2001 MLB Postseason

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Step right up

Astros, Braves each have reasons to falter in this one

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Posted: Monday October 08, 2001 5:48 AM
Updated: Tuesday October 09, 2001 2:24 AM

By John Donovan, CNNSI.com

Someone needs to figure out the Astros. All that offensive potential, all those young arms. And all that late-season struggling. Are they the ones to beat or the great pretenders?

At least with the Braves, you know what you have. Still good starting pitching, a passable bullpen, a good closer and an offense that, when it's going well is, well, barely OK.

Everyone would feel much better about the Astros if they hadn't lost seven of their last nine ballgames. And if Roy Oswalt's groin would settle down. And if the Astros had won just one -- just one -- playoff series in the six times they have tried. Or if Craig Biggio (.119) or Jeff Bagwell (.128) could hit worth a lick in the playoffs.

Folks might feel better about the Braves, too, if it weren't for the fact that there are maybe only a couple of legitimate threats in the whole lineup. Chipper Jones is coming off his best season ever (.330, 38 homers, 102 RBIs), and Brian Jordan has been late-season clutch (.295, 25, 97). Center fielder Andruw Jones can hit (34 homers, 104 RBIs), but he'll strike out a lot, too.

Been There, Done That
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Bobby Cox and the Braves are quite familiar with the challenge of the postseason. Start
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Greg Maddux (17 wins) still has some question marks about him after twisting his elbow, but with him and Tom Glavine and John Burkett (and with John Smoltz out of the bullpen), pitching isn't worry No. 1 with the Braves.

The Astros' pitching is what carried them to the National League Central title. But injuries to Oswalt and rookie Carlos Hernandez and Pedro Astacio have thrown that whole unit into flux. The only count-on-'ems at this point: Starter Wade Miller, setup man Octavio Dotel and closer Billy Wagner.

Biggio and Bagwell are well aware of their woes in the postseason, but the Astros' fate could lie with outfielders Lance Berkman (.331, 34, 126) and Moises Alou (.331, 27, 108). Alou is only a .200 hitter in the playoffs.

The teams split their six-game season series.

Making a pick: Though the Braves have the edge in postseason experience -- 10 straight division titles is impressive -- they folded in the division series last year to the Cards, and this year's team is not as good as last year's. Atlanta has been among the league's worst run-scoring teams all year. Houston has absolutely disappointed lately, too, and its pitching is a big question. But the Astros will score some runs, somehow, and they have the home field edge, which helps in this one. We'll take the Astros in four.

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Braves-Astros at a Glance
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