MLB: Pitcher vs. Hitter Matchups We Can't Wait to Watch in the Divisional Round

Chris Schad@@crishadContributor IIIOctober 4, 2012

MLB: Pitcher vs. Hitter Matchups We Can't Wait to Watch in the Divisional Round

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    One of the beauties of postseason baseball is getting to watch an elite hitter face an elite pitcher when the games matter the most.

    Obviously, the games in October are the crucible that forges legends. To cement their legacy, a star pitcher may have to go against a player that has dominated them over the course of their career and get a big out.

    Of course, that could go the other way for a hitter that just can't seem to get any hits off a pitcher, let alone one that could swing the momentum of a game.

    As the 2012 MLB postseason kicks off this afternoon, here's a look at 12 of the pitcher vs. hitter matchups that could wind up being deciding factors in the wild card and divisional rounds.

Ryan Cook (Oakland Athletics) vs. Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers)

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    Honestly, we could load this slideshow with Miguel Cabrera against anybody as he just completed baseball's first Triple Crown since 1967.

    Instead, we'll focus on Cabrera's first-round matchup with the young and surprising Oakland Athletics and their stud setup reliever Ryan Cook.

    The Cook vs. Cabrera matchup probably doesn't look enticing on paper, but Cook has been lights out since coming over to the Athletics in the Trevor Cahill trade last winter.

    In 2012, Cook has pitched 73.1 innings with a 2.09 earned run average while racking up 14 saves as the closer until mid-August. Since then, he's been setting up current closer Grant Balfour and survived an August rough patch in the process.

    For Cabrera, what can you say about him outside of the Triple Crown? Cabrera has been stellar in all facets of hitting, and has fueled his amazing season with a .335 average against right-handed pitchers.

    Cabrera will be in the spotlight all postseason long, and a matchup with Cook should be imminent in their ALDS matchup.

Josh Hamilton (Texas Rangers) vs. Jim Johnson (Baltimore Orioles)

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    As MLB sets up its first two wild card play-in games, the spotlight will be on Josh Hamilton to keep the Texas Rangers from becoming this decade's version of the Atlanta Braves in the 90s.

    There was a time this season when it appeared it was going to be Hamilton that would be winning the Triple Crown instead of Miguel Cabrera. At the end of May, Hamilton was hitting .368 with 21 home runs and 57 runs batted in.

    Since that torrid start, Hamilton has cooled off (.245, 22 HR, 77 RBI) and the Rangers have followed suit as they have to play the Baltimore Orioles in Friday's AL Wild Card play-in game.

    If the O's could have a lead late, it could mean that Hamilton will have to face the best closer in baseball this season, Jim Johnson.

    Johnson lead baseball with 51 saves in 2012 and has been one of the main reasons why the Orioles have made themselves the East Coast version of the Oakland Athletics. With the game being held at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Johnson's .175 opponent batting average on the road could also come into play.

    That being said, Johnson has struggled against the Rangers in his career (7.50 ERA, .304 BAA) and Hamilton has held his own against lefties (.291 AVG).

    In what will be a winner take all brawl in Arlington, this late-game matchup could be a treat for baseball fans.

Brandon Moss (Athletics) vs. Justin Verlander (Tigers)

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    In a Prince vs. the Pauper matchup, Brandon Moss will face off against Justin Verlander in the ALDS.

    Moss has been one of those guys who has been easy to cheer for during this season, as the 29-year-old journeyman has had a career year for the Athletics since being called up in June (.291, 21 HR, 52 RBI).

    In the other corner, Justin Verlander didn't duplicate the same stats (17-8, 2.64 ERA) that he had in his 2011 Cy Young/Most Valuable Player season. However, he still is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball with his league leading 239 strikeouts.

    There's not much in terms of deep stats or sabermetrics in this matchup, but to see the Moneyball find go up against a true ace will be a sight to behold.

