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The Florida Marlins and New York Yankees have proved themselves adept at perpetuating curses. Whether or not they win the World Series, however, will depend largely on these matchups:


1. The Pitching staffs against Chaos


Joe Torre and Jack McKeon had to do a lot of cutting and pasting with their pitching staffs in the last few days -- Torre using Mike Mussina and David Wells in relief, McKeon turning to Josh Beckett -- and because of that, there will be more cutting and pasting in Games 1 and 2. All of the Yankees' starters will be imperfectly rested at the outset of the series, and McKeon will have to rely on the likes of Dontrelle Willis and Brad Penny, who have been pitching poorly. A quick recovery to a semblance of normalcy is paramount, and the Marlins -- younger, and armed with an extra day of rest -- might have the advantage here.


2. The Florida Marlins' relievers against the Yankees' left-handed hitters


The Florida bullpen was a perfect match against the Cubs' lineup: Ugueth Urbina, Chad Fox, Braden Looper and Carl Pavano are all right-handed, against the very right-handed Chicago lineup. But the Marlins don't have any reliable left-handed relievers, and the Yankees are stacked with left-handed hitters and switch-hitters, from Jason Giambi to Hideki Matsui and Karim Garcia, and Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. There will be no lefty who can blow away Giambi the way Boston's Alan Embree did in Game 6. McKeon figures to rely on Urbina and Fox against lefties because their numbers are better against lefties than righties (Urbina vs. lefties .294 slugging during regular season, .435 vs. right-handers).


3. The Yankees' pitchers vs. the Florida baserunners


Jorge Posada has a strong throwing arm, and he's been accurate, but it's up to the Yankees' pitchers to slow down the Florida running game. Some of the Yankees' pitchers are great at this, some are very vulnerable. Mussina (nine steals in 19 attempts) and Andy Pettitte (13 steals in 14 attempts) hold runners effectively, but Wells (16 of 21) and Roger Clemens (20 of 28) do not. Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo could easily exploit Wells and Pettitte when trying to steal third. Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre will call pitch-outs and slide steps and such from the bench, but the most effective way to slow down the Marlins will be to keep them off base, of course.


4. The Army of Yankees' scouts vs. The Marlins' hitters


Every year, the Yankees send more and more scouts to the playoffs, and every year, they do an excellent job in identifying the weaknesses of opposing hitters -- Edgardo Alfonzo of the Mets in 2000, Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle in 2001, Luis Gonzalez in the 2001 World Series (right up to the moment that Gonzalez fisted his series-winning single). The Yankees have veteran pitchers who can utilize these scouting reports (Mussina is the exception, preferring to rely on his own feel for the game). Miguel Cabrera is something of a mystery, and the Yankees' scouts might advise the pitchers to move the ball around on him in the strike zone; Pudge Rodriguez will get lots of soft stuff away.


5. Beckett vs. Anybody


He's the best pitcher in this series, he's cockier than hell, and the Yankees do not want any part of him in a Game 7, regardless of where it's played. The Yankees will want to get this series over within the first six games.


6. The Florida hitters vs. The Yankees' aged staff


The Anaheim Angels beat the Yankees in the playoffs last year with relentless at-bats, fouling off pitches and going deep in the count repeatedly, wearing down Wells and Mussina and the others. The Marlins have this ability, and not just the slap hitters like Castillo and Pierre; Jeff Conine is capable of a 10-pitch at-bat, and the same with Mike Lowell. The Yankees' starters figure to be weary this time of year, anyway, and they will need to take care of business efficiently and try to put away the Marlins with two-pitch or three-pitch at-bats.


7. The Yankees vs. the designated hitter


This is probably one of the few times when the designated hitter rule will work for the National League team at home and on the road. For Games 3, 4 and 5, Torre will have to choose between benching his second-highest paid player -- Giambi -- or benching Nick Johnson, who is better defensively (the guess here is that he will play Johnson, particularly with Giambi struggling somewhat, in spite of his Game 7 bombs). Then, when the Marlins play in Yankee Stadium, McKeon will not have to sit one of his better hitters -- he can play Juan Encarnacion, Conine, Lowell and Cabrera all at the same time.


8. Jeff Nelson vs. The Florida right-handers


Nelson essentially lost his job as the Yankees' primary right-handed set-up man to Jose Contreras in Game 1 of the ALCS, but with the Marlins' lineup saturated with right-handed batters -- Rodriguez, Conine, Encarnacion, Lowell, Derrek Lee, etc. -- it figures that Torre will once again try to incorporate Nelson into his late-inning relief. Nelson pitched better at the end of the Boston series, and Contreras might be a bit spooked by his Game 6 blowup, when he repeatedly shook off signs from Posada; observers from other teams say this is the clear sign of doubt in Contreras.


9. The World Series against The Deer In the Headlights


So many players will be on this stage for the first time -- and not just with the Marlins. Giambi, Aaron Boone, Matsui, Contreras and others will play under mounting pressure, and the same with Cabrera, Willis, Rodriguez, Lowell. Jeter and Rivera thrive in this situation, of course, and the Marlin who figures to be the most comfortable will be Conine.


10. The Happy-Happy Joy-Joy Yankees vs. The Morose Steinbrenner Yankees


The Yankees celebrated exuberantly after stunning the Red Sox, shedding their joyless skins that characterized them for most of this year. The Win The World Series Or You Stink expectations of owner George Steinbrenner wore on this team all year, frustrating the players, Torre and the coaching staff, and they might actually be having some real fun for the first time. Should they lose the first game of the World Series, they will go right back into Stalag Steinbrenner. The question is whether they can ride their current emotional wave and crush the Marlins.

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