Hitters need not apply.
Clearly, the N.L. Championship Series between Atlanta and Florida will be decided on that tiny hump of dirt in the middle of the infield. The Braves may have the best pitching staff in baseball, but the Marlins are one of the few teams that can match them strike for strike, scoreless inning for scoreless inning.
Take the opener of the best-of-7 series tonight at Turner Field. While Atlanta is starting four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux (19-4, 2.20 ERA), the Marlins counter with one of the few pitchers who can be just as dominating, Kevin Brown (16-8, 2.69).
“This series obviously points toward a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 type of games,” said John Smoltz, scheduled to start Game 3 on Friday.
In fact, the Marlins were able to win eight of 12 games against the Braves during the regular season largely because their pitching was superior to Atlanta’s head-to-head.
The Braves hit only .210 against Florida and scored just 34 runs, an average of 2.8 per game. The Marlins, on the other hand, hit .253 and scored 50 runs, though it must be noted that half were scored against pitchers who didn’t make Atlanta’s postseason roster.
“Everybody knows that the only way you’ve got a chance to beat the Braves is to keep the run production down,” Florida manager Jim Leyland said. “They’re going to be stingy.”
Atlanta, making its sixth appearance in the NLCS since 1991, has never faced a pitching staff that mirrored its own this closely. Much has been made of 20-game winner Denny Neagle going nearly two weeks between starts because of the Braves’ pitching depth, but the Marlins shifted rookie sensation Livan Hernandez (9-3, 3.18 ERA) to the bullpen because he’s not needed as a starter.
“Not taking anything away from the teams we’ve faced before, but any time you can throw Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Alex Fernandez and you’ve got to put a guy like Livan Hernandez in the bullpen, that’s as good as it gets,” Smoltz said.
Leyland announced Monday he’ll use four starters against the Braves in an unorthodox rotation that calls for Brown to pitch Games 1, 4 and 7 should the series go the distance.
“He’s had seven days rest and he’s ready to go,” Leyland said. “Our guys have all the confidence in the world in Kevin.”
Fernandez (16-10) is scheduled for Games 2 and 6, with Braves killer Tony Saunders (4-6) Leyland’s surprise choice in Game 3, when the series shifts to Miami. Saunders was 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA against the Braves, 1-6 with a 5.57 ERA against the rest of the N.L.
“Saunders had some success against them this year,” Leyland said. “He was kind of an unknown quantity.”
Leiter (16-12) was bumped back to Game 5 for his only scheduled start in the series. He’ll work out of the bullpen if needed the first two games.
The Braves rotation goes this way: Maddux, Tom Glavine (14-7), Smoltz (15-12) and Neagle (20-5). Since Neagle is scheduled to make only one start in the series, he’ll work out of the bullpen in the first two games and, if necessary, the last two.
Neagle could help negate the Marlins’ apparent edge in the bullpen. Robb Nen (35 saves, 1.95 ERA) was more effective than Atlanta closer Mark Wohlers (33 saves, 3.50 ERA), and Florida’s relievers go six deep with righties Hernandez and Jay Powell and lefties Ed Vosberg, Dennis Cook and Felix Heredia complementing Nen.
Neagle said he’s ready to pitch in a key situation out of the bullpen if needed.
“Sure. Definitely. I’ve done it before,” said Neagle, who had three saves for the Pirates in 1992 and ‘93. “If that’s the situation, I think I can handle it with no problem.”
But Wohlers thinks the bullpen regulars - three rookies and only one lefty - can handle the job just fine. In particular, he insists his troubles over the final month of the season weren’t as bad they seemed. xxxx PLAYOFF GLANCE American League (Fox) Wednesday, Oct. 8 Cleveland at Baltimore (Erickson 16-7), 8:13 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9 Cleveland at Baltimore (Key 16-10), 8:13 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11 Baltimore (Mussina 15-8) at Cleveland, 4:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12 Baltimore at Cleveland, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13 Baltimore at Cleveland, 8:11 p.m., if necessary Wednesday, Oct. 15 Cleveland at Baltimore, 4:15 p.m., if necessary Thursday, Oct. 16 Cleveland at Baltimore, 8:15 p.m., if necessary
National League (NBC) Tuesday, Oct. 7 Fla. (Brown 16-8) at Atl. (Maddux 19-4), 8:07 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8 Fla. (Fernandez 17-12) at Atl. (Glavine 14-7), 4:07 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10 Atl. (Smoltz 15-12) at Fla. (Saunders (4-6), 8:07 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11 Atlanta (Neagle 20-5) at Fla. (Brown 16-8), 7:37 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12 Atlanta at Florida, 4:07 p.m., if necessary Tuesday, Oct. 14 Florida at Atlanta, 8:07 p.m., if necessary Wednesday, Oct. 15 Florida at Atlanta, 8:07 p.m., if necessary
The following fields overflowed: KEYWORD = NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
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