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Why Josh Harrison Will Come Through for the Pirates in NL Wild Card Game

While all eyes will be on the marquee players like Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner in Wednesday’s National League Wild Card Game at PNC Park, there are a few players who may steal the spotlight and have huge games to help their team advance into the division series. 

One of them is Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison.

It’s easy to ignore what Harrison has done this season with McCutchen right next to him, but Harrison’s .315 batting average, which was just four points lower than that of NL batting champion Justin Morneau, is something the Giants should be taking seriously.

Consistently the catalyst for the Pittsburgh offense this season, Harrison batted .328 from the leadoff spot and seemed to get even better whenever a clutch hit is needed.

Harrison’s .360 average with one out and .359 average with two outs on the season are impressive enough alone, but what is even more extraordinary is his .392 average with two outs and runners in scoring position. All of those numbers are better than the ones put up by McCutchen this season (.320/.284/.283).

Harrison also seems to enjoy playing against Bumgarner and the Giants.

In five career at-bats against the Giants ace, Harrison has collected four hits, including a homer. In the six games he played against San Francisco this year, Harrison went 6-for-18 and belted three of his 13 homers on the season (including the one off Bumgarner), the most against any opposing team this year.

With more and more teams starting to pitch around McCutchen, it’s important for Harrison to set the tone at the top of the order to take off some of the pressure and ease the tasks for the heart of the order, especially when McCutchen is 2-for-10 against Bumgarner in his career.

Look for Harrison to create some chaos for the Giants on Wednesday in front of what is sure to be a raucous crowd at PNC Park and send the Pirates into NLDS against the Washington Nationals.


Statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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Why Alcides Escobar Will Come Through for the Royals in the AL Wild Card Game

With two stud pitchers on the mound in Jon Lester for the Oakland A’s and James Shields for the Kansas City Royals in the American League Wild Card Game, it can be expected that runs will come at a premium for either side on Tuesday in Kansas City.

Unfortunately for both teams, that has already been the theme for quite some time.

After trading away slugger Yoenis Cespedes on July 31, the A’s were held off the scoreboard seven times, while the Royals finished the season ninth in the AL in runs scored and don’t have a single player with 20 homers and 75 runs batted in on the season.

So it’s safe to say that the way to win this game is by playing small ball, and that’s where the edge starts to tilt toward Kansas City.

The Royals had 33 sacrifice hits and 47 sacrifice flies on the season, while the A’s had 19 sacrifice hits (tied for the fewest in the majors) and 43 sacrifice flys, according to Kansas City also stole the most bases among teams in the majors with 153 on the season, while Oakland had just 83.

One of the key catalysts for the Royals offense is shortstop Alcides Escobar, and he is expected to have a big game on Tuesday against Lester.

In 17 career at-bats against the Oakland southpaw, Escobar has a .353 average with six hits and no strikeouts. This season, Escobar was 3-for-7 off Lester. 

Escobar has also found success since manager Ned Yost moved him from the bottom of the batting order to the leadoff spot in mid-September.

In the 16 games he hit from the top spot, Escobar batted .362 with a .478 slugging percentage. Yost announced Monday during a press conference that the shortstop with 31 stolen bases on the season will again hit leadoff in the AL Wild Card Game.

In these winner-take-all games, a Game 7 mentality is required for everyone. While the stars are expected to perform at their best, it’s often the players who fly under people’s radars that end up making a name for themselves in October.

On Tuesday night, expect Alcides Escobar to become one of those players.

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2014 National League MVP Race: Breaking Down the Candidates

As the MLB regular season wraps up its final week, there are a few players who are making last pushes to solidify their cases the for individual awards, and one of the most heated races is the competition for the NL MVP crown.

Did Giancarlo Stanton do enough before his injury? Does a pitcher really deserve to win an MVP? Or are there a few dark horses running around and ready to steal the show?

These are some of the questions that need to be asked and answered when selecting the winner, so here is a look at which player should be crowned the most valuable in the NL. 


