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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / NATIONAL LEAGUE

Atlanta Braves Vs. Chicago Cubs

September 29, 1998|JASON REID

SCHEDULE

Wednesday: Chicago (Clark 9-14) at Atlanta (Smoltz 17-3), 1 p.m. ESPN

Thursday: Chicago at Atlanta (Glavine 20-6), 5 p.m. Channel 11

Saturday: Atlanta (Maddux 18-9) at Chicago, TBA

Sunday: Atlanta at Chicago, TBA, if necessary

Monday: Chicago at Atlanta, TBA, if necessary

CHICAGO AT A GLANCE

Lineup

*--*

CF Lance Johnson .280 2B Mickey Morandini .296 RF Sammy Sosa .308 1B Mark Grace .309 LF Henry Rodriguez .251 3B Gary Gaetti .281 C Tyler Houston .255 SS Jose Hernandez .254

*--*

* Analysis: Sosa's 66 home runs powered the Cubs, but they still had to defeat the San Francisco Giants in the NL wild-card playoff game. The soon-to-be NL most valuable player enjoyed a historical season in leading Chicago to the playoffs for the first time since 1989. Sosa had help because the Cub front office strengthened the club with sound moves before the season. Mark Grace continues to provide stability, and an unheralded pitching staff helped. Kevin Tapani emerged as the ace, and hard-throwing rookie Kerry Wood was sensational before missing several starts because of a sore pitching shoulder. Rod Beck surprised many by saving 51 games, proving there is still a place in baseball for overweight guys who enjoy beer and cigarettes. But the dead arm he seemed to have in Monday's game against the Giants could be cause for concern.

* Key Reserves: Outfielder Glenallen Hill (.351, 8 HRs, 23 RBIs), outfielder Brant Brown (.291, 14 HRs, 48 RBIs).

* Team batting: .265, 5th in National League.

* Team pitching: 4.47 ERA, 11th in National League.

ATLANTA AT A GLANCE

Lineup*--*

SS Walt Weiss .280 2B Keith Lockhart .257 3B Chipper Jones .313 1B Andres Galarraga .305 LF Ryan Klesko .274 C Javy Lopez .284 CF Andruw Jones .271 RF Michael Tucker .244

*--*

* Analysis: The starting rotation remains the best in baseball despite a shaky second-half performance by Greg Maddux. Maddux appeared to be headed toward winning his fifth Cy Young Award at the All-Star break, but the right-hander struggled in August and September. Left-hander Tom Glavine picked up the slack with his fourth 20-win season, and Maddux won 18 games in an off-year by his standards. John Smoltz won 17 games despite being put on the disabled list in June. Chipper Jones and Lopez are among the game's brightest young stars, and Galarraga had a big impact after signing with the Braves as a free agent last off-season. Andruw Jones is a future all-star. Surprisingly, the Braves lost six of nine games against the Cubs during the season, mainly due to atrocious pitching by the bullpen and Denny Neagle, who was 0-2 with an ERA over 10 in two starts.

* Key Reserves: Infielder Ozzie Guillen (.277, 1 HR, 22 RBIs), infielder Tony Graffanino (.211, 5 HRs, 22 RBIs), catcher Eddie Perez (.336, 6 HRs, 32 RBIs).

* Team batting: .272, 4th in National League.

* Team pitching: 3.25 ERA, 1st in National League.

KEYS TO THE SERIES

The Braves are accustomed to playing at this time of the year--winning in three division series appearances--and their experience will be a factor. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz have a combined record of 7-0 in division series play--but closer Kerry Ligtenberg hasn't been tested in the postseason. Wood's status for the series is in doubt, providing more bad news for the weary Cubs. Despite their lack of success against Chicago in the regular season, the Braves should have little problem disposing of the

Records: Chicago, 90-73; Atlanta, 106-56.

Head to Head: Chicago won series, 6-3.

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