Predicting This Week's 10 Biggest MLB Pennant Race Heroes
The final weeks of the MLB season are often when the most memorable moments of the year occur and where heroes are made in helping their teams to the postseason.
Look no further than last season, which gave us perhaps the most exciting single day of play in baseball history in what has simply become known as "Game 162."
While the Giants, Nationals, Rangers, Reds and Braves have more or less locked up their postseason spots and thus don't have much room for heroics in their final games, there are 10 teams still legitimately vying for the remaining five postseason spots. From that group, here is a look at who could emerge as this season's September heroes.
SP Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals leaned hard on Chris Carpenter down the stretch and in the postseason last year, and that may have contributed to him being shelved to open the 2012 season.
Neck and back problems kept him sidelined for most of this season, but the 37-year-old made his season debut on Friday and went five innings, allowing two runs and taking a no-decision.
He may not be 100 percent just yet, but Carpenter is as fierce a competitor as anyone in the game, and he'll bring it down the stretch as the Cardinals look to hold on to a wild-card spot.
2B Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
It been a trying season for Rickie Weeks, who entered the month of September hitting just .222 BA, 13 HR, 45 RBI on the season after expectations were high he'd step into a key role in the absence of Prince Fielder.
However, he's been on a tear this month with a .280 BA, 7 HR, 16 RBI line so far, and while the trio of Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart have carried the offense all season, it could be Weeks who steps up when it matters most.
SP Josh Beckett, Los Angeles Dodgers
The prize of the Dodgers' trade with the Red Sox was slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but the team was also excited at the chance to pick up Josh Beckett, who has proven time and again to be a big-game pitcher.
With Clayton Kershaw battling a hip injury, Beckett will be relied on to step up as the staff ace. Even if Kershaw can return to full strength quickly, having Beckett recapture some of his past pennant race magic would be huge for the Dodgers.
SP Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees
Andy Pettitte didn't join the Yankees until May, and after going 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA through nine starts, he hit the disabled list with a broken ankle on June 27.
He returned last Wednesday, going five scoreless innings to earn the win against the Blue Jays. The 40-year-old is not the dominant ace he once was, but he has more postseason experience than practically anyone in the league, and he won't shy away from the big start down the stretch.
CF Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
Adam Jones has gotten better every year since coming to the Orioles in 2008, and he has become a bona fide superstar this season with a .287 BA, 31 HR, 79 RBI line on the season.
He's hit some big homers this year, setting an Orioles record with four extra-inning home runs on the season with the most recent coming on September 19 against the Mariners. The Orioles have been deadly in close games all season, and Jones is one of the biggest reasons why.
SP David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
The ace of a Rays staff, David Price has had a fantastic season in going 18-5 with a 2.58 ERA and is relied on to offset a subpar offense.
The Rays close out the season against a pair of playoff hopefuls in the White Sox and Orioles. They could very well turn to Price on short rest more than once as they look to close the 3.5-game gap between them and the A's for a wild-card spot.
1B/PH Dan Johnson, Chicago White Sox
While his big league career has been underwhelming as a whole, Dan Johnson has shown a knack for hitting the big home run, and he could do it again this season in the middle of the AL Central division race.
Prior to last season's legendary two-strike, two-out, pinch-hit, game-tying home run for the Rays in what is now simply known as "Game 162," Johnson also had a pair of huge home runs in games against the Red Sox in 2008 and 2010 in the heat of a pennant race.
It seems a long shot that he'd deliver again, but I certainly wouldn't bet against him.
3B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
It's not exactly thinking outside the box, but with Miguel Cabrera chasing a Triple Crown, right now there is no reason to think he won't step up when it matters most.
The AL Central looks like it could very well come down to the season's final day, and if anyone is going to deliver the clinching blow for the Tigers, Cabrera seems like the most likely candidate.
SP Jarrod Parker, Oakland Athletics
The prize of this past offseason's trade of Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks, Jarrod Parker has emerged as the ace of the A's staff with Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy on the sidelines for the remainder of the season.
In four September starts, he's gone 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA and gone at least seven innings in each of his starts. He's inexperienced, though he was on the Diamondbacks postseason roster last year. He has stepped his game up down the stretch and should have a couple more huge starts to show his stuff.
RF Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels offense has slumped in September, but one player who continues to produce is veteran Torii Hunter. He's hit for .305 BA, 3 HR, 19 RBI this month, tacking onto what is one of the best seasons of his career at .304 BA, 15 HR, 84 RBI so far.
He loves playing for the Angels, and if he can come through with a big contribution down the stretch, he would all but assure the team bringing him back when he hits free agency this offseason. That should only be added motivation for the 37-year-old.
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