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Original Issue

Who'll Win the NLCS?

WHAT TO make of the Diamondbacks, who struck out in a ridiculous 37% of their at bats but still beat the Cubs by a combined 16--6 in their NLDS sweep? After finishing with the league's best record despite scoring fewer runs than it allowed, Arizona will now use its improbable approach to derail the Rockies and win the pennant.

The one certainty in this series is that the D-Backs will be favorites whenever Brandon Webb is pitching, and he can start three times. Webb's heavy sinker, which yields an insane ground-ball rate, is a huge asset in the thin air of both Denver and Phoenix. Manager Bob Melvin can start Webb on short rest in Game 4 and be rewarded in Game 7, when an extra off day will have allowed Webb full rest.

Although the D-Backs scored the NL's third-fewest runs, they have averaged 5.3 since Sept. 1. That means next year is already here for an offense with five regulars 25 or younger, including Chris Young (two homers against Chicago) and Stephen Drew (two homers, a .500 average). The matchup with Colorado is also good for Arizona's overwhelmingly righthanded lineup, which will face a lefty starter in as many as five of seven games. Finally, the D-Backs' power will neutralize the Rockies' greatest strength: their record-setting defense. Although the D-Backs ranked dead last in the National League with a .250 batting average, they were tied for seventh in the league with 171 homers. Colorado's D could be decisive against a put-the-ball-in-play team like the Angels, but Arizona swings for the fences; of its 16 runs against the Cubs, eight came on the long ball.

Bottom line: Diamondbacks in seven, with Webb becoming the first pitcher since Randy Johnson (in 2001) to win three games in a playoff series.



WEBB MASTER Arizona's righty is the difference.