Carlos Beltran and the Most Clutch Players Left in the MLB Postseason

Brandon BurnettContributor IIIOctober 16, 2012

Carlos Beltran and the Most Clutch Players Left in the MLB Postseason

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    If you've been keeping a close eye on this year's MLB postseason action, chances are you were able to witness at least one of the many memorable performances that have already taken place.

    Be it Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia, in do-or-die fashion, hurling complete-game gems to send their respective teams to the ALCS or Carlos Beltran continuing to swing his way into MLB postseason lore, the stars have been shining brightly on baseball's biggest stage.

    Due to unfortunate injuries, historically clutch performers such as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter (broken ankle in ALCS Game 1) aren't able to beef up their already amazing postseason resumes, but many more of their kind remain in the thick of the race.

    Let's look at the 10 most clutch players remaining in 2012 MLB postseason action.

10. Buster Posey, C/1B, San Francisco Giants

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    Buster Posey capped off a remarkable rookie season in 2010 by becoming a key contributor in helping the Giants become World Series champions. His 4-for-5 performance in Game 4 of that year's NLCS propelled the Bay Bombers to a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Phillies.

    Against the Rangers in the World Series, Posey worked magic behind the plate, helping the Giants pitching staff to two shutouts and a one-run-allowed performance that clinched the title. He remained a consistent contributor on offense as well with at least one hit in each game.

    This year, the NL MVP candidate hasn't been so consistent at the plate thus far in the postseason, but there's a good chance San Francisco wouldn't be in the NLCS if it wasn't for Posey's grand slam in the Giants' 6-4 win over the Reds in Game 5 of the NLDS.

    Sometimes one swing of the bat is all you need.

9. CC Sabathia, SP, New York Yankees

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    CC Sabathia has been given plenty of opportunities to shine in the playoffs with 17 postseason starts to his name.

    His performances haven't always been of the memorable variety (9-4 record with an ERA of 4.25 and WHIP of 1.49 in his postseason career), but he was one of the main reasons the Yankees won the World Series in 2009 (ALCS MVP) and arguably the reason the Bronx Bombers are still playing October baseball in 2012.

    CC nearly went the distance (8.2 innings pitched) in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Orioles, holding Baltimore to two runs in the 7-2 win.

    When skipper Joe Girardi called his name in the decisive Game 5, Sabathia made sure to finish what he started. Nine innings and nine strikeouts later, the Yankees had ridden their ace to a 3-1 win and the right to battle the Detroit Tigers for the AL pennant.

    Sabathia will toe the slab in Game 4 of the ALCS and again in Game 7—if necessary.

8. Tim Lincecum, SP/RP, San Francisco Giants

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    Don't let the two-time NL Cy Young winner's uncharacteristically poor regular season fool you. Tim Lincecum is still a postseason hero—even if it is in a different role.

    We discussed what teammate Buster Posey's clutch playoff performance meant to the Giants' World Series title in 2010, but "Big Time Timmy Jim" was a master of the mound from start to finish.

    He kicked off the postseason that year striking out 14 in a complete-game shutout of the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS. Later that same postseason, he finished off the Texas Rangers in the World Series with eight innings of three-hit baseball.

    This year, Lincecum is inflicting damage on opponents from the bullpen.

    When veteran starting pitcher Barry Zito was chased in the third inning of Game 4 of the NLDS, it was Lincecum stepping up with 4.1 innings and six punchouts to preserve the lead and extend the series to five games. Altogether, he's pitched 8.1 innings, struck out nine and allowed just a single run in the 2012 playoffs.

    If the Giants take home their second World Series championship in three years, don't forget to hand Lincecum a big chunk of the credit. When you hand him the ball in October, you can rest assured that he's going to come through with a clutch performance.

7. Doug Fister, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    Doug Fister's postseason debut was an outing to forget, but he's been lights out in his four starts since that Game 1 loss to the Yankees in the 2011 ALDS.

    In fact, Jim Leyland called his name in that series' decisive Game 5, and Fister made sure it was Detroit moving on to the next round by tossing five innings and allowing just one run.

    The 28-year-old California native went seven innings and struck out eight in Game 2 of this year's ALDS and completely shut down the Yankees lineup over 6.1 innings in Game 1 of the ALCS.

    Fister is 2-1 for his postseason career with 26 strikeouts over 30.1 innings pitched. He has recorded an ERA of 3.26 with a WHIP of 1.35 during that span.

    The Tigers have a commanding 2-0 lead in the ALCS, with the next three scheduled at Comerica Park. Fister is slated to start Game 5 (if necessary), and another clutch performance could very well be what sends Detroit to its first World Series appearance since 2006.

6. Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    I wouldn't bet against Justin Verlander making his case to top this list by the time the Tigers' 2012 postseason run comes to a close. 

    JV's playoff history has been spotty before this year, but keep in mind his first three starts in the postseason came as a rookie back in 2006. Even so, Detroit was able to win two of them.

    Last postseason, Verlander wasn't quite the same pitcher who won the AL MVP and Cy Young in the regular season, though he did pick up two wins and struck out 25 batters in 20 innings of work. 

    It was his complete-game shutout over the A's this year, though, that will go down as one of the best starts of Verlander's spectacular career. The ace strengthened his case as the best pitcher in baseball by going the distance on the road, facing just four batters over the minimum in the process. 

