When the San Francisco Giants recalled Joaquin Arias from Triple A Fresno earlier this season, I had very little idea as to who in the world he was. Thus, I did what I always do when I'm unfamiliar with a new player: I looked him up in Baseball Prospectus 2012.
Unfortunately, the good folks at Baseball Prospects decided that Arias was so nondescript that he didn't warrant a mention in their annual baseball encyclopedia.
Arias has gone from nondescript journeyman to the key player in possibly getting the Giants to the National League Championship Series.
Arias, who the Texas Rangers chose to acquire instead of Robinson Cano from the Yankees in the famous Alex Rodriguez for Alfonso Soriano swap, has been a revelation for the Giants this season. He isn't a great defensive shortstop, but he can handle that position adequately as well as third and second.
He hit .270/.304/.389 in 344 plate appearances for the Giants this season while platooning with Brandon Crawford at short and filling in for the injured Pablo Sandoval at third. That batting line might not look great standing alone, but when you consider that the average shortstop hit .256/.309/.376 this season, Arias suddenly stands out.
Arias did his best work against lefties, hitting .303/.333/.434 against southpaws compared to .240/.278/.347 versus righties.
Hulking righty Mat Latos will get the ball in Game 5 Thursday for the Reds. Statistically, Crawford appears to be the right choice to start because he's the better defender and he's had slightly more success against right-handed pitching this season.
However, Giants manager Bruce Bochy should play the hot hand and start Arias in Game 5. Arias is 3-for-6 with two doubles in this series while Crawford is 0-for-7 with three walks.
With the season on the line and the Giants leading by a razor thin margin of 3-2 in Game 4, Bochy double-switched Arias and Tim Lincecum into the game in the bottom of the fourth inning. Arias led off the top of the fifth with a double to start a two-run rally. Then, he doubled leading off the seventh inning to start another rally which put the game out of reach.
Without Arias, the Giants might not have gotten either decisive rally going in Game 4. Both of those key hits were off of right-handed batters, so Bochy should have no problem trusting Arias against Latos in Game 5, particularly given how much Crawford has struggled.
Defense is vital in the playoffs, which is why the Giants need to play for an early lead in Game 5, and then bring in Crawford later in the game for his defense.
Even if Bochy doesn't start Arias in Game 5, he could still play a pivotal role off the bench, just as he did in Games 1, 3 and 4.
The Reds bullpen has two very good lefties in Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall, so Arias could be a key pinch-hitter in the late innings. In Game 1, he singled off of Chapman to start a ninth inning rally. In Game 4, he reached on an error by Scott Rolen which scored the winning run and saved the season.
However Bochy decides to use him, you can count on Arias to keep his cool. According to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, when Arias was asked if he was nervous during the crucial at-bat in Game 4, he responded, "Why? That's baseball."
Baseball is also about finding unlikely postseason stars from out of nowhere.
Joaquin Arias has been a huge key in keeping the Giants season alive. Some way or another, he'll be the x-factor in Game 5.