MLB Playoffs 2013: Players Who Must Improve to Propel Their Team to World Series
The majority of players still alive in the MLB playoffs have done everything they could to ensure some of the most exciting games possible. However, there are still key members of each team who have not carried their weight.
While guys like Justin Verlander and Michael Wacha have turned solid seasons into dominant performances in the postseason, not everyone has increased their level of play. Even David Ortiz was hitless in his first seven at bats of the ALCS until coming through with a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 2.
In order to make a run to the World Series, every team needs its best players to come through. That means these guys better show up in the coming days to help their squads advance beyond this round.
Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers
Although Austin Jackson had a down year compared to his breakout showing in 2012, he was still one of the top leadoff hitters in the league this season. He had a respectable .337 on-base percentage and finished fifth in the American League with 99 runs scored.
While the Tigers' strength is in the middle of the order, the team needs Jackson to get on base for the big hitters like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to drive home.
Unfortunately, this has not been seen in the postseason. The center fielder is only hitting 3-for-30 in seven playoff games with only one walk and one run. Amazingly, he has 16 strikeouts, which represent more than half of his plate appearances so far.
This is simply embarrassing for any player, let alone one of the better players at his position.
Detroit has a quality lineup, but it is tough to put together high-scoring innings when the table setters do not do their job. Jackson needs to pick up the pace to help the Tigers get ahead in this series.
Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox
There are certainly hitters who will need to step up in the coming games, including Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew. However, Clay Buchholz was the one who put the Red Sox in trouble by falling apart in Game 2.
The 29-year-old pitcher looked good early, but ended up allowing five runs in 5.2 innings against the Tigers, thanks mostly to two big home runs allowed in the sixth inning. Similarly, Buchholz allowed a three-run shot to Evan Longoria to tie the game in his first start of the postseason.
This is simply unacceptable for a player who entered the playoffs with incredibly high expectations.
Despite dealing with various injuries this season, Buchholz was one of the best pitchers in baseball when healthy. His 1.74 ERA was the best in the majors among players with at least 100 innings, and he finished with a 12-1 record.
He will likely get another chance to shine in the series, which means he better be nearly lights out to help his team win.
Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
There might not have been a more exciting player in baseball this season than Yasiel Puig. The Cuban outfielder burst onto the scene with his hitting and fielding ability, and he helped bring the Dodgers from last place to first.
Although he slowed down a bit toward the end of the year, Puig's .319 batting average would have still ranked third in the National League if he had enough at bats to qualify. This continued with some solid play in his first playoff series against the Atlanta Braves.
Unfortunately, he has gone ice cold in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. In two games, he is 0-for-10 with six strikeouts, including an 0-for-4 mark with runners in scoring position.
Check out Gary Sheffield's take on Puig at the 4:20 mark in the following video:
This is not cause for alarm just yet, but the Dodgers have not scored in 19 innings. With Hanley Ramirez in and out of the lineup, the team needs someone to carry the load.
Puig is still a rookie, but he needs to be that person for Los Angeles.
Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals will certainly hope that Matt Carpenter's triple early in Game 2 will help him get going, because they desperately need their second baseman to get going.
Carpenter was one of the biggest surprises of the regular season. He led the majors with 126 runs—17 more than anyone else in baseball—and was almost always on base for the team to bring him home.
This has not carried over into the playoffs, where the young player has struggled mightily. Even after reaching first base three times in Game 1 of the NLDS, he only has a line of .115/.233/.192 in seven games.
St. Louis had one of the most consistent lineups in the league this year, finishing with five players in the top 15 in the NL in hitting. However, the unit does not have much power and usually needs men on base to score runs.
That has been Carpenter's job, but he has not come through to this point. That has to change for the Cardinals to close out a series win.
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