Selecting MLB's Mid-Postseason All-Clutch Team
During the MLB postseason, against the most talented and well-rounded teams, you want players who aren't fazed by the stakes and the spotlight.
With the League Championship Series still in progress and the Fall Classic on the horizon, we're recognizing clutch individuals from every position.
An emphasis was put on those who have thrived in pivotal moments. The closer the score and the later the inning, the better. Accomplishments from the ALCS and NLCS were weighed slightly heavier than those from the ALDS and NLDS, yet several eliminated stars received honorable mentions on the strength of their early-round contributions.
Members of this all-clutch team ought to lend their bodies to scientific experimentation in the offseason. We'd all like to know how they went about infusing ice water into their veins.
*All links go to MLB.com videos unless otherwise noted.
C Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)
Yadier Molina's Clutch Moments
- NLDS Game 4: You might say the Pittsburgh Pirates ran themselves out of the inning when Josh Harrison—representing the tying run—attempted to steal second base. In reality, Molina deserves credit for his amazingly quick release.
- NLCS Game 1: Don't obsess over the fact that Yadi failed to apply the tag on this dramatic double play. How about we marvel at his positioning and ability to gain control of the ball before the impact with Mark Ellis? Eliminating that run saved the game and changed the entire course of the NLCS.
It's tough to pick out particular moments, but Molina has done a remarkable job guiding young St. Louis Cardinals pitchers through jams with runners in scoring position. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for example, are collectively 8-for-37 (.216) in those situations through five games against St. Louis.
Meanwhile, one glaring knock against the backstop is his limited impact at the plate. Since Game 3 of the NLDS, Molina has zero runs scored, runs batted in or extra-base hits.
A.J. Ellis' 1.013 OPS is a bit misleading. Most of that production has come when there was relatively low leverage.
Nonetheless, watching him hustle for a triple in Game 3 of the NLCS was an awesome sight.
Ellis has reached base in eight of nine playoff games, and he surely would've scored more than three runs by now if he batted anywhere but eighth in the lineup.
1B Adrian Gonzalez (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Adrian Gonzalez's Clutch Moments
- NLDS Game 1: Gonzalez didn't care that Kris Medlen served as the Atlanta Braves' ace throughout the second half of the season. He took the right-hander deep to center field to give the Los Angeles Dodgers a comfortable 4-0 advantage at Turner Field. Of course, Vin Scully had a classic reaction: "And you're not gonna hear a roar from the crowd; it sounds more like a library."
- NLCS Game 3: Although the Dodgers were hosting the game, many of us considered them underdogs against St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. Gonzalez brought Dustin Hoffman and the rest of Dodger Stadium's star-laden crowd to their feet when his fourth-inning double broke up a scoreless tie.
- NLCS Game 5: A-Gon clubbed a no-doubter to right-center to put L.A. back in front and added insurance later on with a line-drive homer to right. They don't call him Adrian "Ay Ay Ay Ay Ay Ay Ay Ay Ay" Gonzalez for nothing, right?
Gonzalez is the only player on any of the LCS teams to reach base in every game of the 2013 postseason.
James Loney capped off his bounce-back season with a .375/.474/.500 batting line in October. He also helped the Tampa Bays with his glove work.
The team was finally expelled from the postseason in ALDS Game 4, when Loney went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
2B Dustin Pedroia (Boston Red Sox)
Dustin Pedroia's Clutch Moments
- ALDS Game 2: It wasn't sexy, but the All-Star second baseman drove in three runs for the Boston Red Sox via a sacrifice fly, a fielder's choice and a double. Without those contributions, the team doesn't take control of the series.
- ALCS Game 2: Even with Austin Jackson flying down the first-base line, desperate to break out of his postseason slump, Pedroia retired him easily on a very difficult play to his left. Only web gems like this motivate Joe Buck to exude genuine enthusiasm.
Pedroia's hasn't been particularly reliable with runners in scoring position, yet his six runs batted in are twice as many as the next-best second baseman. Also, his defensive execution has been far from perfect.
