Postseason Performersby Ben Jacobs
October 18, 2004
The playoffs are a time where unknown players can become household names and great players can turn into superstars. Play at the best of you ability for 2-3 weeks and you can create memories that people will never forget. That's the power of October, and plenty of players are taking advantage of the opportunity this year.
Here's a look, in no particular order, at the individual players who have made the first five games of each of these League Championship Series so exciting and breathtaking. AVG/OBP/SLG in LCS in parentheses.
DH David Ortiz, Red Sox (.478/.538/.826)
He has back-to-back walkoff hits to keep Boston's season alive, and you can't forget about his solo homer in the eighth inning Monday that gave the Red Sox a chance to tie the game, which gave Ortiz another chance (several, actually) to win it.
He's 11-for-23 with a triple, two homers and nine RBIs in this series. And this is coming after he hit .545/.688/1.000 with another walkoff homer and four RBIs in Boston's division series sweep of Anaheim. Ortiz is always a menacing presence at the plate because of his size and power, but especially when he's as locked in as he is right now.
LF Hideki Matsui, Yankees (.444/.464/.926)
For a few games there, it just seemed like it was impossible to get Matsui out. In the first four games of this series, he went 11-for-20 with eight extra base hits (five doubles, a triple, two home runs) and 10 RBIs. Even a 1-for-7 night on Monday couldn't make his line this series look unimpressive.
Matsui wasn't quite as ridiculous in the division series, but he did hit .412/.476/.647 with a homer and three RBIs against the Twins. Anybody who has any thoughts left of last year's groundball-happy, mediocre hitter needs to wake up. Matsui is fully adjusted to playing in the United States, and it's clear that he's going to be an offensive force for some time.
RF Gary Sheffield, Yankees (.409/.536/.682)
Maybe the scariest hitter in the major leagues right now, just because of his bat waggle and the violence with which he swings. That he's putting his body through such a forceful swing with a messed up shoulder is even more impressive.
Sheffield wasn't great in the division series, but he's 9-for-22 with three doubles, a homer and five RBIs in the LCS. His three-run shot that broke a 6-6 tie in Game Three against the Red Sox was a backbreaker that you could see coming.
CF Carlos Beltran, Astros (.471/.591/1.235)
What can't this guy do? He homered in the first four games of this series to give him a record five straight playoff games with a homer and tie a record with eight home runs in a single postseason. He made a spectacular catch in the seventh inning Monday. And he also showed off some small ball with a single and a steal that caused the Cardinals to intentionally walk Lance Berkman and set the stage for Jeff Kent.
Beltran is 8-for-17 with a double, four homers, a steal, five RBIs and five runs in this series. He hit .455/.500/1.091 with four homers, two steals and nine RBIs in the division series. He's making several owners drool at the thought of signing him to play for their team, which is making Scott Boras drool at the thought of how much money he might be able to get Beltran because of this display.
RF Lance Berkman, Astros (.412/.524/1.059)
He's not getting as much notice as Beltran, but when a team has two guys with an OBP over .500 and an SLG over 1.000 in a series, being the slightly less impressive of the two isn't a bad thing. Berkman is 7-for-17 with two doubles, three home runs, eight RBIs and seven runs in this series.
He's also coming off a division series in which he hit .409/.480/.591 with a homer and three RBIs. I sometimes get the sense that people don't know how good Berkman is (he hit .316/.450/.566 this year and is a career .303/.416/.563 hitter), but hopefully this showing will help change that.
1B Albert Pujols, Cardinals (.474/.545/.947)
Everybody knows about Pujols because of the incredible numbers he's put up his first four years in the majors, but he struggled in the playoffs his first two seasons, hitting .213/.327/.404 in 47 at-bats over three series. It's been a different story this year.
Pujols is 9-for-19 with three homers, six RBIs and six runs in this series and hit .333/.444/.733 with two homers and five RBIs in the division series. His five playoff homers this year are second only to Beltran at this point.
RF Larry Walker, Cardinals (.316/.409/.789)
Walker came to St. Louis just for the playoffs, and he's taking advantage of his second trip there. He's 6-for-19 with a double, triple, two homers and four RBIs and is setting the table in front of Pujols with three walks and six runs scored.
Walker also hit .333/.444/.800 with two homers and three RBIs in the division series. Walker was good, but not great after his trade from the Rockies to the Cardinals. In the nine St. Louis playoff games so far, he's been even better than great.
RP Brad Lidge, Astros
If you didn't know how good Lidge was before, you know now. After drawing a lot of complaints for not pitching Lidge in the first two games of this series, Phil Garner leaned on the young fireballer in Houston. He allowed one hit in two scoreless innings to earn the save on Saturday, striking out five and walking one while throwing 42 pitches. He came right back and threw 26 pitches in a hitless two innings with two strikeouts and a walk for the save Sunday. Then he pitched a perfect ninth inning in nine pitches with two strikeouts to earn the win Monday.
In this series, that gives him five scoreless innings with just one hit and two walks against nine strikeouts. In the playoffs, he's allowed one run in 9 1/3 innings with 15 strikeouts, three walks and five hits.
RP Keith Foulke, Red Sox
Foulke only has one save in six postseason appearances this year, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been important. In this LCS, he's pitched five scoreless innings with just one hit allowed, walking four and striking out four.
He got a meaningless out in Tuesday's loss and got two outs without giving up a run in Wednesday's loss before getting three days off. He could use another three days off now. Foulke tossed 50 pitches while throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the Red Sox close enough to rally in Game Four and he threw another 22 pitches the next day, getting the final out of the eighth without letting the Yankees increase their two-run lead and then escaping with the tie intact in the ninth thanks to three pop ups around a walk and a ground rule double.
In the playoffs this year, Foulke has yet to allow a run in eight innings. He's allowed just three hits with nine strikeouts and five walks.
SP Jon Lieber, Yankees
While Mike Mussina's line from Game One is deceptively bad, the fact remains that Lieber is the only starting pitcher in this series who has been able to get through the seventh inning. Lieber needed just 82 pitches to do so in Game Two, allowing a run on three hits and a walk while striking out three. The one run wasn't even really his fault as he allowed a leadoff single to Trot Nixon in the eighth inning and then Tom Gordon let Nixon score after a Jason Varitek double and an Orlando Cabrera RBI groundout.
In a series in which the bullpens have accounted for 52 percent of the innings, Lieber has been the best (and least reliever-taxing) starter for either team by a large margin.
RP Dan Wheeler, Astros
There probably aren't many people outside of Houston who knew much about this guy before the playoffs started, but he's making a bit of a name for himself. Then again, maybe the people in Houston don't even know about him since he only pitched 14 1/3 innings for the Astros this year after coming over from the Mets in a late August waiver trade.
With almost everybody in the bullpen besides Lidge unable to get outs, Wheeler has pitched five scoreless innings this series with seven strikeouts and just two hits. He only pitched an inning in the division series, but he didn't allow a run there either and is looking like Lidge's main setup man with six scoreless postseason innings under his belt.
SP Brandon Backe, Astros
Backe got lit up like a pinball machine going on three days rest in Game One, but he redeemed himself and then some in Game Five. Backe took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and Tony Womack's single to break it up was the only hit he allowed. He did walk three and only struck out four, but he gave the Astros more than they ever could have hoped for -- eight scoreless innings.
In starts on normal rest this postseason, Backe has now allowed two runs on six hits and five walks with nine strikeouts in 14 innings. Not bad for a kid who averaged just five innings per start in the regular season and had a 1.53 WHIP in those 45 innings.
Ben Jacobs can be reached via e-mail.
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