In a marathon season of lengthy contests played out in the summer heat, the MLB stretch run is particularly brutal. The game’s guttiest ballplayers seem to rise to the occasion in these moments. Battles of the will end with the victor influencing a game’s outcome and ultimately a team’s shot at making the playoffs.
It is hard to say a team hitched its wagon to a single player and thus made the postseason, but there have been clear examples in the past. Without C.C. Sabathia (11-2, 1.65 ERA, 7 CG, 3 SO) from July 7 on, the Milwaukee Brewers do not make the playoffs in 2008; without Carlos Beltran (23 HR, 58 RBI, .927 OPS) for the final 90 games of the season, the Astros do not make the playoffs (nor do they make the World Series) in 2004.
Here are seven Major League Baseball stars their teams hope can carry the club to the postseason in 2014. Stats are current as of July 18.
1. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
It has been an ugly 2014 season in many ways for Manny Machado. Baltimore’s 22-year-old phenom hit an awkward patch that began with a spring training injury and turned embarrassing after an altercation with the Oakland A’s in June. The Orioles hope their young star has gotten it out of his system and is ready to do damage for the rest of the season.
In the run-up to the All-Star break, Machado found his groove again, hitting close to .500 (15-for-31) in the eight games prior and making a bevy of slick defensive plays. Mixed in with a 5-for-6 performance in Washington and a game-winning run scored in extra innings against the Yankees, Manny was back to his invaluable ways.
The Orioles have gotten such phenomenal production from Nelson Cruz that it would be tough to ask their slugger to rack up another 30 bombs in the months ahead. For his part, Chris Davis doesn’t appear ready to deliver another MVP-caliber performance. Baltimore hopes Machado’s surge will continue so the Orioles can ride it straight into the playoffs.