Ten Struggling Stars Whose Turnaround Will Decide the MLB Races
As we get ever so close to the end of the 2010 MLB season, the playoff picture has begun to slowly take form. There are six teams in the American division and six teams in the National division fighting for a postseason berth, with everybody else 8 games or more away from even flirting with a wild card.
In no specific order, the Yankees, Rays, Twins, White Sox, Rangers, and Red Sox are the big six slugging it out in the American League, while the Phillies, Braves, Cardinals, Reds, Padres, and Giants are battling it out in the National League.
One of the key factors down the stretch will be whether or not the struggling pieces to each team’s puzzle will turn it around or not.
Whether it is due to injury, a slump, or just bad mechanics, there are 10 players I feel will significantly impact their respective team, in their quest for the postseason.
So let’s take a look at who needs to turn things around, before it’s too late.
10. Curtis Granderson, Yankees
The Yankees have been in a dog fight with the Tampa Bay Rays for the entire 2010 season, and any hitter who is currently slumping needs to turn things around now, to give the Yankees the leg up they most desperately need to try and pull away.
Curtis Granderson is at the front of the line.
Granderson has been horrible against left handed pitchers this year, and has hit just .238 with a solo homerun, and three RBI in the month of August.
Hitting coach Kevin Long has begun work to completely reform Granderson’s swing, and Granderson must understand that in order to be an everyday hitter in the Bronx, you must be able to hit against any pitcher.
But if Granderson can turn things around before the close of the season, the Yankees have yet another viable weapon at their disposal, and considering this guy has hit 20+ home runs in the last three years, he has more than enough capabilities to be that X factor the Yanks need right now to separate themselves.
9. A.J. Burnett, Yankees
It doesn’t stop with Granderson. A.J. Burnett has been the model of inconsistency to its fullest extent, and one can only imagine how this division race would look right now if Burnett was on top of his game.
Well, there’s no time like the present, and Burnett needs to turn things around now.
Burnett is running with a 9-10 record, a disappointing 4.66 ERA and a curious 6.8/3.6 K/BB ratio, and Burnett just doesn’t seem to have the ability to settle in this year at all. While Burnett has always been a guy who traditionally walks 3 to 4 batters a game, it is his strike count that is way down from his career 8.2 average.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Burnett started the season strong going 6-2 in 11 starts before going win-less in June. Since then, he has been up and down and is currently dealing with a win-less streak this month.
Burnett, however, has more than enough explosive talent as a pitcher, and if Burnett can turn things around now—along with Granderson—this team will have two major pieces of their puzzle solved; pieces that should act as that X factor I mentioned in the last slide.
8. Ryan Ludwick, Padres
The Padres are one of the more surprising teams in the West, but have always been devoid of a power collective. This is one of the reasons why they traded for Ryan Ludwick.
But the trade also worked in favor of Ludwick.
In St. Louis, his playing time was being cut into by the youth brigade (specifically Jon Jay) and Ludwick wasn't happy, until he went to San Diego.
San Diego traded for the guy who hit 37 homeruns and 113 RBI in 2008, and 22 home runs and 97 RBI in 2009, but thus far he hasn't really come through.
Ludwick has hit .273 with three homeruns and 9 RBI since coming to San Diego, and while he is getting on base, it’s his power numbers that need to increase if the Padres want to shut the door on those pesky Giants that keep hanging around.
If Ludwick returns to his power form, the Giants will have less of a chance winning the division, end of story.
7. Jamie Shields, Rays
A lot of people—specifically the Rays—really thought Jamie Shields was going to turn things around in 2009.
The Rays entered the 2010 season with a pitching staff that many thought had the potential to be as solid as they come, and most of them were right.
But for Shields, he hasn’t really been a part of that mix, rather, carried over his inconsistency from 2009. Shields has a 10-11 record, with a bloated 4.98 ERA, and an even fatter 1.424 WHIP, and while the kids is still throwing heat, he is facing season high tallies in hits, and homeruns; something that needs to be turned around now.
Shields has the ability to be a dominate flame thrower on the mound, and if he can just sure things up a bit, keep the walks and hits down, and continue to throw strikes, the Rays could wind up having the upper hand in the Division.
6. Colby Rasmus, Cardinals
Speaking of guys resting on their 2009 laurels, Colby Rasmus has been yet another player who has been too hot and cold, a player who hasn’t become the true power bat he is capable of being, and he is a player who needs to turn the tables before it is too late for the Cards.
Granted, the 2009 ROY nominee has already surpassed his 2009 home run and RBI totals, and is hitting 19 points above his 2009 average, but if Rasmus can tighten up a few bolts, the Cardinals would have another consistent bat in the mix.
April was up, May was down, June was up, July was down, and August isn’t looking too good for Rasmus right now.
