50 MLB Players Who Will Overachieve Down the Stretch

Doug MeadCorrespondent IAugust 6, 2012

50 MLB Players Who Will Overachieve Down the Stretch

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    The 2012 MLB season has come down to its final 50-plus games, and over the final eight weeks of the season, teams will be heavily relying upon players to either carry them into the postseason or give them hope for things to come in the future.

    The word "achieve" can either mean to carry things through or to accomplish; by extension, overachieve can either mean to perform beyond what was expected or to perform above what has been seen in the past.

    In some cases, we will absolutely use just the 2012 season as a barometer for our selections.

    We will take a look at 50 players who we believe will perform above what has been seen in the past or in the 2012 season thus far, as well as some predictions for players who will overachieve based on prior career performance.

Justin Upton: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton has certainly had a rough go of things in the 2012 season.

    He has had to see his name mentioned in various trade rumors, he's had to endure questions about a lingering shoulder injury and he endured a very disappointing first half in which he hit .273 with just seven home runs after hitting 31 long balls in 2011.

    Thus far in August, Upton is hitting a robust .467, and with his D-Backs back in the race in the NL West, he will need to re-assume his role from last season, in which he helped carry Arizona to the NL West title.

    Based on what we've seen thus far in four August games, Upton is up for the challenge.

Ian Kennedy: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Much like Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Ian Kennedy hasn't delivered quite like he did in 2011, when he won 21 games and finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award balloting.

    However, Kennedy seems to be starting to sizzle along with the desert heat.

    Kennedy showed signs of getting back to 2011 form in July with a 3-1 record and has already picked up a win in August with a strong six-inning effort against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.

    For the Diamondbacks to continue to rise above a challenging first half and make life interesting in the NL West, both Kennedy and Upton will need to lead the way much like they did last season.

    So far, based on recent performance, both seem ready for the challenge.

Chris Johnson: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    When the Arizona Diamondbacks designated third baseman Ryan Roberts for assignment and then traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays, many wondered what GM Kevin Towers had up his sleeve.

    He answered that question just days later, acquiring Chris Johnson from the Houston Astros.

    Johnson has been solid thus far, hitting .381 with three homers and 10 RBI in just six games. With the D-Backs now just four games back of the San Francisco Giants in the NL West, Johnson's offensive punch could be huge down the stretch.

Paul Maholm: Atlanta Braves

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    New Atlanta Braves pitcher Paul Maholm pitched his first game for his new team on Saturday and certainly threw well enough to win, giving up just three runs on six hits in seven innings.

    Unfortunately, much like during his time with the Chicago Cubs, his new teammates didn't offer enough support, saddling Maholm with a loss.

    However, Maholm brings a veteran arm and knowledge to a pitching staff beset by an injury to Brandon Beachy and the ineffectiveness of Jair Jurrjens. In a crucial postseason drive, Maholm could be the X-factor the Braves need.

Mike Minor: Atlanta Braves

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    Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor endured a tough first half in 2012, his first season as a full-timer in the rotation.

    Manager Fredi Gonzalez stuck by his young hurler despite a 5-6 start with a 5.97 ERA. Gonzalez's faith in Minor is now starting to pay off.

    Minor is 1-1 with a stellar 1.46 ERA in his last four starts, and with the Braves trying to keep pace with the Washington Nationals in the NL East, Gonzalez will be looking for Minor to continue that resurgence.

Brian McCann: Atlanta Braves

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    Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann has gotten used to seeing his name penciled in as an All-Star, named to the NL squad for six straight seasons.

    However, McCann stumbled through a tough first half, hitting just .238. The production was there, with 13 HR and 46 RBI, but the average was a full 44 points lower than his career mark.

    McCann will need to be the rock behind the plate offensively in the manner that has thus far defined his career, and considering he hit .296 with nine HR and 21 RBI in the month of July, indications are certainly there that he's ready to assume that role once again.

J.J. Hardy: Baltimore Orioles

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    Shortstop J.J. Hardy had a terrific first season in Baltimore, hitting 30 HR with 80 RBI in his first season with the Orioles.

    The team was impressed enough to give Hardy a three-year, $22.5 million contract extension, expecting much of the same from the talented power-hitting shortstop.

