Lesser-Known Players Who Will Become Household Names in the MLB Playoffs
Last season, it was the Cardinals’ David Freese who came out of the woodwork and emerged as a postseason star, but who will break out this year isn’t as clear just yet.
In 2011, Freese hit a whopping .397 in 18 playoff games with five home runs, 21 RBI and 12 runs scored. Oh, and he was also a major piece in the St. Louis Cardinals’ run towards a World Series title, winning the NLCS and World Series MVPs.
This year, Freese has become a household name and is back in the postseason looking to replicate his October success.
But who, like Freese did, will come up big in key situations as the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland A’s, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals and the aforementioned Cardinals attempt to bring home the most prized possession in baseball?
Here’s a look at a lesser-known player from each playoff team who could be a hero in 2012.
Baltimore Orioles: Ryan Flaherty, Second Baseman
2012 Statistics: .216/.258/.359, 6 HR, 19 RBI
Ryan Flaherty is a utility man for the surging Orioles who are looking to knock off the top-seeded Bronx Bombers. He put together a fair season, primarily playing second base and the outfield for Baltimore.
During the postseason, Flaherty will likely split time with Robert Andino at second base, and pinch hit or run should he not get the nod.
Although Flaherty’s batting average isn’t that high, he only got just over 150 at-bats in his first year in the big leagues and has the potential to do be things as a left-handed hitter at Camden Yards.
Flaherty might not see a ton of time in the ALDS since the Yankees will throw C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte in majority of the games, but look for him to shine in a spot where the Orioles need a run late in the game.
New York Yankees: Clay Rapada, Relief Pitcher
2012 Statistics: 3-0, 2.82 ERA, 38.1 IP, 38 K
It’s tough to find a player on the Yankees’ 25-man postseason roster that isn’t well known, which is why I’m going with Clay Rapada, whether it’s a stretch or not.
Rapada is a situational left-handed reliever coming out of Joe Girardi’s bullpen, usually in the eighth inning. He’s not a closer or even a setup guy, but instead will likely face one lefty batter and then exit for someone else.
Don’t take that the wrong way though, because Rapada is one of the best at what he does. He rarely walks guys and is highly reliable.
When the Yankees are in a close game or it’s late—deemed to be in the seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one or the tying run on deck by Baseball Reference—Rapada has only allowed three hits in 26 at-bats (.115).
Detroit Tigers: Quintin Berry, Outfielder
2012 Statistics: .258/.330/.354, 2 HR, 29 RBI
Quintin Berry has been serving as one of the Detroit Tigers’ starting outfielders for a majority of the season and needs to have a big postseason.
Berry hit relatively well for Detroit in the regular season, but the postseason will be a true test to see if he can handle the pressure. The pressure clearly didn’t faze him in Game 1 of the ALDS as he went 2-for-3 with a steal.
Berry needs to be able to get on base often—as he usually hits second in the Tigers’ lineup—so that the power bats hitting behind him, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, can bring him home. He scored 44 times in less than 100 games during the year, and obviously would like to score as much as possible.
If Berry can get a couple of his in the next few games, his confidence should raise significantly. Once that happens, we could be calling him Quintin “Freese” Berry by the time the World Series concludes.
Oakland A's: Derek Norris, Catcher
2012 Statistics: .201/.276/.349, 7 HR, 34 RBI
When the Oakland A’s acquired Derek Norris from the Washington Nationals in the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nats, I bet he didn’t think he’d be in the postseason.
Well, Norris is and he’s ready to make an impact with the red-hot Oakland A’s. He didn’t hit so well during the regular season, usually splitting time with George Kottaras behind the plate—which will continue throughout the playoffs—but he does hold some value.
Norris is a pretty good defensive catcher that gels perfectly with the young A’s pitchers. He also provides some power to the Oakland lineup, even though you may not expect it. Norris is a bulky guy that can drive the ball when given a good pitch to hit.
The only issue for Norris, though, is hitting that pitch, which is reflected in his batting average. During the playoffs, however, look for him to see it and crush it.
St. Louis Cardinals: Pete Kozma, Shortstop
2012 Statistics: .333/.383/.569, 2 HR, 14 RBI
With Rafael Furcal injured, the St. Louis Cardinals have turned to rookie shortstop Pete Kozma, who many may have heard of already this postseason.
Kozma was one of the main parties in the infield fly rule debacle that eventually led to a win for the Cardinals and a berth into the NLDS against the Nationals. That play, however, shouldn’t characterize Kozma’s ability to field a fly ball, though, as he’s usually rather good defensively.
The sample size on Kozma is small, appearing in just 26 games over the course of the year, but he did hit much better this year than he did in 16 games last season. He’s not going to come up and hit a walk-off home run, most likely, but he could come up with a big RBI single or double.
Kozma will get plenty of playing time as the Cardinals try to knock off the top-seeded Nationals, and he has to make the most of it, hitting at the bottom of the St. Louis lineup.
Washington Nationals: Ryan Mattheus, Relief Pitcher
2012 Statistics: 5-3, 2.85 ERA, 66.1 IP, 41 K
Ryan Mattheus is a regular out of the Washington bullpen, and Davey Johnson is not afraid to use him in key, high pressure situations that could determine the end result of a game.
In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cardinals, we saw Mattheus come in and stand a couple of runners with the game on the line. He made it look easy and helped the Nationals take a one-game lead in the series.
Mattheus isn’t a big strikeout guy, but he does have good command, which has led to few walks during the year. He does have the tendency to give up the long ball, though, as he allowed eight home runs in 66 appearances in the regular season.
As the postseason continues, Mattheus can really make a name for himself. He’s just your everyday reliever, not a closer or setup guy, but he could eventually become one of those positions going forward—just maybe not with Washington.
San Francisco Giants: Gregor Blanco, Outfielder
2012 Statistics: .244/.333/.676, 5 HR, 34 RBI
The San Francisco Giants need solid production from every player in their lineup, most especially Gregor Blanco.
Blanco has played sporadically over the last four years in the big leagues, but really got his shot to shine this year in San Francisco, playing in 141 games. He’s not a bad hitter, and could raise his batting average significantly next season as he’ll get more at-bats.
Blanco is a regular at the bottom half of the Giants’ lineup, where it’s vital he gets on base so that the pitcher’s spot in the order can bunt him into scoring position.
If all goes according to Bruce Bochy’s plan, Blanco gets on base and eventually scores a game-winning run over the course of the playoffs.
Cincinnati Reds: Sam LeCure, Relief Pitcher
2012 Statistics: 3-3, 3.14 ERA, 57.1 IP, 61 K
If you’re wondering who Dusty Baker turned to when Johnny Cueto had back issues during the first inning of Game 1 against the Giants, it was Sam LeCure.
LeCure came into the game, tossed 1.2 scoreless innings and picked up a big first game of the series for the Reds. But that’s just what he’s done all season long.
LeCure is your average right-handed reliever who will usually pick up a strikeout or two every time he comes in to pitch. He’s a reliable arm out of the bullpen and can handle throwing multiple innings if need be.
If there’s one Cincinnati Red whose name could be heard for years to come after these playoffs end, it could be LeCure’s. He just looks like that relief pitch that puts the Reds over the top and could help them win a World Series.