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Craig: NL series evenly matched

Roger Craig managed the San Francisco Giants to two division championships and one National League pennant in the past six years. Craig will sit out this post-season, but he shared his thoughts on the NL Championship Series matchup with Times baseball writer Marc Topkin. The Giants were 6-6 against Pittsburgh and 7-11 against Atlanta.

I think it's going to be a long series. These clubs are pretty evenly matched. No one club is going to dominate the other.

Last year, the Braves' pitching was phenomenal at that time.

I mean it's good now, but it's not as good. John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Tom Glavine aren't pitching as well now as they were last year at this time. This has to be concern.

I think Braves closer Jeff Reardon might be a factor. He has pitched well since he has come back to this league.

The Braves' lineup, it's tough. You look at Pittsburgh's lineup and it's tough; they have some good players. But if you can stop Andy Van Slyke and Barry Bonds, you can beat them.

The Braves have so many good hitters all around. If a couple of guys go into a slump, they have so many good hitters spread throughout their lineup they can pick up the other guys.

Another key is that last year they didn't have Otis Nixon (who was suspended for failing a drug test). This year, he's had a great year. He gets on base, you're not going to stop him. I don't care if you pitch out, you're not going to stop him.

Same as Deion Sanders. I don't know if he is going to play, but this guy's an All-Star. I didn't know he had that much ability.

It's going to hurt the Braves that they lost catcher Greg Olson, but Damon Berryhill is a good replacement. He is a better offensive player. But Olson can handle a pitching staff and knows the pitching staff a lot better. This might be a factor.

The key to beating the Braves: First, keep Nixon off base. If he gets on base, you're in trouble, especially in that first inning. When guys come up behind him, he is going to score most of the time.

Now, against the Pirates, you want to start a good left-handed pitcher and then a couple lefties in the bullpen to pitch to Van Slyke and Bonds.

The key for Pittsburgh, offensively, is Bonds. Van Slyke is doing better against lefties this year. I know one thing _ nothing bothers Van Slyke. He could play an exhibition game or World Series game, he is going to be the same guy.

The thing about Pittsburgh is they don't attack you like the Braves, they just beat you.

They are a great fundamental ballclub. They don't make a lot of mistakes.

They are going to be tough because they have a great offensive club. Defensively, the edge goes to Pittsburgh, but not by much. They are both good defensive ballclubs.

Right now, Pittsburgh's Doug Drabek is pitching like hell. He is coming along. This is his time of the year. He is strong, he is a good athlete, and he is pitching a lot.

Rookie Tim Wakefield might be the key. Hell, this guy could pitch on two days' rest with that knuckleball. He is one of the few knuckleball pitchers I've seen. I mean, he throws it 85 percent of the time. You don't know how he is going to handle all the pressure. From what I've seen of him, he'll handle it well.

I like the trade they made to get Danny Jackson. He is throwing the ball well. Zane Smith could come back, and they have Randy Tomlin.

Shortstop Jay Bell is the type of guy who makes all the plays and is not flashy. He symbolizes the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Both of them don't have what you call real strong bullpens. But you don't have to have the depth because their starters go six, seven, eight, nine innings, and they skip a lot of guys in the middle.

Right now, Reardon is the best stopper on either club.

Pitching is the key. If Glavine, and Avery can get back in their form, the way they pitched they'll be tough. The Braves are going to score some runs. One way or the other, Glavine is going to be the big factor.

Both managers are good friends of mine. They're both excellent managers. Bobby Cox is low key. Jim Leyland is spunky, sparkplug type of guy. They're both in control, but both do it different ways. They're both equal. Nothing is going to escape either one of them.

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