12 Disappointing MLB Players Who Can Still Be Pennant Race X-Factors

Ben Stepansky@@benstepanskyCorrespondent IAugust 6, 2013

12 Disappointing MLB Players Who Can Still Be Pennant Race X-Factors

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    As the pennant races heat up and teams begin to fall by the wayside, big-name players will be relied on to step up in pressure situations. When given the opportunity, certain players will have the chance to redeem themselves.

    For an organization to make a run at the World Series, all 40 players on the roster must work as a well-oiled machine. If one part is broken, the whole system can shut down. But, if that part can be fixed, it's full-steam ahead to the pennant.

    These 12 players have hobbled their way through the 2013 season, hampering the potential of their respective teams. Whether via underachievement or injury, these major leaguers with subpar seasons can make a serious difference down the stretch.


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Clay Buchholz, SP, Boston Red Sox

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    Clay Buchholz was anything but disappointing through his first 12 starts of the season, going 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA. Then he landed on the disabled list on June 8 due to tightness in his right arm and neck and has remained there ever since.

    For Red Sox fans, it feels as if Buchholz's return is moving at a snail's pace. After being one of the most dominant pitchers to start the season, his comeback has been highly anticipated but has been hindered by multiple missed target dates in the rehab process.

    The acquisition of Jake Peavy certainly upgrades the pitching staff, but it won't completely fill the hole left by Buchholz. 

    He is scheduled to throw off a mound today, according to Evan Drellich of MassLive.com.

David Price, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Evidently there was something very wrong with David Price when he landed on the disabled list back in mid-May with a left triceps strain and plus-5.00 ERA. Because when he returned, he began pitching with a vengeance, just like the Price of old.

    Since his return at the beginning of July, Price is 5-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 57.1 innings pitched. He has thrown nine innings in four of his last seven starts, three of them complete games, and again resembles the hurler who won the 2012 AL Cy Young Award.

    If the success continues for Price, he will be the difference between the Rays winning the pennant and packing their gear for next season.

Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees

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    If the Yankees wish for a chance even at a wild-card spot, they'll need their aging captain to return promptly.

    Derek Jeter was recently placed on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 1 strain of his right calf, per Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork. It's his third trip there during this nightmare of a season for him, coming just a few days after returning to the lineup from a quad strain. Previously, it was a twice-fractured ankle that kept him out for the first half of 2013.

    It would be amazing if the depleted Yankees can somehow find a way to keep pace in the AL East while their star shortstop heals.

    The Bombers currently stand just five games out of the second wild card spot, so it's not unattainable. Regardless, the injuries and news drama surrounding the team will ultimately sink the ship.

Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    It's difficult to call Justin Verlander's season disappointing when he's won 11 games, but considering what the right-hander is capable of, there is much left to be desired. 

    The Tigers expected more from their ace this season. Finishing as the AL Cy Young runner-up in 2012 and winning the honor in 2011, Verlander's 3.88 ERA and 1.41 WHIP are agonizing numbers for a player of his caliber. He has allowed five earned runs or more in three of his last five starts, losing two games to the dismal Chicago White Sox over that span.

    Simply put, Verlander has been a shadow of himself in 2013. A couple tweaks to his mechanics or a dose of confidence may be all he needs to be his shutdown self down the stretch.

Nick Swisher, 1B, Cleveland Indians

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    The Cleveland Indians have won 10 of their last 12 games and suddenly stand just five games behind the division-leading Tigers in the AL Central.

    However, when the Indians signed Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million contract with a $14 million option for a fifth season, they were likely expecting more out of the eccentric hitter.

    =Swisher features a slash line of .244/.344/.394 with reduced power numbers—not exactly how one would want his highest-paid season to date to unfold.

    If Swisher can find another gear and lead his Indians to the playoffs, and potentially a pennant, he will have redeemed himself.

Josh Reddick, RF, Oakland Athletics

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    Josh Reddick impressed the baseball world with his numbers last year: .242/.305/.463, 32 home runs, 85 RBI. This season, well, it's a different story.

    Reddick's stat line in 2013 is agonizing: .208/.293/.335, five home runs, 37 RBI. His .628 OPS is among the worst in the majors and his lack of power matched with a low average has made him a liability at the plate.