Overall, the entire position is underachieving.
Mark Ellis of the Los Angeles Dodgers boasts a superior .278/.333/.417 batting line thus far, including four multi-hit games.
His postseason performance would be viewed differently if this play at the plate in the 10th inning of the NLCS opener had been called correctly.
SS Hanley Ramirez (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Hanley Ramirez's Clutch Moments
- NLDS Game 2: He contributed three extra-base hits, most notably a two-run home run that curved around the foul pole. Teeing off against David Carpenter and shaking his confidence would come back to benefit the Los Angeles Dodgers later in the series, when Juan Uribe did the same against the right-hander in Game 4.
- NLCS Game 3: Ramirez returned from a one-game absence to deliver the knockout blow against Seth Maness. His bloop single in the eighth inning extended the lead to 3-0 in a situation where the Dodgers couldn't afford to lose.
His six extra-base hits during the NLDS were the most by any player in any 2013 postseason series.
Ramirez has a gaudy 1.149 OPS this October, but that'll likely continue to regress. Aches in his back, shoulder and ribs are clearly affecting him, and his defensive range has been compromised as well.
After batting .400/.455/.500 in the previous round, Pete Kozma isn't producing at all in the NLCS. He has started only seven of 10 playoff games for the St. Louis Cardinals.
At least he continues to impress in the field, like with this athletic diving catch and the various double plays he's involved in turning.
3B Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers)
Miguel Cabrera's Clutch Moments
- ALDS Game 5: The reigning American League MVP made sure that Justin Verlander's masterpiece didn't go to waste. His two-run home run in the fourth inning provided all the offense the Detroit Tigers would need that night. At the start of that game, Cabrera had gone more than three weeks since his last long ball.
- ALCS Game 2: Miggy made sure that Clay Buchholz's hanging changeup had plenty of hang time. On a night when Max Scherzer was virtually unhittable, extending Detroit's lead to 2-0 looked insurmountable...until another clutch slugger bailed out the home team in the later innings.
- ALCS Game 4: Growing irritated with Austin Jackson's struggles from the leadoff spot, Tigers manager Jim Leyland moved everybody else up in the lineup. That included Cabrera, who served as the No. 2 hitter in a major league game for the first time since 2004 (about 350 home runs and 35 pounds ago). Don't be surprised if he stays there indefinitely after driving in two runs—and even stealing a base (!!!)—in Detroit's 7-3 victory.
Nagging injuries have sapped Cabrera of some power while making him a big liability in the field and on the basepaths, but he's still the best the hot corner has to offer in these playoffs.
Pedro Alvarez single-handedly kept the Pittsburgh Pirates afloat in the NLDS by batting .353/.421/.941 with three home runs.
His solo blast ruined Michael Wacha's no-hit bid in Game 4 and accounted for the only run the right-hander has surrendered in 14 postseason innings. It also probably bruised a duck that was innocently floating in the Allegheny River, so PETA isn't happy with him.
LF Jhonny Peralta (Detroit Tigers)
Jhonny Peralta's Clutch Moments
- ALDS Game 4: Facing elimination and trailing 3-0 at home to the Oakland Athletics, Peralta put the Detroit Tigers on the scoreboard with a three-run blast in the fifth inning. Starter Dan Straily exited one inning later, and the Tigers went ahead for good against the A's bullpen.
- ALCS Game 1: He broke open a scoreless pitcher's duel, this time by lining a Jon Lester curveball into center field for a two-out RBI single in the sixth inning. The Tigers won by that same score.
Through eight playoff games, Peralta has only struck out three times. Then again, he gets to avoid his own team's imposing pitching staff.
The former Biogenesis client has started several times at shortstop, but the best moments mentioned above came as an outfielder.
Halfway through the postseason, Carl Crawford is pretty much the last player you'd expect to be leading in home runs. Three of them came during the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, while the latest long ball cushioned his team's lead in Game 5 of the League Championship Series.
