Tuesday, October 9, 2007

MLB playoff fever

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

Note: This article was written and submitted on Friday, October 5th, so some of these teams may be eliminated by the time this is published.

It’s October again and the Major League Baseball Playoffs are back. Most of the teams in this year’s playoffs, seven in fact, were not in last year, including the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Phillies, Rockies, Red Sox, Angels, and Indians.

Each team has its own certain identity or blueprint for how they want to win games. For example, the Rockies, already up two games to none on the Phillies, are one of the best offensive teams in the league, and they hope to get enough strong pitching from their starters and relievers to seal the deal. The Angels, on the other hand, are forced to rely on solid pitching, good base running, and timely hitting because of some recent injuries.

Every playoff team has some unsung heroes as well – some players who do not get most of the credit but still need to perform in order for their team to win. Making statements like “Alex Rodriguez needs to finally get some clutch hits” or “the Phillies need Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard to lead the way offensively” do not really add much to the discussion because they are obvious statements.

All of the playoff teams need their stars to perform. The game goes much deeper than that, and in order for each team to advance in the playoffs, they will need a helping hand from the following players:

Chone Figgins, OF, Angels – Though they lost the first game, the Angels are not done yet. Vladimir Guerrero and Garrett Anderson are the team’s main power threats, but they are a little banged up right now. Figgins needs to create some chaos at the top of the lineup and steal some bases. The Angels may just be the best base running team in the American League, and they will need to disrupt the Red Sox’s starting rotation to move on.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox – Similarly to Figgins, Pedroia hits leadoff and has had an outstanding season. However, besides getting on base and setting the table for David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell, Pedroia is a solid defensive second baseman. By leading with both his bat and his glove, this rookie must have a strong October for the Red Sox to go far.

Rafael Betancourt, RP, Indians – Betancourt usually pitches the eighth inning out of the Indians’ bullpen, and he is probably their best reliever. The Indians have a solid one-two combination of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona in their starting rotation, but the bullpen performance may just determine the Indians’ fate against the Yankees and their formidable lineup. Unless, of course, the Indians hit like they did in game one and score 12 runs every game.

Joba Chamberlain, RP, Yankees – Chamberlain, a 22 year old rookie, has been lights out ever since his promotion to the Yankees in August. The Indians have a great lineup, and if the Yankees grab the lead, Chamberlain’s job is to get the ball to Mariano Rivera. Rivera may not be the same pitcher he once was, though, and Chamberlain should be prepared to shoulder a significant workload.

Yorvit Torrealba, C, Rockies – Mentioning Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki in this spot would be easy to do since they are arguably the heart and soul of the Rockies, but Torrealba plays a vital role as well behind the plate. He handles a relatively young pitching staff and calls a great game. He can also hit for power occasionally, and he has been known to perform well in the clutch.

Phillies Bullpen – The Phillies are down two games already and are in big trouble. They had both of their home games taken from them, and they will have to win the next three games to take the series. The Phillies should not have trouble scoring runs in Colorado, but they will need solid contributions from their entire bullpen if they are going to run the table. And for goodness sake, do not put Jose Mesa back in the game.

Brandon Webb, SP, Diamondbacks – This choice may seem like a bit of a cop out, but the D-Backs have Doug Davis and probably Livan Hernandez as the second and third starters in their rotation. The D-Backs need to take advantage of every start Webb makes throughout the playoffs and win each game at all costs, as they did in game one against the Cubs.

Rich Hill, SP, Cubs – The Cubs are down two games to none after an awful performance on Thursday night by Ted Lilly, and now the series shifts to Chicago. The Cubs are seemingly backed into a corner and will definitely need a strong performance from Rich Hill to pick the team up. If Hill can get the job done, then Zambrano may return to pitch game four with motivation and the crowd on his side. The Cubs have taken some tough losses in the past, and a great game from Hill may help to reverse this team’s previous misfortunes.

For everyone watching the playoffs on TBS, enjoy the games -- and the endless Frank TV and Dane Cook commercials.

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