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2003 MLB Playoffs
Divisional Series Preview
September 29, 2003

Baseball's second season starts tomorrow and, like to last year, it is truly an 8 team race.  After watching the Anaheim Angels win it all a year ago, teams like the Marlins and Twins know they have a legitimate chance at baseball's top prize with some good pitching, timely hitting, and a little luck over the next few weeks.  With no frontrunner in place, the Divisional Series' are going to be crucial in establishing some early postseason dominance.  Here is a breakdown of each series and how it will unfold:

Chicago Cubs (88 - 74) vs. Atlanta Braves (101 - 61)
Pros - Starting Pitching, Managing
Wood, Zambrano, and Prior can match up against anyone.  It will be the first time that the Braves will be overmatched in the pitching department.  Dusty Baker is no miracle worker, but he did find a way to mesh all of the players, new and old, into a cohesive unit that is more focused on winning than putting up numbers.

Cons - Bullpen, Lineup
There are worse bullpens, but Alfonseca and company will certainly make you sweat a little if you're a Cubs fan.  The lineup has been bolstered with some heavy hitting ex-Pirates, but there are still some holes that will be exposed against playoff pitching.  If Sosa struggles, it could be a quick series.

Pros - Hitting, Experience
Atlanta's pitching is not bad, but can't really be considered a pro in a 5 game series against a better staff.  Their hitting, however, has been electrifying, leading the NL this season in batting average, home runs, and strikeouts (least).  The Braves have been here many times before and know what it takes to get through this first round.  Their problems occur at the next level.

Cons - Bullpen, History
With Smoltz just coming off the DL and Darren Holmes out, the Braves are going to rely heavily on their starting pitching.  Ortiz and Hampton are prone to wildness, though, so if they can't eat up the innings, it could get ugly.  Recent history has been unkind to Atlanta as well.  Twelve division titles and just one World Series trophy make Braves fans nervous in every matchup - even against the historically bad Cubs.

Prediction:  Braves in Three
This one is much closer on paper and everyone seems to believe in the Cubs, but on a hunch, I just don't think Chicago is quite there yet.  The Braves don't look intimidating, but once again they won over 100 games, so you can't argue with their success.  It's also hard to bet against it.

Florida Marlins (91 - 71) vs. San Francisco Giants (100 - 61)
Pros - Speed, Versatility
Speed is uncommon in today's game, but Juan Pierre has shown why a prototypical leadoff man is an essential part of a playoff team.  There are no bashers on this team, but the Marlins are as capable as any team of putting together a long rally because of their balanced lineup.

Cons - Lack of experience
Most of the Marlins players have never been in a playoff game, and while it shouldn't matter, it does.  In a 5 game series, you have to know what to expect right away.

Pros - Bonds and Schmidt
It's always an advantage when you have a player who can downright dominate the other side and the Giants have that in Bonds and Jason Schmidt.  Bonds' presence makes the hitters around him better because they get better pitches to hit.  Schmidt has firmly established himself as an ace and is now know as a great pitcher, not just a pitcher with great "stuff."

Cons - Outfielders not named Bonds
Grissom, Hammonds, Benard, Cruz, etc.  At some point in the series, the Marlins are going to make sure that Bonds is not the one that beats them.  That means it's likely that one of these outfielders will have to come through.  San Fran doesn't have many holes, but this is one of them.

Prediction:  Giants in Four
The Giants are not deep in starting pitching, but with an ace in Schmidt, a solid closer in Worrell, and Bonds anchoring a lineup that plays solid defensively as well, San Francisco should have no problem staving off the pesky Marlins.

Boston Red Sox (95 - 67) vs. Oakland Athetics (96 - 66)
Red Sox
Pros - Hitting, Hitting, Hitting
Everyone knows about the Bo Sox and their ability to hit the tar out of the ball.  They need to prove that they can do it against Oakland's pitching.

Cons - Pitching Depth
After Pedro, the Red Sox sport good but not great pitching in Lowe, Suppan, and Burkett.  Their ERA's are unsightly for a 95 win team, and they will have to prove themselves against the A.L.'s best pitching.

Pros - Pitching
As has been the case the past few years, the A's success has been largely shouldered by their starting pitchers.  With Mulder out, however, Oakland will have to lean on some of the younger arms after Zito and Hudson.

Cons - Contact
Only the lowly Tigers posted a worse batting average this year.  If the A's pitchers aren't on their games, Oakland will not be able to outslug Boston.

Prediction:  Red Sox in Three
Pedro has been dominating as of late and Hudson has been the only consistent starter for Oakland recently.  If Boston can win game 2, they should have no problem slugging their way to a sweep.

Minnesota Twins (90 - 72) vs. New York Yankees (101 - 61)
Pros - Motivation, Metrodome
It seems like Minnesota always has something more to prove than other teams.  Their roster never looks like a playoff roster, but here they are for the second year in a row.  At home, the spunky Twins have an advantage because it's just not a fun place to play and the other team often plays like they don't want to be there.

Cons - Starting Pitching
While the Twins' pitching has been hot of late, the fact is Santana, Radke, and Lohse is not Mussina, Pettitte, and Clemens.  Minnesota will have to rely on intangibles to sneak by New York.

Pros - Depth, Pitching, Experience
New York has capable backups at several positions and can go 4 starters deep without sacrificing much on the mound.  The experience of the players and the coaching staff is an invaluable asset, and having Yankee Stadium as your home park can't hurt, either.

Cons - Age
With experience comes age, and the Yankees' pitchers aren't spring chickens anymore.  Clemens has looked beatable at times this year, but somehow David Wells is throwing like a man in his prime.

Prediction:  Yankees in Four
The Twins will put up a valiant fight but will have to play catch up one too many times as their starting pitching can't compete with New York.

Enjoy the games, and be sure to check for updates throughout the playoffs!