MLB Playoff Predictions 2010: Newcomers Who Can Make the Biggest Impact
MLB’s second season gets underway Wednesday.
While the Yankees, Twins and Phillies have been postseason mainstays recently, the Giants, Rangers and Reds are back for the first time in years; the Braves are making their first appearance since 2005 and the Rays are looking to complete some unfinished business from 2008.
Every October provides a chance for young guys and traveled veterans that spent their careers with historically poor teams to get a shot at MLB’s postseason for the first time. Some can’t handle the pressure of the sport’s biggest spotlight, while others step up to new heights.
Young guys like Andruw Jones (1996), Derek Jeter (1996), K-Rod (2002), Josh Beckett (2003), Bobby Jenks (2005), Adam Wainwright (2006) and BJ Upton (2008) instantly made a name for themselves with breakout postseason performances in their first trips.
Meanwhile, veterans like Scott Brosius (1998), Carlos Beltran (2004) and Matt Holliday (2007) paved the way for big payouts by making breakout first impressions in October.
The following slideshow will include my 15 candidates for breakout performers in their first appearance in the postseason. These are in no particular order. Leave a comment if you disagree with my choices or think I missed someone.
1. Buster Posey
The Giants versatile rookie catcher/first baseman is one of the front-runners in a tight NL Rookie of the Year race. Since being called up on May 29, Posey has been one of the Giants' most reliable bats. Brian Sabean and the front office were so impressed with their first-round draft pick, that they traded starting catcher Benji Molina about a month after his arrival.
Looks like Sabean made the right choice; the Giants are 52-32 since the trade.
Posey has gone from a Triple-A standout to the Giants cleanup hitter in a matter of months. When was the last time you saw a rookie catcher hitting in the clean-up spot?
Posey hit .305 with a .357 OBP, .505 SLG, 18 home runs and 67 RBI for the season, but has struggled to hit just .233 down the stretch in September. He did have eight homers in that same span though.
Don’t expect his struggles to linger in October. This guy has thrived on the biggest stages his entire life and the Braves had better be well-versed on how to pitch to him.
2. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda fell into a sophomore slump in 2010 as he watched his batting average dip from .330 to .268 while his power numbers dimmed considerably as well (from 25 homers to 13 and 90 RBI to 63).
Sandoval was expected to have to carry his team’s offense virtually on his own and seemed to have buckled under that pressure in just his second full season.
But now with Posey hitting from the cleanup spot and Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Andres Torres, Freddy Sanchez and to some extent Pat Burrell, picking up the slack offensively, the pressure is off the Panda to produce.
Giants fans are hoping Sandoval can recapture his form from August when his batting average shot up 11 points and he had 10 multi-hit games, six homers and 16 RBI.
3. Tim Lincecum
Hard to believe this will be the first postseason appearance for the NL’s two-time defending Cy Young award winner. But then again, he’s just 26-years-old.
In just four pro seasons, the Freak has 56 wins, 907 strikeouts and a 3.04 ERA. That’s like the pitching equivalent to Albert Pujols’ start to his career.
This was deemed by many critics to be a down year for the Giants ace, though most pitchers would be more than fine with the season he had.
He went 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA, 212 innings pitched. He also led the league in strikeouts for the third straight year with 231. Something tells me he’ll be just fine in the playoffs. He’ll start in Game 1 vs. the Braves.
Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and closer Brian Wilson will also be making their first postseason appearances for a team that was carried to the postseason by its stellar staff.
4. Jason Heyward
The Braves 20-year-old manchild Jason ‘Ironhead’ Heyward has had the eyes of the MLB world on him since Opening Day when he launched a bomb off Carlos Zambrano to announce his presence with authority.
Heyward, along with Gaby Sanchez and Posey, is part of the strongest NL Rookie of the Year class the league has produced in quite some time.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefty hit .277 with a .393 OBP, .456 SLG, 18 homers and 72 RBI in his rookie campaign.
He’s proven every step of the way that he’s capable of producing in the biggest situations. Most recently, he went 2-for-4 with a triple and an RBI on the last day of the season to get Bobby Cox and the Braves back in the postseason.
5. Tommy Hanson
Like Lincecum, Hanson has been labeled as having a down year in 2010, though it may be more than a bit misleading. He’s like the NL version of Felix Hernandez, though his numbers aren’t quite as good and he plays on a much better team.
Hanson is 10-11 this season with a 3.33 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and 173 strikeouts against 56 walks. His record is skewed by the fact that the Braves only score 2.3 runs while he’s in the game and 4.1 total runs in games he starts, which is 13th lowest in the National League.
Hanson will start Game 2 and is more than capable of taking over a postseason game and posting zeroes all day.
6. Matt Capps
Capps was setting the NL on fire for a fairly terrible Nationals team early in the season when he seemingly came out of nowhere to save 26 games in 47 appearances.
The Nats mercifully traded their top reliever to the Twins where he’s actually improved his numbers. He’s 2-0 with 16 saves, a 2.00 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 27 appearances for the Twins.
The 26-year-old, right-hander spent five seasons wasting away with the pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates, so this is the first time he’s even sniffed October baseball.
He’s in a great position to succeed because the Twins have plenty of bullpen arms to take pressure off him.
Matt Guerrier, former Angels closer Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain and possibly Kevin Slowey will all be available vs. the Yanks and beyond. That many arms should keep each guy fresh and allow Ron Gardenhire to use them only in situations where they can be most effective.
