Predicting 6 Unexpected Heroes of the 2012 MLB Playoff Races

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2012

Predicting 6 Unexpected Heroes of the 2012 MLB Playoff Races

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    The September playoff push is right around the corner, as this season's stretch run promises to be a good one with 16 teams legitimately still in contention and two extra playoff spots up for grabs.

    This is the time of year when teams lean on their superstar players and those guys truly earn their multi-million dollar contracts. 

    However, this is also the time when role players have a chance to make themselves household names by coming through when it matters most.

    No one expected anything from Dan Johnson last season and he hit one of the biggest home runs in the final game of the year with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, forcing extra innings and setting the Rays up to walk off into the postseason.

    While moments like that are impossible to predict, here is a look at six players who could be the unexpected heroes of this season's playoff race.

DH Luke Scott, Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Rays have been on fire since the return of third baseman Evan Longoria, as they are once again very much in the playoff picture in the American League.

    Their offense has scuffled all season, and while the Longoria return captured headlines, and rightfully so, the team also got DH Luke Scott back earlier this week.

    Scott has just 244 at bats on the season, but is still one of just five Rays with double-digit long balls (12) to go along with 45 RBI. His .225 batting average is unimpressive, but he is one of the few players on the team with legitimate power and is someone capable of going on a tear.

SP Francisco Liriano, Chicago White Sox

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    The White Sox were in on Zack Greinke at the deadline, but wound up settling for Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano.

    He's made five starts since coming to Chicago, and while he was rocked by the A's in one of those starts, he's posted two wins and a 2.70 ERA over his other four starts and has looked great at times.

    With Chris Sale entering uncharted territory on innings thrown, Liriano could emerge as the team's ace down the stretch and find himself pitching in some huge games as the White Sox work to capture the AL Central title.

LF Gary Brown, San Francisco Giants

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    Brown announced himself as a top prospect in his first full pro season last year, as he hit .336  with 14 HR, 80 RBI, 115 R and 53 SB at High Single-A.

    With the recent suspension of Melky Cabrera, the Giants are in need of a short-term solution in left, and that may very well be Brown who has held his own in Double-A this season.

    A center fielder his entire pro career, Brown has not-so-coincidentally been seeing time in left field since Cabrera was suspended (h/t SF Bay), and it could be only a matter of time before he's in the big league lineup and making an impact.

SP James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Through his first 14 starts, McDonald was a bona fide Cy Young candidate as he went 6-3 with a 2.19 ERA and 10 quality starts.

    He's scuffled since then though, and while his 5-2 record is still solid, his 5.88 ERA is more indicative of how he's pitched. 

    He looked good in his last time out, throwing six scoreless innings and allowing just two hits in a win against a good Cardinals team, and that could be what he needs to return to form as he will be counted on for some big starts down the stretch.

3B/DH Eric Chavez, New York Yankees

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    The Yankees have dealt with injuries all season, and among them has been the loss of third baseman Alex Rodriguez to a fractured left hand.

    While the team acquired Casey McGehee from the Pirates to provide depth, most of the third base duties have fallen to veteran Eric Chavez.

    Since Rodriguez went down on July 24, Chavez has batted .370 with five home runs, 12 RBI and posted a 1.128 OPS. If he can keep it up, he will play a major role in the team's stretch run even when Rodriguez returns.

SP John Lannan, Washington Nationals

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    Lannan may be the single most important September call-up in all of baseball, as he will be asked to step into Stephen Strasburg's rotation spot once he is shut down for the season.

    Not many teams have the luxury of someone like Lannan waiting in Triple-A for his chance, as he ended up being the odd man out in the Nationals' rotation this season despite a 10-13 record and 3.70 ERA last year.

    He's 2-0 with a 3.46 ERA in two big league starts this season, and in 22 Triple-A starts he's gone 7-11 with a 4.89 ERA. While those numbers aren't overly impressive, the 27-year-old has enjoyed success at the big league level in the past, and he'll be looking to boost his stock heading into his final season of arbitration.