Even with all that power, Crawford trails Peralta in OPS (1.061 to .982) and has more trouble putting balls in play.
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston Red Sox)
Jacoby Ellsbury's Clutch Moments
- ALDS Game 2: Ellsbury was the difference in a 7-4 Boston Red Sox win, as he touched home plate three times. His extraordinary speed made that possible on Dustin Pedroia's double to left. How many other players score standing up on a play like that?
- ALDS Game 3: In another one of those I-can't-believe-he-scored-on-that moments, Ellsbury took advantage on a pitch that got by Jose Molina. It took a friendly bounce back to Molina, but Ellsbury's hustle made him rush the throw.
- ALCS Game 4: The 30-year-old free-agent-to-be brought his A-game on a night when the Red Sox lost convincingly. He finished with four hits—a home run away from the cycle—and made a diving grab that (temporarily) prevented the Detroit Tigers from scoring.
Through eight contests, Ellsbury is batting .424/.472/.576 with a postseason-best nine runs scored and four stolen bases.
Each of the other teams still standing has received awful production from its center fielder in October, particularly defensively.
At least Andrew McCutchen made a positive impact for the Pittsburgh Pirates during their brief playoff run. The face of the franchise reached base four times in the win-or-go-home National League Wild Card Game and batted .278/.381/.333 against the Cardinals in the NLDS. He even flashed some leather.
RF Carlos Beltran (St. Louis Cardinals)
Carlos Beltran's Clutch Moments
- NLDS Game 3: Albeit in a losing effort, the veteran switch-hitter drove in all three runs for the St. Louis Cardinals. He battled hard against opposing starter Francisco Liriano—18 pitches in three plate appearances—to get into the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen and then homered off Mark Melancon in the eighth inning.
- NLCS Game 1: On a night when Los Angeles Dodgers starter Zack Greinke was virtually untouchable, Beltran got ahead in the count and delivered a two-run double. The only extra-base hit for St. Louis that night, it was enough to push the game into extra innings. L.A. tested Beltran's defense in the 10th, as Mark Ellis attempted to score from third base on a medium-deep fly ball. Beltran couldn't have made a more perfect throw to get the Redbirds out of that jam. Finally, Senor Octubre—not very creative, I know—brought an end to the longest game of the 2013 postseason by singling home a run against Kenley Jansen, the most dominant Dodgers reliever.
Beltran's performance has been a bit uneven. Several hitless performances are scattered between the aforementioned clutch moments.
Nonetheless, his value to the Cardinals cannot be overstated.
Yasiel Puig has authored just as many memorable highlights as Carlos Beltran.
However, he has struggled in the late-and-close situations that matter most when discussing clutchness.
DH David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox)
David Ortiz's Clutch Moments
- ALDS Game 2: Somewhat surprisingly, this was the first time in his exceptional postseason career that he homered twice on the same night. Extra style points for launching both against an elite left-handed pitcher like David Price.
- ALCS Game 2: The Boston Red Sox faced a four-run deficit with only four outs to work with. They were on the verge of losing consecutive playoff games at Fenway Park for the first time since 2008. That's when Ortiz, batting with the bases loaded, evened the score with a single swing, driving the first pitch from Joaquin Benoit into the Boston bullpen. His heroics caused Fenway Park to erupt—as captured in this NSFW YouTube video—and set up Jarrod Saltalamacchia's walk-off hit in the following inning.
FanGraphs illustrates the significance of Big Papi's grand slam—it single-handedly elevated Boston's odds of winning that night from 7.5 percent to 52.7 percent.
Not only does Ortiz set the gold standard for designated hitters, but Bleacher Report's Adam Wells details his strong case for being the greatest postseason player that the American League has seen in a generation.
Victor Martinez loses some clutch points for letting Oakland Athletics closer Grant Balfour get in his head during Game 3 of the ALDS.
