2011 MLB Playoffs: Biggest Surprise Players of the Postseason
The Major League Baseball playoffs are a beautiful thing. Complete with drama, excitement, hope and heartbreak, they take fans through a range of human emotions every night in October.
Another essential dramatic element inherent in the playoffs is that of surprise and mystery. Without fail, players of little to no former notoriety will step up and do something spectacular on the biggest stage baseball has to offer and stamp their names in the hearts of fans—and MLB history—forever. In the past, such players have included Sid Bream, Craig Counsel, Edgar Renteria and Francisco Rodriguez.
This season is no different. Already in the divisional rounds, unheralded players are stepping into the national spotlight and making major contributions to propel their teams deeper into the playoffs. The following slides offer a list of players who have made some of the biggest impacts thus far, and who were relatively unknown before the playoffs began.
Matt Moore: LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Even though the Tampa Bay Rays have already been eliminated, they may not have received a more impactful contribution from a more unlikely source this postseason.
With the Rays playing for their lives just to make it into the playoffs, they burned many of their top starters during the final few games of the regular season. So to start Game 1 of the ALDS, manager Joe Maddon handed to ball to Matt Moore, a September call-up who had made exactly one major league start. When he joined the club, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach did not even know who he was.
However, Moore delivered for Maddon and the Rays, blanking a potent Rangers offense over seven innings, allowing just two hits while striking out six en route to an 8-0 victory. It was a brilliant performance in a big situation, and the young pitcher was every bit equal to the task.
Fantasy owners would do well to make a mental note of Moore for 2012.
Paul Goldschmidt: 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Not to blow the whistle or anything, but fantasy owners should also familiarize themselves with another name: Paul Goldschmidt.
The young first baseman's arrival was eagerly anticipated by those in Arizona in the know. Since his debut on Aug. 1, all he has done is belt eight HRs, 26 RBI, and steal four bases to boot. During the postseason, he has continued his torrid pace, batting .455 with two HRs and six RBI, including a game-breaking grand slam in Game 3 to keep the D-backs' playoff hopes alive.
In fact, Goldschmidt is hitting nearly .400 with the bases loaded, and during his young career already has a knack for timely hitting. Expect more good things from him in the future.
Mike Napoli: C, Texas Rangers
Mike Napoli may be the most well-recognized name on this list, but the enormous impact he has made down the stretch for the Rangers has been nothing short of surprising. Since the All-Star break, Napoli has hit .383 with 18 HRs and an OPS of 1.172. He continued to mash throughout the ALDS, hitting .357 and adding a homer and four RBI to the cause.
Additionally, his defensive prowess behind the plate was a welcome addition for the Rangers. After an experimental switch to first base in Anaheim, he resumed his natural position of catcher in Texas and has solidified the Rangers' pitching staff.
Both offensively and defensively, Napoli has been a dominating force for the Rangers.
Josh Collmenter: RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
With the D-backs down 0-2 to the Brewers, facing elimination and looking devoid of answers to the Milwaukee offense, manager Kirk GIbson gave the ball to Josh Collmenter, an April call-up, to bolster the Arizona rotation. Collmenter wound up winning 10 games on the season in almost total obscurity, but gained the trust of his manager and teammates.
In Game 3, his unorthodox, over-the-top delivery (which he learned throwing tomahawks as a youth) stymied the Brewers' batters. Collmenter threw seven innings of two-hit ball, allowing just one earned run and striking out six as the D-backs won 8-1 and ensured a Game 4.
It's hard to imagine a bigger performance in a more dire situation coming from a less likely source, but Collmenter saved the day for Arizona.
Delmon Young: OF, Detroit Tigers
Like Napoli's, Delmon Young is a more well-known name, but usually synonymous with mediocrity or unachieved potential. Since being traded from the Twins earlier this season, Young's contribution has been anything but.
Young has cemented himself as a potent threat in the middle of the Tigers' lineup, and has come through in the clutch. This postseason, he is slugging .667 and has two HRs, one of which was a go-ahead, game-winning shot to win Game 3 for Detroit.
Delmon Young has been a bona fide Major Leaguer for several years, but with the Tigers, he is rejuvenated and is maximizing his previously untapped potential.
Ryan Roberts: 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Better known by his fans as "Tat-Man" because of the extensive tattoos covering most of his body, Ryan Roberts has been a journeyman utility player attempting to find the right fit. With the departure of Matt Reynolds to Baltimore, Roberts secured Arizona's starting 3B position through his intense hustle, gritty defense and timely hitting.
When the stakes are highest, Roberts has found a way to rise to the occasion—be it cracking a Major League starting roster, or cracking a grand slam in Game 4 of the NLDS to keep the D-backs' dream alive and force a Game 5 in Milwaukee.
He may not be well known in the national media, but Roberts, aka "Tat-Man" is making a strong case to change all of that.
David Freese: 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
Another highly-anticipated, homegrown prospect, injuries have hampered the honeymoon period of Cardinals' 3B David Freese. Expected to lock down the hot corner for the Redbirds all season, Freese played in just 97 games in 2011.
However, he is healthy, active and on the postseason roster, and showed up big in Game 4. Facing elimination against what many claim is the best pitching staff in all of baseball, Freese drove in four runs on the night, including a game winning HR to force Game 5.
It might have been long in coming, but the Cardinals faithful are overjoyed that Freese is finally paying dividends in the clutch.
Doug Fister: RHP, Detroit Tigers
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Doug Fister is that he is in the postseason at all. Buried in obscurity in the middle of the Seattle Mariners pitching rotation, Fister wasn't a name that struck fear in the hearts of anyone.
Enter a change of scenery—a trade to the pennant-winning Detroit Tigers—and Fister seems reborn. Now someone to be feared, Fister went 8-1 in August and September with an ERA under three, and is a major reason why the Tigers are in the postseason.
Although the Yankees roughed him up a little in Game 1 (6 R in 7 IP), Fister will be looking to send Detroit to the ALCS when he toes the mound in tonight's decisive Game 5. Should he prevail, Fister will be one of the most unlikely sources of 2011 playoff gems, and he will forever endear himself to the fans in Detroit.