    However, the A's have seen what Reddick is can do with the lumber and have stuck with him all season. He's a solid defensive player, which offsets his inability at the plate. If Reddick can keep his emotions in check and rediscover his swing, he could be a valuable player in a key playoff series.

David Murphy, LF, Texas Rangers

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    David Murphy is hitting well below his career average of .277 and has struggled at the plate all season. 

    His .225/.281/.383 slash line is painful to look at, but as Murphy told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News just before the All-Star break, "It hasn’t been what I planned on, but what’s done is done. Getting away for a few days is always a good thing."

    So far, so good for Murphy, who has come out of the All-Star break batting .273, 54 points higher than his .219 average before the break.

    However, he is batting just .163 with runners in scoring position this season, which will be a crucial statistic for the Texas Rangers now that slugger Nelson Cruz is done for the season.

B.J. Upton, CF, Atlanta Braves

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    After signing one of the most lucrative contracts of the past winter (five years, $72.25 million), B.J. Upton has been an extreme disappointment in Atlanta. Overshadowed by his brother, Justin, to start the season, B.J. never found his stride and currently owns a .182/.270/.304 slash line with just eight home runs, 20 RBI and eight stolen bases.

    Upton has never been one to hit for a high average, but he does have the potential to be a 30-30 candidate each season. A slow start and a trip to the disabled list has prevented that milestone from becoming a reality for Upton.

    In two games since returning from the disabled list, Upton is 3-for-9 with a double. He should be an essential piece at the top of the Braves' order as the team vies for its first World Series appearance since 1999.

David Freese, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals

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    David Freese burst onto the baseball map in 2011 when he led the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title. He was also just the sixth player ever to be named the most valuable player of the League Championship Series and the World Series.

    The next season in 2012, he was named to his first All-Star game.

    Compared to the previous two years, 2013 has been quite mundane for Freese. He's hitting .273, which is 18 points below his career average, and his power numbers have weakened compared to the 20 home runs he hit last season (he has six this year).

    Freese may have realized the pressure is on in the NL Central, because he's hitting .471 (8-for-17) with seven RBI in just five games in August.

    If there's one thing Freese is known for, it's a magic bat in big situations. That will be valuable during the pennant race.

Jonathan Broxton, RP, Cincinnati Reds

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    When Jonathan Broxton returns from the disabled list later this week, the Cincinnati Reds will have one of the better back of the bullpens in the league. That is, if Broxton can return to form. 

    The right-handed reliever has been on the disabled list since mid-June with a flexor mass strain in his right elbow.

    His 4.33 season ERA is nothing to write home about, but the striking difference between his home and away numbers is. In 12 away games, Broxton has a 10.13 ERA in 10.2 innings pitched with six walks and five strikeouts. in 17 home games, he has a 0.55 ERA in 16.1 innings pitched with five walks and 15 strikeouts.

    If Broxton can harness whatever mindset he's using while pitching at Great American Ball Park and use it all the time, he could be as dominant as he was for the Dodgers in 2009.

Matt Kemp, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Matt Kemp's season has been a struggle in every of the word: three trips to the disabled list, missed timetables and his worst three-slash line since 2010 (.263/.319/.382). 

    On the disabled list since July 22 with a left ankle sprain, Kemp won't be ready to return on Tuesday when his 15-day stint is finished. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti doesn't think Kemp will be able to play again until the last few weeks of the season.

    The Dodgers have been one of the hottest teams in baseball over the past month and players have stepped up to fill the void left by Kemp. But the 28-year-old center fielder is a two-time All-Star and an NL MVP runner-up who could cement the middle of the Dodgers lineup, terrifying pitchers in a playoff series.

    He'll be back and will be prepared.


Jason Kubel, LF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    There were high expectations for Jason Kubel in the heart of the Diamondbacks lineup in 2013. He was coming off a 2012 campaign in which he hit 30 home runs, smacked 30 doubles and drove in 90 runs.

    Unfortunately, stories don't always unfold the way they're supposed to, and Jason Kubel has learned that over a rough 2013 season in which he is hitting just .226 with five home runs and 28 RBI.

    A power bat to protect Paul Goldschmidt in the Arizona lineup would be an immensely beneficial addition down the stretch. If Kubel can somehow find his power stroke during the next month, it would make the NL West race against the Dodgers a lot more interesting.