Power Ranking the 15 Biggest Difference-Makers Down the Stretch in MLB
Considering that it is August, postseason baseball is just two months away. With the playoffs looming, the way the standings will ultimately shake out could be determined relatively soon.
Many of these determining factors come down to how teams can mesh, second half track records, and team health.
However, on each contending team, there are certain individuals that hold the key to contention for the remainder of the regular season. Heading into the second week of August, now is the time for the difference-makers to stand up and propel their team to meaningful wins.
Here are 15 game changing difference-makers on different contending teams that will help decide the fate of their respective clubs as the 2010 MLB season heads down to the wire.
15. Andre Ethier, Outfielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers will need to make some noise if they are to stay in the pennant race. They'll look for all the star power that they can, and post-season run begins with optimal production from one of their leading hitters, Andre Ethier.
Trying to find their identity all-around, consistent offense from Ethier will power the Dodgers down the stretch. Ethier hit .333 during the month of August in 2009, and if he can produce like that again this year, the Dodgers have their offensive centerpiece. He'll just need to make sure that he hits into September and October.
Sitting in fourth place at the moment in the NL West, the Dodgers are still in contention being seven games back. Ethier's firepower must help fuel this team.
14. Cliff Lee, Left-handed pitcher, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers can almost be considered a lock to win the AL West, with a seven and a half game lead over the Oakland Athletics. The acquisition of Cliff Lee was executed to help seal the deal.
Lee has already tossed over 50 innings in six starts with the Rangers, including two complete games. More dominant pitching from Lee means the Rangers will be able to ease themselves into post-season play.
Lee gives the Rangers so much stability every five games, that they can focus on what else needs to be improved to help better the team.
13. Jerry Manuel, Manager, New York Mets
Who said these rankings were restricted to players? Most Mets fans will say that Jerry Manuel is responsible for many a loss that the Mets have recorded during the 2010 season.
With the Mets nearing the brink of elimination from contention, managerial decisions will be most crucial over the course of the next month. It will be the little things, like how Jerry will handle platooning guys like Jeff Francouer and Fernando Martinez in Jason Bay's absence.
It will come down to the even smaller things, like his by-the-book in-game moves. Mets fans know it best; he's brought discomfort to the team, and the moves he makes will make all the difference in where the Mets finish the year.
12. Jacoby Ellsbury, Outfielder, Boston Red Sox
The banged up Red Sox are lagging behind the ultra-competitive Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees. Ridden with Injury, Boston must look to its core to get some offense going. What better option than Jacoby Ellsbury.
The team will need Ellsbury to maximize his opportunities as a leadoff hitter and to get big innings started with extra base hits. If he can bounce back from injury and collect big hits and swipe bags like he has proven he can, the Red Sox just might advance deeper into the post-season race.
However, if Ellsbury continues to succumb to injury, the Red Sox will continue to miss too many offensive catalysts.
11. Joey Votto, First baseman, Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are emerging with young talent, both in the lineup and the pitching staff. They sit at fifth in the MLB in home runs, and Joey Votto's 27 have really played a major part of that.
The Reds have obviously been doing something right all season, combining good young pitching with solid offense. Votto leads the league in on base percentage and slugging percentage. If Votto can keep up this hitting, he'll drive the surprising Reds into the playoffs.
10. Roy Oswalt, Right-handed pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies
Landing Roy Oswalt appeared to be such a blockbuster for the Phillies. After a rocky first start with the team, it seems as though he will be a major figure in the teams spotlight throughout the remainder of the season.
With the lineup battling injury, the pitching staff must step its game up. That means Oswalt must adjust to pitching at Citizen's Bank Park on a more regular basis.
His career second half ERA sits at 3.10, so this is his time of year to dominate. In a slightly more competitive division, Oswalt must prove that he was definitely a worthy acquisition.
9. Buster Posey, Catcher/First Baseman, San Francisco Giants
It isn't all that often that a young phenom gets labeled as a difference-maker. Posey has to be an exception. Through 60 games, that .344 average and eight home runs easily speaks for itself.
He already looks polished to the point where he might be the most well-disciplined hitter in the Giants lineup. For a 23-year-old, he is awfully dangerous and brings a ton of energy to the Bay.
With other offensive stars on the Giants struggling, notably Pablo Sandoval who has had a disappointing year, the youthful spark of Posey will absolutely be called upon. If guys like Sandoval come around, and if Posey's astounding production remains consistent, the Giants will be in a good position.
8. Carlos Quentin, Outfielder, Chicago White Sox
Of late, Carlos Quentin's bat has really been coming around for the White Sox. This rejuvenation seems to have paralleled the Sox recent success. He's slowed a bit during his last 10 games, but if the production comes back up, he'll carry this team.
He's got 22 home runs, and his swing looks a lot more like 2008 when smacked 36 long balls. The White Sox won the AL Central that year. The success of Carlos Quentin has grown synonymous with the success of the White Sox as a team.
