Well everyone, we've made it to the postseason. The MLB playoffs will begin on Friday with the two Wild Card playoff games in Atlanta and Texas, and we couldn't be more excited...even if two teams are going to get sent home after just one game. Regardless of that, we're here. There are some new faces (Washington, Oakland, Baltimore) to go along with some old faces (St Louis, New York, Texas, Detroit) and the guys who stop by on occasion (Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Francisco). Each of the four Division Series matchups, along with the two Wild Card games, have their own important matchups and quirks, and of course, each team has several players that will be critical to their success in winning the World Series. Personally, I think these ten are the most important (one per team). Now, this isn't to say that these players are the best on their teams, but rather players who their teams need to step up in the playoffs.
1. Mark Teixeira, Yankees Teixeia has an an awful, injury-plagued 2012 season. He missed all but one game in September with a calf injury, and has just one hit in the three games against the Red Sox that the Yankees have played this October. While Teixeira was out, Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez were filling in at first base and doing a fine job. But moving Swisher to first base results in Andruw Jones or Raul Ibanez needing to start in the outfield, making the Yankees a less potent offensive team than when a healthy Teixeira is in the lineup. New York's offense is good enough to withstand not having Teixeira in the lineup, but they're clearly a much better team with him in the lineup. Compare the team's .758 OPS in September, when Teixeira just played one game, to their .786 OPS over the full season. It's clear that a healthy Tex is a huge upgrade offensively for the Yankees.
2. Chris Davis, Orioles Baltimore's offense has performed extraordinarily well for the mostpart in September & October. The only regular who isn't having an above average month is Robert Andino, who really doesn't hit anyway. Due to the precarious position Baltimore is in via the Wild Card playoff game, I didn't want to throw a pitcher under the bus based solely on a single game's perfomance...so I think their most important player is the white hot Davis, who homered in six straight games prior to having that streak broken last night against the Rays. Davis leads the team with ten homers sinc the beginning of September, and also leads the team with 33 bombs on the season. Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado have gotten most of the attention in regards to Baltimore's offense this year, but the 26-year old Davis has done a great job at putting all of his skills together after three straight disastrous seasons. Revenge could be on his mind too, with the Orioles facing Davis' former Rangers team in the single game playoff tomorrow.
3. Alex Avila, Tigers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have carried this team offensively down the stretch, with Avila, Austin Jackson, and Andy Dirks providing about league average performance, and everyone else struggling terribly. The Tigers have also gotten some freakish pitching down the stretch from their rotation, and could probably still move on to the ALCS if Max Scherzer needs to rest his ankle a little longer. But Avila in my mind is the key to this team. He's had a pretty terrible year, seeing his OPS drop 160 points from last year thanks to his power falling off a cliff. The Tigers don't need to do much smashing with Cabrera and Fielder in their lineup, but the back-end of Detroit's lineup has been terrible. Avila going on a tear in the playoffs could be the difference between some fruitless innings for the Tigers offense and another run or two to give them the edge in close games.
4. Jarrod Parker, Athletics Parker has been the rock in the A's rotation all year, and with the rest of his young rotation mates fading down the stretch, Parker is going to need to step up big in Oakland's ALDS series with the Tigers. Parker will be available to start the opener on normal rest on Saturday, and he needs to get the A's off to a competitive start at Comerica Park. Runs are going to be at premium in this series, but Detroit's Cabrera/Fielder duo has the potential to put games out of hand in a hurry. Parker will need to limit the damage and hope that Oakland's own potential firecrackers in Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes can work up enough offense for the A's to slip by the Tigers.
5. Yu Darvish, Rangers Remember how I said I didn't want to pick on starters in the Wild Card playoff games? I have to make an exception in this case, because Darvish is not only starting in Friday's game against the Orioles, but he has far and away been their only effective starter in September. Darvish's 2.21 ERA is a good run lower than the other Rangers' starters, and he gives them a distinct advantage over the Orioles on Friday. With the way the Rangers have faltered down the stretch, losing seven of nine to divisional rivals, momentum is clearly not on their side. There's a very good possibility that Texas could see their season come to an end if Darvish comes out and lays an egg on Friday. Hell, there's a good possibility their season could end if he dominates the Orioles, as the Rangers bullpen blew a key win in Darvish's last start on Sunday against the Angels.
6. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals Starting pitching has been one of the hallmarks of the 2012 Nationals season. But over the last month, their rotation has been bad, posting a 4.32 ERA that's nearly a run higher than their season ERA of 3.41. Of course, that ERA includes Gonzalez's sterling 1.74 mark, which has kept him in the Cy Young conversation. With Stephen Strasburg shut down, this is Gonzalez's rotation now. He's carrying a staff that has seen Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmermann, and Ross Detwiler struggle with homers over the last five weeks. Gonzalez is good enough to put the team in position to win two games in the NLDS on his own, and just hope that his Nationals can scrape together one more win in the other three games. If Gonzalez struggles though, the Nationals might have to rely extensively on their offense, which has fluorished this month.
7. Brian McCann, Braves McCann has been stuck in the doldrums all season, with his OPS for the year finishing up at .699. But while everyone in the Braves lineup, including the divisive Dan Uggla, has provided at least some value this year, McCann's only postiive contributions to the Braves has been a hot July. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see McCann hitting seventh in Atlanta's lineup on Friday, which would be unheard of when you consider his pedigree throughout the years. The Braves absolutely need to him to produce, and produce more than his .461 OPS in August or .591 OPS in September would indicate.
8. Todd Frazier, Reds The Cincinnati Reds are a frightening team on paper going into the playoffs, and my preseason pick to win the World Series. Their main hole heading into the postseason is at third base, where the rookie Frazier and veteran Scott Rolen have tired as the season as worn on. Frazier has been hot all year, but hit a brick wall on September 1st, whereas Rolen has looked every bit of his 37-years old this year. Frazier is the key because of the ceiling he showed during a sizzling summer. If you add that bat into this playoff lineup alongside Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Ryan Ludwick, you could have something very special with the Reds and their awesome pitching staff.
9. Allen Craig, Cardinals The defending World Champions are looking like a pretty well-oiled machine right now, but they could use a great October from one of last season's heroes as they search for another title. Craig has hit 22 homers this year, but just two have come in September as he suffers from a power outage late in the year. I'm sure it's more of a BABIP thing than antyhing else, but Craig is the Cardinals main power option in the cleanup spot in the order, and they could really use him mashing the ball around Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Yadier Molina.
10. Hunter Pence, Giants The Giants aren't where they are because of the midseason acquistion of Hunter Pence. His OBP in San Francisco is sub-.300, and his batting average is 100 points down in comparison to his second half last year with the Phillies. For a guy who was supposed to help the Giants' offense out a lot, it seems like he's doing nothing more than riding Buster Posey's coattails to the playoffs. With Pence playing the way he is, do you think Dusty Baker is giong to give Posey anything good to hit in key sitautions of the NLDS? Please. Pence needs to step up if the Giants want another World Series trophy.