MLB Playoffs 2010: The Most Important Player for Each Team
The grind of the Major League Baseball regular season has finally come to an end and for those fans that had the patience to stick with their favorite team over that 162 game marathon, they are now bracing themselves for the sprint that is the MLB playoffs.
Despite how entertaining it might be to watch your favorite team play a four game series against the Pirates, it's time for the playoffs to usher in a new brand of baseball where everything matters just a little bit more.
Every pitch, every managerial move, every strike, and every walk matters more, simply because you no longer have the time to make up for bad play in the postseason.
When October starts, you have to get things right the first time and if your team is lethargic or sloppy out of the gate, they will probably be sitting on the couch in a matter of days, contemplating whether or not to rip the speakers out of their television so they won’t have to listen to Joe Buck anymore.
While success in October is a team effort, it’s hard to deny that the baseball playoffs are a time where individual players shine the brightest and can single handedly turn around a game or even a whole series with one swing of the bat or one dominant pitching performance.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the most important player for each playoff team as we eagerly await the start of the 2010 postseason.
New York Yankees: Andy Pettitte
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The defending champs are facing a multitude of questions heading into their series against the Minnesota Twins, and perhaps the biggest one of all is their rotation after C.C. Sabathia.
In 2009, their starting pitching was one of the team’s biggest strengths and the playoff performances of Sabathia, Pettitte, and Burnett helped propel the Bronx Bombers to their 27th World Championship.
While Sabathia appears primed once again to do everything in his power to pitch the Yankees into another World Series, he can’t be on the mound every single game.
For the Yankees to enjoy postseason success they will need the guys starting behind Sabathia to step up and Andy Pettitte appears to be the second guy Joe Girardi will be handing the ball to.
At 38 years-old, Pettitte was having one of the finest seasons of his stellar career before injuring his groin in mid-July which kept him sidelined for about two months.
While you can almost definitely pencil in Sabathia for another inhuman postseason, and you can be fairly certain that the Yankees will score their share of runs, it will all be for naught if Pettitte isn’t able to give the team quality innings of work.
If Pettitte is able to quickly regain his early season form, the Yankees will have him and Sabathia anchoring the top of their rotation while their high scoring lineup should take some of the pressure off their other starters.
If Pettitte isn’t ready to give the Yankees rotation another dependable starter, they could easily be going home sooner rather than later.
Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Lidge
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The Philadelphia Phillies are the team that most are picking to represent the National League in the 2010 World Series thanks to their phenomenal starting pitching and incredibly well balanced lineup.
With the likes of Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels taking the mound for the Phillies and Rollins, Utley, Werth, and Howard putting some runs on the board, it’s fairly safe to say that they should be handing over some leads to the bullpen. And this is where Brad Lidge comes into play.
The veteran closer has seen his share of playoff success and failure and might just be the streakiest 9th inning guy in all of Major League Baseball.
Any Philadelphia baseball fan can tell you that you can never be sure of which Brad Lidge will be taking the mound.
And because of this, regardless of how good the rest of the team is playing, it could mean the difference between a win and a loss if he’s off his game.
Lidge started the 2010 season on the disabled list and had his struggles adjusting back to the closers role, posting an ERA of 7.04 June and an ERA of 6.00 in July.
But since then he’s been one of the best in the Majors, converting 17 of 18 save opportunities and only allowing two earned runs since August 1st, helping the Phillies overtake the Braves for the NL East crown and secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
If the lights out Brad Lidge shows up, it could be very bad news for the rest of Major League Baseball. If not, all bets are off.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto
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One of the biggest surprises of the 2010 regular season was that the Cincinnati Reds were able to essentially run away with the NL Central and cruise to their first playoff appearance since 1995.
While there were many players who stepped up their game to help them achieve this, perhaps no one was more instrumental in the team’s success than first baseman Joey Votto.
The 27 year-old Canadian import led a potent Reds offense in average (.324), home runs (37), and RBI (113), all the while giving opposing pitchers nightmares about having to throw anything remotely close to the strike zone.
The Reds have a nice stable of pitchers including Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto and some more than capable hitters in their lineup besides Votto.
But the sweet swinging lefty is as dynamic a hitter as there is in the majors right. He has the ability to get hot and have those two homer, four RBI games that can carry teams through October.
If the Reds are hoping for an upset over an extremely talented Phillies roster they’re going to need Votto. He led the National League in OPS this season, and hopefully his presence in the middle of their lineup can help the Reds counterbalance the tough pitching and run scoring potential of the defending National League champions.
San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum
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The San Francisco Giants and their fans were on pins and needles for the last week of the season as the team completed its ascent to the top of the NL West and secured themselves a playoff spot by eliminating the San Diego Padres.
Throughout the 2010 season, the biggest strength of this Giants team was their consistent starting pitching which helped carry them to the postseason. It was especially effective in the month of September.
This pitching ultimately lead the Giants to their first postseason since 2003 when Barry Bonds' head was being used as a canopy for the fans in the left field bleachers.
26 year-old starting pitcher, Tim Lincecum, was one of the catalysts for the Giants run to the postseason despite having a down year by his incredibly high standards.
