San Francisco Giants vs. Atlanta Braves
RECORDS: Giants 95-66, NL wildcard; Braves 101-59, NL East champs.
SEASON SERIES: Split, 3-3.
MANAGERS: Dusty Baker is 840-715 (.540) ) in 10 years with the Giants, 1-6 (.143) in the postseason; Bobby Cox is 1,450-1,112 (.566) in 17 years with the Braves, 56-50 (.528) in the postseason.
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Game 1 RHP Russ Ortiz (14-10, 3.61) vs. LHP Tom Glavine (18-10, 2.96); Game 2 LHP Kirk Rueter (14-8, 3.23) vs. RHP Greg Maddux (16-6, 2.62); Game 3 RHP Jason Schmidt (13-8, 3.45) vs. RHP Kevin Millwood (18-8, 3.24).
ON THE SPOT: Giants LF Barry Bonds is starting to run out of chances to make his first World Series trip. He is 19 for 97 (.196) with one homer, six RBI and 20 strikeouts in five postseason appearances.
SERIES SURPRISE: Braves IF Marcus Giles spent six weeks in the minors at midseason after flopping at second base but has cut into Vinny Castilla's playing time at third.
1. IRON SHEF: Braves LF Gary Sheffield is back on the October stage for just the second time in his career. The first times was 1997, when he led the wildcard Marlins to World Series crown. Sheffield was 16 for 50 (.320) with three homers and seven RBI in that postseason run.
2. GET 'EM EARLY: This is a matchup between the two best bullpens in the league. The Braves (2.60 ERA) held a slight edge over the Giants (2.89). Braves relievers blew just 14 of 71 save chances (.803 success rate), while Giants relievers converted 43 of 60 (.717).
3. GIVING CHIP THE SLIP: Braves LF Chipper Jones has tremendous numbers against several Giants pitchers, including 6 for 12 with a homer and eight RBI against closer Robb Nen. Jones, who hit .357 against the Giants this year in 28 at-bats, is 14 for 29 (.483) with four homers and 11 RBI against Schmidt, who began his career in the Braves organization.
WORTH NOTING: The amazing Braves are back in the playoffs after winning their record 11th straight division title. They have reached the World Series, however, just once (1999) in the last five tries. ... Braves were 19-21 on May 14, then caught fire, losing just one series (Phillies) in the next three months. ...Giants went 29-10 down the stretch to claim third playoff trip in last six years.
PREDICTION: Braves in four.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
RECORDS: Cardinals 97-65, NL Central champions; Diamondbacks 98-64, NL West champions.
SEASON SERIES: Cards won, 4-2.
MANAGERS: Tony La Russa is 604-529 (.533) in seven years with the Cardinals, 12-11 (.522) in the postseason; Bob Brenly is 190-134 (.586) in two years with the Diamondbacks, 11-6 in the postseason.
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Game 1 RHP Matt Morris (17-9, 3.42) vs. LHP Randy Johnson (24-5, 2.32); Game 2 LHP Chuck Finley (7-4, 3.80) vs. RHP Curt Schilling (23-7, 3.23); Game 3 RHP Woody Williams (9-4, 2.53) vs. TBA.
ON THE SPOT: Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim bounced back with 36 saves in 42 chances, but he has not pitched on the postseason stage since blowing back-to-back saves at Yankee Stadium last season.
SERIES SURPRISE: Cardinals UT Miguel Cairo is 8 for 19 (.421) career against Johnson. He probably will start in LF against the Big Unit, with Albert Pujols moving to 1B and lefty Tino Martinez sitting down.
1. MISSING GONZO: Arizona LF Luis Gonzalez, who provided the World Series-winning hit last year, is done for the year after suffering a separated shoulder on Sept. 23. His absence forces David Dellucci to play left, Erubiel Durazo to play right and 1B Mark Grace back into the lineup.
2. THE DUO: Johnson (5-7) and Schilling (7-9) have struggled more against the Cardinals in their careers than almost any other team. Last year the Cardinals managed to beat Johnson in Game 2, but couldn't take a game off Schilling, who went 0-2 with a 7.77 ERA in his last four September outings.
3. EMOTIONAL RESCUE: While grieving the deaths of pitcher Darryl Kile, Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck and former World Series MVP Darrell Porter, the Cardinals closed fast. They went 21-6 in September and won 37 of their final 50 games.
WORTH NOTING: This is a rematch of last year's division series, won in five games by Arizona. The Cardinals outscored the D'backs 12-10 in a memorable showdown. ... Two other key members of last year's title run are out for Arizona: UT Craig Counsell (neck) and OF Danny Bautista (shoulder).
PREDICTION: Cardinals in five.