    Hardy stumbled out of the gate, hitting just .224 with 12 homers heading into the All-Star break, but has begun to show signs of life, hitting .333 through the first four games of August.

    The O's are 6.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East and in a tight battle with the Angels, A's, Tigers and Rays for the two wild-card slots as well. Hardy's bat will be crucial for the O's down the stretch.

    I am one who believes Hardy will rise to the challenge.

Franklin Morales: Boston Red Sox

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    On Sunday afternoon, Franklin Morales stepped in for an ailing Josh Beckett and gave the Boston Red Sox an outstanding six-inning effort, allowing only one run on three hits in a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

    Morales has shown flashes of excellence in six starts for the Sox and will likely be called upon to step up in the rotation for the final eight weeks of the season.

    Until this season, Morales has never been entrusted to assume a prominent role as a starter, but Sox manager Bobby Valentine has given Morales that responsibility, and he seems ready to roll with it.

Pedro Ciriaco: Boston Red Sox

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    In parts of eight minor league seasons, utility player Pedro Ciriaco was a capable hitter, compiling a .272 lifetime average.

    For the Boston Red Sox this season, Ciriaco has far surpassed that, hitting .338 in 24 games.

    The Sox may not be playing for much of anything right now, considering their current record of 54-55. However, Ciriaco may be proving to the Red Sox that he can be a valuable presence as a utility man, with the ability to fill in at shortstop, second base and even the corner outfield at times when called upon.

    Ciriaco can work his way into a role next season and beyond if he continues to overachieve in the final eight weeks of the season.

Brett Jackson: Chicago Cubs

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    For the final eight weeks of the season, Chicago Cubs fans will get a glimpse into the future.

    The Cubs called up top prospects Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters on Sunday, with Jackson getting the start in center field against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Jackson hit .282 with 91 stolen bases in four years in the minors and has the tools to be the answer for the Cubs in center field for some time to come.

    Jackson collected his first major league hit in his third plate appearance on Sunday, lining a single to right field in the top of the fifth. He followed up with another single in the top of the seventh, hanging in there against tough left-hander Randy Choate.

    Jackson could be even more than what has been predicted of him, and he'll have the final eight weeks of the season to show the Cubs that he is more than worthy of the expectations placed upon him.

Alexei Ramirez: Chicago White Sox

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    The Chicago White Sox are locked in a battle at the top of the AL Central with the Detroit Tigers and figure to give the Tigers all they can handle in the final eight weeks of the season.

    In order to do that, the Sox will need their veterans to lead the way, including shortstop Alexei Ramirez.

    Ramirez got off to a sluggish start in 2012, hitting just .228 with one HR and 24 RBI in the first two months of the season.

    Since then, Ramirez has picked it up, hitting .307 since June 1. It's my belief that Ramirez will take the ball and run with it, giving the White Sox a solid bat behind the middle batting order trio of Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Alex Rios.

Francisco Liriano: Chicago White Sox

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    When the Chicago White Sox traded for Minnesota Twins starter Francisco Liriano on July 28, it was with the belief that Liriano could not only be of help down the stretch, but also that his potential could finally be realized.

    Liriano never developed into the dominant hurler that the Twins had envisioned, posting a 50-52 record and 4.31 ERA in parts of seven seasons. At times Liriano looked positively unhittable, but other times he looked like he never belonged on a big league mound.

    Liriano's first outing with the White Sox showed flashes of that potential—six innings, eight strikeouts and just two runs on four hits. He followed up on Sunday with another nice effort against the Los Angeles Angels—one run on four hits in five innings.

    Changes of scenery can often do wonders. In Liriano's case, it could very well be just what the doctor ordered.

Kevin Youkilis: Chicago White Sox

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    Kevin Youkilis is still adjusting to life outside of Boston, playing in his 34th game as a member of the Chicago White Sox on Sunday after spending eight-plus seasons with the Red Sox.

    Thus far, Youkilis has responded, hitting nine home runs with 26 RBI in those 34 games after changing Sox. However, the South Siders could see even more from Youkilis as the White Sox continue battling for the AL Central Division title.

