MLB Playoffs 2011: The 7 Most Under-the-Radar Stars of the Postseason
The 2011 MLB Division Series featured three playoffs decided in their fifth games, including one in the final (extra) inning.
A team does not prevail in a five-game series without key contributions from a host of different players.
Stars like Ryan Braun and Chris Carpenter performed at a high level, carrying their teams into the next round, but that was expected.
Each series also featured bit players playing clutch baseball, coming up with key hits or hurling scoreless innings to keep their teams in the race.
Here are seven players, six of whom played important roles in their teams’ advancement (and one player whose team fell just short), players lacking in star power but not in clutch performance this postseason.
Don Kelly, RF/3B, Detroit Tigers
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Winning in the playoffs often stems from a bit player in the regular season stepping up his game.
Kelly played this part for the Tigers, batting .364 against the Yankees. His seven total bases tied with Victor Martinez for second on the team. Coming off the bench in Games 2 and 3, he went 1-for-2 with a run in each contest, scoring a go-ahead run in Game 3.
Manager Jim Leyland wisely chose to ride his hot bat, starting him in Games 4 and 5. His first-inning solo home run in Game 5, coupled with Delmon Young’s solo shot, provided a 2-0 lead in the must-win game before the Yankees even batted.
He also impressively fielded an 8th-inning line drive by Derek Jeter, cutting off a Yankee rally. He will be a key Tiger going forward if he continues his clutch play.
Max Scherzer, P, Detroit Tigers
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After the Tigers used both Justin Verlander and Doug Fister in a rain-delayed Game 1 loss, Scherzer effectively became the Tigers’ second starter in a critical game. After an inconsistent season, Scherzer brought a much-needed strong starting effort to Game 2, throwing two-hit ball over six scoreless innings for the win.
He returned in relief in Game 5, throwing 1.1 innings, retiring the side in the 6th and striking out two.
If the division series were any indication, some long playoff rounds are ahead, and Scherzer will be called upon against a hard-hitting Rangers club to eke out wins, whether starting or in relief.
Mike Napoli, C, Texas Rangers
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In what shouldn’t come as a surprise to, well, anyone, Mike Napoli’s clutch hitting helped power the Rangers through a 3-1 Division Series victory over the Rays.
The former Angel, who established himself as an offensive force this year (.320/30/75, .414 OBP), performed in typical fashion in each of the Rangers’ wins. He contributed two RBI to the Rangers’ five-run 5th inning in Game 2, an inning that revitalized the Rangers’ offense and turned the series tide their way.
His sweet stroke returned in Game 3, as Napoli hit a two-run homer to instigate another Rangers’ rally.
Napoli has become a clutch hitter in the Rangers’ lineup, a role essential to playoff victory. Perhaps the most telling statistic is the Rangers’ 36-10 record (including the ALDS) when Napoli gets an RBI.
Jason Motte, P, Cardinals
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Motte continued to erase any uncertainty concerning the Cardinals’ closer position with a strong showing in the NLDS. He threw 1.1 spotless innings to preserve a one-run lead and get the save in the Cards’ crucial Game 2 victory.
He threw another scoreless inning of relief in the Game 3 loss, and blew by the heart of the Phillies’ order again in Game 4, preserving a two-run lead to keep the Cards’ playoff hopes alive.
He has been throwing strikes and getting outs, a pattern that establishes his ability and reliability in handling the closer role on the big stage.
Takashi Saito, P, Brewers
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Saito entered the NLDS in Game 2, where he followed up a messy start by Zack Greinke with a scoreless 6th inning, getting the win after the Brewers’ offense exploded in the bottom of the inning.
He threw another scoreless inning of relief in the Brewers’ Game 3 loss, and followed it up with a pristine inning in Game 5, preserving a one-run lead.
When his health held up this year, Saito was terrific (2.03 ERA in 30 appearances), and he brings that consistency and postseason experience to his relief efforts.
With managers touchy about starters in the playoffs, who pitch out of order or on abnormal days’ rest, it is essential to have a player like Saito, who can be called upon to throw scoreless middle innings.
Jerry Hairston, 3B, Brewers
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Befitting a slapdash Brewers team that won their first-ever NL playoff series, journeyman infielder Hairston contributed in small but crucial ways during Milwaukee’s narrow five-game NLDS victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Ryan Braun and Nyjer Morgan may have gotten the big hits, but Hairston reliably produced throughout the NLDS, hitting two doubles and two sacrifices, and gathering three RBI, with a .400 OBP.
Especially with Rickie Weeks’ (1-for-18) NLDS struggles, Hairston’s solid presence in the bottom half of the order stabilizes the Brewers’ hitting attack and ensures that those big hits by Braun and Prince Fielder will be followed up by more.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks
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Goldschmidt was simply phenomenal for a Diamondbacks team that hit well in an uneven series but couldn’t quite get it done.
Goldschmidt, who made his major league debut only two months ago and has flashed his bat’s capabilities since, powered the D-backs’ hitting attack in the NLDS. His second homer of the series, in Game 3, was his loudest, a grand slam that effectively put the game out of the Brewers’ reach, forcing Game 4. His five RBI in Game 3 matched a D-backs postseason record.
In his four games, Goldschmidt went 7-for-16, scoring four runs, knocking in six, and posting a team-high .526 OBP.
Although he is headed home with the rest of his eliminated team, his stellar playoff performance deserves accolades, and is perhaps only a sign of what is to come.