The point is, even though the season totals look better than ’09, only consistency will help the Cardinals push themselves over the top. An improved stat line that looks good on paper, doesn’t mean anything if the team isn’t in the postseason.
5. Gordon Beckham, White Sox
There is a growing stigmata encompassing Beckham right now, and it’s called bust. But the White Sox have shown this year that they can not only play with the big boys of the division, they can also overcome adversity.
Beckham, was supposed to become that X factor the White Sox were in need of, that extra young power bat that would make them a deadly offensive team, instead he is doing worse than his sub-par 2009 campaign.
Aside from Carlos Quentin, Beckham has the lowest BA on the team—I’d mention Mark Kotsay, but it wouldn’t be fair to mention a DH hitter who has half the ABs a Beckham.
If the White Sox are to get their three games back from the Twins, and hold them at bay, or even a wildcard berth for that matter, they are going to have to get Beckham going. The kid was beginning to heat up after the All-Star break but has since receded as usual, but if Beckham can turn things around permanently the White Sox will benefit greatly.
Amazing how just one guy could affect a team, eh?
4. Josh Beckett, Red Sox
Ah, Josh Beckett. This is a guy who is known as a dominate pitcher who has the ability to blow batter away, or manage them with some of the filthiest pitches in the game.
He’s normally efficient, doesn’t walk much historically (1.234), and has been Mr. Clutch when the team needed him the most.
But the 2010 season has been mostly a disappointment, compounded with injury.
Beckett went 1-1 in eight starts with a horrid 7.29 ERA before going on the DL; something the Red Sox probably didn’t anticipate, but since his return he has been much better going 2-1 in his last five, with a 5.34 ERA and a 28/7 K/BB ratio.
To Beckett’s credit, that ERA is a bit inflated thanks to two rough outings in Yankee stadium and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington…two places most pitchers don’t escape without taking some hits.
The Red Sox are currently fifth in the wild card hunt ahead of the White Sox and behind the Rays, so the need for Beckett to finally come back into his own is incredibly crucial considering their schedule.
The Red Sox face the Rays, White Sox and Yankees each twice, with an utterly brutal end to the season that starts in New York, runs through Chicago and back in Boston against the Yankees again! The balance of their competition, however, is far easier and advantageous.
3. Pablo Sandoval, Giants
Can anyone tell me what exactly happen to this guy? Remember back in the late winter months when Sandoval was excited over his eye surgery? Remember when that surgery was supposed to increase his ability to hit?
Me too, which is precisely why Sandoval needs to jar his memory a bit as well.
Sandoval’s hitting woes and lack of power aren’t the only issues right now though, his defense at third has been horrible to say the least.
Defense is just as important as hitting or pitching, and when you are a team that can’t seem to upend the division leader—and are currently four games behind—the last thing that you need to deal with is a player who is in a offensive and defensive funk; especially a player who was supposed to be your shining star.
If, however, Sandoval can somehow dig himself out of the cavernous hole he has created, the Giants have a significant edge in winning either the division or wild card.
2. Joe Mauer, Twins
Fresh off his huge contract, Mauer has been the victim of the injury bug this season, but before dealing with his inflictions he was still the power hitting Mauer everyone in Minnesota has come to love.
Mauer is utterly crucial to the Twins' success. When he plays they win, when he doesn’t play they don’t win that much, and if you take into account the White Sox have already come out of the wood work to usurp first place from the Twins once, the chances of that happening again are very good.
They’re even better without Mauer.
Since coming back to the lineup, Mauer has been primarily hitting out of the DH spot, and is still dealing with that nagging should injury.
Mauer hitting out of the DH spot lessens his chances to drive in runs, and when you add in a ailing shoulder, his effectiveness also suffers greatly.
But if Mauer can get healthy soon, and return to his natural spot in the lineup, the Twins could have a golden opportunity to take the division with little interference.
1. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
There is no team that has suffered more from the injury bug than Philadelphia, but there is also no other team that has survived through the injury bug better than Philadelphia.
Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, and Jimmy Rollins have all gone down at some point in the season, with Howard and Utley the last two on the DL.
Jimmy Rollins’ absence, however, hurts the most.
The Philadelphia lead-off hitter is a paramount player for a club that thrives on extra base hits, and runs scored. Rollins has always been a giant source of both.
But it is also his speed that the Phillies have missed; speed that presents scoring chances that perhaps a hit couldn’t give.
But here’s the thing:
Rollins is healthy now, and he is known as Mr. September due largely to his spike in performance in that month. He hits better (20+ points above normal) fields better, and simply does everything consistently better in September, which is a major reason why this team has made it to the big show two straight times now.
If Rollins can turn up the heat in September as he traditionally does—remember, Utley and Howard come back Tuesday of this week—then the Phillies not only have a serious shot at winning the division yet again, but if they don’t they still have a significant edge over the Giants for the Wild Card; a team they are currently tied with.
Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read, and if you liked this piece please check out my other work here.