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How They Match Up

October 11, 2006|TIM BROWN

* First base: As their division series went on, the Padres reached detente with Albert Pujols. They threw him fewer strikes, and Pujols, after five hits in his first eight at-bats in Games 1 and 2, went hitless in Games 3 and 4. Because of his incredible balance, plate coverage and power, he is the most feared hitter in baseball. Carlos Delgado will get his too, but he is not Pujols, who also is defensively superior. Edge: Cardinals.

* Second base: Bronx-born Ronnie Belliard came to the Cardinals in a trade-deadline deal with the Indians and didn't do much offensively in his return to the NL. He hurt the Padres, however, batting .462 in the NLDS, driving in two runs in the clincher and making several outstanding plays. Jose Valentin is a capable defender. He's close to an automatic out batting right-handed, but the Cardinals don't have a left-handed starter or a dominant left-handed reliever. He was hitless in three NLDS games against the Dodgers. Edge: Cardinals.

* Shortstop: Jose Reyes, at 23, already is among the most skilled shortstops in the game. A switch-hitter, he improved his on-base percentage, led the majors with 64 stolen bases and scored 122 runs. He has what scouts call "a good engine," meaning his energy runs high on the field, in the dugout and in the clubhouse. David Eckstein is healthy again after battling oblique and hamstring issues late in the season. Always pesky, Eckstein had batted .292 in the postseason before going two for 15 against the Padres. Edge: Mets.

* Third base: David Wright does nearly everything well for the Mets, whose history at the position is a blur of has-beens and flame-outs. In stepped Wright, and in three seasons he already has become an All-Star, a team leader and one of the faces of the organization. Along with Carlos Beltran and Delgado, he's a major run producer (71 extra-base hits, 116 RBIs). A healthy Scott Rolen is every bit Wright's equal. But he's hurting again, was held out of Sunday's game against the Padres, and needed an injection in his ailing left shoulder. He has two series-long postseason oh-fers: 0 for 12 in the 2004 NLDS (Dodgers) and 0 for 15 in the 2004 World Series (Red Sox). Edge: Mets.

* Catcher: A true Molina, Yadier catches and throws well. At the plate, however, he's more Jose than Bengie, though he'll occasionally pitch in with a big hit. Mostly, Molina handles a staff that, through no fault of his, disintegrated over the course of the season. In his first postseason series, Paul Lo Duca batted .455, reached base half the time, and kept his wits when Dodgers kept rounding third and heading for home. He's a tough guy who bridges the gap between Reyes and the Mets' power hitters. Edge: Mets.

* Left field: Preston Wilson, who bats right-handed, and rookie Chris Duncan, who bats left-handed, each started two games against the Padres. Neither one of them hit much, though both have home run potential. Duncan, the son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, batted .293 and had 21 home runs in 89 games. By the sounds of Cliff Floyd (strained Achilles') Tuesday, the best the Mets can hope for from him are some pinch-hit at-bats, if he's included on the roster. That means more Endy Chavez, who lacks Floyd's power but is better defensively. Edge: Even.

* Center field: The Cardinals have a pretty good idea what Carlos Beltran can do. Two years ago, Beltran nearly carried the Houston Astros past the Cardinals and into the World Series by himself, going 10 for 24 with four home runs and four stolen bases. After a so-so first season in New York, Beltran appears to have retaken his game, though he was only two for nine in the NLDS. Jim Edmonds endured an injury-marred season. He remains capable of big hits and still runs down a lot of balls. He batted .156 against left-handers and the Mets will start two. Edge: Mets.

* Right field: Juan Encarnacion was a steady, durable player in his first season in St. Louis. He batted .310 with runners in scoring position and .333 with runners in scoring position and two out, and was especially effective in the fourth and fifth places in the order. After an unsettling couple of years, Shawn Green has found bliss in Queens, hinting that he'd like to remain a Met until the end of next season, then retire. He lacks the power he once had, as often looking to punch the ball the opposite way. Edge: Even.

* Starting pitching: The Mets will send out, in order, Tom Glavine, John Maine, Steve Trachsel and, "probably," according to Willie Randolph, Oliver Perez. The Cardinals counter with something along the lines of Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, Chris Carpenter and either Jason Marquis or Anthony Reyes. The only in-his-prime stopper in the bunch is Carpenter, who struggled near the end of the regular season but beat the Padres twice in the NLDS. Glavine shut out the Dodgers for six innings in Game 2. Edge: Cardinals.

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