MLB Playoffs Preview: The Best Lineups Going Into October

Andrew SmithContributor IOctober 1, 2010

MLB Playoffs Preview: The Best Lineups Going Into October

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    Ryan Howard leads a potent Phillies attack.
    Ryan Howard leads a potent Phillies attack.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Everyone knows the playoffs are about pitching, especially pitching depth. However, of course some lineups are easier to pitch to than others. The teams that can support their pitchers are the ones that are going to win in the postseason. These are the teams with the lineups that are going to give pitchers the most trouble in October.

8) Atlanta Braves

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Brian McCann #16 of the Atlanta Braves against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field on September 15, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Key Players:

    Brian McCann, C: .271/.376/.459, 21 HR, 77 RBI

    Jason Heyward, RF: .278/.394/.457, 18 HR, 71 RBI

    Derek Lee, 1B: .256/.343/.417, 18 HR, 74 RBI

    Omar Infante, 2B: .323/.362/.417, 8 HR, 45 RBI

    How They Succeed: The Braves lineup is down this low mainly because of injuries to Chipper Jones and Martin Prado. Those two were arguably two of their most important players this season, and neither will play in October. It's never good when you have to rely on a rookie in the playoffs, even one as special as Jason Heyward.

    The Braves really need Derek Lee to step up in the middle of their lineup, as he is the only one with postseason experience. You can count on solid production from Brian McCann, as he is the most consistent hitter on the team. The fact that Omar Infante has been struggling mightily lately points out the fact that he is in fact a utility man.

    Overall, the Braves have minimal pop in their lineup unless guys like Matt Diaz or Alex Gonzalez really step up.

7) San Francisco Giants

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    SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 16: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants walks to the plate against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a Major League Baseball game at AT&T Park on September 16, 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Gett
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Key Players:

    Buster Posey, C: .311/.364/.504, 16 HR, 64 RBI

    Aubrey Huff, 1B: .291/.383/.510, 26 HR, 85 RBI

    Pat Burrell, LF: .251/.350/.471, 20 HR, 64 RBI

    Andres Torres, CF: .268/.343/.480, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 24 SB

    How They Succeed: Again, it's never ideal to have to rely on a rookie, even though Buster Posey seems to be very mature. The Giants will really have to count on Huff and Burrell to provide the power. Jose Guillen is playing on glass knees, and Cody Ross has shown almost no power since going to the Bay Area.

    The most important factor for the Giants is Andres Torres' health. He was out for about two weeks after an appendectomy, and apparently came back too early. If he is healthy, he has to be the catalyst for this team and get on base for the middle of the order.

    The Giants have some potential power in the order, but they are going to have to be able to manufacture runs in the canyon that is AT&T Park.

6) Tampa Bay Rays

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    OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 20:  Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays bats against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum  on August 20, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Key Players:

    Evan Longoria, 3B: .294/.372/.504, 22 HR, 104 RBI

    Carl Crawford, LF: .309/.359/.492, 17 HR, 88 RBI, 46 SB

    Carlos Pena, 1B: .198/.328/.411, 28 HR, 82 RBI

    Ben Zobrist, 2B, OF: .242/.350/.357, 10 HR, 75 RBI, 24 SB

    How They Succeed: Their offense hinges on whether Evan Longoria is healthy or not. If he is, he is one of the best hitters in the game and can carry them. If his quad is not fully healthy, their offense could have serious problems producing runs.

    The Rays are going to depend on Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton to get on base and steal bases, and just hope Carlos Pena can somehow get hot. They are going to need production from guys like Jon Jaso and Matt Joyce, as help for Longoria. If Upton and Pena continue their poor play into the postseason, they could have a tough time producing runs in the playoffs.

    Overall, the Rays have some marquee players that aren't having good years. They are going to have to step up for Tampa to go to the World Series.

5) Minnesota Twins

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    SEATTLE - AUGUST 27:  Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on August 27, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. The Twins won 6-3. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Key Players:

    Joe Mauer, C: .331/.407/.473, 9 HR, 74 RBI

    Delmon Young, LF: .300/.336/.493, 20 HR, 110 RBI

    Jason Kubel, RF: .246/.319/.427, 21 HR, 92 RBI

    Danny Valencia, 3B: .323/.362/.463, 7 HR, 40 RBI

    How They Succeed: Joe Mauer's health is the Twins' main concern. He is the best hitter for average in the game when fully healthy. If he is clicking in the three hole, it makes everyone else better. Justin Morneau is also one of the best hitters in the game. If he were healthy, they would be higher on the list. But it looks like the only chance he has of playing would be in the World Series.

    Delmon Young was one of the biggest surprises of the year, though he has always had the talent (No. 1 overall pick years back). They need him to continue to produce. If Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer can continue to fill in well for Morneau and Danny Valencia gives them anything, they should be able to put up some runs. Denard Span getting on base and running is also a must.

    The Twins have a very balanced attack, and if they get consistent production from guys like Kubel, Cuddyer, and a few bombs from Jim Thome, they could go far in October.

