Don't look for Phillies to pull miracle on Braves Atlanta is too talented, too quick, too experienced

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This year's National League Championship Series promises a little something of everything, with outstanding pitching, very good hitting, quality defense and character galore.

And there's the potential for drama. The Philadelphia Phillies, who spent almost every day of the 1993 season in first place in the East, are seeking to prove that they can not only give the Braves a decent run for their third straight pennant, but actually wrest the crown away from heavily favored Atlanta.

Don't count on it.

Here's a look at how the Braves and Phillies match up:

CATCHER

Phillies: Darren Daulton this year solidified his place as one of the best catchers in baseball by putting together a second straight 20-homer, 100-RBI season. Daulton has a strong arm and handles pitchers well. But he has played in 146 games, a whopping number for a catcher, and if he shows signs of tiring, Philadelphia will be in big trouble.

Braves: Atlanta uses a platoon of switch-hitter Damon Berryhill, who plays against right-handers, and Greg Olson, who usually plays against left-handers. Both are decent defenders. They've combined for 12 home runs in 600 at-bats.

Edge: A sizable one to the Phillies.

FIRST BASE

Phillies: With his doughboy frame, John Kruk hardly looks the part of one of the National League's best first basemen. Yet Kruk, who has bounced back from a late-summer slump, is an excellent line-drive hitter and a good defensive player (eight errors), though he has had a sore back recently.

Braves: On the July night Atlanta got Fred McGriff in the Great San Diego Fire Sale, a part of the press box in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium caught fire and McGriff hit a three-run homer. Neither McGriff nor the Braves have cooled since.

Edge: Braves, but not by as much as you may think.

SECOND BASE

Phillies: Mariano Duncan wrested the everyday job from Mickey Morandini with a good bat and solid run production, usually out of the second slot in the lineup. Duncan is one of the few Philadelphia regulars with postseason experience.

Braves: Mark Lemke is a solid performer with a flair for coming up big in the postseason (.417 in the 1991 World Series). Lemke, a switch-hitter, hit 70 points higher this season against left-handers, which will help against Danny Jackson and Terry Mulholland.

Edge: Phillies.

SHORTSTOP

Phillies: Rookie Kevin Stocker joined the team from Triple-A just after the All-Star break and solidified the position with good defense and an even better bat.

Braves: There are some who suggest that Jeff Blauser has been the most valuable Brave this year. He hit .305 and drove in 73 runs from the second slot.

Edge: Braves.

THIRD BASE

Phillies: Though his home run production fell from 27 in 1992 to 18 this year, Dave Hollins drove in 93 runs again this season. He hits 90 points better from the right side (.330).

Braves: For the past two years, Terry Pendleton has been the fulcrum of the Atlanta attack. With McGriff in the order, Pendleton has dropped either to fifth or sixth from third in the lineup, but he is still a potent force and one of the best defensive third basemen in the game.

+ Edge: Slight to the Braves.

LEFT FIELD

Phillies: Philadelphia has done well with a platoon of Milt Thompson and Pete Incaviglia. Incaviglia, who plays against left-handers, has gotten more at-bats. Thompson doesn't have Incaviglia's power, but possesses much more speed, which will be important in attempting to keep Otis Nixon and Ron Gant from taking extra bases on singles and doubles.

Braves: On another club, without all the competition for attention, Ron Gant would be a solid challenger for NL MVP honors. He combines power and speed (26 steals). His 116 strikeouts and 11 errors are a drawback, though.

Edge: Braves.

CENTER FIELD

Phillies: Len Dykstra may be the best leadoff man in the game. He led the National League in hits and runs, and is the first NL player to lead his team in walks and at-bats. Dykstra has also become a great defensive outfielder. His ability to get on base is a key.

Braves: Otis Nixon took the center-field and the leadoff spots in the order away from Deion Sanders in July, when Sanders developed a respiratory ailment. Nixon is exactly what the Braves need at the top of the order, a veteran hitter with excellent speed (47 steals).

6* Edge: Solid advantage to the Phillies.

RIGHT FIELD

Phillies: Left-handed hitter Jim Eisenreich and right-handed hitter Wes Chamberlain split time, and the tandem is good, though not as productive as the left-field platoon.

Braves: David Justice, more than perhaps anyone else in the Atlanta lineup, benefited from McGriff's presence, moving to fifth in the order and seeing better pitches. He responded with his best season.

0$ Edge: Significant one to Braves.

STARTING PITCHING

Phillies: For the first time in 10 years, the Phillies had five starters with 10 wins, paced by former Oriole Curt Schilling, who will start Game 1. Tommy Greene, who came to the Phillies from Atlanta in 1990 for Dale Murphy, has bounced back from tendinitis, which forced him to miss most of 1992, and will pitch Game 2. Terry Mulholland pitched well Sunday in his first start since Sept. 6, when he hurt his left hip, and is scheduled to start Game 3. Danny Jackson, who has World Series rings from Kansas City and Cincinnati, will start Game 4. He lasted just 1 2/3 innings for Pittsburgh in an NLCS start last year against the Braves.

Braves: An embarrassment of riches. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the last two NL Cy Young Award winners, likely will battle for this year's award and will pitch in games 2 and 3, respectively. Steve Avery, who is only 23, yet appearing in his fifth playoff series, will start the opener. John Smoltz, who did not pitch well in September, is 5-0 in the postseason the past two years and will pitch Game 4.

Edge: A tremendous advantage for the Braves.

RELIEF PITCHING

Phillies: Left-hander David West and right-hander Larry Andersen were effective in middle relief, giving up 48 earned runs in 147 1/3 innings. Ben Rivera, the other starter to win 10 games, will work in long relief in this series. Closer Mitch Williams had a career-high 43 saves.

Braves: This is the team's one visible weakness. Smoltz might be used in relief in games 1 or 2. Only former Cy Young winner and setup man Steve Bedrosian, left-hander and occasional fifth starter Kent Mercker and closer Greg McMichael have distinguished themselves this year.

Edge: Slightly to the Phillies.

BENCH

Phillies: Kim Batiste started for a good part of the season at shortstop before Stocker's ascension and could spell Stocker or Hollins in an emergency. First baseman Ricky Jordan, a career .282 hitter, batted .302 as a pinch hitter. The platoons in left and right leave the players who sit available to hit late in the game.

Braves: Sid Bream, who was deposed at first when McGriff joined the Braves, is 10-for-29 this season as a pinch hitter and has good power. Sanders is 12-for-29 off the bench and is the Braves' fastest player. And who can forget Francisco Cabrera, whose pinch-hit single in the ninth inning of last year's seventh game of the NLCS, drove in Bream with the winning run? Cabrera, however, was only 9-for-51 as a pinch hitter this year.

Edge: Slightly to the Phillies.

MANAGERS

Phillies: Jim Fregosi has done a fine job in handling the quirky personalities in the clubhouse. He has managed once before in the playoffs, losing to the Orioles, 3-1, in 1979 while managing the California Angels.

Braves: Sure, the Atlanta front office has the bucks and the will to win, but somebody has to mold the talent into winning shape, and Bobby Cox has done so brilliantly. His folksy, unflappable manner is perfect for his team and its talent.

Edge: Solidly to Atlanta.

THE PICK

The 1991 and 1992 World Series notwithstanding, the Braves are the best team in baseball with a nearly invulnerable starting rotation. The Phillies must win the first two games at home, put a big chink in Atlanta's pitching armor and keep Gant, McGriff and Justice from going wild. They probably won't. Atlanta in five games.

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