    Youkilis is a veteran of stretch runs, having participated in many of them while in Boston. While his numbers thus far have been solid in Chicago, the guess is that Youkilis will step it up even further as he continues adapting to his new role with the White Sox.

Zack Cozart: Cincinnati Reds

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    Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart was looking forward to the 2012 season after an awkward play at second base last season left him with a season-ending elbow injury after just 11 games in the big leagues. Still, the Reds got a glimpse of how good life could be with Cozart at shortstop based on the small sample size.

    Cozart has seen his ups and downs in 2012, hitting just .245 with 11 HR and 23 RBI. While the Reds sport the best record in the majors, they'll be looking for Cozart to get back to the player they saw in 2011.

    It's my guess that Cozart will show the Reds the skills that led them to believe he is the future at shortstop.

Drew Stubbs: Cincinnati Reds

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    Throughout his three-plus seasons in Cincinnati, center fielder Drew Stubbs has shown flashes of what could be but has never fully stepped up on a regular basis.

    Stubbs hit 22 HR with 77 RBI and a .255 average in 2010, but since then he has been somewhat of an enigma, with the Reds considering reducing his role earlier this season.

    So, can the real Drew Stubbs show himself in the final eight weeks of the season? He's showing signs he can, delivering two key late-inning winning hits in the final week of July and a .333 average thus far in August.

    Stubbs may finally be listening, and responding, to his critics.

Jonathan Broxton: Cincinnati Reds

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    It might be difficult to look at what Jonathan Broxton has done thus far in 2012 and think that he could overachieve in the final eight weeks of the season.

    However, when acquired by the Cincinnati Reds on July 31, Broxton was being asked to assume a role as a seventh- or eighth-inning guy, helping along with Sean Marshall to set up for closer Aroldis Chapman.

    Broxton had been the main guy in Kansas City for the first four months of the season, posting 23 saves with a 2.27 ERA.

    Thus far in Cincinnati, he has responded to his new role with three scoreless appearances and a win. In addition, he gives manager Dusty Baker the option to close should Chapman be unavailable after consecutive outings. This is a role that Broxton can flourish in, giving the Reds an ever better bullpen down the stretch.

Josh Rutledge: Colorado Rockies

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    It's hard not to be impressed with what Colorado Rockies shortstop Josh Rutledge has done thus far in his very brief major league career.

    After his call-up from Double-A Tulsa on July 13, Rutledge has been more than a pleasant surprise, hitting .329 with six homers and 15 RBI in 21 games.

    Can he keep up this pace after hitting just 22 homers in 211 minor league games? I say why not—Rutledge is making the most of a golden opportunity, with incumbent SS Troy Tulowitzki likely on the shelf for at least another few weeks as he works his way back from groin surgery.

    At the very least, Rutledge provides promise as a possibility at second base for the future, having played 22 games there for Tulsa as well.

Alex White: Colorado Rockies

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    Not much has gone right for the Colorado Rockies this season, now with a 38-68 record and a recent reorganization of the front office that may lead to more at the conclusion of the regular season.

    However, one bright spot that could be seen in the final eight weeks of the season is the emergence of starting pitcher Alex White.

    Sent down to the minors after a tough start that led to a 2-6 record and 6.45 ERA, White was recalled last week, posting an impressive performance against the St. Louis Cardinals last Thursday, allowing only two runs on five hits in 5.1 innings.

    White and Drew Pomeranz were the centerpieces of the deal that sent Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians last year, and both have sputtered thus far in their brief careers with the Rockies.

    White showed flashes of excellence last year with the Tribe; he'll be looking to do the same with this next opportunity for the Rockies.

Doug Fister: Detroit Tigers

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    If the last five starts are any indication, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Doug Fister could be readying himself for another spectacular end-of-season run.

    Fister was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA for the Tigers last season after being acquired from the Seattle Mariners. In 2012, Fister got off to a rough start and, combined with two stints on the disabled list, had trouble finding a groove. Fister was 2-6 with a 4.75 ERA entering the All-Star break.

    Since then, Fister has found the form that led to his spectacular finish last season, with a 4-1 record and 1.62 ERA that includes a terrific complete-game victory on Saturday over the Cleveland Indians.

