7 MLB Players with the Most Impact on the Pennant Races
We're getting into the home stretch in the MLB season. No team has larger than a four-game lead in their division, and half of the divisions' first- and second-place teams are separated by two games or less.
The AL East's Red Sox have a slim two-game lead on their arch enemies in New York, the Tigers are a half game up on the surprising Indians in the AL Central and the muddled NL Central sees the Brewers only a half game up on the out-of-the-blue Pirates and one-and-a-half up on the Cardinals.
Each of these teams have their superstars that must show up if their team is going to compete.
To name just a few: Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett in Boston; Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia in New York; Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit; Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson in Cleveland; Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in Milwaukee; Joel Hanrahan and Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh and Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday in St. Louis.
Each of these seven teams have a player in the wings who needs to show up for the team in order to win their division and send them to the playoffs.
Boston Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon
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Jonathan Papelbon and his evil eye haven't been nearly as intimidating the last few seasons. He's better this year than last, but still has an ERA pushing four—something his counterpart with the Yankees hasn't sniffed in his career.
With Daniel Bard on the roster this might be Papelbon's final run in Boston.
If he wants to lead the Red Sox to the AL East title (and guarantee a payday to come), he's going to need to find the nastiness that he's lost over the last couple of seasons.
New York Yankees: Curtis Granderson
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Who would have thought with guys like Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in the lineup, that it would be the Grandyman leading the Yankees in RBI and home runs?
Granderson has charged the already-potent Yankees offense and they're neck-and-neck with the Red Sox, who, before the season, everyone seemed to think would run away with the division.
If the Yankees are going to win the AL East, the sometimes streaky Granderson needs to keep up his production. If he doesn't, eh, so what? They'll win the Wild Card anyway.
Detroit Tigers: Max Scherzer
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Max Scherzer was far better than his 12-11 record last year. He's been nowhere near as good as his 10-5 record thus far this year, however.
Unlike rotation-mate Justin Verlander, Scherzer hasn't quite figured it out. Some days he looks like a clone of Verlander, other days he looks like a beat-up high school pitching machine.
Scherzer has been better in his last two starts (with three earned runs in 14.2 innings), and if the Tigers are going to hold off the Indians in the AL Central, he needs more of the same.
Cleveland Indians: Travis Hafner
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While written off by everyone years ago, Travis Hafner has had a huge impact on the Cleveland Indians lineup when he's been healthy.
With Shin Soo-Choo in the middle of an injury-filled nightmare of a season, and Grady Sizemore again leading the league in DL trips, Hafner gives the Indians a much-needed feared hitter in the middle of their lineup.
The Indians are set on pitching, they just need to get Asdrubal Cabrera some help on offense to pull away from the Tigers. Hafner can be that guy.
Milwaukee Brewers: Zack Greinke
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While the Brewers have been drying up their farm system to acquire superstars, they haven't got much in return for the acquisition of Zack Greinke from the Royals.
First, a fluke basketball injury knocked him out for the first month of the season, then he struggled following his return. Unlike in KC, Greinke doesn't need to be the ace—just a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Greinke has been a little better in his last few starts, meaning the Brewers can be optimistic that he'll help them down the stretch.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Kevin Correia
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The Pittsburgh Pirates' journeyman starter, Kevin Correia, got off to a great start to the season, but he's scuffled lately, seeing his ERA pushed above four.
Still, the Pirates have been winning despite Correia's mediocre starts. With Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton in the rotation, the Pirates have a decent chance of shocking the world and winning the NL Central.
If Correia can get his groove back, he will give the Pirates an even better shot.
St. Louis Cardinals: Jaime Garcia
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Jaime Garcia hasn't needed to be the ace before with 20-game winner Adam Wainwright in the Cardinals rotation.
With Wainwright out for the season, and Chris Carpenter's career on the down slide, Garcia now has to step up his game and become the dominating ace that he's capable of being down the stretch.
So far, so good for Garcia. He's 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA in July. The Cardinals have a few good, but not great, starters in their rotation. Garcia could be the exception and be the starter that can carry the team to the NL Central crown.