K. Lofton CF
M. Grudzielanek 2B
S. Sosa RF
M. Alou LF
A. Ramirez 3B
R. Simon 1B
A. Gonzalez SS
D. Miller C


R. Furcal SS
M. Giles 2B
G. Sheffield RF
C. Jones LF
A. Jones CF
J. Lopez C
R. Fick 1B
V. Castilla 3B

The Braves’ offense far outperformed the Cubs’ this year, outscoring them by 180 runs. The Cubs’s offense is burdened by a number of low on-base hitters: OBP sinks include Gonzalez (.294), Miller (.310), Ramirez (.315 with the Cubs, .324 overall) and Simon (.315 with the Cubs, .308 overall). The Cubs’ offense is pretty much based on Sosa hitting home runs, which he of course does a lot, but the real necessity is for Lofton and Grudzielanek to get on base at the top of the order, because the 5-8 spots aren’t going to produce many runs. They’re a better offensive team now than at the beginning of the year, because whatever their flaws Lofton, Ramirez, and Simon replaced worse players. But they’re middle of the pack at best.

The Braves led the NL in runs, homers, and slugging, and were second in on-base. Their best hitters were Sheffield (.419 OBP, .606 SLG) and Lopez (..377/.687; the SLG would have been second in the league if he’d qualified for the batting title) but the Braves got above-average offense for every position but first base. Sosa led the Cubs with a .911 OPS; that would have been fifth on the Braves. Vinny Castilla’s .310/.461 performance was the closest thing to a weakness, but wouldn’t have been out of place in the Cubs’ lineup. Unlike the Cubs, the Braves can strike with the bottom of their order and have good power at the top.

Neither team is outstanding defensively, but I think that the Braves are probably a shade better… The Cubs can minimize the Braves’ power somewhat with their righthanded power pitching, but even then the Braves can nickel-and-dime you to death — they led the league in batting average too. While the Braves didn’t hit righthanders as well as lefthanders this year, that’s a bit of an illusion because the entire league hit much better against lefthanders. The Braves’ advantage over the Cardinals, Giants, and Rockies was actually in their performance against righthanded pitching. As for those pitchers…



K. Wood RHP
C. Zambrano RHP
M. Prior RHP
(M. Clement RHP)
(S. Estes LHP)


R. Ortiz RHP
M. Hampton LHP
G. Maddux RHP
(H. Ramirez) LHP
(S. Reynolds) RHP

It remains to be seen what Baker will do if the series goes to four or five games. Clement’s a pretty good pitcher but not within a mile of their big three. Prior will probably start only once, having pitched Saturday, but the temptation would be to move him up to Wednesday so he’d be available for a Game Five; he was probably the best pitcher in the league this year. However, Zambrano is no slouch and had a 3.11 ERA and 13 wins this year, and led the team in innings pitched. Wood’s the wily veteran of the group, all of 26 years old, and led the league in strikeouts. They are still very young, and Prior and Zambrano are practically rookies — 116 innings pitched apiece entering the year. I have no time for the “psychological pressures of the postseason” argument. What I do wonder about is the physical strain on two guys who have topped the 200 innings pitched mark for the first time.

Bobby Cox will definitely go with three starters barring injury. If experience is what you’re after, this is the team — all three have pitched in the World Series — but I prefer quality, and their 2003 performances don’t match up to the Cubs’ starters. All posted ERAs in the high threes, which is respectable but hardly acelike. Ortiz seemed to hit the wall in the second half but righted himself in his last couple of starts. Though he led the league in wins, that’s largely a function of luck and the team. Hampton and Maddux both pitched much better in the second half than the first.

On paper, the starting pitching seems to counter the offense; the Cubs are outstanding and the Braves mediocre. But I think that on the whole, the Cubs’ starting pitching isn’t quite as dominant as the Braves’ offense, and the Braves’ pitching is probably better than the Cubs’ offense. Ortiz, Hampton, and Maddux are all good pitchers; the Cubs have at least three bad hitters and a couple more who while not bad, aren’t good.


