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A's-Red Sox playoff: explosive offense, standout pitching on both sides

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Oakland and Boston, the two highest-scoring teams in baseball, square off today for what shapes up as a most exciting American League Championship Series. With major league power-hitting leader Jos'e Canseco (42 homers, 124 RBIs) heading a lineup that includes fellow long-ball threats Mark McGwire (32 homers), Dave Henderson (24), Dave Parker, and Don Baylor, the A's can outslug just about anyone.

The Red Sox can't match those power statistics, but actually have a more productive offense overall. Wade Boggs, baseball's best hitter at .366, leads off a batting order that has basically no weak spots. Mike Greenwell (.325, 22 home runs, 119 RBIs), Dwight Evans (.294, 21, 111), and Ellis Burks (.295, 18, 92) are the biggest guns - but far from the only ones. Second baseman Marty Barrett (.283) and shortstop Jody Reed (.293) are both excellent on-base men, while Todd Benzinger, Rich Gedman, Jim Rice, and Larry Parrish assure manager Joe Morgan of enough strong hitters to keep the pressure on all the way through the lineup.

Oakland doesn't send up an array like that all the way down the line, but with catalysts Luis Polonia and Carney Lansford setting things up for Canseco & Co., it comes pretty close. The A's scored 800 runs this year for an average of nearly five per game - a figure bettered only by Boston, which scored 813 times and also led the majors in team batting at .283.

Anyway you look at it, that's a lot of offense to jam into one ballpark - especially a hitter's paradise like Fenway Park, where the best-of-seven series opens today. But before assuming that this means a lot of 14-12 or 10-9 slugfests, one should note that both teams also have the kind of pitching that can shut down even the most formidable batting order. Consider, for example, that two-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens isn't even No. 1 on the current Boston staff - and that two of the top candidates for this year's Cy Young honors - Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley - pitch for Oakland.


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