Anibal Sanchez: Detroit Tigers

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    Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez rebounded from a tough first start following his trade from the Miami Marlins, throwing six strong innings in a win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.

    Sanchez will be called upon to be a key for the Tigers in their effort to overtake the Chicago White Sox at the top of the AL Central.

    Comerica Park could just be the perfect park for Sanchez. While he features a higher GB rate (44.5 percent) than FB rate (36.6 percent) in his career, those fly balls are likely to find more gloves in spacious Comerica Park.

Omar Infante: Detroit Tigers

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    On Sunday afternoon, Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante provided a reason why the Tigers sought to bring him back home.

    Infante, who spent the first seven years of his career in Detroit, delivered a game-tying two-run single in the bottom of the 10th inning and then scored the winning run on a walk-off homer by Miguel Cabrera.

    Infante was 4-for-6 on the day with three runs scored and three RBI, providing the exact type of spark expected of him when GM Dave Dombrowski brought him back from the Miami Marlins.

    Infante is now hitting .289 with six RBI in 11 games for Detroit, a far sight better than the overall .201 average delivered by six other second basemen this year.

Alex Avila: Detroit Tigers

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    The Detroit Tigers took steps to bolster the roster in their attempt to defend their AL Central Division title, acquiring second baseman Omar Infante and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez from the Miami Marlins.

    They also acquired utility infielder Jeff Baker from the Chicago Cubs, adding veteran depth to the bench.

    However, it's the veterans in the everyday lineup that will determine the near future for the Tigers, and catcher Alex Avila could be a major factor.

    Avila has seen ups and downs this year, hitting just .246 with six homers and 31 RBI. However, Avila is starting to heat up, hitting .333 in the first five games in August. For the Tigers to successfully defend their championship, it will take more than just the bats of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera—Avila's bat could help make or break the Tigers' fate.

Max Scherzer: Detroit Tigers

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    In the first month of the 2012 season, Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer was about as bad as anyone could be, posting a 1-3 record with a 7.77 ERA in five starts.

    Scherzer has steadily improved each month since, with a 4.04 ERA in May, 3.86 ERA in June and 3.62 ERA in July.

    Scherzer slipped a bit in his first August start, allowing four runs on 10 hits in five innings against the Cleveland Indians on Sunday.

    However, Scherzer clearly appears to have established more of a rhythm as the season has progressed, and he has typically maintained a stronger second half throughout his career. Look for that to continue in the final eight weeks of the season.

Wilton Lopez: Houston Astros

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    Throughout parts of four seasons with the Houston Astros, reliever Wilton Lopez has been solid, posting a career 3.33 ERA.

    Now, Lopez gets a shot to do what's never been expected of him before—close out games.

    With the recent injury to Francisco Cordero, Lopez is getting that shot, posting his first save of the season on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves.

    Lopez is likely the long-term answer, considering that Cordero was completely ineffective in the role after his trade from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Ervin Santana: Los Angeles Angels

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    The first half of the 2012 season could only be described as a disaster for Los Angeles Angels pitcher Ervin Santana.

    After an effort on July 21 in which he couldn't get out of the second inning against the Texas Rangers, Santana was 4-10 with a 6.00 ERA. His next start was skipped so that he could work out some mechanical issues with pitching coach Mike Butcher through sideline bullpen sessions.

    Santana has shown some improvement over his last two starts, allowing only two earned runs on five hits in six innings of work against the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.

    If Santana can continue getting back to figuring out the correct arm slot and working on establishing control, especially with first-pitch strikes, he can clearly achieve much more than what's been seen out of him thus far in 2012.

Albert Pujols: Los Angeles Angels

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    The progression seen from first baseman Albert Pujols since a miserable start has been impressive.

      BA OBP SLG
    April .217 .265 .304
    May .263 .309 .491
    June .326 .409 .568
    July .330 .411 .660

    Pujols has followed up with a .375 average in August as well, with four homers and nine RBI in just five games.

    While overachieving would be a difficult phrase to use in terms of Pujols' career thus far, it's easy to see that he has responded to a poor start and continues to just get better with each passing month. Again, considering the start to the season in which he didn't collect his first home run until May 6, he has more than made up for it.

