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1998 Playoffs

Padres vs. Braves

Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jeff Pearlman breaks down the National League Championship Series

Posted: Tue October 6th, 1998

Season series: Braves, 5-4

Skinny: A lot of people were itching for Houston to be here, just to see the Big Unit and Greg Maddux face off. Tough luck. San Diego is a deep, hard-hitting team with a ton of emotion. No club plays harder. Atlanta takes more of the Wall Street stockbroker approach—very businesslike, very efficient. Oh yeah, the Braves also have a couple o' decent pitchers.

Hitting: There aren't too many surprises in the Braves' lineup. Andres Galarraga kills righties (32 homers in 421 at-bats). Chipper Jones is one of the game's best all-around hitters. Ryan Klesko, Walt Weiss, Michael Tucker, Andruw Jones and Javy Lopez find ways to produce. Everyone contributes. San Diego, beyond Tony Gwynn, Ken Caminiti and Greg Vaughn, can be hit-and-miss. Steve Finley and Wally Joyner are good ... sometimes. But if the lineup is hot, as it was against the Astros, whose is better? Edge: Even

Pitching: San Diego can't pitch Kevin Brown and Trevor Hoffman every day. The Smoltz-Glavine-Maddux trio is the best ever, and suddenly the much-ripped bullpen looks brick-hard (0.00 ERA vs. the Cubs speaks volumes). Is Kerry Ligtenberg as good as Hoffman? No. But between Brown's starts, the Pads must throw either Sterling Hitchcock or Andy Ashby or Joey Hamilton. None are likely wins. Edge: Braves

Bullpen: They play AC/DC's Hell's Bells, Hoffman and his Mr. T goatee strut to the mound, and the game ends. Dan Miceli, Randy Myers and Donne Wall are solid middle guys. The Braves were given up for dead with the breakdown of Mark Wohlers, but the committee has stepped up. Ligtenberg, John Rocker and Rudy Seanez ain't household names, but they've been quietly spectacular. Edge: Even

Defense: There were a lot of people giving a lot of reasons for Braves over Cubs, but here's the bottom line: Chicago dropped an occasional ball. Atlanta dropped zip. Right fielder Klesko is the weak spot, and he's surprisingly agile. Otherwise, Lopez, Chipper, Galarraga and Co. are fantastic. They communicate well, and never Brant Brown things up. The Padres also work the leather well, but Jim Leyritz is weak wherever he plays, Gwynn has lost a step in right, none of the pitchers have Maddux-like quickness and shortstop Chris Gomez looked iffy vs. the Astros. Edge: Braves

Bench: Leyritz, obscure for most of his career, has emerged as one of baseball's best post-season hitters. Atlanta has no one to counter that. Plus, John Vander Wal, late of Colorado, is a BMW-clutch pinch hitter. Somehow, Ozzie Guillen and Gerald Williams don't match up. Edge: Padres

Strategy: The Padres are a very confident, aggressive team. But manager Bruce Bochy is no stupe. You don't score more than three runs a game off Atlanta, and the only way to accumulate even that many is through scratching and clawing and digging. That means lots of running on pitches, lots of bunting and sacrificing. Then, when the Braves' starters come out, look for the big blast. Atlanta must do what it always does—stay close through pitching and defense, then look for a run or two.

Weaknesses: Is Bochy a big-game manager? For that matter, is Bobby Cox? Jones has to hit better than .200, and Ligtenberg can't go walking a batter every inning. San Diego's Gomez-Veras DP combo doesn't hold a candle to Templeton-Wiggins.

Key Matchups: Brown vs. Galarraga: Nobody has chased the San Diego ace yet. Maybe The Big Cat will. Hamilton and Hitchcock vs. Glavine or Maddux or Smoltz: Someone besides Brown has to win for San Diego.

The Padres will win if: Brown has enough steam to start three games effectively. Either Joyner or Finley hits above .300. Leyritz continues his Shane Spencer imitation.

The Braves will win if: The bullpen isn't overworked. Chipper Jones returns to being Chipper Jones. Ligtenberg doesn't show any rookie jitters. Glen Hubbard doesn't suddenly return and play second.

Prediction: Braves in five.

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