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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS | DODGERS VS. N.Y. METS

How they match up

October 04, 2006|Steve Henson

First base: The key hits Nomar Garciaparra provided the Dodgers down the stretch obscured the fact that his overall performance slipped as the season progressed. He batted .358 in the first half and .229 in the second half, and much of the slide could be attributed to deteriorating health. He's suffering from a nagging left thigh strain and a painful strained muscle in his side but will get as many at-bats as possible. If the Dodgers take a lead into the late innings, expect a pinch-runner for Garciaparra and slick-fielding rookie James Loney spelling him on defense. The Mets' Carlos Delgado, with 38 homers and 114 runs batted in, is the middle-of-the-order power hitter the Dodgers lack. He is vulnerable to left-handed pitchers, batting .226 with seven homers against them. Edge: Mets

Second base: Nobody can grin and bear an injury better than Jeff Kent, and he has been smiling through the pain of a sore rib cage for three months. It is especially costly on defense, further diminishing his already limited range. The injury also has cost Kent power, but he remains one of the best clutch hitters in baseball. He batted .348 in September to finish at .292 and gain a slight edge over his Mets counterpart, Jose Valentin. A candidate for comeback player of the year, Valentin batted .271 with 18 home runs after batting .170 in an injury-riddled 2005 season with the Dodgers. Like several of his teammates, he is a much better hitter against right-handed pitchers. Valentin has more range than Kent but much less experience playing second base. Edge: Dodgers

Shortstop: Rafael Furcal of the Dodgers and Jose Reyes of the Mets have similar roles, and the one who sparks the most rallies from the leadoff spot could be pivotal to the series. Furcal overcame a slow start and developed into the Dodgers' most reliable and versatile offensive player, scoring 113 runs while batting .300 with 15 home runs and 37 stolen bases. Reyes might be two steps faster, and has at least as much power. Both have extremely powerful arms and are capable of making sensational plays while occasionally botching routine ones. Edge: Even

Third base: David Wright of the Mets is rapidly developing into one of the best power-hitting third basemen in baseball. He provides a much-needed right-handed bat in the middle of the lineup, hit .365 with runners in scoring position and fields his position well. The Dodgers probably will play Wilson Betemit against right-handed pitchers and Julio Lugo against left-handers. Both players were acquired in July trades and have produced sporadically. Betemit has power and Lugo has speed, but neither is close to the all-around level of Wright. Edge: Mets

Catcher: When rookie Russell Martin was converted from third base to catcher four years ago, the Dodger he emulated was Paul Lo Duca. Now Lo Duca is an All-Star with the Mets who has continued to hit well since the Dodgers traded him to Florida in July 2004. He's also a strong on-field leader. Martin, meanwhile, has quickly developed into a standout catcher. He provides a steady bat in the bottom half of the lineup, showing occasional power and surprising speed. He is athletic behind the plate and has thrown out 31% of runners trying to steal. Lo Duca is more highly regarded only because of experience. Edge: Mets

Left field: This was one of the Dodgers' most productive positions, though in an odd way. Rookie Andre Ethier made the jump from double-A most valuable player to consistent big league hitter until late August. Just when he began to struggle, the Dodgers plugged in veteran Marlon Anderson, who had been acquired primarily to pinch-hit yet emerged as a September star. Injury-plagued Cliff Floyd is a question mark for the Mets. He battled Achilles' tendon and ankle injuries much of the season and batted .236 in only 123 at-bats after the All-Star break. Endy Chavez, who batted a career-high .306, will play if Floyd can't. Edge: Dodgers

Center field: The Mets' switch-hitting Carlos Beltran is a complete player of the caliber the Dodgers lack. He has more than twice as many home runs as any Dodger, runs well and is an excellent fielder. The seemingly ageless Kenny Lofton has been productive batting in the No. 2 spot for the Dodgers, stealing 32 bases and exceeding his career average of .299 by batting .301. However, the 16-year veteran has lost a step in the outfield and does not throw well. Reserve Jason Repko is a better outfielder, but the Dodgers are reluctant to take Lofton out of games even when leading in the late innings. Edge: Mets

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