MLB Playoffs 2013: Squads That Must Overcome Lack of Depth

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistOctober 4, 2013

Elliot Johnson has been tossed into the Atlanta Braves' starting lineup.
Elliot Johnson has been tossed into the Atlanta Braves' starting lineup.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

MLB superstars can rarely carry a team to victory. 

An NFL team with Peyton Manning will make a dent regardless of the supporting cast while NBA star LeBron James frequently propelled casts of nobodies to deep playoff runs in Cleveland, but baseball is not made from the same cloth.

The St. Louis Cardinals know this well, as they made the painfully difficult decision of letting Albert Pujols walk two years ago. While the future Hall of Famer has terribly aged, the Cardinals have maintained the National League's best offense without one true household superstar.

While these clubs feature some big names that are more than capable of engineering a successful October, they'll need some unheralded contributors to play this year's David Eckstein or Marco Scutaro and do their share.

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Los Angeles Dodgers

Their starting rotation is plenty deep for the postseason, which could offset all of the Dodgers' other concerns. But the batting order fades quickly after a potent beginning.

Hanley Ramirez recorded a 1.040 OPS while rookie Yasiel Puig offered a .925 OPS since getting promoted to the majors in June. Throw in the steady Adrian Gonzalez, and Los Angeles has plenty of pop in its batting order.

But they're also batting Mark Ellis and his .323 on-base percentage second, while playing Skip Schumaker and his .332 slugging percentage in center field in place of the injured Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.

It worked during Game 1, as Ellis collected two hits in a 6-1 victory, but will it keep working? 

If Puig, Ramirez and Gonzalez happen to get cold together for three games, the Dodgers' sensational push to the postseason could come crumbling down.


Detroit Tigers

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 16:  Don Kelly #32, Austin Jackson #14 and Torii Hunter #48 of the Detroit Tigers prepare for their celebratory jump in the outfield after a 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners at Comerica Park on September 16, 2013 in Detroit, Michi
Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Detroit's rotation is even deeper. They have three genuine aces in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez along with another solid arm in Doug Fister.

It's their star-heavy lineup and questionable bullpen that causes some worry.

The offense goes as Miguel Cabrera goes, which led them to a beautiful destination all year. After slugging .333 during September, Detroit needs him to fight off nagging injuries and be the guy with the .348/.442/.636 slash line.

It doesn't get much attention since he still drove in 106 runs, but Prince Fielder had his worst season in a while. The bulky first baseman set career lows with 25 homers and a .457 slugging percentage, and he has always been a liability on defense.

Cabrera is also a liability on the field, posting a minus-14.8 defensive WAR according to FanGraphs. While Torii Hunter can still hit, he's no longer Spiderman in the outfield. A strong showing from Austin Jackson, who took a step back this season, would go a long way.

While Joaquin Benoit proved relievers who pitch well in the eighth will perform just as well in the ninth, Drew Smyly and Jose Veras are the only trustworthy options leading up to the closer. They'll need to rely heavily on those guys while hoping starter Rick Porcello can give them some valuable innings out of the bullpen.


Atlanta Braves

Freddy Garcia is starting a playoff game for the Braves. That's actually happening.

Any time somebody worries that a team has too much depth at starting pitching, point and laugh for a solid day or two. Remember when the Braves had too much pitching upon Brandon Beachy's return? That was before Tim Hudson suffered a brutal ankle injury, Paul Maholm stumbled and Beachy's comeback lasted less than a month.

Now Garcia is starting Game 4, which the Braves need to occur after dropping Game 1, due to a massive overreaction to a tiny sample size. Atlanta is riding the hot hand on Garcia after notching a 1.83 ERA during three starts to close the season. We'll just ignore his 5.49 FIP on the season.

On offense, Fredi Gonzalez made a bold move by leaving Dan Uggla off the NLDS roster. Sure, he hit .179, but at least he can draw a walk or hit a homer. That's more than we can say about replacement Elliot Johnson, the proud owner of a .209/.255/.283 slash line.

If Atlanta can beat Los Angeles with Johnson starting at second, Garcia taking the mound for a start and a misplaced Evan Gattis providing putrid defense in left field, all the more power to them.