With the Tigers clinging to life in the ninth inning, Martinez couldn't help but overreact to Balfour's usual trash talk. The benches cleared as they shouted expletives at one another, and when play resumed, Martinez flied out, which made a comeback even more improbable.
The 34-year-old owns a 1.073 OPS in October and six multi-hit games.
SP Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers)
Justin Verlander's Clutch Moments
- ALDS Game 2: Verlander wouldn't factor into the decision, as it took him 117 pitches to complete seven innings. He tied a postseason career high with 11 strikeouts.
- ALDS Game 5: The former AL MVP was even more efficient this time and could've finished off the Oakland Athletics on his own if necessary. He stunned O.co Coliseum by maintaining a perfect game into the sixth inning and finished with this gorgeous stat line: 8.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K (111 pitches).
- ALCS Game 3: Mike Napoli's solo home run made all the difference in a terrific pitcher's duel at Comerica Park. So far, it is the only extra-base hit that Verlander has allowed in this entire postseason.
In terms of Game Score, Verlander has three of the six best games by any starting pitcher in the 2013 postseason, according to Baseball-Reference.com (subscription required). Not too shabby for someone who looked like Detroit's No. 3 option for much of the summer.
With the St. Louis Cardinals in a must-win scenario entering Game 4 of the NLDS, Michael Wacha carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. His only mistake was allowing a solo home run to Pedro Alvarez. The rookie right-hander lasted 7.1 innings and tallied nine strikeouts.
One run of support was enough the next time Wacha took the mound. He silenced the Los Angeles Dodgers through 6.2 scoreless frames, holding them to an 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. The 22-year-old was most impressive in the sixth inning (courtesy of MLB.com), striking out Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe with the bases loaded to preserve a slim lead.
Wacha only had nine major league starts prior to this postseason. You wouldn't know it from the tremendous composure he shows on the mound in high-leverage situations.
According to MLB.com, his .125 batting average against during the playoffs is tied for the best among all pitchers.
Clayton Kershaw's postseason numbers for the Dodgers have been absolutely filthy: 0.47 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 10.89 K/9 in 19.0 IP. He's just been betrayed by questionable defense and negligible run support.
The likely NL Cy Young Award winner volunteered to start Game 4 of the NLDS on three days' rest to ensure that the series never returned to Atlanta. He lasted six innings without allowing an earned run.
Adam Wainwright annihilated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS opener, and his masterpiece in the winner-take-all Game 5 has been the only complete game by a starting pitcher in these playoffs.
The veteran right-hander was nearly as effective in Game 3 of the League Championship Series, surrendering only two runs to the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine. Too bad he didn't receive any run support.
After 23 postseason innings, Wainwright boasts an insane ratio of 20 strikeouts to only one walk.
RP Trevor Rosenthal (St. Louis Cardinals)
Trevor Rosenthal's Clutch Moments
- NLDS Game 4: Rosenthal nailed down the 2-1 victory in relief of Michael Wacha. NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen came to the plate in the ninth inning as the potential winning run, but Rosenthal ended the threat by getting him to fly out.
- NLCS Game 1: He tied a season high with 33 pitches to complete the ninth and 10th innings.
- NLCS Game 2: Rosenthal returned to the mound the very next night and struck out the side. As a result, the St. Louis Cardinals took a 2-0 series lead.
- NLCS Game 4: Yasiel Puig had reached base in five consecutive plate appearances when he came up against Rosenthal with a chance to tie the score. The streak of success came to an end, however, when the 23-year-old flamethrower induced a deflating double play.
In five appearances, Rosenthal has only once allowed multiple baserunners in the same inning.
October brilliance is nothing new for the heavily bearded Brian Wilson. He earned the "most clutch postseason reliever" label in 2010 with just one unearned run allowed in 10 outings for the eventual world champion San Francisco Giants.
The veteran right-hander has set up closer Kenley Jansen in four of the five wins for the Los Angeles Dodgers this month. Through six innings, his earned run average is still spotless.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He’s hoping to deepen relationships with his fantastic online audience (that means you) via Twitter.