Obviously, for Wednesday's MLB American League Wild Card Game, the two players that must step up more than any others are the starting pitchers, Alex Cobb for the Tampa Bay Rays and Danny Salazar for the Cleveland Indians. But it would be a bit boring and unoriginal to focus on them, no?
Instead, I've picked two players from each team that aren't the starting pitchers who must step up for their team to win. Maybe they are their team's top star. Maybe they have the talent to burst onto the national stage with a big performance.
Whatever the case may be, their respective teams will have trouble winning if they don't show up in a big way.
3B Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Evan Longoria played the role of hero in the tiebreaker game against the Texas Rangers, hitting a home run and finishing with two RBI and three runs scored.
He'll have to battle some Cleveland demons, however, as Mark Simon of ESPN writes that Longoria "doesn’t have a great history in Cleveland. He’s hitting .175 with 21 strikeouts in 63 at-bats in his career there, his worst batting average at any American League ballpark."
Longoria has really struggled in his last two postseasons, hitting just .194 with two home runs and five RBI in 36 at-bats. He'll need to reverse that postseason form against Cleveland, or the Rays could have a very short postseason.
2B Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
Jason Kipnis helps the Indians in multiple ways. He leads the team in RBI (84), runs (86), stolen bases (30), is second in doubles (36) and third in home runs (17). Baseball junkies know all about Kipnis, but the 26-year-old has a chance to make himself a household name with a big showing against the Rays.
If he does just that, it's hard to see the Indians losing at home.
RF Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays
The odds-on favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year, the young Wil Myers has a chance to grow his legend with a big performance in the Wild Card Round.
Myers has been excellent in his 88 games with the Rays, hitting .293 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI. He'll be Longoria's protection in the lineup, but he has the raw ability to overshadow his more accomplished teammate.
CF Michael Bourn, Cleveland Indians
The Indians will hope Michael Bourn can give it a go in this game, as his speed atop the order and defensive contributions could be vital. The Indians will likely be aggressive from the start, looking to get after Cobb early and keep the crowd pumped up.
Bourn's speed on the basepaths will be a key component of that strategy. If he can't go, Drew Stubbs will get the start in center, and the pressure will turn to him to produce atop the lineup.
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