October 8 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 23  

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SPORTS

MLB League Championships

By Anthony Lafratta
Gazette Staff

National League
Championship Series

Chicago Cubs vs. Florida Marlins

No one would have believed it a month ago, but here they are, the Cubs and Marlins, battling for a spot in the Fall Classic.

By overcoming the Braves in five games the Cubs won a playoff series for the first time in 95 years, while the Marlins victory over the Giants marked their return to the NLCS for the first time since buying, er, winning the World Series in 1997.

Season series results are largely unhelpful here; the Cubbies took four of six games, but they were played three months ago. Of note, however, was the performance of Cubs ace Kerry Wood, who tossed two complete game victories against the Marlins, one being a shutout.

Why is this relevant? Well, maybe it's not, but Wood and fellow starter Mark Prior will certainly be relevant to the outcome of this series. Wood and Prior simply dominated the Braves. If the other half of the rotation -Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano- can eat up some innings and the bullpen can continue to hold down leads, the Cubbies will win decisively.

But what about the Pudge factor? Marlins catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez single-handedly stole the series from the Giants.

What happened in game one you ask? Well, the Marlins ran into some pitching. Jason Schmidt shut down the fish, tossing a complete game three-hit shutout. Of course, the Giants had nothing left to throw at the Marlins after that, but the Cubs will. And therein lies the first of two reasons why the Cubs will succeed where the Giants failed - pitching depth.

Here's the second reason: the Marlins pitched to Barry Bonds only nine times the whole series, while issuing him eight free passes. Try doing that with the Cubs: Kenny Lofton, Moises Alou, Eric Karros, Aramis Ramirez and Sammy Sosa.

Pitching and offense, the Cubbies have the edge. Cubs win, Cubs win!

American League
Championship Series

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

You'd be hard-pressed to try and set these two ball clubs apart.

Both have whopping payrolls; both have Cy Young Award winners, batting champions and future Hall of Famers in their midst; both were down in their respective divisional series -only to reel off three straight wins and both are coming into this series with all the confidence in the world.

An appeal to the regular season seems fruitless in solving this puzzle. The 19-game season series yielded a split, 10-9 in favour of the Yankees.

The Yankees hold the distinct advantage of being rested. After knocking off the Twins on Sunday, the Yanks have been able to set up their rotation, leading with Mike Mussina and following with Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells.

Clemens will throw in game three at Fenway Park where he's won both his starts this year. However, "the Rocket" would be slated for game seven in Yankee Stadium, if necessary, where he's struggled badly against the Sox this season, posting an 0-3 record and a dreadful 12.56 ERA.

Because the Red Sox used Pedro Martinez in game five versus the A's, he likely won't be ready to go until game three (which incidentally should make for an interesting showdown with Clemens).

The rest of Boston's rotation: Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield and John Burkett managed to push the A's to five games, but these are the Yankees.

Although the very prospect of a Cubs-Red Sox World Series would literally arouse fervent baseball fans everywhere, when the Yanks are clicking they're simply unstoppable. Yankees in six games.

 

 

 

 

 

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