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Hardcore Diamond Talk:
Five players to watch in the opening round


By Andy Roth
Contributing Editor


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    New York, NY (Sports Network) - Pitching is the key to winning in the postseason, so I'm not surprised that four of the five key players I'll take a look at for the opening round are the guys on the mound.

    EVAN LONGORIA: Tampa Bay's All-Star third baseman may be the most important position player to his team in the playoffs. He missed the final ten games of the season with a strained quadriceps muscle, and in his absence, the Rays offense very much resembled that of the pathetic Seattle Mariners.

    Evan Longoria
    Evan Longoria finished with 22 homers and 104 RBI this year.
    After watching Longoria work out on Monday, manager Joe Maddon proclaimed he was fit to go for game one on Wednesday. "He's fine, ready to roll," said Maddon. "He looked really good at the plate, looked very alive," Maddon added. "His mechanics looked good, he was not jumpy. So he came through hitting, fielding, running, throwing very well."

    With Longoria on the bench, Tampa Bay was shut out three times, and scored three or fewer runs in six of the ten games he missed. The Rays desperately need his presence in the middle of the order, because without him in the lineup or not at the top of his game, this is simply a very bad lineup.

    ANDY PETTITTE: The Yankees hopes of repeating as world champs rests on the arm of the 38-year old left-hander. Pettitte spent two months on the disabled list after straining his hamstring on July 18. At the time, he was 11-2 with a 2.88 ERA. Pettitte made three starts in September after coming off the DL, and the Yankees have to have some concerns after seeing the results:

  • 13 1/3 IP, 22 hits, 10 ER, 6.92 ERA

    An effective Pettitte would be a big weapon against a Twins lineup that has a number of left-handed hitters who struggle against left-handed pitching. Here's a look at how these players' splits look versus lefties and righties:

  • Joe Mauer vs LH .272 BA, .369 SLG vs RH .365 BA, .536 SLG
  • Jason Kubel vs LH .225 BA, .344 SLG vs RH .260 BA, .464 SLG
  • Jim Thome vs .241 BA, .471 SLG, .302 BA, .698 SLG

    Thome, by the way is 6-28 (.214 BA) lifetime versus Pettitte, while Kubel, the Twins' number two RBI guy, usually sits when the Yankees lefty is on the mound.

    TIM HUDSON: The Atlanta Braves ace was in the Cy Young discussion at one point, but really struggled in the final month of the season. Over his last seven starts, Hudson was 2-4 with an alarming 5.31 ERA.

    Hudson had two very strong starts against the Giants this season, allowing just two earned runs on six hits in 15 innings. The Braves need Hudson to pitch like an ace with the team only having two other reliable starters in the rotation in Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson.

    EDINSON VOLQUEZ: The Reds' game one starter versus the Phillies is just one year removed from coming back from Tommy John surgery. He'll now have the challenge of facing Roy Halladay, arguably the best pitcher in the majors, in the opener of the divisional series.

    Volquez was 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA this season but he displayed his electric stuff in his last four starts with 31 strikeouts in 27/ 2/3 innings. "It's been pretty apparent that when he throws the way he has lately, his stuff is just electric," Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs said. "When he's got that changeup going and a mid-90s [mph] fastball and the breaking ball, he is as tough as there is. That's what we're expecting out of him for the first game of the series. If he does what we know he can do, he should have us in a good position."

    He'll have to be on his game if he hopes to give the Reds a chance of beating Halladay and the Phillies in game one.

    BRIAN DUENSING: The Twins' 27-year old lefthander was moved into the starting rotation on July 23, and was a big reason why Minnesota was able to pull away from the White Sox and take the AL Central by 6 games.

    In 13 starts, Duensing went 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA. However, in six starts versus teams with at least a five hundred record, he was 1-2 with a 4.62 ERA. He has yet to start a game against the Yankees, so this will be uncharted waters for him, trying to navigate against baseball's highest scoring team this season. The only comparable lineup he faced was the Rangers', and he didn't fare too well, giving up four runs and six hits in six innings.

    QUICK HITS

    After writing about the key players to watch in the opening round, I guess I'd be remiss not to at least make my first round predictions:

    American League: Yankees in 4, Rangers in 5
    National League: Phillies in 4, Giants in 3


    The Seattle Mariners did manage to get into the record books with their American League-worst 61-101 season. But it's not an accomplishment they're going to flaunt. The M's scored 513 runs, which is the lowest total in a non- strike season since the inception of the DH in 1973. As a matter of fact, eleven AL teams during the strike-shortened season of 1994 scored more runs than the Mariners did this year. All the more reason why Felix Hernandez should take home the AL Cy Young award. Hopefully for 'King Felix,' common sense will prevail among the 28 writers who have the vote.

    And speaking of good, young pitchers, the Diamondbacks have to be thrilled with 23-year old right-hander Daniel Hudson, who was acquired from the White Sox for Edwin Jackson before the July 31st deadline. Hudson was one of the game's best pitchers over the final two months, going 8-2, with a microscopic 1.62 ERA in his 11 starts with Arizona. He allowed just two earned runs or fewer in ten of those starts. I have a feeling White Sox fans aren't too thrilled with general manager Kenny Williams for giving up such a promising pitcher.

    Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.


    Copyright 2010


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