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MLB Playoff Race: Players Getting Hot at the Right Time

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MLB Playoff Race: Players Getting Hot at the Right Time
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There are just six days left in the 2013 regular season, and while four teams have clinched their divisions, there is still a lot left to be decided in the season's final weekend.

As October approaches, a few teams in the playoff hunt are vying for better playoff position: Three teams in the National League Central − Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati − are separated by just two games, while one game separates three teams for two American League wild-card berths.

It's no secret getting hot late is a good thing. And luckily for these few teams, each has a player getting hot at the right time.

Let's take a look.

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Aroldis Chapman, closer: The St. Louis Cardinals have won two championships recently despite losing their season-opening closer both times. And the importance of having a proven closer has certainly taken a hit in the last few seasons.

But for the Cincinnati Reds, having Aroldis Chapman heading into October has paid dividends and will continue to throughout the post-season.

Chapman has posted a 2.63 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 38 saves and a 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings ratio in 2013. When the Reds have a close lead in the ninth inning, Chapman has been consistent when called for the final three outs — and he delivers, often with triple-digit fastball velocity.

 

In 2013, Chapman has limited his walks, dropping from 7.4 walks-per-nine-innings rate in 2011 to 3.4 in 2013. His overpowering two-pitch arsenal coupled with few errors has produced an air of inevitability for the Reds when he takes the mound in the ninth.

Needless to say, Chapman is proof having an established closer in the ninth works. The likes of Keith Foulke and Brad Lidge helped the Red Sox and Phillies win the World Series in 2004 and 2008. Chapman will certainly aim to do the same.

Matt Carpenter, second base: Matt Carpenter is not having a pretty good year — he's having an MVP-caliber year.

Just two days ago, Carpenter belted a fifth-inning double versus the Brewers to bring his 2013 doubles total to 54 — surpassing Stan Musial for the most doubles by a left-handed hitter in the club's history. It also put the Cardinals two games ahead in the NL Central.

In 2013, Carpenter has seen the ball arguably better than anyone in baseball. And his role as the Cardinals' lead-off hitter, coupled with his multi-position eligibility, makes him one of the league's most valuable players heading into the post-season.

He is fifth in batting average (.324), ninth in OBP (.397), and first in both hits (197) and runs scored (124) in the MLB.

What's equally impressive is how productive Carpenter has been throughout the month of September. Carpenter has batted .396 with 24 runs and a .481 OBP. Not to mention he is the leader in both runs scored and hits during this span.

Not only does he collect hits, he has an uncanny ability to string them together. His ability to wear down pitchers and produce on a consistent basis is one of the few reasons the Cardinals rank fourth in batting average.

But consider this: Carpenter is three hits away from becoming the first Cardinals player to reach 200 hits in a single season since Albert Pujols. And he has done so while adapting to full-time duty at second base.

And if the Cardinals are to make a playoff push come October, Carpenter will have to sustain his production.

Alexi Ogando, pitcher: Ogando's presence has certainly been felt throughout 2013.

The Dominican Republic native is 7-4 with a 2.93 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. More impressive has been how dependable Ogando has been in his last few starts.

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In the month of September, Ogando has performed well in playoff-implicating games versus stiff competition and has been the Rangers' lone bright spot.

Versus Kansas City last Sunday, the right-hander pitched tossed seven scoreless frames and fanned five batters against a team that was threatening to jump Texas in the playoff race.

He is 2-0 with a .50 ERA and 14 strikeouts in two starts this month.

Fittingly enough, Ogando will take the mound this Friday versus the Angels — a team he has been largely successful against — which could play a deciding role in the Rangers' post-season positioning. Chances are, Ogando will prove his worth in yet another heightened contest.

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