Adam Jones (Orioles) vs. Yu Darvish (Rangers)

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    As the Rangers continue to fall off the face of the earth, they're putting their one shot to keep their championship hopes alive in the hands of Yu Darvish.

    Darvish will make his first postseason start following a season (16-9, 3.90 ERA) in which he could have won the American League Rookie of the Year award had it not been for this Trout guy over in Los Angeles.

    The Rangers' prized acquisition from last winter will have to go against a lineup that swings hard and thinks about it later. While there are guys like Mark Reynolds who could be known as Adam Dunn Premium, the spotlight will be on their franchise center fielder Adam Jones.

    Jones (.287, 32 HR, 82 RBI) signed a seven-year, $91.65 million contract extension mid-way through the 2012 season and like Darvish will be making his first playoff appearance.

    It will be interesting to see which highly paid cornerstone of the franchise will make an impact against each other Friday night in Arlington.

Mark Reynolds (Orioles) vs. Phil Hughes (New York Yankees)

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    If you're a fan of boom-or-bust players, look no further than Adam Dunn "light" over in Baltimore.

    Mark Reynolds has never been afraid of striking out, but that's because he swings as hard as he can every time he steps to the plate in an effort to create a new planet between Mars and the asteroid belt. With 23 home runs and a .221 average, he can become the hero of October or the goat.

    It's the same way for Phil Hughes, who has had a decent season for the New York Yankees. While he's won 16 games with the high-powered Yankee offense at his back, he's also registered a 4.23 ERA while allowing 35 bombs (the second most in the major leagues behind Ervin Santana).

    With an Orioles win in the Wild Card game Friday, they'll face their division rival in what could be an awesome series, and this matchup could produce a memorable moment one way or the other.

Nelson Cruz (Rangers) vs. C.C. Sabathia (Yankees)

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    Nobody was more locked-in than Nelson Cruz was last October. In the Rangers' run to the 2011 World Series, Cruz's total statline wasn't that impressive (.226, 8 HR, 16 RBI). However it was what he did in the American League Championship Series that stands out as we head into this October.

    Cruz was on fire in the ALCS against Detroit as he hit .364 with six home runs and 13 runs batted in to earn the ALCS MVP honors. While Cruz isn't consistent, the man can get on a hot streak in October.

    Though CC Sabathia hasn't been able to show it yet (7-4, 4.81 ERA career in October), he does have the ability to carry a team into the postseason.

    Prior to his stop in New York, Sabathia was the hired gun for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2008 stretch run and helped them get to their first playoff appearance since 1982.

    Pitching on three days rest continuously wore down Sabathia at the end, but he was able to go 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA down the stretch for Milwaukee, and that's the potential that the Yankees will be looking for this October.

    If these two lightning rods can catch fire at some point during the postseason, it could set up an interesting matchup in the ALDS.

Joe Nathan (Rangers) vs. Alex Rodriguez (Yankees)

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    The picture to the left of this was taken during the 2009 ALDS in which the Minnesota Twins got swept by the New York Yankees.

    Actually, getting swept by the Yankees had become sort of a tradition for the Twins in the 2000s and many of those series-changing losses came with Joe Nathan on the mound and Alex Rodriguez at the plate.

    The most glaring of these gaffes came in Game 2 of that series when Nathan had a chance to steal a game from the Yankees and head back to the Metrodome with a 1-1 series split. Normally a shutdown closer, Nathan started to sweat and flap his lips more than Seabiscuit trying to calm himself down.

    That led to a leadoff single by Mark Teixeria and a two-run, game-tying bomb by Alex Rodriguez to let the Yankees escape with a 4-3 victory and a 2-0 lead in the series.

    Will revenge be in the back of Nathan's mind if they meet? Probably. However with Rodriguez losing a step in 2012, it might be Nathan's turn to get the upper hand.

Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds) vs. Matt Cain (San Francisco Giants)

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    Sometimes what fans want to see is a matchup of the best vs. the best. Matt Cain vs. Joey Votto would give the fans exactly that.

