October's heroes: Twenty-five who have stepped up in the playoffs

Publish date:

Several players have enhanced their reputations this October, though none more so than the top two guys on this list -- the unheralded Cody Ross and the much-heralded Cliff Lee. Ross has done what no one expected, and Lee has done exactly what he did last postseason, undoubtedly en route to a stratospheric salary in 2011. Here is my list of 25 men who have enhanced their statures so far this October.

1. Ross. The former rodeo clown wanna-be was acquired by the Giants for nothing. Not only that, but they claimed him off the waiver wire partly just to block the Padres. The Marlins let him go only to save a measly $1 million, and at the time he looked like nothing more than an extra in the Giants' crowded outfield. Now he's earning folk hero status. He has shown: 1) that he's clutch, 2) that he can beat the best pitchers, and 3) you don't ever want to throw him an inside fastball. Has all three of the Giants' home runs in the NLCS.

2. Lee. No one has been more dominant in postseason play, ever. He's now up to 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight starts, a few of them against the vaunted Yankees lineup. This year he's 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA, 34 strikeouts and -- get this -- one walk. On top of that, he's a free agent. Bidding is likely to start at $120 million, and go up from there. My latest guess is $150 million for six years. But some are wondering whether the Yankees will stop at anything. On second thought, when they had a chance to get Lee from the Mariners this summer they should have relented on Ivan Nova or Eduardo Nunez after Mariners doctors said they wouldn't take David Adams due to injury concerns. Yankees people eventually did say yes to a different prospect (believed to be Adam Warren), but once Texas offered Justin Smoak, it may not have mattered, anyway.

3. Buster Posey. The cleanup-hitting catcher must be making those who voted for someone else in the Rookie of the Year balloting second-guess themselves. It looked like a toss-up between Posey and Atlanta's Jason Heyward, but Posey bats cleanup for a team that may be headed to the World Series. Heyward was moved up in his lineup, but only to No. 2, and put up numbers that were not much better in many more games. Some might suggest that the Giants could have called Posey up earlier, but maybe they waited for exactly the perfect time. It isn't easy catching this young pitching staff, and he's doing it marvelously. "As good as Joe Mauer at the same age," one competing executive said.

4. Matt Cain. He's up to 13 2/3 scoreless innings. Always plays second fiddle to Tim Lincecum and was dropped to third start in favor of Jonathan Sanchez for the NLCS. Yet here he is with a 0.00 ERA in the postseason.

5. Roy Halladay. His first postseason start was a no-hitter, against the NL's top run-producing offense, no less. Can't do much better than that. Has pitched Lincecum to a draw since, including a gutty NLCS Game 5 effort with a groin injury.

6. Lincecum. Tiny Tim whiffed 14 in his first game, then beat Halladay in his next game. Looks like a child, but pitches like a man.

7. Robinson Cano. No less than Reggie Jackson said he could see Cano hitting three home runs in a big postseason game. So far, he has four overall and is batting .387.

8. Elvis Andrus. Folks understood that he could field, but seeing him up close makes a difference. Also, being compared occasionally to Omar Vizquel doesn't hurt, either. Hitting .344 for the postseason.

9. Brian Wilson. Quirky Giants closer has a postseason-high four saves in 7 1/3 scoreless innings.

10. Andy Pettitte. His reputation as a big-game pitcher wasn't hurt when he picked up his record 19th postseason win in Game 2 of the ALDS.

11. Mariano Rivera. He usually follows Pettitte, anyway. Three more postseason saves with no runs allowed. Ho hum.

12. Bruce Bochy. The Giants' manager has taken a few hits but he's a very solid manager who has brought together a collection of players that sure doesn't look like it should be beating the Phillies. Never had a shot at winning the World Series with the 1998 Padres, his only other pennant-winning team, but his rotation gives him a chance this time.

