David Robertson and the Biggest X-Factors in Determining MLB Playoff Spots
Whenever someone has to step into the shoes of a legend and attempt to fill in for him, it's always going to be a challenge—especially when it is someone with the degree that Mariano Rivera brought to the New York Yankees. The Yankees' current closer situation, in particular, is going to be put under a microscope almost as much as the battle for shortstop will once Derek Jeter decides to call it quits.
However, even after all that, David Robertson is there to fill a hole vital to New York's playoff hopes. Moving forward, he should be the X-factor and will be key in determining just how successful this year's team can be.
He's not the only one, though. There are players all around the league looking to improve their team's playoff chances. Here are the 10 that stuck out the most.
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The struggles of Albert Pujols in his new uniform have been well-documented, and for good reason, after his very lucrative offseason contract. However, the Angels have struggled as a whole to score runs, and that has been in large part due to the top of the order's inability to get on base.
With the Angels' first two hitters averaging an OBP right around .250 so far this season, the reason Pujols and Torii Hunter have combined for only 20 RBI could be because they are not getting as many opportunities to hit with runners on base as they should be.
In order for the Angels to start gaining ground in a tough division, these guys need to get going and on base with more regularity than once in every four at-bats. This will, in turn, let the middle of the order see better, more hitter-friendly pitches and increase the rate at which the Angels are currently scoring runs.
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The countdown to May 30 is inching closer and closer, as the buzz surrounding Manny Ramirez's return from his 50-game suspension grows each and every day in Oakland. There's no telling how the veteran will be able to produce after going for such a long time without seeing major-league pitching, but any production will be positive for this Athletics team.
As of Sunday afternoon, they are sitting a game above .500 and only 3.5 games behind the Texas Rangers, whom many consider baseball's best team. They are doing this, however, with the worst lineup in the game in terms of average runs scored.
Even at this stage of his career, Ramirez should be able to help improve the A's' current .213 team batting average.
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The veteran pitcher, who is currently without a spot on a roster, should be getting a call from a GM interested in making a run sometime this year. All reports point to the fact that Oswalt is indeed still in shape and ready to give it a go this season.
While he definitely won't be at his best at this stage of his career, Oswalt will still be a better-than-average pitcher with playoff experience that can add another arm to a contending team down the stretch.
Chase Utley/Ryan Howard
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The Philadelphia Phillies have way too much talent on their roster to be struggling this much right now. The losses of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, though, are definitely hurting the middle of this team's lineup and, consequently, hurting their ability to score runs.
When they—or at least one of them—do return, however, it should ignite the offense. Philadelphia fans should hope this is soon, too, as the Phillies continue to trail in what is going to be a very tight AL East playoff race.
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It happens every year; a very talented, veteran pitcher moves from a team way out of the race to a team right in the middle of it. As soon as teams fall far enough back to become shoppers, transactions are sure to transpire. Francisco Liriano is just one example.
Whether it's him, Gavin Floyd in Chicago, Wandy Rodriguez in Houston or any other potential candidate, a strong arm like any one of theirs will go a long way in helping a contending team get over the hump.
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When he's in the lineup, he's going to produce. That's not the problem. Except for one season, 2008, when he was able to stay healthy and play in 156 of his team's games, Josh Hamilton has struggled to remain injury-free for an entire campaign.
He didn't spend too much time on the DL last season, playing in 121 of Texas' outings, but anytime he is out, it hurts the Rangers' lineup.
Besides, this could shape up to be a battle in the AL West. The Oakland A's are again overachieving with above-average pitching, and the Anaheim Angels will likely improve.
Thus, it is important for Hamilton to continue to stay healthy and in the lineup, where he'll continue to produce monster numbers.
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It was initially only supposed to be a temporary stint in the major leagues for rookie sensation Bryce Harper, but if he continues to produce at this rate, why not keep him on the team?
Sure, there's only been a small sample of games from which to break down his production, but the Nationals seem poised to make a run this season, and that type of experience can only help him moving forward. And if it consequently helps the team, then it seems to be a win-win situation.
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Don't let his 3-1 record fool you; Clay Buchholz is in an intense struggle right now. Giving up a plethora of home runs against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, his ERA climbed all the way over 9 on the early season.
Add that to his ugly WHIP of 2.02, and it's easy to see that the Red Sox pitcher is struggling to get going this year. Moving forward, he needs to get his arm back in order for Boston to return to contention in arguably the best division in baseball.
The Orioles currently lead the league with the best winning percentage, the Blue Jays are no longer pushovers, and the Yankees and Rays are talented as always. The Red Sox are going to need every player to play up to their ability to make the playoffs this season, and Buchholz is another one who will need to step up.
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It's his turn. The greatest closer of all time is out with an injury, and the Yankees are in need of a replacement, so it's time for David Robertson to make his mark on the game.
In what is sure to be the most overanalyzed season of his young career, people are going to be looking at this new Yankee closer's numbers all season, comparing him to what Mariano Rivera has done.
I already talked about how tough this division is going to be, and the loss of its lockdown bullpen guy is not going to help New York down the stretch. Thus, it will be up to Robertson to close out games in similar fashion to what the fans are used to seeing in the Bronx.