September 29, 2011
Baseball's playoffs start Friday and October begins Saturday. Which players are we most likely to be hearing about and from over the next few weeks? Dave Brown takes a stab with a list of players who could land the most impact in the postseason.
1. Justin Verlander(notes) — RHP Detroit Tigers: With a successful run in the playoffs, Verlander could make the jump in Q rating from mere star to super-duper-megastar and have his pick of endorsements. But if he and the Tigers fail, well, he'll still be the AL Cy Young (probably). Everything came together this season for Verlander, who threw a second career no-hitter, led the AL with a 2.40 ERA and was the biggest single reason the Tigers won their first division title since 1987. He's tough on righties, but extra tough on lefties. Verlander got some postseason experience in 2006, though the results were anywhere from poor to poor-ish. Most major-league players aren't lacking in confidence, but Verlander ... let's just say he really doesn't lack confidence. He's strong, too. He will throw 100 mph pitches in the ninth inning if he has to. Get to him early; he's got a 1.79 ERA in innings 7-9.
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2. Josh Hamilton(notes) — OF Texas Rangers: Life for Hamilton in the regular season wasn't like that Majestic commercial where he fixes the broken batting practice jersey and effortlessly blasts the ball into the upper deck at Rangers Ballpark. He followed up his 2010 AL MVP with a decent season (.298/.346/.536) after breaking his arm in April trying an ill-advised head-first slide into home. September probably was his second-best month, after July. Nobody is more dangerous when hot, and I get the feeling he's just been lying in wait for the playoffs.
3. Roy Halladay(notes) — RHP Philadelphia Phillies: Doc somehow got lost in the ridiculous second-half Cy Young push of Clayton Kershaw(notes), the Phillies cruising to 102 wins and all of those shutouts Cliff Lee(notes) threw. But Halladay is still the pitcher I pick first if we're creating playoff teams from scratch. Look no further than a season ago, when he tossed a no-hitter against the Reds in the first playoff game of his career. It set the bar impossibly high, but he's one of the few in the game capable of matching or exceeding the highest expectations. The Phillies didn't win the World Series with Halladay, so expect it to eat at him until they do.
4. Albert Pujols(notes) — 1B St. Louis Cardinals: King Albert had a great season for a non-machine and it says a lot about his greatness that his 150 adjusted OPS was the worst of his career. He obviously still can carry a team; you need only 11 wins for a World Series championship and, well, wouldn't it be something if his last act in St. Louis before hitting free agency was bringing the Redbirds the second World Series title of his expiring tenure?
5. Prince Fielder(notes) — 1B Milwaukee Brewers: He's not quite the best player on his team (it's close), but he's the center of the Brewers universe. He hits home runs that make you go "whoa." If he gets hot and the Brewers get on a roll in the playoffs, all we'll hear about is the "cha-ching!" of the cash register as he approaches free agency this winter. This is more of an All-Star game question, but what would a combination pie-eating/home run contest with Fielder and Pablo Sandoval(notes) be like?
6. Cliff Lee — LHP Phillies: When everything clicks, Lee is the most dominant player in the majors, regardless of position. And if you disagree, whatever. Lee's ERA in June was 0.21; in August, it was 0.45. He threw a league-leading six shutouts. He wants to avenge a bad 2010 World Series with the Rangers and he has the skills to do it. His 2.13 ERA over 76 career postseason innings is one of the best in history.
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7. Evan Longoria(notes) — 3B Tampa Bay Rays: He's had better seasons, and he'll have better ones, but he'll have to work hard to ever top the game he had against the Yankees in No. 162. It's not an exaggeration to say he almost single-handedly dragged the Rays into the playoffs. Longo hit a key home run in their rally from a seven-run deficit, made a ridiculously athletic play on defense that helped to keep the score tied and won the game with a home run in the 12th inning. How far into October can he carry the Rays?
8. CC Sabathia(notes) — LHP New York Yankees: No less valuable to his team than Verlander, the Yankees would welcome a repeat of his 2009 postseason results, when he had a 1.98 ERA and struck out 32 in 36 innings. Carries on in Babe Ruth's fine tradition of carrying a few extra, but very talented pounds under those pinstripes.
9. Ryan Braun(notes) — OF Brewers: Unless it's Matt Kemp(notes), he's the NL MVP after slugging .597 and OPSing .994 to lead the majors. He stole 33 bases. He played left field and nobody got hurt. He might have the biggest eyes in the league, but they see well (and that's the most important thing). He's got a .312 career batting average while bringing up his walks and cutting down on his strikeouts in every season. He's also 2 for 3 with a homer pinch hitting this year, so if Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke wants to bring him off the bench ... just kidding.
10. Derek Jeter(notes) — SS Yankees: Everyone knows the criticisms, many of which are valid. The worst two seasons of his career have been the past two. But he's been better in the second half (he was great in August) and he's Derek Jeter for crying out loud. Don't fall asleep on him, because the next thing you know, he'll be flying into your seat in the front row making some kind of impossible, between-the-legs catch and your team loses, good-bye.
19. David Price(notes) — LHP Rays: James Shields(notes) was the Rays' best pitcher, and Price was average at best down the stretch as the Rays clawed toward the playoffs. But they can keep playing if he pitches like a No. 1 starter.
20. Ian Kinsler(notes) — 2B Rangers: He makes the Texas offense go, drawing walks and hitting homers at the top of the order. Finished sixth in Fangraphs' WAR (wins above replacement) because the other second basemen in baseball are lousy.
Who would you add to this list?
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