With an extra set of Wild Card teams playing for a spot in each division series, it is important for each Major League Baseball team to take advantage of every game in the MLB 2012 playoffs.
This was evident in one of the one-game Wild Card playoff games, as the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Braves with the help of a controversial infield fly call that awarded the Cardinals an extra run. As the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Texas Rangers, the playoff picture was put in place for the division series.
In the American League Division Series, the Orioles take on the New York Yankees, and the Detroit Tigers play against the Oakland Athletics. In the National League Division Series, the Cardinals go against the Washington Nationals, and the San Francisco Giants are pitted against the Cincinnati Reds.
Each team needs these players to perform well in order for their respective teams to win the World Series.
Baltimore Orioles – J.J. Hardy
The Orioles bullpen will likely employ 12 pitchers, and they will have their hands full with the Yankees’ bats. The pressure will be on J.J. Hardy to man the important shortstop position, while also scoring runs at bat. Hardy had the highest fielding percentage of any shortstop in the American League, which will be important for double plays against the Orioles’ opponents.
New York Yankees – Phil Hughes
The New York Yankees have the most wins by pitchers of any team in the Major Leagues, so it is important for their pitching rotation to go deep into games to battle the Orioles’ bullpen. After CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes occupies the third rotation spot for the Yankees. Coming off a mediocre 5-5 record in 2011, Hughes bounced back with a 16-win season. In the 5-game division series format, his performance must be excellent if the previous pitchers win their games. In the 7-game series, his performance may win them another World Series title.
Oakland Athletics – Josh Reddick
Oakland’s ability to score runs relies on Josh Reddick to continue his stellar play for the Athletics in right field. Reddick leads his team in hits, runners batted in and home runs, so his bat will have to do just as much as his glove. With a questionable starting rotation but strong bullpen, the Athletics will have to outscore their opponents to reach the World Series, and Reddick will play a big role in raising the team’s mediocre batting statistics.
Detroit Tigers – Austin Jackson
Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera are third and fourth in the batting rotation, so it is important for the Tigers to have a runner on base to get runners batted in. Austin Jackson leads off the rotation, which allows for him to use his speed to reach extra bases. Jackson is also 3rd in hitting percentage behind Fielder and Cabrera, so continuing to hit .300 and above will serve the Tigers well and help them make another World Series appearance.
St. Louis Cardinals – Adam Wainwright
Particularly against the Washington Nationals, the Cardinals will rely on their pitching to get their team off to a good start. Adam Wainwright underwhelmed this year with a 14-13 record, and the Cardinals will need him to improve on that record in order to have a chance to reach the World Series. The Cardinals have the fielding and batting necessary to get there, but it remains to be seen if they will have the pitching.
Washington Nationals – Gio Gonzalez
The Nationals’ most important player as far as a World Series win, will play the same role as the Cardinals’ Wainwright does – first pitcher in the rotation. Gio Gonzalez takes over the first spot in the pitching rotation for Stephen Strasburg, who was shut down near the end of the season. Lost in that story is the fact that Gonzalez leads the Major Leagues in wins with 21 and has an impressive 2.89 earned run average. If he can continue to give his team good starts, the team could soon have a World Series title.
San Francisco Giants – Buster Posey
Buster Posey had to put in extra effort to be prepared for the 2012 season following a 2011 season that ended with a severe leg injury. Posey was not only prepared, but primed for an excellent year at the catcher position. He led his team in runners batted in, home runs, on base percentage, hits and batting average – the latter leading the Major Leagues. The Reds have excellent fielding stats, so it’s up to Posey to field well, have command of the pitching and provide enough offense to push the Giants to another World Series victory.
Cincinnati Reds – Brandon Phillips
With pitcher Johnny Cueto, the Reds may rely on their other veterans to lead them to a World Series win. Brandon Phillips will have to use his talent and his base stealing ability to win his team’s series, and will have to use his glove to keep the Giants’ hitters grounded. If Brandon Phillips plays well, the Reds tend to rally around him.
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