    I am of the belief that Pujols can and will carry this team on his shoulders for the remainder of the regular season, and Angels fans will see the magic that Cardinals fans had the pleasure of seeing for 11 seasons.

Joe Blanton: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The first big waiver trade this season saw the Los Angeles Dodgers pick up starting pitcher Joe Blanton from the Philadelphia Phillies, and it's a trade that could be telling for the fortunes of the Dodgers in 2012.

    Blanton delivered in his first outing for his new team, allowing just two runs on five hits in six innings in a no-decision against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.

    Blanton has posted a career 81-71 record with a 4.35 career ERA in nine seasons with the Oakland A's and Phillies, and he now has an opportunity to be a difference-maker in the final eight weeks of the season for the Dodgers.

    Blanton will rise to that occasion.

Rickie Weeks: Milwaukee Brewers

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    The first half of the 2012 season for Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks was indeed perplexing and puzzling.

    Weeks was positively horrendous, hitting just .199 with 100 strikeouts heading into the All-Star break. It's entirely possible that Weeks put pressure on himself to contribute more this season with the departure of first baseman Prince Fielder.

    Pressure can certainly do funny things to one's game.

    Weeks has been considerably better in the second half, hitting .272 in the month of July and .333 in early August.

Carlos Gomez: Milwaukee Brewers

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    Not much has gone right for the Milwaukee Brewers this season, with a rash of season-ending injuries and a struggling bullpen that have led to a 48-58 record and the team likely being out of playoff contention.

    However, Carlos Gomez has seemingly taken hold of the everyday center field position, and his play of late has been inspired.

    Gomez hit .274 in July with five HR and 13 RBI along with an .881 OPS and is off to a .313 start in August with an .889 OPS. At 26 years of age, Gomez may finally be displaying the skills that the Brewers have been waiting to see on a consistent basis since acquiring him back in November 2009.

Brian Dozier: Minnesota Twins

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    It's quite possible that the Minnesota Twins are just starting to see the potential of shortstop Brian Dozier.

    Since his call-up on May 7 of this year, Dozier has steadily gotten better at the plate with each passing month, hitting .228 in May, .231 in June and .250 in July. Along the way, Dozier has already gathered a few highlight-reel plays defensively as well.

    As he continues adapting to life in the majors, Dozier continues to improve with each passing day.

Ike Davis: New York Mets

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    After a promising rookie campaign in 2010, New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis was slowed by an ankle injury that limited him to just 36 games in 2011.

    Fully healthy in 2012, Davis was hoping to once again show off the potential seen in 2010 and the first part of last season. However, he struggled through the first two months of the season, hitting just .170 with five HR and 21 RBI.

    Since June 1, Davis has somewhat salvaged his season, hitting 15 HR with 40 RBI, raising his average to .212.

    The final eight weeks of the season will see Davis continue to surge as he once again seeks to establish himself as one of the bright young stars in the National League.

Scott Hairston: New York Mets

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    While not an everyday player for the New York Mets, utility player Scott Hairston has certainly played like one.

    Hitting .266 with 14 HR and 44 RBI in just 244 at-bats, Hairston has provided the Mets with a huge spark while filling in at all three outfield positions.

    Hairston could easily be headed to the best statistical season of his career.

Freddy Garcia: New York Yankees

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    Through the final eight weeks of the regular season, the New York Yankees will be relying on a starting rotation that has proven to be solid, but also very thin.

    Andy Pettitte has been slowed in his recovery from a fractured left fibula and likely won't be back in the rotation until sometime in September.

    That likely means that Freddy Garcia will continue in his role as the No. 5 starter for the foreseeable future, which may not necessarily be a bad thing.

    Garcia has only logged 72 innings on the season, so the arm is relatively fresh. His outing against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday was encouraging as well, giving up just two runs on five hits in five solid innings.

    Garcia's experience and savvy will be key down the stretch, and the fresh arm certainly helps as well.

Joba Chamberlain: New York Yankees

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    New York Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain made his first appearance last Wednesday in almost 14 months, throwing 1.2 innings of relief in a 12-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

    Chamberlain looked rusty, and rightfully so. But the velocity was certainly there, and Chamberlain could be a very valuable bullpen piece as the Yankees attempt to capture their second straight AL East Division title.

