A look at the best-of-five National League division series between the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves:
Schedule: (All times Eastern) Game 1, Tuesday, at Atlanta (8:18 p.m., FOX); Game 2, Wednesday, at Atlanta (7:06 p.m., ESPN); Game 3, Friday, at Chicago (8:06 p.m., ESPN); x-Game 4, Saturday, at Chicago (TBA); x-Game 5, Sunday, at Atlanta (TBA).
Season Series: Atlanta won 4-2.
Projected Lineups Cubs: CF Kenny Lofton (.296, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs, 30 steals for Pittsburgh and Chicago), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314, 3, 38), RF Sammy Sosa (.279, 40, 103, 143 Ks), LF Moises Alou (.280, 22, 91), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.272, 27, 106 for Pittsburgh and Chicago), 1B Randall Simon (.275, 16, 72 for Pittsburgh and Chicago), SS Alex Gonzalez (.228, 20, 59, 123 Ks), C Damian Miller (.233, 9, 36).
Braves: SS Rafael Furcal (.292, 15, 61, 130 runs, 25 steals, 10 triples), 2B Marcus Giles (.316, 21, 69, 49 doubles), RF Gary Sheffield (.330, 39, 132), LF Chipper Jones (.305, 27, 106), CF Andruw Jones (.277, 36, 116, 125 Ks), C Javy Lopez (.328, 43, 109), 1B Robert Fick (.269, 11, 80), 3B Vinny Castilla (.277, 22, 76).
Projected Rotations Cubs: RH Kerry Wood ( 14-11, 3.20 ERA, NL-leading 266 Ks), RH Carlos Zambrano (13-11, 3.11), RH Mark Prior (18-6, 2.43, 245 Ks), RH Matt Clement (14-12, 4.11).
Braves: RH Russ Ortiz (21-7, 3.81), LH Mike Hampton (14-8, 3.84), RH Greg Maddux (16-11, 3.96), LH Horacio Ramirez (12-4, 4.00).
Relievers Cubs: RH Joe Borowski (2-2, 2.63, 33/37 saves), RH Antonio Alfonseca (3-1, 5.83), RH Kyle Farnsworth (3-2, 3.30, 92 Ks in 76 1-3 innings), LH Mike Remlinger (6-5, 3.65), LH Mark Guthrie (2-3, 2.74), RH Dave Veres (2-1, 4.68, 1), LH Shawn Estes (8-11, 5.73).
Braves: RH John Smoltz (0-2, 1.12, 45/49 saves, 73 Ks and 8 BBs in 64 1-3 innings), LH Kent Mercker (0-2, 1.95, 1), LH Ray King (3-4, 3.51), RH Kevin Gryboski (6-4, 3.86), RH Will Cunnane (2-2, 2.70, 2), RH Darren Holmes (1-2, 4.29).
Atlanta swept the Cubs in the 1998 playoffs. ... Few teams have played the Cubs tougher than the Braves over the last decade. Atlanta is 49-35 against Chicago since 1994, and the Cubs haven't won a season series since 2000. ... The Braves took three of four in early July, and the series set a four-game attendance record at Wrigley Field. The teams split a two-game series in Atlanta after the All-Star break. ... Maddux is particularly tough on his former team, going 11-3 against the Cubs, including 2-0 this year. ... In the series at Chicago, Castilla was 11-of-15 with two homers and 10 RBIs. ... The Braves roughed up Prior in a 9-5 victory on July 11. He allowed six runs, six hits and walked three in 4 2-3 innings. That same day, Prior was involved in a frightening collision with Giles while running the bases. Prior injured his right shoulder and Giles was knocked out of the All-Star game.
Cubs: Manager Dusty Baker is taking a team to the playoffs for the fourth time. His Giants beat Atlanta in the first round last year, 3-2. ... Baker left San Francisco after it lost the World Series and was hired in Chicago, determined to revive a sagging franchise. ... The NL Central champions are in the postseason for just the fourth time since the 1945 World Series, and they've won a grand total of three playoff games in their previous three appearances. ... This is Chicago's first division title since 1989; they were the NL wild card in 1998. ... Chicago went 19-8 in September and clinched the division on the next-to-last day of the season. ... The Cubs finished 88-74 after going 67-95 last year, their third 90-loss season in four years. ... While the Cubs might not be familiar with the playoffs, several of their players are. Lofton was on the Giants team that went to the World Series last year, while Miller (Arizona 2001) and Alou (Florida 1997) have rings. Remlinger is in the playoffs for a fifth straight year, the last four with Atlanta. ...
Braves: As usual, the Braves are a part of the postseason picture. They have won 12 straight division titles, three more than any other team in any of the major league sports. ... Despite losing two 18-game winners after last season, Atlanta went 101-61 for the best record in the league. ... The Braves started slow, getting swept at home by Montreal to open the season. But they quickly recovered, moving into the NL East lead all by themselves on May 2. They never gave it up. ... Atlanta faces the usual questions about its lack of success in the playoffs. The Braves have won just one World Series title since beginning their run in 1991. They have lost in the first round two of the last three years.
- Going long. Wood, Prior, Zambrano and Clement have all pitched 200-plus innings already, career highs for all but Wood. Wood, Prior and Clement don't seem any worse for the wear, but Zambrano has struggled his last two outings and is bothered by a bad back. If the Cubs hope to make any kind of a run, they're going to need all four of their young arms to be at their best.
- Slammin' Sammy. Sosa got off to a rough start this year, getting beaned and then needing a stint on the DL because of a toe injury. When he returned, he was caught using a corked bat, leading to a seven-game suspension. But he has quietly put together another fine season, finishing with 40 homers for an NL-record sixth straight year and reaching 100 RBIs for the ninth year in a row.
- The G-Man. Grudzielanek can make quite a case for being the Cubs MVP. Effectively dumped by the Dodgers in the offseason when they traded him and Eric Karros for Todd Hundley, Grudzielanek has made the most of his new start in Chicago. He hit .315 and led the team with a .366 on-base percentage. Most importantly, he came through when the Cubs needed it most, hitting over .400 in the last two weeks.
- Fabulous Baker Boys. There's something about Baker that brings out the best in teams. In just a year, he's taken a team with 90 losses in three of the previous four seasons and led it to a division championship. His teams have finished above .500 for seven straight years now.
- Is Smoltz healthy? He missed nearly a month near the end of the season resting a sore elbow. In his final appearance of the regular season, he blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning against Philadelphia. That can't happen in the postseason.
- Russ on their side. Pitching for San Francisco, Ortiz beat the Braves twice last year in the division series. Now he's with Atlanta, set to go in Game 1 after winning a career-high 21 games.
- Big boppers. Braves set a team record with 235 homers and have plenty of pop throughout the lineup. Four players reached 100 RBIs and six made it to 20 homers.
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