The 2013 MLB postseason is officially upon us, as the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Texas Rangers 5-2 in a one-game playoff to reach the Wild Card Round. The games will begin on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 8:07 p.m. ET, and the pressure will build for the best in the world.
The question is, how will the major stars fare during the postseason?
The Wild Card Round will see the Cincinnati Reds travel to play the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League and the Tampa Bay Rays hit the road to face the Cleveland Indians in the American League. The winners of the one-game playoff will advance to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL and Boston Red Sox in the AL.
The question is, what will happen once the lights start shining and the stars are under pressure?
Big Papi Will Rebound
David Ortiz is one of the most revered postseason performers in the history of professional baseball, and rightfully so. He played a critical role in the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series title since 1918 in 2004 and again stepped up in 2007.
In his two postseason appearances since '07, Ortiz is hitting .164 with one home run and five RBI in 14 games.
Before you write him off, remember that this is the same player who hit .381 with nine home runs and 30 RBI in 31 postseason games from 2004 to 2007. It's also worth noting that Ortiz hit .264 and .238, respectively, during 2008 and 2009—the two years in which he collapsed.
In 2013, Ortiz hit .309 with 30 home runs and 103 RBI—his third consecutive season with a batting average above .300.
In 2013, Ortiz and the Red Sox will either face the Indians or Rays during the ALDS. Ortiz hasn't been at his best against those teams, but both have a legitimate opportunity to upset Boston and that places Ortiz under pressure.
Who better to face pressure than Big Papi?
Matt Holliday Will Be St. Louis' Postseason Star
During the 2011 MLB playoffs, David Freese emerged as a postseason hero with five home runs, 21 RBI and a .397 batting average in 18 games played. He stepped up in the clutch on more than one occasion and became the face of an unlikely run to the World Series title by the short-handed St. Louis Cardinals.
In 2013, expect Matt Holliday to be the star that attempts to lead St. Louis to that same result.
Holliday is one of the most consistent players in all of baseball, posting more than 20 home runs and 90 RBI in six of his past eight seasons. Holliday has also hit .295 or better in all 10 of his MLB years, finishing at an even .300 in 2013.
After a disappointing postseason performance in 2012, the six-time All-Star is due for a rebound performance.
According to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, Allen Craig is unlikely to be available for the NLDS due to a foot injury. With the team's leader in RBI absent, the door is open for Holliday to step up and both drive in runs and hit for average.
Carlos Beltran is another option, but Holliday has something to prove in 2013.
Kershaw, Puig Will Shine
It's fair to say that no player has generated as much attention over the past few months as Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig. With superstar Matt Kemp sidelined by a string of injuries, Puig hit .319 with 19 home runs and 42 RBI in 104 games, also making extraordinary defensive plays.
Puig will continue his monster rookie season during the playoffs.
Puig is this year's Mike Trout, making defensive plays that are worth marveling and coming up with big hits at every turn. It's also worth noting that, before Puig's arrival, the Dodgers were 23-32, and after he arrived in the lineup, L.A. went 69-38.
Now, the 22-year-old will prove that he can continue to lead the team on the biggest stage of all.
Joining Puig as an L.A. star is Clayton Kershaw, who led the MLB in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP in 2013. With no rational reason to give the Cy Young award to anyone else, it's now on the Dodgers' ace to prove that he can pitch in the playoffs.
With a career postseason ERA of 5.87 through five games played and two starts, there's certainly reason to doubt him.
Fortunately, Kershaw has been pitching with minimal run support throughout his career, finding his way out of jams and dominating even the best of hitters. He's separated himself from the rest of the MLB's left-handed pitchers and may just be the top pitcher in the MLB.
For what it's worth, Kershaw has held the Atlanta Braves, the Dodgers' NLDS opponent, to a .214 batting average over the past three seasons.
Justin Verlander Will Re-Emerge as Detroit's Ace
During the 2013 MLB regular season, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander finished at 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA and 217 strikeouts. It was the first time since 2010 that Verlander finished with an ERA above 3.00 and the first time since 2008 that he managed fewer than 17 wins.
During the 2013 playoffs, expect Verlander to re-emerge as Detroit's ace.
Max Scherzer stepped up in Verlander's place, leading the league in wins at 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts. In turn, Scherzer has effectively become the most consistent pitcher on Detroit's staff, even if reputation would tell us to favor Verlander.
Expect a reality check during the playoffs.
This is no slight on Scherzer, but if Detroit is facing elimination, the ball must go to Verlander. The 2011 AL MVP struggled during his first two postseasons, but he went 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA during the 2012 playoffs, leading the Tigers to the World Series.
Scherzer pitched just as well, but after a disappointing regular season, Verlander is in store for a postseason of magnificent performances.