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Series comparisons

Catcher

Braves: Javier Lopez had a superb league championship series, batting .542 with two homers, five doubles and six RBIs in winning Most Valuable Player honors, and his arm can be a lethal weapon -- remember his bullet throw that picked off Cleveland's Manny Ramirez at first base in Game 2 of the 1995 World Series?

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Yankees: Jim Leyritz's homer ignited a six-run rally in the pennant-deciding Game 5 victory over Baltimore, and Joe Girardi has had some clutch playoff hits and is a capable defender, but neither is in Lopez's class.

Edge: Braves

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First base

Braves: He spent most of the National League playoffs in an offensive funk, but Atlanta's Fred McGriff snapped out of it Thursday night with three hits, including a homer and a triple, three RBI and four runs scored, and he should find Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch to his liking.

Yankees: Tino Martinez says he has been swinging the bat well in the playoffs, although his numbers -- .216, no RBIs -- don't reflect it. That's why manager Joe Torre, despite saying he expects to keep Martinez at first the entire series, will consider using Cecil Fielder at first for games in Atlanta, where the designated hitter will not be used.

Edge: Braves

Second base

Braves: Something about the October weather seems to bring out the best in Mark Lemke, who hit .444 with a homer and five RBIs in the league championship series. Lemke also hit .417 in the 1991 World Series against Minnesota and .333 in the 1992 NLCS against Pittsburgh.

Yankees: Mariano Duncan, after batting .313 with three RBIs in the Yankees' Division Series victory over Texas, was slowed by a pulled hamstring and batted .200 against Baltimore in the ALCS.

Edge: Braves

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Third base

Braves: Despite all the veterans on the Atlanta roster, many think 24-year-old Chipper Jones, who batted .309 with 30 homers and 110 RBIs in the No. 3 hole, is the team's emotional leader. The switch-hitter, who batted .440 in the NLCS, is dangerous from both sides of the plate and is better than average on defense.

Yankees: Wade Boggs swears the back spasms that bothered him in August and September have not been a factor in October, but his .108 postseason batting average seems to indicate otherwise. Charlie Hayes, who bats right-handed, will replace Boggs against left-handers.

Edge: Braves

Shortstop

Braves: Jeff Blauser, who has been in and out of the lineup because of injuries this season, poses little offensive threat, but has shown an uncanny knack for getting hit by pitches at just the right times.

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Yankees: New York scored runs in 26 postseason innings, and rookie Derek Jeter had a key hit in 10 of those innings, including leadoff hits to start three game-winning rallies against Texas and Baltimore. He has also shown flashes of brilliance on defense, making a diving stop of Cal Ripken second-inning grounder in Game 4 of the ALCS and throwing Ripken out from his knees.

Edge: Yankees

Left field

Braves: Speedy and powerful 19-year-old Andruw Jones, who homered in Game 7 against St. Louis, probably will start for the Braves, with regular left fielder Ryan Klesko moving to designated hitter in New York.

Yankees: Darryl Strawberry, who hit three homers in the ALCS, is expected to start despite a hairline fracture of his right big toe, but if he's unable to go, the Yankees have a pretty good Plan B in speedy leadoff batter Tim Raines. Raines has hit .258 in postseason play but was benched the last two games of the league championship series, once because of sore hamstrings and again because of Strawberry's hot bat.

Edge: Even

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Center field

Braves: Marquis Grissom, a speedy leadoff hitter hit .308 with 23 homers and 74 RBIs this season and made several clutch postseason defensive plays.

Yankees: If Bernie Williams somehow keeps his playoff performance going -- he hit .467 with three homers and five RBIs in the Division Series, then came back with a .474 average, two homers and six RBIs in the ALCS -- the Yankees might as well order a bronze bust of Williams and hang it in Monument Park with those of the other Yankees legends.

Edge: Yankees

Right field

Braves: Rookie Jermaine Dye has filled in admirably for injured David Justice but appeared overmatched in the League Championship Series.

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Yankees: No one needed five days off more than Paul O'Neill, who put unnecessary stress on his strained hamstring when third base coach Willie Randolph inexplicably waved him home from second on Luis Sojo's sixth-inning single with a 6-0 lead against Baltimore last Sunday. O'Neill was thrown out at the plate and got up gingerly. But a recovered O'Neill should be a huge boost to the Yankees' offense.

Edge: Yankees

Designated hitter

Braves: Andruw Jones or Klesko, whoever doesn't start in left field in Yankee Stadium, will be an added bonus for the Braves, who use the designated hitter only in World Series play. Klesko had 34 homers and 93 RBIs this season, but hit only .230 against left-handers.

Yankees: Fielder had only three hits in the ALCS but drove in eight runs, thanks to a two-run homer in Game 3, a three-run homer in Game 5 and some well-timed run-scoring groundouts. The former Detroit Tiger also had four hits and four RBIs in the division series win over Texas and, if it were not for Williams, might be garnering a few more votes as Mr. October of the 1990s in New York.

Edge: Yankees

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Starting pitching

Braves: Remember that offensive juggernaut the Cleveland Indians took into the 1995 World Series? The Braves' rotation, led by Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, held the Indians to a .179 average, 19 runs and 59 total bases in six games. The Braves take a 1.62 postseason earned-run average into this World Series and have a 1.97 postseason ERA for 1995-96.

Yankees: They have two very good left-handers in Andy Pettitte and Jimmy Key, and David Cone is about as good a big-game pitcher as you'll find, but probable Game 4 starter Kenny Rogers has been ineffective in his two playoff starts, putting the Yankees at a distinct disadvantage.

Edge: Braves

Bullpen

Braves: Two of baseball's elite closers, Yankee right-hander John Wetteland, 43 saves, and Atlanta right-hander Mark

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Wohlers, 39 saves, will be featured in this series, but the Braves' middle relief is suspect.

Yankees: Besides Wetteland, New York also has superior set-up man Mariano Rivera, who has not given up a run in 14 playoff innings. The Orioles loaded the bases with no outs against Rivera in the eighth inning of ALCS Game 4 but still couldn't score. The Yankees also have two quality middle relievers in David Weathers and Jeff Nelson.

Edge: Yankees

Bench

Braves: Atlanta has experienced pinch hitters Luis Polonia and third baseman Terry Pendleton, but there isn't much pop off the bench, unless Klesko doesn't start.

Yankees: Fielder, Strawberry or Raines will be the first Yankees pinch hitter, depending on the lineups Torre goes with, and Boggs and Hayes will be available on the nights the other is starting at third. Andy Fox provides speed, and Sojo has been a steady late-inning defensive replacement at second base.

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Edge: Yankees

Managers

Braves: Bobby Cox hasn't been given enough credit for Atlanta's five consecutive postseason appearances, but he clearly outmanaged Cleveland's Mike Hargrove in last year's World Series.

Yankees: Perhaps because his sister actually is a sister, Sister Mary Marguerite Torre, principal of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin School in Brooklyn, and has been praying extra hard for her little brother this October, just about every move Torre has made in the playoffs has worked. After their ALCS victory, players heaped praise on Torre for his handling of the Yankees this season.

Edge: Braves

Prediction:

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Braves: In six games.

Pub Date: 10/20/96


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