13. Nelson Cruz. According to Mark Teixeira, Cruz could be baseball's next superstar. A throw-in along with Carlos Lee in the trade that sent the two of them to the Rangers in 2006, Cruz is hitting .378 with four homers. He's hoping to play on Friday night despite a tight hamstring.

14. Bengie Molina. Nobody but Texas really wanted him when the Giants were looking to get rid of him because they were about to promote Posey to the majors. Yet, here is Molina in the postseason again, eight years after being the starting catcher on the Angels' World Series title team, contributing for the Rangers with a big home run vs. the Yankees in ALCS Game 4.

15. Juan Uribe. Bad wrist and all, he has delivered at the plate and in the field. Has timed a very good all-around season with impending free agency.

16. Ryan Madson. He has looked dominant in the setup role, with eight K's in 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

17. Ian Kinsler. Power-hitting second baseman has three postseason homers. He may be average defensively and he had to be embarrassed to be picked off by Kerry Wood in Game 1 of the ALCS, but it's advantageous to have a second baseman with this sort of pop.

18. Cole Hamels. Scouts say he's all the way back. Has an 0.73 WHIP with a 1-1 record and a 1.80 ERA.

19. Aubrey Huff. Had a reputation as a snarky guy who played for losers. But here he is batting third for a team one game from the World Series, and he's one of their stand-up guys in the clubhouse.

20. Mike Maddux. Rangers pitching coach has done a nice job once again with a young staff.

21. Travis Wood. Talented Reds youngster outpitched Aroldis Chapman in the NLDS, throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings. He was also the only one to hit the ball hard vs. Halladay in his no-hitter.

22. Jonny Venters. Some suspected that Bobby Cox overused him, but he came through with 5 1/3 scoreless postseason innings that included eight strikeouts.

23. Jayson Werth. Carl Crawford will still probably be favored by most teams because he's three years younger and an even better runner. But five-tool outfielders who come up with big hits like Werth has fare well in free agency. He's hitting only .214 in the postseason but showing power, defense and speed.

24. Dave Righetti. The Giants' pitching coach had a staff with a 1.78 ERA in September, and it has just kept going that way.

25. Jose Contreras. Reinvented as a reliever, he has five scoreless innings for the Phillies in the playoffs.

• The Yankees plan to bring back manager Joe Girardi at a raise, no matter what some fans may say about his reliance on his ever-present binder. He is well-liked by Yankees honchos Hal Steinbrenner, Randy Levine and Brian Cashman. Girardi hasn't been great in the ALCS, though, as he got greedy by staying too long in Game 4 with A.J. Burnett, who has been brutal and was pitching on 17 days' rest. Burnett should have been removed after five very good innings, rather than be left in to try to pitch out of a sixth-inning jam.

• The Braves have asked about Yankees shortstop prospect Eduardo Nunez. But New York may see him as an heir apparent to Derek Jeter (in a year or two, anyway), so its decision not to include him in a potential Cliff Lee trade is a bit more understandable.

• Sandy Alderson appears for now to be the first choice of owner Fred Wilpon for the Mets' GM job. But the Mets' decisions are made by a triumvirate that includes COO Jeff Wilpon and club president Saul Katz.

• The Phillies have no shot at trading Raul Ibañez, who at 38 is showing his age. They'll have to hope that prospect Domonic Brown lives up to his billing (he didn't in limited playing time this year), because their chances to keep free agent Werth seem slim.

• Kansas City Royals ace and 2009 AL Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke's trade value should obviously be very high, but his limited no-trade clause and past issue with an anxiety disorder will somewhat limit suitors, possibly to the smaller markets. So his availability shouldn't adversely affect Lee's value.

• The Tigers' $11 million, two-year deal for good-fielding third baseman Brandon Inge makes sense. Detroit, which has $50 million coming off the books, could pursue Adam Dunn. But they are out of the Adrian Beltre market now. The best bets for Beltre are the Red Sox and Angels. The Rangers like him, as well, but have no room with Michael Young at third.