10/06/2003 1:30 AM ET
Similarities will make it interesting
ATLANTA -- In five close games, the Cubs barely edged the Braves, a team that could hardly contrast with them any more. The National League Division Series was all about power arms and just-enough-offense triumphing over power bats and just-enough-pitching.
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Imagine what seven games will be like for Chicago against a Florida team that is in some ways nearly its mirror image.
The Cubs have nasty, young, hard-throwing right-handers at the front of their rotation -- you may have heard of Messrs. Prior, Wood, Zambrano and Clement. The Marlins have plenty of that as well, in the form of Josh Beckett and Brad Penny, plus sensational left-handed youngster -- and former Cub prospect -- Dontrelle Willis.
That's the obvious part. None of the hitters will be waking up thinking, "Man, I can't wait to hit against that guy!" Meanwhile, the folks operating the radar guns will be in the spotlight because people will be watching those readings.
"The similarities, they're all young, up-and-coming, power arms," said Clement, at 29 the graybeard of the Cubs playoff rotation -- and a former Marlin who came over from Florida in the Willis deal. "Beckett, without getting hurt last year, was supposedly on the same keel as Prior. And lately he's pitching like he's one of the best in the game."
Chicago features a lineup with three sluggers in the middle of the order, but not much power elsewhere. The Cubs offense is all about putting the ball in play, hitting lots of singles -- especially after the additions of Randall Simon and Kenny Lofton. Aramis Ramirez, Moises Alou and of course Sammy Sosa can hit the ball out of the park, but on the year the Cubs ranked eighth in the NL in homers.
Much the same goes for Florida, which had the sixth-fewest homers in the Senior Circuit, though in fairness the Marlins play in an extremely difficult park for hitters. The Fish rely much more on speed than the Cubbies, leading the NL in steals by 50. But both teams eschew the free pass, ranking near the bottom of the league in walks drawn. The Cubs have a better bench, while the Marlins' bullpen is deeper, which should make for some interesting late-inning matchups.
In a word, the strategy is the same for the Cubs and the Marlins: ride the starting pitcher, get it to the guy in the ninth and hit just enough.
"They're pretty similar teams," said Atlanta's Gary Sheffield. "Both teams have some flamethrowers and some offense that can get things going at the top of the lineup. It's going to be an interesting series."
Sheff should know -- his team just finished that tight NLDS with the Cubs, and the Braves play in the same division with the Marlins. It's fair to say that Sheffield has seen more than he'd like of both contestants.
Both teams definitely earned their way here, in the regular season and the first round of the postseason. The Marlins won more games, but the Cubs won a division title that went down to the season's last weekend. Florida eliminated the defending National League champion Giants. Chicago dispensed with an Atlanta team playing in the postseason for the 12th straight time.
And for the most part, both teams are composed of playoff neophytes, guys who are relishing their advancement to baseball's final four.
"I know what we've got," said Sosa. "I don't really like to talk about the Marlins so much because I don't know. But I know what we've got. I know we're ready and we're gonna be there Tuesday."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.