P. Bako C
E. Karros 1B
R. Martinez IF
T. Goodwin OF
T. O’Leary OF/PH
T. Womack “IF”


H. Blanco C
J. Estrada C
J. Franco 1B
M. Franco 1B/PH
D. Bragg OF
M. DeRosa IF
J. Garcia IF

The Cubs’ bench… Whew. Only Martinez of that group can be described as a good player, and that’s a bit charitable. He’s a good hitter for a utility infielder. Karros is a has-been, though he might be of use against Hampton or one of the Braves’ lefthanded relievers. Primary pinch-hitter O’Leary is dreadful. Womack and Goodwin have tactical value as pinch-runners and (in Goodwin’s case) defensive replacements, and similarly to Karros could hurt a lefty. Paul Bako is better than Henry Blanco.

The Francos should serve as the Braves’ main pinch-hitters as they have all year. Julio would start at first if for some reason Shawn Estes started, but that’s very unlikely. DeRosa has indicated that his injury is not serious and expects to play on Tuesday. After a dreadful first half Darren Bragg was pretty good in the second, at least in batting average; he still has no power. Garcia’s up to pinch-run and to give the Braves a glove if one of the regular infielders leaves the game for some reason. Estrada is more likely to play a role than Blanco, in my opinion, giving the Braves a switch-hitter off the bench.

While the Braves’ bench is “better” than the Cubs, it doesn’t really serve their purposes in postseason much better. What the Braves actually need from their bench is a couple more guys who can pound righthanded pitching and two or three good pinch-runners. There’s not a lot of tactical value there other than M. Franco. The Cubs need a bench that can take the pressure off the bottom of their order — two or three outfielders or first base types who can hit for Gonzalez and Miller in key situations. What they have is a bunch of approved veterans who can no longer hit, a utility infielder, and two pinch-runners.



J. Borowski RHP-CL
M. Guthrie LHP
K. Farnsworth RHP
M. Remlinger LHP
D. Veres RHP
A. Alfonseca RHP


J. Smoltz RHP-CL
K. Mercker LHP
W. Cunnane RHP
R. King LHP
K. Gryboski RHP
D. Holmes RHP
J. Wright RHP

(Probably only six of those guys will make it, with Wright the most likely odd man out.)

Ex-Brave Borowski won the closer’s job when Alfonseca failed. Though he wasn’t dominant in a Smoltz/Gagne way, he was more than effective enough, with 33 saves in 37 attempts. Guthrie was mostly a LOOGY; against the Braves he’d be used either to turn Chipper around or to kill a pinch-hit attempt from M. Franco. Farnsworth and Remlinger are the primary setup men. Beyond them, I’d expect Clement to actually be the long man if needed, as neither Veres or Alfonseca was at all useful this year.

Smoltz was tremendous before going on the DL. His health is the Braves’ primary concern; if he’s fully effective — he was after returning until getting knocked around some in his last appearance — they can be pretty comfortable in any game they lead after eight. Getting to him has been a concern all year. Mercker is probably the best option for the eighth inning. Cunnane and Wright both had good ERAs as Braves but bad track records, and I don’t know how they’ll be used. Cox would probably like to use King as a LOOGY but he’s better when used to start an inning. There’s a health question there as well, and if he can’t go Jung Bong might take his place. Gryboski is mostly used when the Braves want a ground ball to get out of an inning. Holmes is another health question mark. I expect that at some stage Horacio Ramirez will be asked to relieve.


The Cubs are the chic pick, based upon two things. The first is their status as the emotional favorite, and I have no truck with that. The second is their righthanded power pitching, and that’s something to deal with. But remember that the Braves are the better team. They had a better record this season and won the season series. While they don’t have the starting pitching the Cubs have, their pitchers are more than equal to the task of controlling the Cubs’ anemic offense.

The way to beat the Braves — at least when Maddux isn’t on the hill — is to work the counts, get some walks off pitchers who have control issues, and get their pitch counts up, forcing Cox to go to his shaky middle relief early. Sooner or later, you’ll run into a reliever having a bad day. The Cubs don’t walk much at all. Only the Mets and Dodgers walked less this year; only those teams and the Reds had lower on-base percentages; only the Reds, Brewers, and Phillies struck out more. That doesn’t look to me like an offense that’s suited to beating Ortiz and Hampton. The Cubs have one chance, it seems to me: make this a low-scoring series, hope Wood and Pryor can be dominant, and win at least a couple of games by soccer scores. Against the best offense in the NL, that seems unlikely.

MOST LIKELY: Braves in Four