The American League Division Series between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees has been a seesaw battle full of excitement for fans, but both teams have had their chances and come up short. They need players to step up and shine in the face of elimination tonight.
Going into Game 5, both teams will send out their best arms. Jason Hammel goes to the hill for the Orioles, and ace C.C. Sabathia gets the ball for the Yankees. But there are other players on each team that are ready to step up and carry their team into the next round.
There are two enigmatic players for the Orioles who stand out to me.
Jim Johnson will finally put together two solid outings in a row. It has been a tale of two Jim's for the Orioles closer so far in this series.
Johnson went out in Game 1 and gave up five runs in the ninth-inning and Baltimore lost. In Game 2, he came back and downed three straight Yankees to seal a win.
In Game 3 he gave up a pinch-hit, game tying homer to Raul Ibanez and the Orioles lost again. Then Thursday night, Johnson came back and slammed the door in the 13th for his second save of the series.
Johnson led the AL in saves this season with 51. He knows how to seal a game as well as anyone in the league. If he gets the chance to win this series for the Orioles, he's going to seize the opportunity and make it count.
On the offensive side of things, Chris Davis is ready to step up and make C.C. Sabathia earn every pitch. Davis is a bit of an unknown to many baseball fans outside of Baltimore. After never really catching on with the Texas Rangers, who drafted Davis in the fifth round in 2006, he was traded to the Orioles last summer.
This season, the DH led the team in home runs and RBIs, but has been relatively quiet in the ALDS. He has just five singles in 20 at-bats, with two RBIs and eight strikeouts.
In Game 5, Davis could literally swing things in Baltimore's favor if he doesn't strike out and drives in a ball or two. The Orioles need him to come up big.
For the Yankees, two position players have the chance to elevate their play and break the game open for New York.
Ichiro Suzuki asked the Seattle Mariners for a trade early in the summer, and was dealt to the Yankees. He had a good few months with New York, but has been only mediocre in the ALDS.
We have come to expect more than a .200 batting average and .200 on-base percentage from Ichiro, and I know he expects more of himself as well.
This is finally his chance to make a real playoff run, and take a shot at the World Series he no doubt was hoping for when he asked to be traded. There's no better time than tonight for him to have a memorable game.
The other Yankees player who is ready to shine has had the most disappointing playoffs of anyone so far. Curtis Granderson has a .063 BA and .118 OBP in 16 at-bats. Over half of his at-bats have resulted in a strikeout.
Granderson had a .319 OBP in the regular season and led the Yankees with 43 HRs. But he has been awful thus far, and needs to figure things out in order to help his team advance.
The Yankees have been a weak 6-for-28 with runners in scoring position, and Granderson has been one of the main culprits for their lack of offense. But he is a competitor with a good head on his shoulders, and will be raring to take his hacks tonight.