Six Players Who Need to Step Up in the 2013 Posteseason
While basking in the awesomeness that is The Blacklist...
We are just hours away from the beginning of the MLB postseason, or what is widely referred to as the greatest crapshoot playoff in all of sports. For all of those naysayers that speak of the death of baseball, I would love for them to visit Pittsburgh's PNC Park for the Wild Card playoff game or go to Cleveland on Wednesday night and say that.
Even as baseball has become considered nothing more than a regional sport, it is safe to say that this season is the game's opportunity to create new stars that baseball needs to market more than ever.
This year, there will be an opportunity for other players to step up and make their presence known, such as the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen. (Note to baseball: If you want to actually market the game to young blacks, ages 13-25, you might want to start with this guy, OK?)
The longer that Yasiel Puig is in the playoffs, the better it is for MLB to market another young star. Being a Braves fan, however, that is something I am rooting against, but that's another story.
As we know, the bright lights of the baseball postseason can freeze up even the biggest of stars. There's a reason why Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez continue to be labeled postseason choke artists despite having good regular seasons in 2002 and 2009, respectively.
The following is my own list of players who really need to make their presence felt this October, lest their teams take an early trip to the golf course.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers SP
Clayton Kershaw is to Cy Young awards what Miley Cyrus is to twerking.
Sporting a Greg Maddux-like 1.83 ERA in 2013, he is the game's deadliest pitcher and gives the Dodgers their best chance to win a title since the days of Orel Hershiser. Kershw possesses excellent command and poise on the mound, and he will have the spotlight shined on him when he takes the rubber in Game 1 against the Braves in the NLDS.
However, when he takes the mound in October it has been a problem for Kershaw.
He has not been to the playoffs since 2009, but he has gone 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA in the postseason. Apparently, he has to realize that you don't face the San Diego Padres in the postseason. Those are the teams that can sit back and wait on his fastball.
Now that he is a few years older than he was in his last trip to the playoffs, can Kershaw show the same prowess that he has in the regular season?
If he doesn't, he will be viewed much like Maddux—a great regular-season pitcher who was merely average when the leaves turned colors.
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves RF
Jayson Heyward is 6'5 and blessed with amazing athletic abilities.
He has the talent of Ken Griffey Jr. with his best years ahead of him. Ever since Heyward hit a home run in his first major league at-bat, fans have waited for the day when all of that massive skill would manifest itself in several MVP trophies.
Although injuries have been an obstacle to his career so far, Heyward has an opportunity to be the X-factor that no pitcher wants to face in October. Since being moved to the leadoff spot in the Braves' lineup for a Fredi Gonzalez move that actually worked out, he has hit .364, and was the critical player in leading the Braves to their first division title since 2005 upon his return from a broken jaw.
However, being a member of the Atlanta Braves also means being unable to rise to the occasion in the month of October. Granted it's only been five games, but Heyward is hitting only .143 in the playoffs.
If the Braves plan on getting past the Dodgers in the NLDS, that's not going to cut it. He will need to demonstrate his ability to get on base and cause havoc on the basepaths. Otherwise, he will be a lot like Barry Bonds, a guy with a reputation for coming up short when it mattered most.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds RF
Joey Votto, he of the $220 million contract, is the heart and soul of the Cincinnati Reds' offense—although Jay Bruce may have something to say about it.
Votto has electrified Reds' fans with his Casey-at-the-bat type swing and has the Reds back in the playoffs. Despite being a former MVP, however, Votto has been anything but mighty in the month of October.
Granted, Votto hit .286 and had an OPS of .889 in last year's playoffs against the San Francisco Giants, but what most people seem to remember is Votto coming up shorter than Tony Romo when a big play was needed.
The Reds returned home after going up, 2-0, on the Giants. That's when Votto seemed to leave his bat (and heart) in San Francisco, popping up or striking out whenever there were Reds' runners on base.
If he does that against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Votto will have the bust label attached to him and will be playing for another manager next season because there's no way that Dusty Baker survives losing again in the first round of the playoffs.
Hanley Ramiez, Los Angeles SS
Much like heralded star Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez has never been to the postseason, largely in part because he was banished to the Marlins, which is sad in itself.
Even though Ramirez has no playoff stats, he has been on of the game's hottest hitters this season, batting .342 while healthy. Now, he has an opportunity to take charge in the postseason and live up to his immense talent.
If the Braves walk Adrian Gonzalez or Puig, they can prepare for the worst with Hanley at the plate.
Dustin Predroia, Boston 2B
I wonder if Dustin Pedroia can hit the high inside fastball now—a reference to the PlayStation MLB 09 commercial, in case you missed it.
Pedroia was one of the stars of the 2007 Boston Red Sox World Series champs. However, since then, Pedroia has had several injuries which have contributed to his lack of production.
He hit .233 and .167 respectively in 2008 and 2009, but this is his first time back for October baseball. It will be interesting to see how Pedroia responds to his critics who say that he is no longer the player he was when he won the MVP.
Sox skipper John Farrell's team has been one of baseball's best stories this year, but if Pedroia doesn't step up, that story will end with a resounding thud.
Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers 1B
Prince Fielder's paltry .173 batting average in the 2012 postseason didn't exactly make people forget about Miggy Cabrera's own postseason struggles.
Fielder, who signed a $229 million contract, will need to play better than he did a year ago in order for the Tigers to finally hold up the championship trophy. Otherwise, Detroit may use that money to help its auto industry.