    Before getting injured in August, Joey Votto was putting together a season that could have won him the National League Most Valuable Player award. Despite the injury, Votto has put together an impressive season, hitting .337 with 14 home runs and 56 runs batted in over 111 games.

    Matt Cain has his own case for postseason hardware, as he's compiled a 16-5 record with a 2.79 ERA. Cain also added a perfect game to his resume on June 13 when he dominated the Astros with 14 strikeouts.

    Cain's emergence has also softened the blow of Tim Lincecum's struggles in 2012. Cain has been vital to the Giants' success.

    It's always a work of art to see an ace against a slugger, and Cain vs. Votto should be worth watching.

Buster Posey (Giants) vs. Johnny Cueto (Reds)

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    Leading the National League in batting average is no small feat, but Buster Posey was able to accomplish that with a .336 average and a strong case for the National League Most Valuable Player award.

    Posey has been the catalyst for the Giants offense in the wake of the Melky Cabrera suspension. Cabrera, who was leading the league in batting average at .346 before getting leveled with a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, was a major loss for the Giants and somebody needed to step up.

    Posey has done that and then some, and like the previous slide, he'll have to prove it against the Reds ace, Johnny Cueto.

    Cueto has been solid for the Reds this season with a record of 19-9 and a 2.78 ERA. In fact, Cueto seems to be one of the challengers (along with the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw) for the NL Cy Young.

    Although voting has already been conducted for the postseason award, Cueto has a chance to stand out if he can shut down the hottest hitter in the National League.

Allen Craig (St. Louis Cardinals) vs. Kris Medlen (Atlanta Braves)

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    Kris Medlen made 39 relief appearances for the Atlanta Braves coming off missing a majority of the 2011 season after Tommy John surgery.

    The Braves became desperate for starting pitching during the second half of the season, and they decided to give Medlen (who was a starter prior to the injury) a chance in the rotation.

    To put things mildly, it's worked out well. As a starter, Medlen has gone 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 83.2 innings for the Braves. Compared to the Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg shutdown plan, this one to start Medlen in the bullpen and throw him into the rotation was a rousing success.

    As Medlen will start the National League Wild Card game against the St. Louis Cardinals, he will face a lineup that is capable of scoring runs.

    The leader of that lineup has been Allen Craig, who was sidelined by an injury early in the season but has bounced back as the offensive force that has been able to replace the loss of Albert Pujols.

    With a .316 average, seven home runs and 38 runs batted in for August and September, Craig could be the one guy who could get a big hit off Medlen. If the Cardinals could recapture that magic, they could have another long run in October.

David Ross (Braves) vs. Kyle Lohse (Cardinals)

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    Again, this may be getting caught up in the hype of the NL Wild Card game that will happen today, but the Braves announced on Thursday that they will start David Ross over Brian McCann according to MLB.com.

    Normally, this would be a head scratching move. However, Ross has been having a better offensive season than McCann and manager Fredi Gonzalez is going to go with the hot hand in Friday's Wild Card game.

    The move could either help or hinder the Braves, who will be facing Kyle Lohse, whose career has been rejuvenated since landing in St. Louis several years ago.

    Could the switch for defense haunt the Braves in a winner-take-all game? It could come down to the performance at the plate of David Ross.

Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals) vs. Chipper Jones (Braves)

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    The Chipper Jones Farewell Tour has found its way into the postseason. The question now is how long it can last into October.

    A win against the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card game would have the Braves face off against their division rival Washington Nationals.

    Adding to the drama-filled plot, what if the Braves take the Nationals to five games? We could have something that could be memorable if Jones can get a big hit off the Nationals ace.

    Well, that would be the Nationals' most available ace. The Nationals have decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg after much debate. If they find themselves in a Game Five, Gonzalez is the best bet to get the baseball.

    If Jones gets his way, the farewell tour will last into the NLCS. But if Gonzalez gets his, he'll avoid the meltdown that is sure to come if the Nationals don't win the World Series.