7. Brian McCann, Catcher, Atlanta Braves
With the Braves looking to maintain a narrow lead in the NL East, the Braves must look to the big bats in the lineup to provide them with optimal production.
Brian McCann is the biggest bat in the lineup out of all of the younger players with experience. He's hit 15 home runs this year, but his numbers against lefties are down a tad bit, and his clutch hitting has been weak. For the Braves to dominate on offense, McCann will need to come around completely. He's still been effective, but he's been a .300 hitter twice in his career.
He's fully capable of putting up even bigger numbers; the kind of numbers that can push a team into the playoffs without any doubt.
6. Francisco Liriano, Left-handed pitcher, Minnesota Twins
For the most part, the Twins have lacked that big time left-handed stud in the rotation since the departure of Johan Santana. Its time for Francisco Liriano to finally step his game up and fill that void.
He's battled injury in the past, but now he's healthy and its showing in his numbers. He's 10-7 with a 3.33 ERA and 156 K's. He is also pesky against left-handed hitters; they have been batting under .200 against him. Liriano has showed signs of greatness, and if he can step up and be the Twins' ace in the second half, he help facilitate their playoff push.
5. Adrian Gonzalez, First Baseman, San Diego Padres
The Padres have easily been the biggest surprise of 2010 in the MLB. The biggest difference-maker on this team down the stretch will have to be Adrian Gonzalez. In a team that is not used to the thrill of postseason play, Gonzalez possesses power and experience.
His big lefty bat his relied upon to energize this team. He's the leader of this team. The Padres live and die with Gonzalez. Behind a very strong pitching staff, he's the most consistent source of offense. He's even managed to crush left-handed pitching.
As such an offensive centerpiece and leader of this team, he will be very much responsible for where this team ends up in 2010.
4. Adam Wainwright, Right-handed pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
It's no secret that the Cardinals rotation is stacked. It all starts with potential Cy Young candidate, Adam Wainwright. He is a dominant pitcher that makes his teammates better. His numbers are simply outstanding. In a league leading 24 starts, he is 16-6 with a 2.07, two complete game shutouts, 154 strikeouts, and a 0.99 WHIP.
When it comes to the rotation, Wainwright is just the tip of the iceberg. His clutch pitching and workhorse mentality benefits the entire team and is why the Cardinals are always contenders. If his hard-throwing continues throughout the remainder of the season, the Cardinals will definitely be around come playoff time.
3. Evan Longoria, Third baseman, Tampa Bay Rays
For a team that was nearly no-hit for the third time this year, the Tampa Bays Rays require there to be that one big game changer on offense. Evan Longoria has grown into just that guy as the main leader of this team. If Longo can hit and drive in runs, the Rays will tally up some wins.
He brings a ton of upside to this lineup and has a great track record against rival pitchers in the AL East. He loves to hit A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and he's a career .357 hitter against C.C. Sabathia.
Its this kind of output against the teams that matter that make him a true leader on this Tampa Bay team. If he can put up the offense down the stretch, the Rays will put up the wins.
2. Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Colorado Rockies
If there is anybody in the game who can really fire it up over the last couple months of a season, its Troy Tulowitzki. And the Colorado Rockies could really use that fire. Mired in the back end of a four-way race for the playoffs in the NL West, the Rockies are notoriously a second half team, and are priming to make that run.
Tulowitzki is the perfect player to head up that run, simply because he has done so in the past. Now that he is back and healthy, he'll begin to produce like he is capable of. Already batting .320 this year, he's on the right track.
Remember in 2009, Tulo hit a whopping .344 in the second half, posting a .346 batting average in August, and .350 in September/October. He is a career .316 hitter during the second half. He's already proven how clutch he can come up down the stretch, and it is only a matter of time before that kicks in and the Rockies surge up the standings.
If anybody can really shake up their division, or even league, Tulowitzki is the guy.
1. Robinson Cano, Second Baseman, New York Yankees
The playoff duel between the Rays and Yankees is growing into a very fun one. The Rays have their emergent leader in Evan Longoria. For the Yankees to keep atop the division, they have their leader as well. Robinson Cano has developed into one talented second baseman and one fine leader on the New York Yankees.
He's putting together an MVP-type year with his all-around game. He's batting .332 and has an excellent eye. He can drive the ball for extra base hits, and at the same time, power the ball out of the park. He's very well-disciplined and stacks up well against foes like Longoria.
It is also worth mentioning that he mashes against right-handed pitching. This well come in handy against teams like the Rays that are built around mostly right-handed starting pitching. Many of his career second half numbers exceed that of Troy Tulowitzki. Cano is game changer.
Look for Robinson Cano to make a run at his first career MVP award while being a key factor in determining whether or not the Yankees wind up on top of the AL East by the end of the regular season.