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MLB Stars Folding Under the Pressure of the League Championship Series

Ben StepanskyCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2013

MLB Stars Folding Under the Pressure of the League Championship Series

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    Miguel Cabrera at Fenway Park
    Miguel Cabrera at Fenway ParkAl Bello/Getty Images

    Only four MLB teams remain, battling in the League Championship Series to earn the opportunity to play on the greatest stage of all, the World Series.

    As each series continues to define itself as the epitome of cutthroat competition, even the biggest MLB stars begin to feel the weight of the pressure. Each pitch is of the utmost importance, one swing can change the game's landscape and the attempt to keep a clear mind on the playing field grows increasingly difficult. 

    Players that flourished in the Division Series are quickly realizing that the level of play and intensity of the game is turned up a notch as teams are eliminated.

    Which stars have folded under the immense pressure? 

    More than you'd think.

    Statistics through October 15, 2013 and courtesy of MLB.com

The Matt's of St. Louis

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    Adams and Holliday celebrating during Game 5 of the NLDS
    Adams and Holliday celebrating during Game 5 of the NLDSElsa/Getty Images

    Matt Holliday is a career .311 hitter, and while his power numbers have dropped off in recent years, he still slugged 22 home runs and batted an even .300 during the 2013 regular season.

    Other than his 2-for-4 performance in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he hit a two-run home run, Holliday was hitless through the first three games (0-for-12). Hopefully he has broken out of a mini slump as the Cardinals attempt to close out the Dodgers on the road in Game 5. 

    Matt Adams, who was an April call-up, impressed at the major league level in 2013, batting .284 in 108 games for the Cards. In his first exposure to the postseason, he batted .316 against Pirates pitching in the division series, but has struggled thus far in the NLCS.

    He is 1-for-15 (.067) at the plate in four games. His one lonely hit is paired with eight strikeouts.

    Thankfully for Adams, his Cardinals are up 3-1 in the series and it looks like he may have a chance to redeem his poor NLCS performance in the World Series.

Ricky Nolasco

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    Nolasco after Matt Holliday's two-run home run
    Nolasco after Matt Holliday's two-run home runHarry How/Getty Images

    Ricky Nolasco stepped up his game after his early-July trade to the Dodgers from the Miami Marlins, and his statistics reflect that.

    An 8-3 record, a 3.52 ERA, and a lower home run rate during the regular season proves that Nolasco has enjoyed his short tenure in Los Angeles. 

    He never got the ball during the NLDS with manager Don Mattingly electing to throw Clayton Kershaw on three days rest in the team's Game 4 clinching effort but was handed the reins in Game 4 of the NLCS. It was the first postseason start of his career.

    Despite throwing just 58 pitches through four innings and allowing only three hits, which all came in a roughed-up third inning, Nolasco was relieved. Whether Nolasco was feeling the heat or lacked the faith of his manager is up for debate. 

    But by no means is three runs in four innings pitched a solid postseason outing.

Juan Uribe

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    Uribe has struck out six times in the NLCS.
    Uribe has struck out six times in the NLCS.Elsa/Getty Images

    The 34-year-old Juan Uribe is no stranger to the League Championship Series, playing in the 2005 ALCS with the eventual champion Chicago White Sox and the 2010 NLCS with the soon-to-be champion San Francisco Giants.

    Experience helps but does not negate the pressure of playing in important games. 

    After hitting .375 in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, including two two-run home runs in Games 3 and 4 respectively, Uribe's bat has simmered down to a measly .118 average (2-for-17) through four games. Both hits were singles, one of which drove in two runs during the third inning of Game 1. 

    The Dodgers are hoping for Uribe to heat up in Game 5 as the team faces elimination.

     

Joaquin Benoit

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    Benoit after David Ortiz's grand slam
    Benoit after David Ortiz's grand slamBob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Joaquin Benoit has been the goat for the Detroit Tigers so far in the ALCS.

    He allowed the lone hit in Game 1 when Detroit pitching was two outs away from combining to throw the third no-hitter in postseason history. Then, in Game 2 Benoit allowed a first-pitch grand slam to David Ortiz that allowed the Red Sox to climb back into the game—and the series—with one swing.

    Benoit was fantastic for the Tigers during the regular season after winning over the closers role from Jose Veras, saving 24 games and posting a 2.01 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 67 innings pitched.

    Manager Jim Leyland has called upon his closer in tough situations during the League Championship Series. Call it what you want but Detroit fans have sure expected more out of Benoit.

Miguel Cabrera

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    Cabrera strikes out in Game 3.
    Cabrera strikes out in Game 3.Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Excuses are for losers.

    No one is denying that Miguel Cabrera is playing through groin and abdominal injuries that may hamper his playing ability, but that's not enough to explain his .182 average in the ALCS.

    Cabrera's defining two-run home run in Game 5 of the ALDS off Oakland's Sonny Gray helped dispel any sort of talk around an injury-induced slump. And his solo shot in Game 2 of the ALCS was the stamp of approval that Miggy is healthy enough to produce.

    However, a 2-for-11 showing out of the probable AL MVP through three games in the League Championship Series is disappointing, especially after being flat out overpowered in the bottom of the eighth of a 1-0 game with a man on third. 

    Prince Fielder is fairing no better. He has just one more hit than Cabrera (3-for-11) and had an equally embarrassing displaying against Tazawa, striking out on three pitches in the eighth inning of Game 3.

    The big boys in Detroit need to come out and play if they want a chance at winning the series.

Sox Speedsters

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    Ellsbury is rung up as Victorino looks on.
    Ellsbury is rung up as Victorino looks on.Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Considering the Boston Red Sox have managed just 12 hits—seven alone in Game 2—against Detroit starting pitching, it's hard to select the worst of the crop among the MLB's highest scoring offense.

    So, why aren't the Red Sox scoring runs? 

    An obvious reason is because the team is not putting runners on base, which is the primary job for those at the top of the order (I'm looking at you Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino).

    The incredible disparity in production between the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays and the ALCS for those two at the top of the Sox lineup is striking.

    Ellsbury and Victorino combined to hit .469 (15-for-32) during the LDS with five RBI and five stolen bases.

    During the League Championship Series the two are a combined 2-for-21 with nine strikeouts.

    Sure, the Tigers starting pitching has been utterly dominating, but the Rays starting pitching is no cake walk either.

    The Red Sox have clawed their way to a series lead and will look to tee off Doug Fister in Game 4. But the rotation resets in Game 5 so they need to be ready.

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