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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS | NATIONAL LEAGUE : Houston vs. Atlanta

September 30, 1997|MIKE DOWNEY

SCHEDULE

* Today--Houston (Darryl Kile, 19-7) at Atlanta (Greg Maddux, 19-4), 10 a.m.

* Wednesday--Houston (Mike Hampton, 15-10) at Atlanta (Tom Glavine, 14-7), 10 a.m.

* Friday--Atlanta (John Smoltz, 15-12) at Houston (Shane Reynolds, 9-10), 1 p.m.

* Saturday--(If necessary) Atlanta (Denny Neagle 20-5) at Houston (Kile), 10 a.m.

* Sunday--(If necessary) Atlanta at Houston, 10 a.m.

RECORDS

Houston 84-78, Atlanta 101-61.

HEAD TO HEAD

Atlanta won season series, 7-4.

ASTROS AT A GLANCE

STARTING LINEUP

*--*

Pos. Player Avg. 2B Craig Biggio .309 RF Derek Bell .276 1B Jeff Bagwell .286 LF Luis Gonzalez .258 3B Bill Spiers .320 CF Thomas Howard .247 SS Ricky Gutierrez .261 C Brad Ausmus .266 P Darryl Kile 19-7

*--*

* ANALYSIS: The Astros have the worst record in the playoffs but won the National League Central title with two more victories than the 1996 record that got Manager Terry Collins fired. It's their first postseason appearance since 1986. No one in the league but Tony Gwynn, Larry Walker and Mike Piazza had more hits than Biggio. He led in runs scored and stole 47 bases. Bagwell set club marks for homers, 43, and RBIs, 135. The staff ace was Kile, who went 19-7 with a 2.57 ERA, and led the league in innings pitched. Hampton is the first Astro lefty in eight years to win 15 games. Team is solid up the middle, having turned a club-record number of double plays. The Astros have led the division since July 18 but their record after Aug. 1 was a shaky 25-29. Houston's record in World Series play: 0-0 and holding.

* KEY RESERVES: Third baseman Sean Berry (.256), outfielder Chuck Carr (.276), rookie outfielder Rich Hidalgo (.306 in 62-at-bats).

* TEAM BATTING: .259, ninth in National League.

* TEAM PITCHING: 3.66 ERA, league's second best.

BRAVES AT A GLANCE

STARTING LINEUPS

*--*

Pos. Player Avg. CF Kenny Lofton .333 SS Jeff Blauser .308 3B Chipper Jones .295 1B Fred McGriff .277 LF Ryan Klesko .261 C Javy Lopez .295 RF Michael Tucker .283 2B Keith Lockhart .279 P Greg Maddux 19-4

*--*

* ANALYSIS: The Braves have the best record in baseball as "The Team of the '90s" (continued). Atlanta's six consecutive division titles are unprecedented. Playing in a new park, they became only the second Brave team of this century to win 100 games. Team parted with David Justice, Marquis Grissom, Steve Avery and Jermaine Dye and didn't blink. Lofton hit .333, though he did sit out 40 games. The big surprise was Blauser, who kept his average above .300 most of season. The pitching? Without peer. Glavine one year, Smoltz last year, Neagle this year, Maddux every year. As usual, this is the team to beat. *(Atlanta's asterisk: One for six in the World Series.)

* KEY RESERVES: Outfielder Andruw Jones (.231, 18 home runs), second baseman Tony Graffanino (.258), first baseman Greg Colbrunn (8 for 15 as a pinch-hitter since joining the team).

* TEAM BATTING: .270, third in National League.

* TEAM PITCHING: 3.18 ERA, best in league.

KEY TO THE SERIES

Atlanta is an obvious favorite. Postseason vets, pitching galore, 17 more victories than Houston. In a short series, the Big Four starters and reliever Mark Wohlers (33 saves) should be plenty. The Astros must catch a wave, as the 1993 Phillies did. But unless left-handed reliever Billy Wagner finds his high-90s heater, the lack of a big-time closer (none among NL's top 10 in saves) could be harmful, particularly against a team known for its ninth-inning rallies. Yes, Houston has the home-field edge. Trouble is, Atlanta won more games on the road, 51, than at home, 50. If the Braves give away this series, it will be a charitable act on par with Ted Turner's billion bucks to the United Nations.

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