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Andy Pettitte and 6 Wild Cards Who Could Swing the MLB Playoff Races

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2012

Andy Pettitte and 6 Wild Cards Who Could Swing the MLB Playoff Races

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    Yesterday, Andy Pettitte took the next step towards shaking off the considerable rust that grew on his left arm since his retirement following the 2010 season, making his first major league start in 2012.

    Pettitte, who many believed was nothing more than an extra arm for the Yankees when they announced his signing, is now an integral part of their playoff hopes—and to that end, the Yankees hope that Pettitte can play spoiler against the rest of the American League.

    While yesterday was a positive step in the right direction for Pettitte, there's no guarantee that he'll re-discover his All-Star form, nor is there any guarantee that his arm will hold up to the rigors of pitching every fifth day once again.

    Around baseball, this is sure to be a familiar refrain—what kind of performance can we expect from Player X as the season progresses? Will he actually perform at all?

    Lets take a look at six players who could all be cast in the role of Player X—the wild cards of the 2012 season.

David Aardsma, RP, New York Yankees

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    With Mariano Rivera out for the season, David Robertson out of his element and Rafael Soriano still making far too much money as a setup man, former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma could ride into the Bronx on a white horse to save the day.

    Still recovering from Tommy John surgery he underwent in July of 2011, Aardsma hasn't thrown a major league pitch since 2010, when he saved 31 games for the Mariners.

    Over the course of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Aardsma posted a 3-12 record with a 2.90 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 69 saves while striking out 124 batters over 121 innings pitched.

    If Aardsma is able to throw strikes consistently and locate his pitches, he could slide into the role of closer, allowing Robertson to go back to dominating the eighth inning and Soriano back to the seventh.

    If not, the Yankees will continue to take their chances with Robertson and Soriano, though neither one is ideal for the role.

Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Signed to a minor league contract by the Blue Jays last week, it will take 37-year-old Vladimir Guerrero a little while to get back into game shape.

    But the right-handed designated hitter, no longer capable of playing the outfield, could be a difference maker in Toronto.

    What if Vlad reverts back to his 2010 form with the Texas Rangers, one where he hit .300 with an OPS of .841 to go along with 29 home runs and 115 RBI?

    Heck, even his numbers last season with Baltimore, while they weren't groundbreaking by any means, were decent enough—.290 with an OPS of .733 to go along with 13 home runs and 63 RBI.

    With Adam Lind an automatic out at first base—let's be honest here Jays fans, it's been over two years since his breakout season and Lind hasn't come close to replicating those numbers since—Vlad could really bolster the Jays already potent lineup.

    Assuming Vlad is productive and able to drive the ball, he could push current designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion to first base, allowing the Jays to either let Lind come off of the bench or send him down to the minors to get his groove back, so to speak.

    Of course, we all know what can happen when you make assumptions...

Victor Martinez, DH, Detroit Tigers

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    Expected to be out for the season with a torn ACL, Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez may yet play baseball in 2012.

    Back in April, Tom Gage of the Detroit News reported that Martinez did not require reconstructive surgery on the ligament.

    ESPN's Jim Bowden took it a step further, saying that the latest medical reports had Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski talking about a potential August or September return for the 33-year-old.

    According to Gage, it all comes down to an MRI that Martinez is scheduled to undergo sometime in July.

    If the reports are good, the Tigers will put the wheels in motion for Martinez to return.

    A healthy Martinez hitting either between Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder or behind Fielder not only lengthens the Tigers lineup, but it makes an already dangerous lineup even more potent.

    If the MRI shows that he's not where he needs to be, it's no harm, no foul. The Tigers will continue to go about their business with either Delmon Young or someone else as their designated hitter.

    But think about the kind of damage that trio could do to pitching staffs around the game—it's kind of scary.

Roy Oswalt, SP, Free Agent

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    It's been eerily quiet on the Roy Oswalt front.

    Last weekend, Chicago White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy commented to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports on his close friend Oswalt: "I can promise you: He's getting ready to play," Peavy said.

    A few weeks before that, Ken Rosenthal, also of Fox Sports, reported that both the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals still had interest in Oswalt and had reached out to him again.

    The 34-year-old right-hander battled injuries last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, posting a 9-10 record with a 3.69 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over 139 innings pitched.

    A healthy Oswalt would shore up any number of starting rotations across the league and give a manager a veteran starter with playoff experience to rely upon.

    Conversely, Oswalt has battled injuries throughout his career, so any manager who leans too hard on him could wind up breaking his shiny new toy.

Andy Pettitte, SP, New York Yankees

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    A 39-year-old Andy Pettitte took the mound at Yankee Stadium yesterday for the first time since 2010 and did about as well as could reasonably be expected.

    He held the Seattle Mariners without a hit until there were two outs in the fourth inning, when Justin Smoak took Pettitte deep for a two-run home run.

    On the day, Pettitte allowed four earned runs and seven hits over 6.1 innings pitched, walking three and striking out two.

    Not great, but not awful by any means.

    The Yankees hope that Pettitte, who celebrates his 40th birthday in June, can continue to progress towards pitching like his former self.

    Signed as nothing more than insurance prior to spring training, Pettitte has been thrust into a situation where the team needs him to pitch more like a second starter than a fifth.

    If he can continue to progress with each start, Pettitte should be hitting his stride right around the time that the stretch run starts—and that could spell bad news for the rest of the American League.

    But as mentioned, Pettitte turns 40 this year—and while you'd think that a full year away from the beating his body takes when pitching every fifth day would be a blessing in disguise, there's no way of knowing whether his body will hold up either—or that he'll be able to bounce back as quickly as he used to.

Manny Ramirez, DH, Oakland A's

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    Including Manny Ramirez here brings up two questions that demand answers.

    Are the Oakland A's really a playoff team, and can Manny Ramirez still hit the ball?

    The answer to both queries is the same—a resounding maybe.

    Once one of the most feared sluggers in the game and considered a lock to be a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee, Ramirez has seen his career and legacy tarnished with failed drug tests, ridiculous decisions and lackluster production.

    Currently serving a 50-game suspension, Ramirez battled a stiff back and looked unimpressive during spring training, hitting .167/.250/.556 with two home runs and three RBI in seven games.

    While there's no guarantee that Ramirez will have a spot waiting for him on Oakland's roster once his suspension is over, you have to figure that the A's didn't sign him to hang out in the minor leagues.

    A productive Manny could push the A's, currently sitting fourth in the wild card race, into the driver's seat, while an unproductive Manny could destroy the clubhouse for a surprising A's team.

Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies

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    In a perfect world, the Philadelphia Phillies would have a designated hitter spot to put Chase Utley and his balky knees in.

    Because realistically, that's the ideal spot for a 33-year-old with a pair of chronically aching joints due to a degenerative knee condition.

    Still out of action as he works his way back to Philadelphia, Utley instantly provides a boost to a lineup that sorely needs one.

    Freddy Galvis has performed admirably in Utley's place, providing solid defense but little else—a batting line of .212/.248/.346 is, for lack of a better word, bad.

    If and when Utley returns to action, the question becomes whether his legs can withstand back-to-back games, or if he'll need significant time off to ensure that he remains a part of the team for the rest of the season.

    Will his knees allow him to drive the ball the way he once did?

    We all know what a healthy Chase Utley brings to the table.

    But nobody knows if that Chase Utley is even possible to find any longer, and that's a shame for someone who seemingly played the game the right way and was potentially on track to a Hall of Fame career.

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