Kent Baker's NL Championship Series matchups


Sid Bream may have something to prove to his ex-teammates, but will probably yield to rookie Brian Hunter when Pittsburgh starts a left-hander. Hunter is quick, has a good glove and is a fine clutch hitter. Bream hasn't hit since battling back from injuries and is slow. Gary Redus and rookie Orlando Merced share for the Pirates with Redus likely to get most of the starts because he hits right-handed. Neither fills the leadoff spot well, but they have some power.

Advantage: Even. The Braves suffer here. Jeff Treadway has trouble swinging the bat because of a sore right hand and wrist. Switch-hitting Mark Lemke is a excellent fielder, turns the double play as well as anyone and hits better right-handed, which should come in handy in this series. Pirate Jose Lind drove in 54 runs batting low in the lineup and is a defensive magician, probably the best in the league. He also has postseason experience.

# Advantage: Pirates. Atlanta's Terry Pendleton may win the league's MVP award. He already has the batting title. Thought to be washed up by many teams, Pendleton proved them all wrong. He's still an exceptional fielder although his errors have risen after switching to natural grass. Steve Buechele has been a major addition to the Pirates, who were groping because of injuries. He hit 22 homers for Texas and Pittsburgh combined, and is a slick fielder.

Advantage: Braves. Another ex-Pirate, Rafael Belliard, is a liability at the plate, but he teams with Lemke to form one of the top double-play combinations in the league. He also has motivation on his side. Jay Bell is solid, steady and heady. Has good power for a shortstop (16 homers) and is also adept at handling the bat. He may be Pittsburgh's most underrated player.

# Advantage: Pirates. After replacing suspended Otis Nixon, Lonnie Smith did yeoman's work in the drive to the NL West title. Not as fast as he once was, Smith still has a dangerous bat, but his defense is questionable. He is trying to become the first to reach the World Series with four different teams. Barry Bonds of the Pirates may be the best player in baseball. He has the total package: He can hit, hit for average, run and play afield, all exceptionally well. But he batted only .167 against the Reds in the playoffs last year.

# Advantage: Pirates. The Braves' top power source is Ron Gant and his 30-HR, 30-steal season is his second in a row. Only 3 players have done that. He won't impress defensively and his batting average drooped to .251, but Gant is a serious threat with the game on the line. Andy Van Slyke is superior with the glove and has a better arm, but his offensive numbers tapered off this year. He is a streak hitter, so if he is hot, look out.

' Advantage: Braves. David Justice of Atlanta and Bobby Bonilla of Pittsburgh are excellent power men. Justice hangs in well against left-handers and probably would have numbers comparable to Bonilla's had he not missed 2 months with a back injury. Neither is Roberto Clemente in the outfield, but neither will embarrass a team. Bonilla batted only .190 in last year's playoffs.

Advantage: Even. Braves' Greg Olson proved his durability and toughness by playing every day through the heated stretch run. A strong receiver with a good arm and a respectable bat. Mike LaValliere is a first-class receiver and blocks the plate as well as anybody. He is a fine contact hitter. But veteran Don Slaught should get some starts against the Atlanta lefties.

Advantage: Even. Tom Glavine is the first Braves' 20-game winner since 1979 and a prime candidate for the Cy Young award. He can also hit and field with the best. The other 2 left-handers, Steve Avery and Charlie Leibrandt, are opposite. Avery, 21, throws hard and improved dramatically during a strong stretch run. Leibrandt, 34, is nearing the twilight but is as crafty as they come. The only right-hander, John Smoltz, was 2-11 at the All-Star break, but finished with a 14-13 record. Pittsburgh has a similar lineup, but will open with Doug Drabek, Cy Young winner from last year. He rebounded from a 1-6 start to go 15-14 and has an arsenal of pitches. Lefty Zane Smith is a control master who walked 29 in 228 innings. John Smiley, a reliever in last year's playoffs, joined Glavine as the other 20-game winner in the league. Randy Tomlin figures to be the third lefty starter, but Bob Walk could be the choice after a solid final regular-season start.

Advantage: Even. Alejandro Pena has been a tremendous acquisition for the Braves after the loss of Juan Berenguer. He has not blown a save and has an 0.56 ERA since joining the team. Lefty Mike Stanton has had good moments and bad. The Pirates use a committee to finish games and will carry 11 pitchers in this series. Bill Landrum and Stan Belinda are the veterans but youngsters Rosario Rodriguez and Roger Mason have done better lately. Lefty Bob Patterson is a key man in the middle for the Pirates and Walk is available if he doesn't start. Mark Wohlers of Atlanta has a tendency to be wild, but lefty Kent Mercker has done a good job and Jim Clancy adds seasoning.

# Advantage: Pirates.


Keith Mitchell will replace Smith in left field if the Braves are ahead in the late innings. Atlanta also has some sock in Treadway, Jeff Blauser, Mitchell and Hunter or Bream. For the Pirates, Lloyd McClendon feasts on left-handed pitching and Curtis Wilkerson and Gary Varsho can do a lot. Redus or Merced will also be available.

' Advantage: Braves.

A battle of psychological masters. Braves' Bobby Cox will be the Manager of the Year after steering his team through a minefield the second half to overtake Los Angeles. Jim Leyland is the standard for modern managers, and no one runs a game better from the bench.

Advantage: Even. The Braves were not intimidated when playing one big game after another through the stretch. They are young and hungry, with enough veterans to keep the ship from getting too hyper. But can the rookies withstand all the pressure? The Pirates are on a mission after their wipe-out by Cincinnati last year. Their regulars played more often the final week to regain some sharpness after the early division clinching. They should be motivated by 9 loss in 12 games with Atlanta. One possible factor: they must do it now because free agency could ravage them in the next 2 seasons.

# Advantage: Pirates.


Pirates in 6.

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