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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / NATIONAL LEAGUE

Houston Astros Vs. San Diego Padres

September 29, 1998|HOUSTON MITCHELL

SCHEDULE

Today: San Diego (Brown 18-7) at Houston (Johnson 10-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Thursday: San Diego (Ashby 17-9) at Houston (Reynolds 19-8), 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Saturday: Houston (Hampton 11-7) at San Diego (Hamilton 13-13), TBA

Sunday: Houston at San Diego, TBA, if necessary

Monday: San Diego at Houston, TBA, if necessary

SAN DIEGO AT A GLANCE

Lineup

*--*

2B Quilvio Veras .267 RF Tony Gwynn .321 LF Greg Vaughn .272 3B Ken Caminiti .252 1B Jim Leyritz .266 CF Steve Finley .249 C Carlos Hernandez .262 SS Chris Gomez .267

*--*

* Analysis: The Padres had just one losing month this season and it came in September (9-15). The offense has struggled, scoring four runs or less in their last 13 games. First baseman Wally Joyner will miss at least the first game of the series because of a strained right shoulder and third baseman Ken Caminiti is hobbled by a bad hip, but he will play. Joyner will be replaced by Leyritz, a mediocre defensive first baseman made worse by having to play on artificial turf. Pitcher Andy Ashby, bothered by nagging injuries, went winless in six starts before a victory on Wednesday. The Padres need to regain the early-season form that helped them win 18 of 25 April games. The key for the Padres is Caminiti, the 1996 NL most valuable player who hit just .252 this season. He has always been the backbone of the team and if he can find his hitting touch, the Padres have a chance.

* Key Reserves: Catcher Greg Myers (.246, 4 HRs, 20 RBIs), infielder Andy Sheets (.242, 7 HRs, 29 RBIs), pinch-hit specialist John Vander Wal (.279, 5 HRs, 20 RBIs).

* Team batting: .253, 12th in National League.

* Team pitching: 3.63 ERA, 3rd in National League.

HOUSTON AT A GLANCE

Lineup

*--*

2B Craig Biggio .325 3B Billy Spiers .273 RF Derek Bell .314 1B Jeff Bagwell .304 LF Moises Alou .312 CF Carl Everett .296 SS Ricky Gutierrez .261 C Brad Ausmus .269

*--*

* Analysis: Pitcher Randy Johnson (10-1) will start today's playoff opener. Johnson was 5-0 in five starts at the Astrodome, giving up only two runs in 43 innings for a microscopic 0.42 ERA. The Astros were a sizzling 22-7 in August after acquiring Johnson from Seattle, but were mediocre down the stretch and lost seven of their last 13 games. Closer Billy Wagner blew consecutive saves against the New York Mets in mid-September, giving up a ninth-inning homer on each occasion. Houston's World Series hopes hinge on better offensive performance from the heart of the lineup than they had last October. Bagwell, Biggio and Bell were a combined two for 37 in a division series loss to Atlanta. This year, they added a proven postseason performer in Alou, who drove in 15 runs for the Florida Marlins in the 1997 postseason. The Astros have 49 come-from-behind victories, 27 in their last at-bat.

* Key Reserves: Infielder Sean Berry (.314, 13 HRs, 52 RBIs), outfielder Richard Hidalgo (.303, 7 HRs, 35 RBIs), catcher Tony Eusebio (.253, 1 HR, 36 RBIs).

* Team batting: .280, 2nd in National League.

* Team pitching: 3.50 ERA, 2nd in National League.

KEYS TO THE SERIES

Randy Johnson. If he is as dominating in the postseason for the Astros as he was in the regular season, that will guarantee two Houston victories. And in a short, five-game series, that means the Astros only need to win one more game. In his only start against the Padres this season, Johnson pitched a complete game, striking out 12 and giving up only one run in a 2-1 victory. Houston is too deep in pitching and hitting and will defeat the Padres in four games.

* Records: San Diego, 98-64; Houston, 102-60.

* Head to Head: Houston won season series, 5-4.

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