October's studs and duds
Baseball history is filled with examples of players who go from clutching their throat in one postseason round to being Mr. Clutch in the next .Or the other way around. Craig Counsell, with the Diamondbacks back in '01, had just three hits in a five-game National League Division Series against the Cardinals. But the Diamondbacks, thanks to a couple of pitchers named Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, moved on, and in the NL Championship Series that year against the Braves, Counsell had eight hits in the five-game win, including three doubles. He drove in six runs and hit .381 in being named the NLCS MVP.
Then, of course, you have Javy Lopez, an NLCS stud in '96 when he hit .542, cracked a couple of home runs, drove in six runs and was named MVP in Atlanta's seven-game win over the Cardinals. In the World Series against the Yankees, though, Lopez was 4-for-21 (.190) with one RBI.
This year ... well, we'll see. Here are some of the studs and duds, the heroes and zeroes after the first round, with a look at how they might fare in the league championship series which begin later this week.
Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
The veteran shortstop was 6-for-16 (.375) in the four games of his team's opening-round win over the Brewers, including two doubles and a home run to lead off the clinching Game 4. Rollins will have a harder time in the NLCS against the Dodgers, though. In eight games this year against L.A., which allowed a league-best four runs a game, Rollins hit just .206 (7-for-34) and stole only one base.
Cole Hamels, Phillies
The staff ace was all that and then some in his one appearance against the Brewers, going eight shutout innings (he maybe could have gone the distance) while giving up just two hits and striking out nine. Against the Dodgers, the lefty faces a predominantly right-handed lineup that he has handled well this year. He's given up just one homer (to Russell Martin) and has a 2.57 ERA in two starts against L.A. He struck out 12 in 14 innings.
Manny Ramirez, Dodgers
The new, carefree Manny had five hits in 10 at-bats against the Cubs in the NLDS, including a pair of home runs, and he struck out only three times in the three-game sweep. The man who might be the best postseason performer of all-time has had bad playoff series before, though not lately. Of his past nine postseason series, Manny has failed to hit at least .300 just once, batting .250 against the Rockies in last year's Fall Classic. In 10 games this season against the Phillies this year, he hit only .212, his worst mark against any NL opponent.
Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
Joe Torre's apparent new closer -- though the manager hedges on that designation -- was a mystery to the Cubs. The big right-hander (and we mean biiiig) appeared in all three games, pitched 3 1/3 innings, struck out five, didn't allow a run and gave up only one hit. Broxton isn't nearly as good against lefty-swingers (.270, .400 on-base), and the Phillies will swing that way with Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino. But Torre has his normal closer, righty Takashi Saito, in case Broxton needs a hand.
Dioner Navarro, Rays
Tampa Bay's switch-hitting catcher had six hits in 15 at-bats (.400), including three doubles, in the Rays' four-game division series win over the White Sox. That's over his head, sure, but he was a .295 hitter during the season, and he doesn't tend to strike out much (just 49 K's in 120 games, to 34 walks). The Red Sox may have his number, though. Playing in all 18 of the games between the two teams in 2008, Navarro hit just .190 and had 15 strikeouts to just five walks.
J.P. Howell, Rays
The lefty Howell was the go-to reliever in the NLDS against the White Sox, appearing in three of the four games and pitching 4 1/3 innings without giving up a run. His sweeping curve and quick slider accounted for six strikeouts. In more than 89 innings this year, opponents hit just .194 against him. The Red Sox have seen a lot of him, but he's still been effective. He's given up just one extra-base hit in 12 2/3 innings against Boston in '08. David Ortiz is 0-for-6 against him this year.
Jason Bay, Red Sox
Bay hasn't completely replaced Ramirez in Boston's lineup. But he's come pretty darn close. After hitting .293 in 49 games after the trade from Pittsburgh, Bay kicked off his first Red Sox postseason by going 7-for-17 (.412) with two homers and five RBIs in the four ALDS games against the Angels. Against the Rays, Bay has been hot and cold. In seven games, he's struck out 12 times and has a .233 average. But six of his seven hits are for extra bases; two doubles and four home runs.
Jon Lester, Red Sox
Boston's new ace was ridiculously good against the Angels in the ALDS. He didn't give up a run in two starts that covered 14 innings, struck out 11 and walked only three. The young lefty almost certainly won't be ready for Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday, but he could get two starts against the Rays. And that's not good news for Tampa Bay. Lester was 3-0 with an 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Rays in '08.