bullpen. Offensively, the Cardinals have the difference-maker in Albert Pujols. Leadoff bat ter David Eckstein had a strong sea son, and he and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek helped the Cardi nals lead the majors with 196 double plays. Motivation should be high - the Cardinals want to get back to the World Series and atone for their dis mal performance against Boston last season.

WEAKNESSES -- Third baseman Scott Rolen is out, and his replace ment, Abraham Nunez, has slumped. Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker, critical left-handed bats, have battled injuries. Left-handed re liever Ray King had a horrendous September and could be vulnerable against Padres sluggers Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko.

KEY TO THE SERIES -- Carpenter has had a few poor outings lately, so getting a strong performance in his Game 1 matchup against Peavy is im portant. Overall, the Cardinals sim ply need to be loose and play to their ability because they clearly are the superior team.

Coming tomorrow -- Atanta-Houston series preview.

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