In the month of September, the two-time Cy Young recipient won five of his six starts and posted a sparkling ERA of 1.94, which included dominant pitching performances against the Rockies, Padres, and Diamondbacks when the Giants needed him the most.
Heading into the playoffs, Lincecum is the Giants No. 1 starter and is capable of completely shutting down the opposing team’s hitters any time he takes the mound.
If the Giants are going to make some noise in the 2010 playoffs they will need The Freak to give them strong innings which will allow the Giants to win games even if their offense only scores two or three runs.
Texas Rangers: Josh Hamilton
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Everything finally came together for the Texas Rangers in the 2010 season.
Their off-season signing of free agent Vladimir Guerrero worked out better than most thought it would. They were able to acquire Cliff Lee in a midseason trade from a desperate Mariners team. The Angels had a down year, and perhaps most importantly, Josh Hamilton once again became one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
The embattled 29 year old slugger has been through his trials and tribulations throughout his career but 2010 was a season of redemption for Hamilton. He posted a ridiculous .359 batting average, as well as blasting 32 home runs, adding 100 RBI’s, and leading all of Major League Baseball with an OPS of 1.044.
All of which has Hamilton as one of the leading candidates for the American League’s MVP award despite the fact that the southpaw missed the majority of September with a rib injury.
The Rangers are an extremely talented team featuring a high powered offense that can score with anyone, and the likes of Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson heading up their rotation.
But if they’re going to get past the Rays and the winner of the Yankees/Twins series, Josh Hamilton will need to be at the top of his game, driving in runs in the middle of the Rangers lineup and generally terrorizing opposing pitchers with his patented lefty stroke.
Tampa Bay Rays: Carl Crawford
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The Tampa Bay Rays rebounded nicely from a somewhat down 2009 season to post the best record in the American League in 2010 which assures them home field advantage until the World Series.
Featuring an extremely deep and talented pitching staff, including two great top of the rotation guys in David Price and Matt Garza, the Rays were able to send a competent starter to the mound on pretty much every single night.
Things shouldn’t be much different during the postseason, as their young rotation appears ready to continue their regular season success in October.
When it comes to Tampa Bay’s offense, perhaps no other player is more crucial to the team’s success than Carl Crawford. He is Tampa Bay’s table setter, a guy that always seems to get on base one way or another and make something happen.
The speedy left fielder is more than capable of turning a slow ground ball into an infield single. Once on base, he can move himself into scoring position with his supreme speed.
In 2010, Crawford showed that he’s not just a base stealer. He led the Rays in average as well as being second on the team in RBI’s and third in home runs.
While the play of Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena is also crucial to the Rays postseason success, Crawford is one of the only players on the Rays who can have just as big of an impact on the game with his bat as he can with his feet, and that makes for a dangerous combination.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer
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The good news is the Minnesota Twins seized control of the AL Central en route to their third playoff appearance in five years. The bad news is that they will be trying to end a nine game playoff skid when they take on the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS.
When it comes to their pitching staff, the Twins have a fairly deep rotation of veterans and a solid bullpen that the team bolstered with the midseason additions of Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes.
Despite a stable pitching situation, the Twins hitting is a little more up in the air. The team just received word that one of its best sluggers, Justin Morneau, will miss the entire postseason because of a concussion he suffered in early July.
While Morneau’s been out, the rest of the Twins offense has picked up their play, but not having the All-Star first baseman in their lineup come playoff time definitely hurts.
Because of this, 2009's AL MVP Joe Mauer’s performance will be even more crucial if the Twins want to be able to hang with the high powered Yankees offense.
In 2010, Mauer lead Minnesota with a .327 batting average and despite hitting only nine home runs he continues to be one of the most dangerous hitters in all of baseball.
If the Twins are going to put an end to their nine game playoff losing streak, much less advance past the first round of the playoffs, they will need Mauer driving in runs and generally wreaking havoc in the middle of the Twins lineup. The alternative will likely be another quick playoff exit.
Atlanta Braves: Billy Wagner
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Just a week ago, it was far from a sure thing that the Atlanta Braves would be one of the eight teams that enjoyed a postseason berth.
But thanks to some gritty play, and a little help from the San Francisco Giants, they were able to give Bobby Cox one more chance at postseason glory.
Going into the playoffs, there might not be a team that has more trouble scoring runs than the Braves, which is what makes their relief pitching is so vitally important.
Atlanta has some quality starters at the top of their rotation including Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, and Derek Lowe who should all be able to give the Braves offense a fighting chance if they can put a few runs up on the board.
But it will be no easy task for a team that is dealing with the losses of both Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, who will both be sorely missed in the Braves lineup, especially because they’re going up against a great Giants pitching staff in the NLDS.
With that being said, if the Braves are able to put a few runs up on the board their playoff fate will rest in the hands of Billy Wagner, the player who will be called upon to preserve a late inning lead should they be fortunate enough to have one.
The Braves will need Billy Wagner to continue his stellar regular season play in the postseason. There is no margin of error anymore for the 39 year-old closer.