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Jeff Pearlman's Breakdown
Giants    Mets 
How key is it for the Mets' pitching staff to come through? Consider: The Giants were second in the NL in batting average and slugging percentage, third in runs and home runs. They have the two leading MVP candidates (Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds), an overlooked superstar (Ellis Burks) and three players with 10 or more stolen bases.   OFFENSE

The Edge:

New York is slow (Lenny Harris and Edgardo Alfonzo lead the team with eight steals apiece), meek and -- save for Mike Piazza and Alfonzo -- unintimidating. Robin Ventura finished the regular season with a .232 average. That lack of production can't continue. 

J.T. Snow is a lock for a Gold Glove at first, but Jeff Kent is a sub-average defensive second baseman. Bonds' arm is questionable in left.   DEFENSE

The Edge:

Much has been written about the Mets' defensive decline, what with shortstop Rey Ordonez out for the year and first-base virgin Todd Zeile handling a new position. D-D-D-Don't believe the hype. Mike Bordick may no be Ordonez, but he is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who gets to every reachable ball and rarely muffs the routine plays.  

Many a pitcher has cruised through the regular season, only to find life -- and pressure -- much more difficult in the playoffs. Although righty Livan Hernandez, the Giants' Game 1 starter, was the World Series MVP with Florida in 1997, his San Francisco cronies (Shawn Estes, Russ Ortiz and Kirk Rueter) are young and untested.   STARTING PITCHING

The Edge:

The Mets counter with left-handers Mike Hampton (9-0 career vs. the Giants) and Al Leiter (three World Series appearances), two veteran big-game pitchers with Dolly Madison cool. Always, always go with veteran pitching.  

Robb Nen is the San Fran counterpart of Mets fireballing closer Armando Benitez, but John Johnstone, Alan Embree and the gang ain't too inspiring.   BULLPEN

The Edge:

New York's bullpen is the best in baseball -- a diverse, masters-of-many-tasks collection of oldies (40-year-old lefty John Franco) and newies (Benitez); crafty vets (lefty Dennis Cook, righty Rick White) and eccentric bulldogs (righty Turk Wendell). Toss in left-handed starter Glendon Rusch, who was one of baseball's great surprises this year, and the Mets are fantastic.  

Infielder Russ Davis has been an under-the-radar godsend for San Fran. He can play multiple positions, his glove is sound, he has been through pressure situations with Seattle in the past and he's hit nine home runs. Along with Felipe Crespo and Armando Rios, he is part of a capable group of reserves.   BENCH

The Edge:

Todd Pratt is the best backup catcher in baseball, but the Mets will rely heavily on rookie outfielder Timoniel Perez, this year's Melvin Mora. Mark Quinn Lesson No. 1: Never, ever rely heavily on rookies. 

There is no better skipper than Dusty Baker, which explains why every team this side of the Mahopac (N.Y.) Little League Reds craves his services. Baker is cool and calm, the James Dean of managers. He has players who don't exactly get along (Bonds and Kent, Bonds and everyone), but chemistry has never been a San Francisco undoing.  MANAGER

The Edge:

Bobby Valentine is -- as he'll tell you -- one of the game's top minds. But there's something uncertain about the man ... a choke potential that has yet to be 100 percent disproven.  

Russ Ortiz this, Ross Ortiz that. Everyone raves about Ortiz and his amazing multiplicity of stuff. As hot a prospect as he may have been, Ortiz's numbers don't add up: He had 14 wins this season, but also posted a 5.01 ERA and zero complete games. The Giants are likely to be down 0-2 in this series. They'll need Ortiz to pitch a huge Game 3.  'X' FACTOR

The Edge:

No secret here: Since Sept. 1, Mike Piazza has batted .222 with five home runs and 12 RBIs. He has a tendency to weaken late in seasons, an alarming factor for a club with minimal firepower. Piazza hit .467 vs. the Giants this season. If he rolls, so do the Metropolitans.  
Pearlman's Prediction: Mets in 4

Sports Illustrated staff writer Jeff Pearlman will be contributing regularly to throughout the playoffs

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