4) Texas Rangers

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    ST. PETERSBURG - AUGUST 17:  Outfielder Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers misses this pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on August 17, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Key Players:

    Josh Hamilton, OF: .361/.414/.635, 31 HR, 97 RBI

    Nelson Cruz, RF: .312/.370/.571, 22 HR, 78 RBI

    Vlad Guerrero, DH: .300/.345/.498, 29 HR, 112 RBI

    Michael Young, 3B: .285/.333/.449, 21 HR, 89 RBI

    How They Succeed: When healthy, Josh Hamilton is the best pure hitter in the game right now. He is elite in both power and average. The Rangers need him healthy and swinging if they want to go anywhere in the postseason. Nelson Cruz is one of the more underrated hitters in the game and one of the more reliable.

    Vlad has postseason experience, and should be fine in the playoffs. Michael Young, a guy with no playoff games under his belt, is the clubhouse leader and needs to come up with the clutch hits. Guys like Ian Kinsler and David Murphy are going to need to chip in, too. Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon have done a great job at the top of the lineup all year, although they are very young.

    The main issue for Texas is to keep Hamilton healthy. If he is in full form, everyone else can fall into place.

3) Cincinnati Reds

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    HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 19:  Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnatti Reds doubles in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on September 19, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Key Players:

    Joey Votto, 1B: .323/.425/.601, 37 HR, 111 RBI

    Brandon Phillips, 2B: .271/.330/.429, 18 HR, 57 RBI

    Scott Rolen, 3B: .290/.363/.504, 20 HR, 84 RBI

    Jay Bruce, RF: .277/.348/.476, 22 HR, 66 RBI

    How They Succeed: Joey Votto will be the NL MVP, and deservedly so. He has been great all year and is the vital cog in this lineup. He does have a very solid supporting cast. Jay Bruce has come on very strong lately, including hitting a dramatic walk-off shot to clinch the division. He, Jonny Gomes, and Votto need to supply significant power.

    Guys like Brandon Phillips and Orlando Cabrera need to set the table for the big boys, which hasn't been a strength of theirs this year. This is a very solid lineup one through eight, with guys like Chris Heisey, Ramon Hernandez, and Drew Stubbs. These guys will all need to chip in if the Reds want to have a shot at getting through the first round.

    Cincinnati has a very deep lineup, and everyone will have to pull their weight to keep them competitive.

2) Philadelphia Phillies

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    PHILADELPHIA - SEPTEMBER 25: First baseman Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies is greeted at home plate by second baseman Chase Utley #26 after hitting a first inning two-run home run during a game against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park o
    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Key Players:

    Chase Utley, 2B: .278/.390/.453, 16 HR, 63 RBI

    Ryan Howard, 1B: .278/.353/.511, 31 HR, 106 RBI

    Jayson Werth, RF: .294/.386/.526, 26 HR, 83 RBI

    Placido Polanco, 3B: .298/.340/.388, 6 HR, 52 RBI

    How They Succeed: The numbers for essentially this entire team, save for Jayson Werth, are way below career averages. Almost everyone has been hurt this year including Utley for about a third of the season, Howard for about three weeks, and Jimmy Rollins for about half the season. They have just started to get their swings back, and when they get going, they might be the best lineup in baseball.

    Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, it could be argued, have been the best three-four combo for the last few years. Jayson Werth has been on a tear lately and is finally hitting with RISP. Polanco has had a nagging elbow injury, but he should be good to go. The only question is Rollins, who needs to get his swing back before the playoffs. The Phils will rely on guys like Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, and the ever-clutch and underrated Carlos Ruiz to come up with big hits. This team may have the deepest lineup in baseball.

    As long as Utley and Howard produce like they always do in October, the Phils should roll to another World Series.

1) New York Yankees

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    NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 26:  Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees hits a two run homerun in the seventh-inning against the Boston Red Sox on September 26, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Key Players:

    Alex Rodriguez, 3B: .272/.342/.514, 30 HR, 123 RBI

    Mark Teixeira, 1B: .259/.367/.487, 33 HR, 107 RBI

    Robinson Cano, 2B: .314/.374/.524, 28 HR, 106 RBI

    Derek Jeter, SS: .268/.338/.369, 10 HR, 66 RBI, 110 R

    How They Succeed: This team is built on sheer power. With their pitching not nearly as good as last year, the offense will have to carry a lot more of the load. Rodriguez, Cano, Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, and Jorge Posada all sport significant power. Their tiny park fits them perfectly, and they should be able to mash this October.

    The key to them winning a another championship, however, rests in the nine and one-holes. Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner need to get on base for those guys. Everyone expects Jeter to just show up in October, but he has not been the real Derek Jeter all year. That is a legitimate question. And Brett Gardner need to act as a second leadoff man from the nine-hole. He needs to bunt, slap, whatever it takes to get on base for the boppers.

    The Yankees have the most talent, but if Derek Jeter doesn't show up, they could have some problems supporting their poor pitching.