Top 25 Players Who Will Be the Key to Their Teams' Playoff Hopes
Chase Utley has been out of the Philadelphia Phillies lineup since June 28th with a thumb ligament injury, and Utley will likely be out until the middle of August.
The speed of Utley's return and how he plays once he's back will be crucial to determining whether the Philadelphia Phillies will be making their third straight World Series appearance in 2010.
Utley is just one of the Top 25 Players Who Will Be the Key to Their Team's Playoff Hopes.
25.Ryan Franklin, St. Louis Cardinals
Give credit where credit is due: Last season Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan and catcher Yadier Molina turned a mediocre 36-year-old pitcher into an excellent closer. Franklin had an ERA of 1.92 with 38 saves and made his first All-Star team.
This season, Franklin hasn't been quite as dominant; he's cut down on his walks drastically but he is giving up more hits, more home runs, and more runs overall.
The Cardinals starting rotation has been magnificent in 2010, but the Cards can only wonder how long the wheels can stay on the bus for Ryan Franklin.
24. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Right now the Detroit Tigers have one good starter in Justin Verlander and one guy who can strike out lots of hitters in Max Scherzer.
The Tigers need the 1-2 punch that Verlander and Scherzer haven't developed into yet. Will it happen in 2010?
23. Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
The New York Mets has a fragile-but-good starting rotation and one of the best closers in the league in Francisco Rodriguez.
However, they've had trouble crossing the bridge from the starters to the closer. The new-and-improved Bobby Parnell appears to be the answer to that problem, with his 1.42 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 12.2 innings pitched.
Can he keep it up?
22. Bobby Jenks, Chicago White Sox
Jenks has posted an impressive 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings, an impressively bad 9.3 hits per nine innings, and a 3.97 ERA with a 1.441 WHIP.
Strangely, this has only translated into one blown save in 2010, but the White Sox are 18-10 in one-run games this season, which accounts almost completely for their 10 games over .500.
This means that they are depending on winning close games, and with a shaky closer eventually their luck is going to run out.
21. First Baseman, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are 50-44, but their Pythagorean projection has them at 45-49. The reason for this is simple: they score a league-average amount of runs, and they give up the fourth most runs per game in the AL.
Simply put, the Angels lost their best hitter in first baseman Kendry Morales and do not have an adequate replacement. They will have to acquire an Adam Dunn, Prince Fielder, or even Jason Giambi if they want to close the gap with the Texas Rangers.
20. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
In 2009 Pablo Sandoval looked like the baseball equivalent of Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man: He didn't look like a baseball player and he didn't talk like a baseball player, but he played like one of the greatest players of all time.
In 2010, he's gone from baseball idiot savant to baseball idiot. He isn't hitting for average, hitting for power, or getting on base, and his 19 double plays lead the NL.
The San Francisco Giants were depending upon far more from Sandoval in 2010, and will need it to make a run at the NL West crown.
19. Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers
In 2008, Chad Billingsley went 16-10 with a 3.14 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 200.2 innings pitched. In two subsequent seasons he has not come close to living up to that performance.
Now, in 2010, the Los Angeles Dodgers have one pitcher performing well in Clayton Kershaw and one pitcher performing above the league average in Hiroki Kuroda.
Billingsley is a talented pitcher, but he is giving up too many hits and walking too many batters.
Whether the Dodgers makes the playoffs may depend upon whether Billingsley can pitch the way he did two years ago.
18. Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers
No one expected Brennan Boesch to play the way he has in 2010—12 home runs, 50 RBI, .335/.393/.575/.968--but he has, and now the Detroit Tigers are in a divisional race.
Boesch had better keep it up.
17. Scott Baker, Minnesota Twins
Simply put, the AL Central will not be won by a team with only two competent starting pitchers. The Twins currently have Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano pitching well, and Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey massively underachieving.
Of Baker and Slowey, Baker looks less lost—he has a higher strikeout rate, a better K:BB ratio, and a lower ERA—and more likely to step things up.
The Twins have two teams to leap-frog in the AL Central, and will need Baker to step up if they are going to.
16. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rockies second best hitter at .313, 17 home runs, and 13 stolen bases, Carlos Gonzalez has had an immediate impact in his first full season in Denver.
However, Gonzalez has had a very one-sided season from a home/road perspective. A .359 hitter with 13 home runs an a 1.052 OPS at home, Gonzalez shuts down on the road: four home runs, .267 average, .687 OPS.
The Rockies will have to win games on the road if they are to make any headway in the tight four-team race in the NL West, and they'll need Gonzalez to hit on the road if they have any hope of winning there.
15. Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox
Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez make up one of the best defensive middle infields in all of baseball, and Beckham's glove is way to valuable to take out of the lineup.
However, Beckham is currently hitting .226 with a .286 on-base percentage and a .611 OPS. Having Beckham in the lineup is turning the White Sox into a National League style lineup, and Chicago can't afford that.
Beckham has got to hit better in support of the White Sox run at the AL Central title.
14. Troy Glaus, Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves didn't expect to count on Troy Glaus in 2010, but here they are, and Glaus is one of the guys who have gotten them as far as they've gotten.
Glaus is 33 years old and playing a full schedule after missing all but 14 games in 2009. As the season wears on, watch for Glaus to slip a bit.
If Glaus slips too much, the Braves may find themselves playing for second in the NL East.
13. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres need another bat. They've got Adrian Gonzalez, one of the elite hitters in all of baseball, but that is about it.
