Game 1: 8 p.m. tonight

Game 2: 4 p.m. Wednesday

Game 3: 8 p.m. Friday

Game 4: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Game 5 (if needed): 4 p.m. Sunday

Game 6 (if needed): 8 p.m. Oct. 19

Game 7 (if needed): 8 p.m. Oct. 20


NL Wild-Card Winner

Projected lineup

1. Rickey Henderson LF

2. Edgardo Alfonzo 2B

3. John Olerud 1B

4. Mike Piazza C

5. Robin Ventura 3B

6. Darryl Hamilton CF

7. Roger Cedeno RF

8. Rey Ordonez SS

9. Masato Yoshii P

New York's recent roller-coaster ride has been on the upswing of late, as the Mets swept the Pirates on the final weekend of the regular season to force a one-game playoff with Cincinnati. The Mets then beat the Reds before defeating Arizona in the Division Series, in which they also defeated Cy Young hopeful Randy Johnson in Game 1.

New York seems charmed at the moment. Yet the Mets must overcome their season-long nemesis, the Atlanta Braves, to advance to the World Series. Atlanta beat New York in nine of their 12 meetings in the regular season and held the Mets to an average of just 3.3 runs per game and just 1.6 runs in Atlanta's nine wins.

The Braves also beat New York in five out of six games in September when it seemed the Mets were on the verge of putting an end to Atlanta's string of what is now eight consecutive NL East titles.

After Edgardo Alfonzo's ninth-inning grand slam off of Arizona relief pitcher Bobby Chouinard in Game 1 of the Division Series capped a thrilling New York win over Arizona, the Mets looked tired in losing Game 2, 7-1. But they responded by winning the third game in a rout, then clinched the series on a 10th-inning home run from seldom-used Todd Pratt. Pratt was New York's starting catcher because Mike Piazza was out with a swollen left thumb. The Mets hope to get more production from Alfonzo and Piazza, who hit .159 and .211, respectively, against Atlanta this season.

Still, the Mets, whose last World Series appearance was in 1986, have a different look to them than they did just two weeks ago, when they were in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. They have proven that they will not be intimidated, as evidenced by their 8-4 victory over the imposing Johnson last Tuesday, and also that they can win without Piazza, as they did Saturday.


NL East Champions

Projected lineup

1. Gerald Williams LF

2. Bret Boone 2B

3. Chipper Jones 3B

4. Brian Jordan RF

5. Ryan Klesko 1B

6. Andruw Jones CF

7. Eddie Perez C

8. Walt Weiss SS

9. Greg Maddux P

Perennial powerhouse Atlanta makes its eighth straight NLCS appearance, and will try to reverse its postseason fortune, having won just one World Series in that span.

For once, Atlanta will not have to rely so much on its dominant starting pitching. Despite having a heftier team ERA than usual (3.65), the Braves still won a major league-best 103 games and defeated the Astros in the first round in four games. They did this despite losing 1B Andres Galarraga, who missed the entire season with lymphoma, and C Javy Lopez in midseason with a strained right knee.

3B Chipper Jones has emerged as one of the league's superstars, and carried the Braves in many of the team's final regular-season wins. He also hit .400 with seven home runs and 16 RBI against New York this year. But Jones managed just three hits and one RBI against Houston, leaving the Braves to seek offense elsewhere. They found it in Brian Jordan, who hit .475 and drove in seven runs to lead Atlanta past the Astros. But the Braves will need production from Jones if they wish to advance to their third World Series in five seasons.

The excellence of Atlanta's pitching has been well-documented throughout the decade, but a new name has surfaced along with those of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz: Kevin Millwood. The right-hander was the Braves' most consistent starter this season and pitched a one-hitter in Game 2 against the Astros, a game Atlanta had to win to avoid going down 0-2 in the series.

Atlanta should be brimming with confidence against the Mets. The Braves took nine of 12 contests this year, and last season, Atlanta swept New York in a September series. Those losses started the Mets' five-game losing streak that left them out of the playoffs in 1998.