Ryan Braun, left field/Prince Fielder, first base, Milwaukee Brewers:
Having the right-hand-hitting Braun batting third and lefty swinging Fielder cleaning up is a Butch Hobson’s choice for an opposing manager late in a game. The Brewers will outpitch the Arizona Diamondbacks in their National League series, but can they outhit them? Despite Braun and Fielder’s presence, the Diamondbacks scored more runs this season.
Cliff Lee, left-hander, Philadelphia Phillies:
Yeah, everybody loves Roy Halladay, but the Phillies had him in 2010 and didn’t win the World Series. Of course, the Phillies had Cliff Lee in 2009 and they didn’t win then, either, although he was a beast against the New York Yankees in a losing World Series, and until losing two games to the San Francisco Giants as a member of the Texas Rangers in 2010, his earned run average was there with Christy Mathewson and Sandy Koufax as a postseason standard. A motivated Cliff Lee? Yikes.
Jaime Garcia, left-hander, St. Louis Cardinals:
Garcia won both starts against the Phillies this season and held the club to a .189 average, striking out nine and walking three. His ERA in six career starts against the Phillies is 1.20, so if Albert Pujols drives the one mistake he might get from Halladay and Lee over the wall and Garcia can work some magic, the Cardinals have a chance … to win one game in their best-of-five division series.
Seems you got to have at least one to make the NL playoffs, no? Aaron Hill, John McDonald, Lyle Overbay, Ryan Roberts are with the Diamondbacks to lead a group that includes Halladay, the Brewers’ Shaun Marcum, and the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter and Marc Rzepczynski. Hill’s OPS with the Diamondbacks was .223 percentage point improvement over what it was with the Blue Jays and he hit in 13 of his last 17 games, going .356 during that span. He is essentially playing for a contract. Let’s see what he’s got.
CC Sabathia, left-hand pitcher, New York Yankees:
No starting pitcher in this postseason bears the burden of Sabathia. If he loses in Game 1 of the series against the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander, it will be up to rookie Ivan Nova to hold the fort in Game 2 against Doug Fister, whose hard sinker is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. Honestly? Sabathia could be the only thing standing between the Yankees and being swept.
Evan Longoria, third baseman, Tampa Bay Rays:
It’s not just the dramatics of Game No. 162; after a season ruined by an early oblique injury, Longoria has had an MVP month and has found the line-drive swing that eluded him for so long. His righty bat remains the Rays’ most potent weapon in a series in which the Texas Rangers will start lefties in the first two games.
Mike Napoli, catcher/first baseman, Texas Rangers:
How’d that deal for Frank Francisco work out, anyhow? Napoli could always crush left-handed pitching, but this season he raised his average against righties by 67 percentage points. Napoli even threw out 30 per cent of base runners from behind the plate while catching nine shutouts. Odd, since sloppy defence was one reason the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim gave up on him. The Rangers’ lineup is lengthier than last season and Napoli’s a major reason.
Doug Fister, right-hand pitcher, Detroit Tigers:
Fister went 8-1 (1.79) after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners – 7-0, 0.65 in his last eight starts – and, yes, comparisons have been made to the impact Doyle Alexander (9-0, 1.53) had on the 1987 Tigers. As long as Tigers manager Jim Leyland eschews using Verlander on shortened rest, Fister is huge not just in this series but beyond.
JEFF BLAIR’S PICKS
Brewers def. Diamondbacks 3-1
Phillies def. Cardinals 3-1
Tigers def. Yankees 3-2
Rangers def. Rays 3-2