    Verlander registered 22 strikeouts in 16 innings, with a harmless solo HR standing as the only blemish on a remarkably clutch two-start stretch to sink the red-hot A's in the ALDS. 

    JV takes the mound at 8 p.m. EST on Tuesday night in Game 3 of the ALCS, looking to get the Tigers within a single win of the Fall Classic. 

5. David Freese, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals

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    The 2011 World Series MVP is at it again. 

    David Freese took the baseball world by storm in the Cardinals' World Series run from a season ago. The 29-year-old third baseman smashed his way to a .397 batting average and knocked in a franchise postseason record 21 runs in 18 playoff games. 

    He saved his best for last, with a HR, five RBI and three walks in the Cardinals' final two wins to clinch the title. 

    We've yet to see what type of finale Freese has in store this year, but he's already off to another fine start, batting .310 with one blast and four RBI through eight games. 

    As long as the Cardinals keep punching their ticket to the postseason, Freese is going to keep on hitting. 

4. Matt Cain, SP, San Francisco Giants

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    Matt Cain hurled a whole postseason's worth of gems in 2010, allowing zero earned runs over 21.1 innings in three playoff starts. 

    His most recent performance—5.2 innings and three earned runs in 2012 NLDS Game 5—wasn't spotless, but the Giants ace gutted it out and enabled the G-Men to ride Posey's grand slam into the NLCS. 

    Cain is slated to start Game 3 in St. Louis on Wednesday, against a Cardinals lineup that knocked him around for eight hits in each of their two starts against him this year. 

    But this is postseason baseball, and we've all seen what Cain is capable of on this stage. 

    On second thought, the Giants lineup was able to knock one of the all-time best postseason pitchers off his game (see next slide) on Monday night, so we can't rule anything out. 

3. Chris Carpenter, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Chris Carpenter's remarkable postseason resume took a slight hit on Monday night, but the 37-year-old remains very much worthy of the No. 3 spot. 

    Not just because of his arm, either. 

    Carpenter was pulled after four uncharacteristic innings in the Cardinals' 7-1 Game 2 loss (via SFGate.com), but only two of the five runs he allowed were earned, and the grizzly vet did some damage at the plate before he left. A second-inning double knotted the game at 1-1, and he notched two hits back in Game 3 of the NLDS to go with 5.2 shutout innings pitched. 

    The longtime ace followed up an NL Cy Young-winning season in 2005 with a marvelous postseason stretch in 2006, highlighted by eight shutout innings in Game 3 of the World Series on three days rest.

    Last year, Carpenter was 4-0 in six playoff starts and, as expected, he was the man on the mound in the improbable Word Series-clinching Game 7 win over the Rangers. 

    With a 10-3 record and an ERA of 2.94 in 17 career postseason starts, Carpenter ranks seventh all time in wins in MLB playoff history. 

    If you could choose one ace to take to the mound in a Game 7 of a World Series, Carpenter's history of pitching in October would make it rather difficult for you not to hand him the ball.

2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

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    Your 2012 Triple Crown winner and AL MVP candidate isn't just about piling up regular-season awards. 

    Miguel Cabrera is pretty special in the postseason, too. 

    As a 20-year-old rookie in 2003, Miggy's Marlins shocked baseball by slaying the Yankees in the World Series. But they wouldn't have had the opportunity to do so if not for Cabrera. 

    In Game 4 of the NLDS, it was Cabrera's four-hit, three-RBI evening that earned the Marlins a 7-6 victory and a trip to the NLCS. In the NLCS, Florida found itself in a must-win Game 7 against the Cubs. Miggy unleashed a three-run bomb in the first inning and tied the game back up in the fifth with another RBI. 

    In 2011, Cabrera hit .314 with four HR and 10 RBI in 11 playoff games, including three homers, five walks and seven RBI in the final four ALCS games against the Rangers. 

    He hasn't gone yard in this postseason, but the Tigers haven't needed him to just yet. Even if he isn't sending shots over the fence, though, Cabrera is still a special hitter to watch. He can manipulate shifts in the defense with ease and is as much of a lock to manufacture a run with a runner on third and less than one out as anybody. 

1. Carlos Beltran, RF, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Say hello to Major League Baseball's all-time leader in OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) during postseason play. 

    It's unfortunate, really, that 2012 is Carlos Beltran's 15th MLB season, yet just his third year participating in postseason festivities. 

    In 2004—Beltran's first taste of October baseball—he single-handedly carried the Houston Astros to an NLDS victory over the Atlanta Braves, going 10-for-22 with four HR, nine RBI and nine runs scored. 

    In the NLCS that followed, "the real Mr. October" blasted a homer in each of the Series' first four games. Despite his historic numbers, the Astros fell shy of reaching the World Series when they dropped Game 7 against his current team—the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2006, this time with the Mets, it was again those pesky Cardinals who ended his World Series hopes prematurely. 

    Fast-forward to present time, and Beltran is at it again. This time, though, he's with the Redbirds. 

    Through eight games of the 2012 postseason, Beltran is batting .414 with three HR, six RBI and an OPS of 1.397 that comes remarkably close to the ridiculous OPS he put up in 2004 (1.557). 

    Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports recently put together a piece highlighting Beltran's postseason success, and the numbers stack up pretty well against some legendary names. 

    After a six-year absence, it's a refreshing sight to see one of MLB's postseason heroes playing October baseball once again. St. Louis has to be ecstatic that he's pounding the opponent's pitching rather than its own.