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Big-time Players to Watch

The “Great Man” (or “Great Woman”) theory of history has long been debated by students and scholars. Economic forces, political theories, social currents and religious awakenings have all been arrayed against the standard of outstanding individuals arising as linchpins of history.

Baseball fans, of course, know better. In baseball, Great Players Do Great Things. Thus it always has been. Thus it shall always be. It is the nature of sport in general and our favorite game in particular. Few championships are won by colorless yet efficient agglomerations that somehow produce compelling results. This week I’m going to give you some players to watch in the waning weeks of what promises to be a thrilling race for playoff positioning that should go down to the wire.

First let’s consider Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants. It’s hard to believe that Buster is only in his third season, he has had the poise of a veteran since he became a full-time player during the 2010 season, when he won the National League Rookie of the Year award and helped guide the Giants to their first World Series Championship since 1954, and first ever in San Francisco. Buster suffered a horrific, season-ending injury in a home-plate collision last season, and there was great concern about how he would come back. Well, he has, and in compelling fashion. Since the Giants were shocked and dismayed to learn that their All-Star outfielder, Melky Cabrera, would be lost due to failing a performance-enhancing drug test last month, Buster has stepped up majorly: since the All-Star break, he is hitting .380 with an on-base-plus-slugging rate of 1.085. He is driving the Giants towards another NL West title, possibly a World Series return and for himself top consideration to be NL Most Valuable Player.

From a player at the outset of what promises to be a brilliant career to a player who is on his farewell tour: Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. Chipper’s Braves were stunned when a Wild Card position was snatched from their grasp the last weekend of 2011. This year, Chipper is helping to ensure that the Braves will exercise their claim on the Wild Card. For a forty-year-old player, he is continuing to play at a very high level, both at the plate and in the field. He is one of the great all-time power-hitting switch hitters and will be a certain first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2018.

In the American League, two players to watch are Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays. Neither of their teams are currently on the inside, both are within striking distance. The Tigers were expected to cruise through the American League Central, but the Chicago White Sox, under rookie manager Robin Ventura, have had other things in mind. This race is likely to come down to the last weekend of the season. Cabrera, 2011’s AL Batting Champion, is in the mix for a Triple Crown this year, and he will get strong MVP consideration.

Evan Longoria, the best third-baseman in baseball, has returned from an extended disability to solidify the Rays’ lineup in the best race this year, the three-way tussle between the Rays, resurgent Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees. The Rays have the pitching, and with Evan back they are at least respectable offensively. As long as he has a shot, you cannot count Longoria or his Rays out of the money.

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