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The Biggest MLB Pennant-Race Liability at Every Position

Pete SchauerCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2016

The Biggest MLB Pennant-Race Liability at Every Position

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    The last two weeks of the MLB season are the most crucial to teams trying to clinch the pennant, and there's no room for error or poor play.

    Professional baseball players don't undergo a grueling 162-game season only to come up short once October strikes, but that's the reality for most teams each season.

    While guys like Derek Jeter and James Shields are known to elevate their play in the most decisive moments, others are liabilities to their squad's pennant chances.

    Let's meet the contestants.

SP: Ryan Vogelsong

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    The San Francisco Giants have a hefty lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, but Ryan Vogelsong is still a liability going forward for the Giants.

    Vogelsong was extremely valuable to San Francisco, as it won 15 of his first 21 starts and he sported a 2.27 ERA, but things have gone downhill for the 35-year-old righty.

    In his last seven starts, Vogelsong has posted an ugly 10.31 ERA, and opponents are hitting .366 against him.

    With Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum coming around, Vogelsong has become the worst starter in the Giants rotation.

C: Derek Norris

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    The lack of experience of rookie catcher Derek Norris is a liability for the Oakland Athletics.

    Not only is this rook responsible for calling the game behind the plate, but he also serves as a field general for one of the youngest teams in baseball.

    The 23-year-old has allowed 28 stolen bases on his watch, has also made five errors and sports three passed balls in just 46 starts behind the plate.

    Norris' performance at the plate has been undesirable, as he's hitting just .192/.274/.322 with five home runs and 26 runs batted in in 177 at-bats.

    There's no doubt that Norris has potential to be a viable catcher in the future, but for a young team trying to shock the world and make the postseason, he's the biggest liability.

1B: Mark Teixeira

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    I say that Mark Teixeira is a liability to the New York Yankees because of his health and his health alone.

    In my mind, Tex is the best defensive first baseman in the game and is an offensive powerhouse when he gets hot, but his calf injury is plaguing the Yankees while they're in the midst of a division battle with the Baltimore Orioles.

    Teixeira, who originally missed time with a calf injury and tweaked it again on Sept. 8, isn't due back to the lineup until New York's final road series in Toronto on Sept. 27, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York.

    The Bronx Bombers sure could use Tex back in the lineup, as they hold just a one-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East.

2B: Cliff Pennington

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    Whether Cliff Pennington is playing shortstop or second base, it's his offense that's a major liability for the Oakland Athletics.

    No one is doubting Pennington's defense, but the A's already rank in the bottom third of the league in runs, batting average and on-base percentage, and Pennington's numbers aren't helping.

    He's hitting a mere .212/.270/.307 with five homers and 23 runs batted in, and while he has swiped 15 bags this season, he's also been caught five times and has scored just 45 runs in 378 at-bats.

    For a team that struggles to score runs, Pennington's lack of offensive abilities will bog Oakland down.

3B: Alberto Callaspo

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    The Los Angeles Angels' hopes of winning the division are immensely bleak, but stranger things have happened.

    Still, among names like Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, the Halos have a weakness, and his name is Alberto Callaspo.

    Among qualified players, Callaspo ranks dead last in the AL in fielding percentage for third basemen due to his 12 errors in 289 chances playing the hot corner.

    Offensively, Callaspo is an average hitter, posting a .251/.336/.363 line with 10 home runs and 51 runs batted in.

    It's Callaspo's defense that worries me. The Angels need to play perfect baseball down the stretch, combined with a lot of luck to win the pennant, and their shaky third baseman makes that all the more difficult.

SS: Brandon Crawford

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    The San Francisco Giants will likely win the NL West, and while they've been surviving with Brandon Crawford manning shortstop, his lack of experience will hurt them going forward.

    I understand this article is centered on liabilities during the pennant race, but what about after the division is won and the World Series is up for grabs?

    Crawford has been dismal in the field, making 15 errors, and hasn't helped out much offensively either, given his .246 average with four home runs, 43 runs batted in and 41 runs in 132 games this season.

    While most of his errors came early in the season, the Giants can't afford those mistakes come October.

    Postseason baseball is all about playing mistake-free and making the most of each opportunity, and I'm not sure Crawford can do that for the Giants.

LF: Raul Ibanez

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    New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi does a nice job of rotating his outfielders with Raul Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki, Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones receiving a fair amount of playing time at the corner outfield positions, but Ibanez is the biggest liability for New York.

    Despite coming up in clutch situations during the first half of the MLB season, Ibanez's defense is what primarily makes him a liability.

    He still has a solid arm, but his range in the outfield isn't what it once was, and that's shown over the course of this season.

    His .222 batting average and .294 OBP are unfavorable also, and although he's always a home-run threat and has big-game experience, he sees a lot of time at DH, and those offensive numbers aren't cutting it.

    Though Ibanez's 15 home runs have come in big spots, his defense makes him a liability to the Pinstripes.

CF: B.J. Upton

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    I don't think there's a more inconsistent player in Major League Baseball than B.J. Upton.

    One week he looks like an All-Star, and the next he looks like he belongs in the minors.

    There's no doubt he has a great combination of power and speed, but we've seen Upton lackadaisically track down fly balls in center field and play subpar baseball.

    Upton may have 23 home runs, 68 runs batted in and 30 stolen bases this season, but his inconsistent play, injuries and bad attitude make him Tampa Bay's biggest liability going forward.

RF: Hunter Pence

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    Sorry Giants fans, but Hunter Pence is a liability going forward.

    Since coming to San Francisco, Pence is hitting just .230, as opposed to .271 in Philadelphia, and his power numbers are also down.

    Pence is hitting just .230 in September and has looked shaky in right field in both San Francisco and Philly.

    He already has 131 strikeouts on the season and has stolen just five bases (one steal as a Giant).

    Pence is an exciting player who can energize his team, but his subpar defensive play and downturn on offense will hurt the Giants.

CL: Jose Valverde

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    How many times have you seen Jose Valverde come in for an easy save and it turn into a 20-minute escapade?

    The answer? A lot.

    Valverde has electric stuff, but it's his propensity for putting guys on base and not getting the job done in a timely manner that worries me.

    Though he'll never admit it, I'm sure Jim Leyland isn't always confident in his closer either, given Valverde's 4.00 ERA and five blown saves on the year.

    His strikeout numbers are down, and his earned run numbers are up. What does that tell you?

    With the Tigers currently trailing the Chicago White Sox, they need to be able to count on Valverde in big-game situations, and that's highly questionable.

    Make no mistake about it: Jose Valverde is the biggest liability to any team contending for the division.

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