One Player Who Could Doom Each MLB Contender's Chances

Jeffrey BeckmannCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2011

One Player Who Could Doom Each MLB Contender's Chances

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    With a new team being eliminated from playoff contention each day, we can finally smell October baseball. Isn't it sweet?

    The 2011 season is down to its final two weeks and all of a sudden the playoff picture is an absolute mess. If you listen closely, you can hear heart palpitations from fans all over the globe.

    The field has narrowed down though, as a 12-game winning streak by the Detroit Tigers has sent the White Sox and Indians home for an extra long winter, while the Philadelphia Phillies became the first team to earn a postseason berth.

    Other than that, there are still 10 teams fighting for the seven remaining playoff spots, some of which will be decided during the seasons final days.

    Each of the 10 teams have one player in particular that could potentially single-handedly ruin their season, whether it be a flaccid bat in the lineup are a struggling No. 3 starter on the mound.

    Here is "One Player Who Could Doom Each MLB Contender's Chances."  

Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton

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    Justin Upton is the heart and soul of the young Arizona Diamondbacks' lineup, and their offense lives and breathes through him.

    A five-tool player like Upton has the ability to make everyone around him in the lineup better, whether it be by his speed on the base paths or his powerful bat at the plate. He also anchors their outfield defensively. 

    There is a reason the 23-year-old is one of the leading NL MVP candidates, as without him the Diamondbacks wouldn't even be in this position.

    If Upton goes cold, so will the Diamondbacks offense and any chance they have at contending in the playoffs will be gone.

St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter

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    The St. Louis Cardinals recently inked their staff ace to a two-year contract extension, and now it's time for Chris Carpenter to prove that his age hasn't caught up to him.

    Carpenter sits with a 3.80 ERA and 1.31 WHIP on the season, both of which are his highest marks since his final season with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002.

    On August 21, Carpenter sat with a 3.57 ERA on the season after finishing a 29.2-inning stretch during which he allowed only seven runs. He's given up six runs twice and four runs once in four starts since, although he did throw a complete game shutout in the middle.

    For the Cards to continue their late-season drive toward the playoffs, they'll need their staff ace to step it up in a big way down the homestretch.  

Milwaukee Brewers: Zack Greinke

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    Zack Greinke and the Milwaukee Brewers are a few games away from clinching their first division title since 1982. 

    For the Brewers to succeed in the playoffs, Greinke is going to have to start pitching as well on the road as he does at Miller Park—where he is currently 10-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.

    On the road, however, is a much different story for the Brewers' hurler. Greinke is 4-6 with a 5.04 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in games outside of Milwaukee.

    The Brewers can only hope October spells the end to Greinke's road woes.

Atlanta Braves: Derek Lowe

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    I almost feel bad for Atlanta Braves' fans at this point. With two of their top three starters in Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens injured and not likely to return this season, Derek Lowe will inevitably be a part of the Braves' playoff rotation.

    Brandon Beachy has earned his spot as the No. 2 man behind Tim Hudson, but it'd be surprising to see the team go with another inexperienced starter to round out their three-man rotation in the playoffs.

    Lowe has a 4.70 ERA on the season, pitching more than six innings only three times through his first 31 starts.

Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley

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    The Philadelphia Phillies have one of the best pitching staffs in the history of Major League Baseball, but to secure another World Series championship they will need a bat to pick up the slack in October.

    After missing most of the first half due to injury, Chase Utley has struggled to regain his form of old. He's hitting only .262 with 10 home runs through 88 games this season.

    Through 41 career playoff games, Utley has 10 home runs and 24 RBI. That's the kind of production the Phillies will need to carry them to the top.

Los Angeles Angels: Vernon Wells

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    Vernon Wells' OPS-plus has dropped 45 points year over year, going from 126 in 2010 to a mere 81 this season.

    While he's still manged to hit 21 long balls, Wells is hitting only .218 with a disgraceful .251 OBP. That has left a huge hole in the heart of the Angels order which they haven't been able to overcome.

    With the Angels' rotation boasting one of the best one-two-three punches in baseball, all they need is a little extra offense for a chance to overtake the Rangers in the AL West.  

Texas Rangers: Colby Lewis

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    Colby Lewis is considered the No.2 starter in the Texas Rangers' rotation, but he hasn't pitched like one during the second half of the season.

    Through his last four starts, Lewis has allowed 19 runs in 22.2 innings. That won't get it done in the playoffs, and they'll need him to step up if the Rangers want to make a run at a second consecutive AL pennant.

    If the Rangers learned anything during their crushing World Series defeat to the Giants last season, it's that all the offense in the world won't deliver a title.

Detroit Tigers: Max Scherzer

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    Justin Verlander is a shoe-in for the AL Cy Young and has a chance to become the first pitcher to win the MVP Award since 1992. Behind their ace, trade deadline acquisition Doug Fister has been dominant while locking himself in as the No. 2 starter in the Tigers' rotation.

    Beyond that is a crap-shoot, although Max Scherzer has been great at times this season and could give the Tigers the most dominant three-man rotation in the AL heading into the playoffs.

    Inconsistency has been the issue this season with Scherzer, but if he can stay in line on the mound in October the Tigers could be a serious threat for the AL crown.

Tampa Bay Rays: BJ Upton

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    The formerly potent Tampa Bay Rays' lineup have produced almost one run per game less than they did in 2010, which is the main reason they have fallen from first to third place in 2011.

    The Rays haven't been able to produce runs because they can't get on base, as their team OBP has gone from .333 last season to .318 this season. Most of their big bats are hitting below .240 on the season, with B.J. Upton leading the way with a .234 batting average.

    To make a run at the postseason, and to take this weekends four-game set from the Red Sox, the Rays will need Upton to play more like he did during the 2008 playoffs, where he hit seven home runs with 16 RBI though only 16 games. 

Boston Red Sox: John Lackey

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    When the Red Sox acquired Erik Bedard this past July, it was a foregone conclusion that there would be no way he'd manage to stay healthy for the remainder of the season.

    It's unfortunate because he pitched well through six starts with the Red Sox, but now it's time for John Lackey to begin earning his paychecks.

    Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have both been phenomenal this season, yet that won't be enough if Lackey and his 6.17 ERA continue to take the mound. It appears he'll need to figure things out just to keep the Red Sox in the playoffs at this point. 

New York Yankees: A.J. Burnett

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    Every time A.J. Burnett takes the mound, CC Sabathia's next contract bumps up $5 million. That's how bad Burnett has been this season.

    I'm sorry, but there is absolutely no freakin' way that the Yankees will win a championship if Ivan Nova and either Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia are backing up CC in their rotation. It's just not going to happen, folks.

    The Yankees need Burnett to regain at least some form of his old self to have a chance at a title unless they plan on riding CC every three days in the playoffs.

     

    Jeffrey Beckmann is a MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Jeffrey on his new   Twitter account for all of his latest work. You can also hear him each Friday at 1 p.m. EST on B/R Baseball Roundtable.