Headley is the only Padre with the talent to step up in a meaningful way; Tony Gwynn is no hitter, the Hairston brothers and Will Venable have low ceilings, and David Eckstein doesn't swing a big bat any more.
Whether the Padres can hang on in the NL West may depend on whether Headley can fulfill his potential earlier than expected.
12. Joel Pineiro, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels brought in Joel Pineiro after his breakout 2009 season with the St. Louis Cardinals as a replacement for John Lackey. While Pineiro has been better than Lackey has been in Boston, he has failed to recapture the magic of 2009.
The good news is that Pineiro's performance has improved with reach start, and his ERA, by month, has gone from 5.76 to 4.15 to 3.25 to 2.57.
His performance will have to resemble more his summer numbers than his spring numbers if the Angels are going to make a run at the Rangers in the AL West.
11. Brad Lidge, Philadelphia Phillies
Remember 2008? Wow, what a season. You were perfect from beginning to end, and absolutely a key to the Phillies World Series Championship. You will be a beloved member of the Philadelphia Phillies family forever, and as a token of that love, we forgave your awful 2009 season.
It is now 2010. Can you please stop giving up runs and blowing saves? If we can't count on you to close out our victories, we will be watching the playoffs from home come October.
10. Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds
Scott Rolen has starred for two teams in his career, and now in his first full season with the Cincinnati Reds he is trying to prevent the St. Louis Cardinals from taking the NL Central while possibly taking the wild card from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Rolen, an All-Star this season for the first time since 2006, is having his best overall season since 2004. He is also 35 years old, an age at which third basemen often fall off the cliff.
Rolen and Joey Votto have provided the one-two punch for the Reds in 2010, and whether they can ultimately finish the job in the NL Central will depend on whether Rolen has 150 games in him one more time.
9. Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees
The New York Yankees starting rotation is having a fantastic season, from Andy Pettitte and C.C. Sabathia all the way down to Javier Vazquez, who has rebounded from a terrible start to the season.
Mariano Rivera, somehow, is having the best year of his career.
Joba Chamberlain is the weak link in the chain for the Yankees pitching staff, and this is a team that is going to have to go 162 games deep to hold off Tampa Bay and Boston.
They will need Joba to improve upon his 5.79 ERA and 11-plus hits per game if he is to continue to serve as the bridge between the starters and Rivera.
8. Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus are aging, Brian McCann and Martin Prado are not exactly five tool players.
Jason Heyward is the most talented position player for the Atlanta Braves in 2010, and he needs to get healthy and on a roll to help the Braves finish the job in the NL East.
Heyward and the Braves are ahead of schedule in Bobby Cox's final year. Whether he's ready or not, he is in a playoff race, and the Braves will be depending on him quite a bit.
7. John Lackey, Boston Red Sox
John Lackey was brought over in the offseason to bolster the Boston Red Sox rotation, and perhaps even to serve as its ace.
Instead, he leads the AL in hits, has posted the second worst ERA of his career, and has posted the worst K:BB ratio of his career.
If the Red Sox can't count on Lackey as, at a minimum, their No. 3 pitcher, they are in trouble.
6. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Alex Rodriguez is a future Hall of Fame third baseman who is about to hit his 600th home run, drive in his 1800th RBI, take his 1100th walk, and steal his 300th stolen base.
Alex Rodriguez is an All-Star third baseman who currently has 14 home runs, 71 RBI, 46 runs, an .823 OPS, and a league-leading seven sacrifice flies.
Alex Rodriguez is the Yankees third baseman, and he is quietly having a bad season. His numbers are down across the board, but the only reason they look as good as they do is because of his numbers at Yankee Stadium.
On the road in 2010, A-Rod has a .257 average, a .782 OPS, and 33 RBI.
The Yankees are paying Alex Rodriguez more money than any other baseball player has ever made, and they will need him to play like an above-average third baseman in the second half of the season.
5. B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay Rays
B.J. Upton is one of the truly talented players in baseball. He can hit for power, he can steal bases, and his defense has been invaluable in center field.
In 2010, though, Upton has struggled, and has been criticized repeatedly for his failure to hustle in all aspects of the game—on ground balls, running the bases, and in the field.
Make no mistake: even when slumping, Upton is too talented and too valuable for the Rays to make the playoffs without him. But if he keeps up his shenanigans the Rays may have no choice but to send him away, and the season will be over.
4. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies will hang on without Utley, but he has the most important surgically repaired thumb in baseball and how he hits when he returns will dictate whether the Phillies have a shot at their third straight World Series appearance.
3. Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
Carlos Beltran was at the center of two New York Mets teams that made serious runs at the playoffs in 2007 and 2008.
In 2009, when Beltran was out for most of the season, the Mets fell to fourth place in the NL East.
Now that Beltran is back, if the Mets are going to make the playoffs he has to once again be at the center of the action.
2. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
In 2009, Joe Mauer was one of the elite hitters in all of baseball, and he won an AL MVP for his efforts.
In 2010, he has returned to earth, and looks like a very good hitting catcher. But the Twins don't need a very good season from Mauer. If the Twins have any hope of making the playoffs in a competitive AL Central, he has to be an MVP.
Can he still turn it around, or did Mauer's bat disappear with the Metrodome?
1. Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros
Obviously, Houston is not headed to the playoffs.
However, some team is going to end up with Oswalt before the trade deadline, and that team is going to become the front runner in their divisional race.