|Jeff Pearlman's Breakdown|
| A pinch-hitting Mark McGwire makes this a much, much closer match. Besides Jim
Edmonds, the Cardinals don't have the two-three-four-five power of Andruw Jones,
Chipper Jones, Andres Galarraga and Javy Lopez, but leadoff hitter Fernando Vina
is a sneaky run generator, and J.D. Drew has -- quietly -- emerged as an
|Unlike last year, when Gerald Williams and Keith Lockhart were an
uninspiring leadoff duo, the Braves now count on 19-year-old Rafael Furcal, a
run-and-gun shortstop with 40 stolen bases and serious
|There is no better up-the-middle defense than the one that resides in St.
Louis. Vina turns the double play faster than any second baseman since Frank
White, shortstop Edgar Renteria is buttermilk smooth and -- with a year in the
spotlight -- Edmonds has replaced Ken Griffey Jr. as the game's top center
|Atlanta is solid, St. Louis is
|Darryl Kile and Garrett Stephenson have been banana splits in the Cards'
malt shop, but their playoff abilities are yet-to-be
|| STARTING PITCHING
|The Braves are still the Braves, even if Andy Ashby and Kevin Millwood, starters
for games three and four, respectively, are hardly John Smoltz and Denny Neagle
(circa 1997). Greg Maddux would be the Cy Young favorite if not for Tom Glavine,
the Game 2 starter. These guys ooze big-game experience.
|The biggest surprise in St. Louis has been the emergence of righty longman
Mike James, who didn't even make the club out of spring training. James has
pitched 51 games for the Cardinals, and often serves as the bridge between
starters and closer Dave Veres. Speaking of Veres, can anyone name a
less-recognized closer? Veres' 39 saves and 2.85 ERA have meant as much to Tony
La Russa as Edmonds' 41 homers and Kile's 20 wins.
|As always seems to be the case, Atlanta's wart is its pen. Closer John Rocker is
back to throwing his slider with velocity and confidence, but can the Braves put
the ball in his hand? That depends on the solid Mike Remlinger and a bunch (John
Burkett, Kerry Lightenberg, Scott Kamienicki) of big question
|This is one area where St. Louis is loaded. Third baseman Placido Polanco
would start for most teams, as would second baseman Craig Paquette, a fantastic
power source (15 homers) off the bench. And is there a more unheralded veteran
than Shawon Dunston, the wild-swinging sage with the non-stop smile?
|The Braves, too, are blessed with several reliable vets, but how much better
would Bobby Cox feel if B.J. Surhoff were available to play regularly? Thanks to
a pulled right quad, he's a highly paid pinch
|Tony La Russa, once a hotshot future star, is now something of a has-been.
Some players find him overbearing, and his gut-feel approach is oft
second-guessed. Had the Cards faltered this season, he would've been out of a
job. To La Russa's credit, that didn't
|Tis the season to rip Bobby Cox as an over-his-head has-been with no chops. Tis
also the season for stupidity. Players love Cox, because he leaves them alone
(save for his no-music-in-the-clubhouse doctrine) and lets talent do what talent
does. And, except for the World Series blues, who can argue with Cox's results?
|Carlos Hernandez. The Cards suffered a huge blow when catcher Mike Matheny
gashed open a finger on a knife. That ended his season, leaving St. Louis
pitchers in the hands of Carlos Hernandez. A starter on the '98 NL-champion
Padres, Hernandez is a solid backstop. But can he stop the run as well as
Matheny, who gunned down 50 percent of opposing baserunners this
|| 'X' FACTOR
|When the Braves traded for Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veres last winter, they
imagined a high-flying duo starting things off and scaring opposing batteries.
So what happens? Veres misses most of the season, and Sanders hits .200. After
being temporarily replaced by Bobby Bonilla, Sanders is back. He hit .400 in
September and ended the season with a 10-game hitting streak. If he and Brian
Jordan boost the bottom of Atlanta's order, the Braves
|Pearlman's Prediction: Braves in 3|