MLB Playoffs 2012: 10 Pitchers Who Must Dominate on the Big Stage

Kevin Coughlin@@KevCough63Correspondent IOctober 5, 2012

MLB Playoffs 2012: 10 Pitchers Who Must Dominate on the Big Stage

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    Baseball fans cannot help being thrilled about the 2012 playoffs—given the number of storylines that have already developed. 

    With the Oakland Athletics unexpectedly winning the AL West on the last day of the season, the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals making long-awaited returns to the postseason and the Atlanta Braves making a push in Chipper Jones’ final season before retirement, this year has something of an old-school feel. 

    The phrase “Fall Classic” definitely rings true, but nothing is more “classic” than pitching. 

    Here is a list of 10 pitchers who must have dominant appearances if they hope to end October with a championship ring.

Kris Medlen

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    In the first season of Major League Baseball’s single-game wild-card round, no pitchers are going to have more pressure on them than those starting on Friday night.  Perhaps the most likely pitcher to be successful in this role is the Braves' surprisingly young ace, Kris Medlen

    Medlen is 9-0 as a starter this season, posting just a 1.57 ERA. 

    Even on a staff that includes Tim Hudson and Mike Minor, no other pitcher comes even close to approaching those numbers. 

    In this way, the stars aligned for the Braves, who only clinched a playoff berth this past week, yet they have one of the best starting options for a one-game playoff this season.

Kyle Lohse

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    In the dugout opposite Medlen and the Braves will be St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse

    Only one pitcher will be able to continue to have an impact after tonight, if it is Lohse’s Cardinals, he will need to continue the career year he has been having. 

    Lohse’s 2.86 ERA this year pales in comparison to his 4.45 career total.  At 16-3 this season, this has been the most productive season of Lohse’s 11-year tenure in MLB

    Although he came close to 16 wins last season, three losses is definitely a career low for him.

    He will have to keep that loss total under four Friday night if he hopes to help his team advance.

A.J. Griffin

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    Since his debut in June, A.J. Griffin has been an upstart rookie acting like a veteran ace with a record of 7-1. 

    With the division—and a first-round bye—on the line Wednesday afternoon, Griffin took the mound in Oakland, only to vacate it three innings later. 

    It was not the strongest appearance by Griffin this season, but it did give him experience pitching with playoff-caliber pressure on his shoulders. 

    Along with Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, who both own 13-win seasons, Griffin could likely be the man to round out the rotation for the A’s in the ALDS.  The rookie will have to step up against Detroit, the only team he has lost to this season.

Ryan Dempster

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    The big name on the trading block at the July 31 deadline, Ryan Dempster, was brought to Texas to help round out a Rangers rotation that was—and remains—without Colby Lewis going into a playoff stretch. 

    Despite having a dominant 2.25 ERA in the National League with the Chicago Cubs, Dempster’s ERA in the American League was a drastically higher 5.09. 

    Regardless, Dempster still managed two more wins and two fewer losses than he had earned with the Cubs. 

    The Rangers, under Cy Young owner Nolan Ryan, have won AL pennants with timely pitching the past two seasons.  Dempster will have to join that tradition if he hopes to be the successful pitcher that Texas expected when trading for him in July.

Johnny Cueto

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    Leading the Cincinnati Reds' pitching staff with 19 wins and 217 innings pitched, Johnny Cueto has to be dominant in a series that is likely to go at least four games against the San Francisco Giants

    Cueto’s 2.78 ERA is going to be an invaluable asset for the Reds, who have scored fewer runs this season than any of the remaining four National League playoff teams. 

    Despite decent production out of Matt Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey, none of these pitchers have been able to prevent runs the way Cueto has.  This will prove vital over the next month.

Justin Verlander

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    It goes without saying that Justin Verlander is one of the most dominant and consistent pitchers in MLB, but with the Detroit Tigers poised to avenge their 2011 ALCS loss, you can imagine Verlander’s production will be pivotal. 

    Detroit was the easy preseason favorite after the offseason acquisition of All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder, but now they have the league’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, Miguel Cabrera, anchoring third base. 

    With such offensive prowess, the complement of Verlander's 2.64 ERA and a league-leading 239 strikeouts is one that can absolutely propel Detroit to a World Series.

Matt Cain

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    In a year where Tim Lincecum posted career highs in losses and ERA, Matt Cain has stepped in as the ace in San Francisco

    Already with a no-hitter under his belt this season, Cain has set the tone for a pitching staff of Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito.  

    Where these pitchers have all suffered their struggles on the mound at one point or another this season, Cain has been an anchor who helped the Giants pull away from the rival Dodgers in the last month of the season to earn the division title. 

    He will have to do the same if the Giants intend to win their second pennant in three years.

Gio Gonzalez

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    If I’m Gio Gonzalez, I have a massive chip on my shoulder going into these playoffs.

    With all the talk of shutting down Stephen Strasburg and what that means for the Nationals’ World Series chances, Gio Gonzalez was incredibly overlooked. 

    Commanding the National League with a 21-6 record and a 2.89 ERA—not to mention the Nationals’ first division title since moving from Montreal—Gonzalez is easily my choice for the NL Cy Young.

    He has now become the de facto ace of this staff in Strasburg’s absence.  While Nationals fans would like to see both Strasburg and Gonzalez on this roster, the Nationals still have a great opportunity to move through these playoffs behind Gonzalez if he keeps going the way he has this season.

Joe Nathan

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    You don’t have to remind Texas fans that the Rangers were—twice—a single strike away from winning their first World Series last year before losing Game 6 and eventually the series to St. Louis. 

    In the offseason, the Rangers bolstered their bullpen by going out and getting veteran closer Joe Nathan in free agency.  Nathan’s 37 saves this season bring his career total to 298, which is 24th all time and forth among active pitchers. 

    Certainly one would hope that if the Rangers find themselves in a similar situation this year, the result may finally go in Texas’ favor.

Rafael Soriano

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    The magic number in New York has to be 42. 

    Forty-two is the number of saves Rafael Soriano has for the Yankees this season.  It is also the number of saves Mariano Rivera—the lone player still wearing No. 42—has in the postseason since 1995. 

    Yankee fans have enjoyed watching Rivera close out five world championships, so it promises to be an unfamiliar sight when Soriano likely takes the mound in the ninth at some point over the next week. 

    No question he has been a worthy replacement in Rivera’s absence this year, but he is not “Mo.”  There has to be an added pressure when succeeding the greatest of all time.