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Braves and Indians Set for Pitching Showdown

Column by Bo Light
Associate Sports Editor

October is the most wonderful month of the year. The oppressive heat and humidity of the summer is gone, but the bitter cold of winter has not yet arrived. The leaves change color, painting the countryside a bright orange. Apple cider and pumpkin pie become easier to find. That damned interminable baseball season is almost over. And best of all, you can find all four major sports being played on television every weekend.

Truly, it is a magical time.

The Batter's Box

And speaking of that interminable baseball season, Atlanta and Cleveland will begin their battle tomorrow in the first all-Native American World Series. That's right, folks, get those protest placards out, the Braves and the Indians are in the Fall Classic. While the teams' demeaning nicknames have been a non-issue throughout the playoffs, expect to see thousands of picketers outside each game now that these two teams are in the Big Show.

As far as the Series itself, there is no doubt that these are the two best teams in baseball. Cleveland has a prodigious offense, and the veteran pitching to back it up. Dennis Martinez, Orel Hersheiser, Charles Nagy, and Ken Hill were the best rotation in the American League, and have been extremely effective in the playoffs. If the Indians can take a lead into the ninth, Jose Mesa practically guarantees the win.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland hitters can pound opponents into submission. Albert Belle provides a constant home run threat, and Kenny Lofton has come up big in the postseason, hitting nearly .500 against Seattle.

However, if you think Cleveland has an unstoppable lineup, you haven't watched the Braves. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery are the best pitching rotation in any league. These guys don't need the big offense to back them up, because you never lose if the other team doesn't score. It's not that Atlanta isn't capable of scoring a lot of runs, it's that they rarely need to. The pitching staff has virtually no weaknesses; they just keep going until the other team's pitching breaks down.

The Braves won their division by 21 games, and have just one loss in the playoffs. They also finished their LCS two days earlier than the Indians, giving them the advantage. Believe it or not, Cleveland's offensive capabilities will probably play a very limited role in the World Series; this will be an epic battle between two pitching staffs.

Each game will be won by the team whose pitchers can last the longest. If the Cleveland pitchers crack first, Atlanta will win the game 2-1. If the Braves' staff breaks down, the Indians will win 6-0. Just don't expect any 8-7 ballgames.

And now, the Big Prediction. This is a tough series to call, but look for Orel Hersheiser to take his first career postseason loss tomorrow night. The fact that the first two games are in a National League park is a big disadvantage to the Indians; Hersheiser is a decent hitting pitcher, but his bat isn't nearly as big as that of the designated hitter he'll replace (likely Eddie Murray).

Cleveland should be able to take a game at home, but this is going to be a fast series either way, and it looks like Atlanta has the better shot this year.

Prediction: Braves in five.

Gridiron Report

Unconfirmed rumors continue to circulate that the NFL Commissioner's office met with Pope John Paul II during his American visit to discuss having Jerry Jones denounced as a heretic. An unreliable source has informed me that Jones staved off this latest attack on himself by cutting an endorsement deal with the Pope, making Catholicism the official religion of the Dallas Cowboys. Look out, NFL; they're not just America's Team, they're God's Team.

Unfortunately, in the NFL, Pete Rozelle is god, and Pete liked parity, and so parity is what we have in the league this season. Fact: Tampa Bay is currently leading the NFC Central, and St. Louis is leading the NFC West. Fact: San Francisco has lost to Detroit and Indianapolis. Fact: the entire AFC Central is 3-4. Well, okay, that's not actually a fact, actually it's completely false, but the best record in that division is 3-3.

There is no superteam this year; everyone is beatable, and everyone is playing badly. Parity isn't the worst thing in the world; after all, it does make the games closer, and it's more exciting to watch a last-second victory than a first-half blowout. However, the quality of play in the NFL has suffered greatly this year, and needs to improve rapidly if the league is to compete with basketball and hockey this winter.

Trivia Question

One last baseball question to end the season: what team has the highest winning percentage of all time? Send answers and comments to easports@the-tech.mit.edu.

Answer to last week's question: The 1984 San Diego Padres came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS. The Padres went on to play the Detroit Tigers, who hit something like 60 home runs and won the World Series in five games.

Correct answers were sent in by Eric H. Allen G, Walter Sun G, Dennis A. Burianek '96, Brian L. Greenblatt '96, Marlo Kemp '96, Alejandro J. Tapia '96, Stan L. Liauw '97, Gloria W. Wang '97, and Burt Wendt '99.