Dark Horse: Andrew McCutchen—Pittsburgh Pirates

The reigning NL MVP has put together yet another impressive campaign. McCutchen’s .404 on-base percentage is currently top of the NL, his slugging percentage of .537 is second-best and his .310 batting average ranks third among the qualified leaders. 

In the sabermetric stat of “runs created per 27 outs,” McCutchen also leads all players in the league with 8.17 runs, which isn’t shocking when he’s capable of doing things like this.

Perhaps what makes all this that much more impressive is the fact that he has battled with a rib injury for the past month.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle praised McCutchen’s toughness in an interview with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook, “He’s the model of a leader that you want on your club. He got through some tough spots early. The good news is he’s in a pretty good place right now. He’s in a competitive place. Everything he’s done has been aggressive.”

As a result of McCutchen’s efforts, the Pirates currently sit comfortably atop the wild-card race with a five-game lead.


Dark Horse: Buster Posey—San Francisco Giants

Just a few months ago, Posey would be nowhere near the discussion for this award. But with a second-half surge like no other, the man they call M-V-Posey in San Francisco will sure be getting some votes now.

At the time of the All-Star break, Posey had a batting average of just .277. Since then, he has batted .351 to lead all NL players with at least 200 at-bats. His 3.4 WAR during that stretch is also the best in the majors, according to FanGraphs.  

More importantly, Posey stepped up for the Giants when it mattered the most.

During the month of September, Posey is slashing a line of .389/.432/.583, and helped the Giants draw within three-and-a-half back in the NL West and go five games up in the wild card.


Favorite: Clayton Kershaw—Los Angeles Dodgers

To say Kershaw had a “nice” season would be an understatement for the ages. The numbers that the 26-year-old southpaw has put up this year are of historic proportions, and they begin with his career-bests of 1.80 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and .870 win percentage.

Kershaw is slated for one more start later this week, but for the moment he has given up the least amount of hits (132), earned runs (38), home runs (nine) and walks (31) he has ever had in a full season.

Kershaw also reached the 20-win mark in a remarkably short span, 26 starts to be exact. Since the expansion of the league, there have been only five other pitchers who accomplished such feat in so few starts, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Throw in a no-hitter and a majors-best six shutouts along the season, and it becomes that much tougher to argue against Kershaw’s case.


Favorite: Giancarlo Stanton—Miami Marlins

Truth to be told, Stanton’s chances of capturing the NL MVP crown dwindled the moment he was struck in the face by Mike Fiers’ pitch two weeks ago, but that is not to say he should be out of the consideration completely.

Despite missing action since his injury on Sept. 11, many of Stanton’s numbers are still among the NL leaders.

The 37 homers he smashed are still a distant No. 1, and so are his 6.4 WAR, .555 slugging percentage and .950 on-base plus slugging percentage, according to ESPN.

Stanton’s RBI total of 105 has fallen to only second place behind the 112 from Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez, and the 115.6 runs he created for the Marlins this season are tied with Pirates’ McCutchen.

One argument against Stanton would be the injury that has cost him the final three weeks of his season, but it should be mentioned that Kershaw missed the first five weeks of his season. Both players should be treated equally for the numbers they put up during the time they were active.

Another argument against Stanton would be Miami’s lack of success, as the team currently stands at 74-81. But without Stanton’s help, just exactly where would the Marlins be this season?

CBSSports’ Jon Heyman put that into perspective:

His performance gave the Marlins hope into September, but that dream died the moment Stanton was struck in the kisser.

But Stanton still was the main reason the Marlins overcame a startlingly low $47 million payroll and disheartening injury to ace pitcher Jose Fernandez to remain in the race…No one could have foreseen a .500 season without Fernandez, but the Marlins came close.


Prediction: Giancarlo Stanton

The choice is not made based on whether a pitcher deserves to win the MVP award or not. If a player of any position puts up deserving numbers, they should be in the running.

The case made for Stanton is based on the fact that out of all the previous times a pitcher has won the MVP—be it Justin Verlander in 2011 or Bob Gibson and Denny McLain in 1968—those pitchers took home the award when no other position players came close to being worthy of the honor.

This time around, there is one.

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