7. Neftali Feliz
The Rangers 22-year-old Dominican closer has gone from a throw-in prospect in the 2007 trade for Mark Teixeira to one of the game’s most elite closers in just a few short years.
Feliz made the All-Star team in his first full MLB season and was a godsend for the Rangers’ bullpen. In 70 appearances, Feliz has saved 40 games (good enough for third in the AL) while posting a 2.73 ERA and a miniscule 0.88 WHIP.
Could he be the next great young, flame-throwing closer to be immortalized with a finishing fist-pump in the Fall Classic?
8. C.J. Wilson
Coming off a 17-win season, Scott Feldman was supposed to be the ace of the Rangers staff this year with oft-injured veteran Rich Harden coming in as a close second. Instead, career reliever C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis took over as the staff leaders.
Wilson had to have been the biggest surprise as he hadn’t made a start since his rookie year in 2005. This season, he led the Rangers with 15 wins and posted a respectable 3.35 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He also topped 200 innings.
Though he had a great regular season, does he have enough to keep going in October? He had a terrible September when he went 0-3 with a 6.26 ERA and he’s struggled against the Yankees and Rays going 1-1 with an ERA over 5.00 against each.
But anything can happen in October right?
9. Michael Young
Young has been around for 10 full seasons, but this will be his first foray into the postseason. He had made six straight All-Star teams before this year and has a Gold Glove to his name.
He was one of the top offensive contributors on a potent Rangers team this year, posting a .284 batting average, 21 homers and 91 RBI.
Judging by his performance over the last 10 games of the season, Young is amped for his first October venture. He had 11 hits and six RBI and he’s got plenty of protection with Josh Hamilton, Vladdy Daddy and Nelson Cruz batting around him.
No. 10 Josh Hamilton
We all know Hamilton’s story: his fall from grace, going from the Rays No. 1 selection in 1999 to quitting baseball due to drug addiction.
This year, he’s without a doubt the AL MVP. In just 133 games, the 29-year-old hit a league-leading .359 with a .411 OBP, .633 SLG, 32 homers and 100 RBI. He’s the engine that makes this Rangers offense go.
Although the Rays have a great staff, I suspect Hamilton will put up some gaudy numbers.
It’s shaping up to be quite a story in the ALDS as he can burn the team that gave up on him. Can you imagine if the Rays would have kept him? Would be tough considering the Rays’ financial situation, but it’s fun to project.
No. 11 Nelson Cruz
The 29-year-old right fielder broke out last season with 33 homers. This year his power has dipped to 22 homers, but he appears to be a more complete hitter, posting a .318 batting average, .374 OBP and .576 SLG.
With all the firepower the Rangers have in their offense, Cruz won’t have the burden or pressure of being the main run producer.
He can sit back and wait for his pitch.
No. 12 Aroldis Chapman
The 22-year-old left-handed Cuban sensation hasn’t been up long (he made his debut on Aug. 31), but he’s made plenty of noise. He threw the fastest recorded pitch in Major League history last month when he 105 mph on the radar gun. Rarely will you see this guy throw under triple digits.
He reminds me of Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney from the 2006 Tigers team that went to the World Series. Reds fans are hoping he doesn’t get the same case of wild throws to bases that they did.
I can see Chapman sliding into the closer’s role if Francisco Cordero slips at all. Cordero may have had 40 saves this year, but he also blew eight opportunities and posted a 1.43 WHIP.
You can’t teach this kind of velocity. Dusty Baker might have to put his young sensation out there and hope he doesn’t pull a Rick Ankiel.
He looks ready. In 15 appearances, Chapman is 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 13.1 innings.
No. 13 Joey Votto
Votto may have been a household name to sabermatricians and fantasy players for the past few years, but the secret is out after his MVP campaign this year.
The 26-year-old lefty led the NL with a .424 OBP and .600 SLG while hitting .324 with 37 homers and 113 RBI. He was the most consistent run producer for one of the best offenses in the NL and demands respect from every pitcher in the league.
I don’t think the Reds are getting past the Phillies mainly because I don’t believe they have enough offense to overcome H20. However, what offense they do get will come from this year’s MVP.
No. 14 Rafael Soriano
Soriano has bounced around between Seattle and Atlanta during his nine years in the league, developing a reputation as a workman reliever who could develop into a solid closer in the future.
Well the future is now, as Soriano landed with the Rays this year and led the AL with 45 saves.
The Rays front office gets big ups for one of the best trades in quite awhile. Tampa got him from the Braves for Jesse Chavez.
The 30-year-old Dominican posted a razor-thin 1.73 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP in 64 appearances.
Joe Maddon can make that call to the bullpen with confidence this postseason just like in 2008 when he’d call up David Price.
No. 15 Wade Davis
Davis could be this year’s Jaret Wright, the 21-year-old who beat the Yankees twice in the 1997 ALDS and then pitched admirably in two games vs. the Marlins in the World Series.
The 24-year-old posted 12 wins in his first full season. He tossed 168 innings, logging a 4.07 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.
Davis struggled against Texas, going 0-1 with a 21.60 ERA in one start, but he was solid against the Yankees, going 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA in four starts against the pinstripers.
Davis will start Game 4, as Maddon showed confidence in the rookie by giving him the ball rather than Jeff Niemann, who has won 25 games over the last two years. If Maddon believes in the kid, that’s a good enough reason for me to believe that he’ll do big things.