STARTING PITCHING Dave Stewart has established himself as the best clutch pitcher baseball, and Bob Welch has learned to stay under control in big-game situations. The weak link for the Athletics is Mike Moore, who struggled through the regular season but pitched well in his only playoff appearance. The three A's starters combined on a 1.27 ERA in Oakland's four-game playoff sweep. The Reds rotation -- Jose Rijo, Tom Browning and Danny Jackson -- was not quite so impressive against the Pirates and now must face an even better offensive team. EDGE: A's.
RELIEF PITCHING Oakland right-hander Dennis Eckersley is the best bullpen stopper in the game. There's no question about that. Manager Tony La Russa also has a very efficient bullpen system, which hasn't allowed a team to come from behind in the late innings of a postseason game since Kirk Gibson hit his dramatic World Series home run off Eckersley in 1988. The Reds' "Nasty Boys" are just as famous. Perhaps even more. Right-hander Rob Dibble pitched 5 hitless innings in the playoffs and struck out 10 batters. Left-hander Randy Myers went 5 2/3 innings in four appearances and struck out 7. The Red Sox bullpen this isn't. EDGE: Even.
The A's use Terry Steinbach behind the plate most of the time, but their three-man playoff rotation has increased the role of Ron Hassey, who is Bob Welch's personal catcher. This handicaps the club offensively, but no one can argue with Welch's 27-win season. The Reds use Joe Oliver and Jeff Reed, the two of whom combined to bat just .118 in the NL Championship Series. Experience might be the biggest factor at this position, which is why there is no contest. EDGE: A's.
FIRST BASE Though Oakland's Mark McGwire managed just two singles in 13 bats against the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series, he still is the most dangerous power hitter in the series. McGwire hit 39 homers and drove in 108 runs during the regular season. Hal Morris batted .340 in a platoon role during the regular season and batted .417 in the NL playoffs. Though he has been sharing time with Todd Benzinger, Morris figures to play full-time against the A's right-handed rotation. He'll make better contact, but McGwire will be a bigger factor. EDGE: A's.
SECOND BASE The Reds' Mariano Duncan had a solid playoff series, batting with 1 home run and 4 RBI. He also had an outstanding regular season (.306, 55 RBI) at the plate. Oakland veteran Willie Randolph played sparingly this season, but he was forced into a full-time role when Walt Weiss went down with a knee injury and Mike Gallego moved to shortstop. Randolph has all the postseason experience. Duncan has all the numbers, and better defensive range. EDGE: Reds.
The A's are getting by with Mike Gallego at shortstop, which isn't such a bad deal defensively. He is a solid glove man at either second base or shortstop, but he's not likely to be a factor at the plate, even though he batted .400 in the AL playoffs. Reds shortstop Barry Larkin is the best-hitting shortstop in the NL. He's no slouch with the glove either. No contest. EDGE: Reds.
THIRD BASE Carney Lansford is coming off an outstanding playoff series, which raised his career average in postseason play to .337 (32-for-95). He registered his lowest regular-season average /^ (.268) since 1980, but that doesn't mean anything now. The Reds' Chris Sabo had some big regular-season numbers (25 HRs, 71 RBI) and had a couple of big swings during the playoffs. Both play solid defense. Lansford has far more postseason experience, but Sabo is more likely to make a difference with one swing. EDGE: Even.
LEFT FIELD The A's Rickey Henderson has been known to pump up the volume in a series like this, so look for him to be an unsettling influence on the Reds pitching staff. The Reds' Eric Davis batted just .174 in the playoffs, but -- like Henderson -- is one of the best all-around athletes in professional sports. Both can do it all. Henderson is the one coming off an MVP season. EDGE: A's.
CENTER FIELD Oakland manager La Russa is the only manager in baseball with interchangeable front-line center fielders. Dave Henderson has established himself as a great October player. Willie McGee, who has a pulled muscle in his rib cage, is the NL batting champion, but he wouldn't be playing regularly if Henderson had not had a knee operation recently. Billy Hatcher will play most of the time for the Reds, though Herm Winningham got significant exposure in the playoffs. Both would have trouble making the A's roster. No contest. No comparison. EDGE: A's.
RIGHT FIELD Jose Canseco muddled through the playoffs with a wrenched hand, which probably contributed to the A's homerless playoff series. Canseco went 2-for-11 with 5 strikeouts, but remains an intimidating figure in the A's lineup. The Reds have a healthy Paul O'Neill, who batted .417 in the NL playoffs, but it's still difficult to imagine him having anything on Canseco. EDGE: A's.
DESIGNATED HITTING The A's pulled off one of the major coups of August when they acquired Harold Baines from the Rangers. He made a major contribution in the playoffs (.357, 3 RBI), but he'll be restricted to pinch-hit duty during the games at Riverfront Stadium. The Reds do not have enough big hitters as it is, so they'll be at a disadvantage at Oakland. EDGE: A's.
If Dave Henderson is healthy, the A's have batting champion McGee on the bench along with experienced pinch hitters Hassey and Jamie Quirk. They also have added flexibility with the August acquisition of Baines, but the injury to Weiss hurts infield depth. The Reds have a lot of solid role players. Benzinger and Ron Oester are valuable coming off the bench. Glenn Braggs showed what he could do in Game 6 of the playoffs when he robbed Carmelo Martinez of a home run to save the game. Playing time has been more evenly distributed throughout the Reds roster, which might keep role players better prepared. EDGE: Even.
La Russa is more of a known quantity. He has a system, and he rarely deviates from it. Why would he? He's only reached the World Series in each of the past three years. But don't sell Lou Piniella short. In his three full seasons as a manager with the Yankees and Reds, each of his teams has finished at least 16 games over .500. He might be more impulsive, but he succeeded in one year where Pete Rose failed in five. He got a talented Reds ballclub to live up to its potential. EDGE: A's.
A's in five games.