Derek Norris: Oakland Athletics

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    Now that Kurt Suzuki has been shipped off to Washington, Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Derek Norris can relax knowing that the everyday backstop responsibilities are his for the foreseeable future.

    Norris has hit .200 with three homers and 13 RBI since his call-up on June 21, and while the 23-year-old top prospect has yet to fully catch on in the majors, he should be able to rest easier knowing that the job is his and that the A's will be patient in his development.

Chris Carter: Oakland Athletics

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    Is it possible that the Oakland Athletics have finally found a first baseman who can actually hit?

    The A's have employed a battery of players at the corner infield position over the past few years, and none of them have been able to stick.

    When they dealt Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007, one of the centerpieces of the deal was prospect first baseman Chris Carter.

    Carter, however, was slow in developing, hitting only .167 in four separate stints with the A's between 2010 and 2011.

    Carter worked on adjusting his swing in the minors, and since his call-up on June 29, he has shown more discipline along with a more fluid swing and added power. Carter is currently hitting .250 with nine homers and 18 RBI, and as the A's continue to grind for a possible postseason berth, Carter could be a huge factor offensively down the stretch.

Cliff Lee: Philadelphia Phillies

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    They say that you can't keep a good man down for long. I'm betting that's going to be the case with Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee.

    Lee didn't collect his first victory of the season until July 4 and still only has two wins on the season with a 3.78 ERA in 133.1 innings.

    Snake-bit would be a good way to describe Lee's season thus far—at least six no-decisions in which either his bullpen lost a lead he gave them, or quality starts in which he received no offensive support.

    Lee's Phillies may not be going anywhere this season, but his performance should be much better as the season winds down. Considering his past achievements, overachieving might not be an appropriate term, but for the 2012 season, it would apply.

Kyle Kendrick: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Kyle Kendrick stepped up to make an emergency start after the trade that saw Joe Blanton shipped off to the Los Angeles Dodgers last week.

    Kendrick will take the ball again this Wednesday against Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves and could likely be given the opportunity to once again pitch every five days through the remainder of the season.

    Kendrick has been a full-time starter in the past for the Phillies, with mixed results. The last two seasons Kendrick has been used both as a reliever and a starter, and he will have the chance to show manager Charlie Manuel that his place is in the rotation.

Michael McKenry: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Last season, Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Michael McKenry sat behind both Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder on the depth chart, hitting just .222 with two homers in 58 games.

    This year, McKenry got buried behind another player when the Pirates signed Rod Barajas during the offseason.

    However, McKenry's play of late could put him behind the plate on a much more regular basis.

    McKenry has only 137 at-bats this year, but the production during his limited playing has been outstanding, hitting .285 with 11 HR and 28 RBI. Considering that Barajas is barely hitting .200, McKenry could be key for the Pirates as they fight for their first postseason berth since 1992.

Gaby Sanchez: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates are fighting for their playoff lives over the last eight weeks of the season, and much of their success will depend on the play of their bench, specifically from guys like Gaby Sanchez.

    Sanchez clearly saw the writing on the wall when the Miami Marlins acquired Carlos Lee from the Houston Astros in early July. Now presented with a change of scenery and a chance to show off his skills with a new team, Sanchez could well be that X-factor for the Pirates.

    Sanchez was 2-for-5 with a run scored in the Pirates' 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, and he will likely split time at first with Garrett Jones for the time being.

    Unless Sanchez can return to his 2010-11 form, that is.

Marco Scutaro: San Francisco Giants

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    When the San Francisco Giants learned that third baseman Pablo Sandoval was going to the disabled list for a second time this season with a strained left hamstring, GM Brian Sabean went to work.

    He acquired infielder Marco Scutaro from the Colorado Rockies, and Scutaro has been outstanding, hitting .353 with six RBI in his nine games since joining the club.

    When Sandoval returns from the DL, presumably around mid-August, Scutaro will be a valuable asset for manager Bruce Bochy, being able to cover third, short and second and continuing to provide a spark with the bat.

