Few things in this world capture my attention as much as playoff baseball does.
I can nearly count the number of baseball outs I have missed during the entire of October. This has been my usual routine since 1996 (the first World Series I can vividly remember), and I can say that this postseason has been particularly captivating. Three years ago, there was not a single winner-take-all game in the playoffs. In contrast, there have already been six in 2012 — the most ever through the Division Series, due to this year’s new one-game wild card round.
Along the way, there have been the typical stars — the Buster Posey’s, Carlos Beltran’s, C.C. Sabathia’s and Justin Verlander’s of the world — but for each household hero, there has also been the unsung idol. Some players have already busted down the door and into your living room, while others are on the verge. If you’re watching playoff baseball, here’s what you’ve missed and what to expect next.
Six Names to Know:
Raul Ibanez, OF, Yankees:
Few players have had half the postseason that Ibanez has had in 2012. At 40 years of age, Ibanez has had a productive Big League career spanning four organizations, an All-Star appearance and nearly 300 career home runs, yet his clutch pinch-hit home runs in Game Three of the Division Series vs. Baltimore will leave him a legacy in pinstripes. As if he hasn’t already done enough, Ibanez, drafted in the 36th round in 1992 by the Mariners, drove home his third home run of the postseason in Game One of the ALCS to knot the score at four apiece vs. Detroit. Ibanez has been the poster boy for this year’s drama. However, with his Yanks trailing the Tigers 3-0 heading into Wednesday, his luck may be running out.
Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, Cardinals:
Since the 2009 draft, Cardinals fans have clamored to get a glimpse at one of the great young arms in the minor leagues, first-round choice Shelby Miller. And while Miller still offers terrific promise and waits his turn in St. Louis’ bullpen, just like Rosenthal this October, it’s actually Rosenthal, the 21st-rounder from Cowley County (KS) Community College, who has stolen the headlines.
Rosenthal has become the flame-throwing young-gun that baseball fans pause to watch in the playoffs, à la Francisco Rodriguez in 2002 or David Price in 2008. He routinely throws heaters in the upper 90s and has even eclipsed 100 mph. Through four appearances (all Cardinal wins), Rosenthal has struck out seven and allowed just one hit and one walk to the tune of a 0.00 ERA.
Delmon Young, OF, Tigers:
Young was once heralded as the game’s next big thing: he was the top pick in the 2003 draft and was Baseball America’s top-rated prospect heading into the 2006 season after he advanced to AAA as a 19 year old. Now, he is still just 26, but has largely failed to live up to these lofty expectations due to a combination of weight gain, regressing tools and off-the-field issues.
In the postseason however, he’s been far from a disappointment. Young has hit two home runs in three games against the Yankees, extending his Tigers franchise record to seven playoff dingers. Young has been a perfect complement to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, seeing more pitches with runners on where he can do greater damage.
Marco Scutaro, 2B, Giants:
For Giants fans, Scutaro is already a household name. Along with potential NL MVP Posey, Scutaro helped guide San Francisco into the playoffs by hitting .362 in the season’s final two months.
We are perhaps only just starting to see what Scutaro can do. After being annihilated by the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday on a double-play attempt Monday night, the Giants rallied behind the Venezuelan Scutaro to even the NLCS with a 7-1 shellacking. Scutaro has been hitting .250 this month, having cooled off from his sizzling September when he hit .402, but maybe the new chip on his shoulder will spark his bat once again.
And just for fun, can you name the two players Scutaro has been traded for in the last calendar year? Didn’t think so: Clayton Mortensen and Charlie Culberson.
Phil Coke, LHP, Tigers:
Coke has been the dark horse of what has turned out to be one of the biggest trades in recent memory: Coke, Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, and
Daniel Schlereth to Detroit; Curtis Granderson to New York; and Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson to Arizona. Though Jackson (a 5.2 Wins-Above-Replacement) and Scherzer (a league-leading 11.1 strikeouts-per-nine-innings) had breakout years in Mo-Town this year, Coke has undoubtedly been the most valuable this postseason.
A 26th-round pick in 2002, the lefthander has yet to give up a run in six appearances, sitting between 94-96 mph on Tuesday night. Coke is as important as any other Tiger in their quest for their first World Series title since 1984.
Pete Kozma, SS, Cardinals:
In mid-August, Kozma, a one-time first round pick out of Owasso (OK) HS (home of Orioles über-prospect Dylan Bundy), was an afterthought in the Cardinals’ plans to defend their World Series title. But when Rafael Furcal went down with a season-ending elbow injury, Kozma filled in ably in 26 games, hitting .333/.383/.569.
It was his timely play in the postseason that has Cards fans clamoring where this kid was all year long. Even though he was hitting just .185 in his first eight games, the 6-foot, 170-pounder contributed the game-winning hit in Game Five of the NLDS vs. Washington, a grand slam in Game Three and steady defense in the middle of the diamond.