ESPN.com's Pitching Preview | 2004 MLB Playoffs
In Thursday's two NLDS Game 2 matchups, Dodgers starter Jeff Weaver has a tough assignment vs. St. Louis, while the Astros aim to take a commanding series lead over Atlanta with their second Cy Young candidate on the mound in as many days.
After losing to the St. Louis Cardinals 8-3 in Game 1, the Los Angeles Dodgers are counting on Weaver (13-13, 4.01 ERA). But I expect the Cardinals to rough him up -- and his rough postseason past isn't even the main reason (Weaver is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in three playoff relief appearances).
The Cardinals have such a potent lineup that they will score runs. So it's just a matter of whether the Dodgers can keep up against St. Louis starter Jason Marquis (15-7, 3.71), and I don't think they can. Marquis' postseason experience consists of two scoreless innings for Atlanta in the 2001 NLCS.
The Cardinals' hitters can handle the best pitching, and Weaver clearly isn't one of baseball's elite pitchers. But I don't think any pitcher can go through their lineup successfully four times. So I think Weaver will have trouble with the Cardinals, even though he pitched well in his last regular-season start against the San Francisco Giants (three runs in seven innings in a 4-2 loss on Friday).
For the Dodgers, it's a matter of how many runs they can score to keep pace with the Cardinals' offense. Whatever they score, though, it won't be enough -- because I believe the Cardinals are heading to the World Series.
Meanwhile, in the other NLDS, the Houston Astros are ahead 1-0 after a 9-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 1, with Cy Young candidate Roger Clemens (18-4, 2.98) getting the win. In Game 2 Houston's other Cy Young candidate, Roy Oswalt (20-10, 3.49), faces Mike Hampton (13-9, 4.28).
I give the edge to the Astros in this series because of Clemens' strong performance Wednesday coupled with Oswalt's presence in Game 2. This will be Oswalt's first postseason appearance, while Hampton is 2-4 with a 3.90 ERA in nine postseason starts.
Hampton had a stretch during the season where he pitched great. He'll have to revert to that form, because the Astros have a great lineup, especially their right-handed hitters. Carlos Beltran, acquired in a midseason trade, changed the whole dynamic of Houston's offense -- he steals bases, runs the bases well and hits home runs.
It hurts the Braves that their offensive leader, Chipper Jones, reinjured his right hand in Game 1. He isn't sure if he'll play Thursday. As is the case with the Dodgers vs. the Cardinals, I don't think the Braves have enough offense to keep up with the Astros.
An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76 (the Reds won the World Series both years).