Tim Lincecum: San Francisco Giants

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    Despite giving up five walks on Sunday afternoon against the Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum was able to work around his lack of command, allowing just one run on five hits in six innings.

    The effort raised Lincecum's record to 6-11 on the season and lowered his ERA to 5.43. Since getting rocked by the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 8, Lincecum has thrown considerably better, and the Giants' success this season will rest on the fabulous arms in their starting rotation, including the two-time Cy Young Award winner Lincecum.

Edward Mujica: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Edward Mujica has already seen a lot of movement during his career, now with his fourth team in seven seasons.

    However, with the St. Louis Cardinals, Mujica could help bring some magic.

    Cardinals GM John Mozeliak found magic last year when he acquired relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel to help revive his bullpen last season. Mujica could possibly do the same in 2012. He's already off to a great start, providing three straight scoreless appearances.

Allen Craig: St. Louis Cardinals

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    At the beginning of the 2012 season, it didn't appear that Allen Craig would be much of a factor for the St. Louis Cardinals, starting the season on the disabled list, returning for two weeks and then landing on the DL once again.

    However, now fully healthy, Craig could prove to be the difference-maker for the Cards in the absence of injured first baseman Lance Berkman.

    Craig is currently hitting .295 with 15 HR and 56 RBI. Heading into the final eight weeks of the season, the Cardinals will need Craig not just to stay healthy, but also to provide continued offensive punch along with Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran.

Desmond Jennings: Tampa Bay Rays

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    At 25 years of age, Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings is clearly a part of the future, and the Rays are hoping that the final eight weeks of the season can see Jennings be the pesky type of player that they've been counting on.

    Jennings has hit just .233 thus far with eight HR and 31 RBI. Jennings can be a difference-maker at the top of the lineup with his speed and ability to hit for contact. For the Rays to once again make a playoff appearances, that's the Jennings the Rays need to see.

Jeff Niemann: Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Tampa Bay Rays pitcher hasn't worked since May 14 but could be a valuable asset for the Rays in the final weeks of the regular season.

    Niemann, who suffered a fractured left fibula after taking a line drive off the leg, is progressing well in his recovery and will start a rehab assignment later this week with Single-A Charlotte. If all goes well, he could be back with Tampa by late August.

    Niemann was 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA in seven starts before going down, not giving up more than three earned runs in any of his starts.

Texas Rangers: Mitch Moreland

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    Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland has been back with the team for about a week since a hamstring injury that put him on the disabled list for six weeks, and his bat could be a key factor down the stretch.

    Since his return, Moreland has hit .350 with one homer and six RBI in seven games, and his return to full health gives manager Ron Washington more options in a lineup already loaded with stars. Expect Moreland to continue riding a hot bat.

Scott Feldman: Texas Rangers

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    Texas Rangers pitcher Scott Feldman's year has been a tale of two seasons thus far, and right now, he's riding the good part.

    In early June, Feldman was sitting with a 7.01 ERA after getting rocked for eight runs in 1.2 innings in a blowout loss to the Oakland A's. Since then, Feldman has steadily dropped his ERA back down to 4.52, winning his last six decisions as well.

    Feldman will be counted upon to continue his recent run of success, especially after season-ending injuries to both Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis and with Roy Oswalt's ineffectiveness pushing him to the bullpen.

Jayson Werth: Washington Nationals

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    Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth is finally back in the lineup after missing almost three months with a broken wrist, and he has returned thus far with a vengeance.

    Werth is hitting .417 in the four games since his return, a welcome sign for an offense that has sputtered at times and has seen Bryce Harper slumping as well.

    Werth needs to become the player that the Nats paid $126 million for in late 2010, and judging on his first four games back, he is on his way.

John Lannan: Washington Nationals

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    On two occasions since July 21, Washington Nationals pitcher John Lannan has been called upon to help out the Nats in a pinch, and both times he has delivered.

    Lannan was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse at the start of the season when Ross Detwiler was named the No. 5 pitcher in the rotation. However, Lannan has been called up twice to start a game in a doubleheader, and both times he has walked away with a win.

    With Stephen Strasburg on an innings limit, Lannan could be an important piece of the Nationals' rotation in the final weeks of the season.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.