Playoff baseball is a different animal than regular-season baseball is, and the pressure that builds up as a team's season comes down to a matter of swings, its dreams of hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy fluttering away, can be overwhelming.
Some players crumble under the weight of it all, while others toss it on their broad shoulders and carry it like it's no burden at all. Those who emerge as the studs of the postseason get all the accolades and manage to avoid criticism if their team loses, while the duds who underachieve carry that mark of shame into the following season, hoping for a chance at redemption.
Who were the biggest studs and duds of this year's playoffs?
Let's take a look.
Whether it was getting under the skin of the opposition, as he did in Game 3 of the ALDS, when he and Oakland closer Grant Balfour nearly came to blows, or coming through with a game-tying hit, as he did with a solo shot off of A's reliever Sean Doolittle in the top of the seventh inning of ALDS Game 4, Victor Martinez was a stud at the plate in this year's playoffs.
While the rest of Detroit's big bats slept, V-Mart was one of the few constants that manager Jim Leyland could rely on in the playoffs. Martinez reached base safely in nine of Detroit's 11 playoff games, picking up six multi-hit games along the way.
After finishing the regular season on a hot streak, hitting .337 with four home runs, 14 RBI and a .933 OPS in September, Detroit expected Prince Fielder to continue swinging a hot bat in the playoffs.
Instead, the imposing first baseman's bat went silent, despite Fielder's attempts to intimidate it out of its slumber with verbal abuse. Fielder managed only nine hits in 40 playoff at-bats, with only one of those hits going for extra bases. Most damning was his inability to produce runs, finishing the playoffs without a single RBI.
Going back to the 2012 World Series, Fielder has now gone 54 playoff at-bats without driving in a run for the Tigers, a major reason why Detroit has failed to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy despite being one of the favorites to represent the American League in the Fall Classic in each of the past three seasons.
I'm not sure if "stud" is a strong enough word to describe the performance that David Ortiz put together in the playoffs, especially in the World Series, where he took home MVP honors.
Take a look at where Ortiz's numbers against the St. Louis Cardinals rank on the all-time leaderboards for a single World Series:
|Stat||Ortiz (2013 WS)||All-Time Rank|
Ortiz went 11-for-16 in the World Series, reaching base 19 times in 25 plate appearances. By the time the Cardinals came to the realization that pitching to him was a bad idea, it was too late. His performance against St. Louis (and against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS) makes it easy to shrug off his 2-for-22 stretch against Detroit in the ALCS.
Koji Uehara channeled his inner Mariano Rivera in the playoffs, putting together an absolutely dominating performance that ranks among the most impressive that any reliever has had.
After allowing Tampa Bay's Jose Lobaton to hit a walk-off, two-run home run off of him in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS, Uehara didn't allow another run for the rest of the playoffs.
That's 12 innings with no runs, no walks, 14 strikeouts and a perfect 6-of-6 in save opportunities.
While you don't wish injury on anyone, it's fair to wonder whether Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, both of whom were ahead of Uehara when it came to closing for the Red Sox this season, would have been able to deliver a comparable performance.
Despite his awful performance in Game 6 of the World Series, Michael Wacha was about as studly as someone could possibly be for St. Louis in this year's playoffs.
Even with Boston tagging him for six earned runs over only 3.2 innings of work in Game 6, Wacha still held opposing batters to a .151/.244/.283 slash line—not bad for any pitcher, especially one that was in college at this time last year.
He threw 13.2 innings of scoreless baseball against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, and he had allowed only one earned run over the first 21 playoff innings of his career heading into the Fall Classic.
Simply put, the Cardinals don't make it to the World Series without the 22-year-old performing and showing the poise on the mound of a 10-year MLB veteran who had been there before.
After putting together a MVP-caliber regular season for the St. Louis Cardinals, one that saw his 126 runs scored lead all of baseball and his 199 hits tie with the Texas Rangers' Adrian Beltre for the MLB lead, big things were expected from Matt Carpenter heading into the playoffs.
Instead, the 27-year-old essentially disappeared.
Carpenter hit only .160/.228/.240 over the first 13 games that St. Louis played in the playoffs, not waking up until Game 3 of the World Series against Boston. Over his last 20 at-bats, he posted a .368/.368/.421 slash line, but it was too little, too late.
After Tampa Bay got crushed by Boston in Game 1 of the ALDS, losing 12-2, the Rays were counting on a strong performance from the ace of their rotation, David Price, to even the series up at one game apiece.
Instead, Price imploded, allowing seven earned runs on nine hits, including a pair of home runs to David Ortiz, and the Rays went on to lose 7-4. If that wasn't bad enough, Price acted like a petulant child after the game, taking to Twitter to attack his critics in the media, calling out Turner Sports' Dirk Hayhurst and Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated specifically and referring to the pair as "nerds."
Conveniently, the tweets were deleted shortly after Price posted them, but ESPN' s Gordon Edes detailed all of the nonsense here.
Per Edes, he continued his childish rant in the clubhouse after the game as he walked away from reporters, remarking "sweet questions, nerds" as he left.
The next day, Price issued an apology on Twitter, but the damage had already been done. He not only let his teammates down on the field with an atrocious performance on the mound, but he embarrassed the organization off of it.