NL Playoff Preview and Players to Watch
As the season wraps up and the National League contenders begin to separate themselves from one another, here is a look at some key players to watch down the stretch and through October.
Derrek Lee: There is no better way to add zeroes to the back of your next contract than to perform in the post-season when the stakes are the highest and all of baseball is watching. Lee will be looking to sign one last lucrative contract after this season. He had an opportunity to reinvent himself upon being traded to Atlanta, with the hopes he would replace some of the production lost when Chipper Jones went down. Lee responded by hitting a decent .289/.375/.433 since the trade. He will get another chance to start over in October and a few big hits will go a long way for his financial future.
Tommy Hanson: Tim Hudson has had a big season for the Braves, but has faded a bit down the stretch. Hanson, however, is the Braves most talented pitcher and has flown under the radar due to a mediocre win-loss record. This post-season may be a coming-out party for the 23-year-old future ace.
Brandon Phillips: Phillips took a lot of heat for calling out the Cardinals and his involvement in the brawl. Now that the Reds are comfortably in the playoffs, he will be playing with a chip on his shoulder and it will be time for him to back up his words.
The Reds Rotation: Without a clear-cut ace, the Reds playoff rotation will consist of some combination of Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Aaron Harang and Travis Wood. Mike Leake is recovering from shoulder fatigue and has passed his innings limit and will likely pitch out of the bullpen, if at all. This is a solid rotation that will give the Reds a chance to win every night, but not one that will intimidate opponents or blow away offenses.
Troy Tulowitzki: The Rockies are making a late, stretch run charge thanks to Tulo, who is in danger of spontaneous combustion, hitting .351/.412/.974 with 14 home runs in the month of September. If the Rockies stay hot and edge the Giants, Padres and Braves, he will hope to ride the hot streak through October. There is a good reason why he was ranked as LBS’ #6 Franchise Player.
Jorge De La Rosa: Another good player in a walk year. Most fans are aware of Ubaldo Jimenez’s contributions this season, but De La Rosa, as a left-handed pitcher, will be counted on to neutralize a Phillies offense that leans lefty, should the Rockies make it to October.
Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt: The Phillies can boast a three-headed monster unlike any team in the post-season. This Phillies team is built to win championships now and will need these three to continue their run of dominance if they are to reach their goal of bringing another championship to Philly. While Hamels and Oswalt have pitched in the post-season, this will be Halladay’s first time, as hard as that is to believe. There is nothing to suggest the best pitcher in baseball won’t continue to carve up opposing hitters.
Jayson Werth: If you’re noticing a trend here, it’s the emphasis on players in walk years and Werth — as a Boras client — looks to make well over the $66 million Jason Bay did last off-season. With a deep playoff run, he will continue to showcase his five-tool talent.
Adrian Gonzalez: Gonzalez will not receive the MVP attention he deserves, but is, without a doubt, the most valuable player to any given team this October. As the focal point of a weak offensive team, it will be manager Bud Black’s job to put hitters around Gonzalez for protection and for him to drive them in. He may wind up getting a lot of Barry Bonds-treatment if Ryan Ludwick doesn’t pull his weight.
Jon Garland: When the Padres signed Garland, it looked like a deal where he would be traded away in July for prospects after building up his value in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park. Six months later, the Padres are looking to be a surprise contender in the playoffs and Garland will be counted on heavily as a veteran who has pitched for a World Series team before with the White Sox. Garland is also in a walk year.
Tim Lincecum: The nominal ace of the Giants has had a rough season, dealing with his clock-work-like mechanics. All things considered, it has still been a very strong season for Tiny Tim who will finish the year with well over 200 strikeouts. The Giants pushed Lincecum hard each of the past two seasons, despite not reaching the post-season. They will hope he is fresh enough to perform now that he may finally get to pitch in October.
Buster Posey: He is a very deserving Rookie of the Year candidate who may wind up falling victim to the Jason Heyward hype train (although it is totally deserved). Posey will be counted on to manage a very talented Giants pitching staff as well as provide offense to a team that has, at times, had trouble scoring runs.