Mike Napoli and Matt Harrison are Two to Watch for MLB Playoffs

By Peter Ellwood
Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE


For the Texas Rangers, the end of the season is in sight, and the outcome is all but certain. The magic number to clinch the AL West is down to three, and they are just one win away from guaranteeing at least a wild card berth in the MLB playoffs. With that end in mind, hot streaks and cold streaks for individual players seem to be more meaningful now, as they might very well carry into the postseason.

There hasn’t been much reason to discuss Mike Napoli this season, and especially in the last two months while he was sidelined with a quad injury. It has been an underwhelming 2012 for Napoli, who was hitting .223/.343/.429 before going on the disabled list. That’s actually a very good performance for a catcher, but in light of Napoli’s 2011 line of .320/.414/.631, it falls short of expectations. However, since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago, Napoli is hitting .272/.368/.667 in 38 plate appearances.

It is a small sample size, certainly, but he has looked more like his 2011 self. Napoli pulled a similar trick in 2011, where he hit .221/.344/.493 before going on the disabled list in June of last year, and an unconscious .378/.457/.712 after his return to action. Perhaps a mid-season’s break is the secret to Napoli’s success. Napoli was a big part of the Rangers’ 2011 playoffs success, and he appears to be primed to do that once again.

On the other side of the coin is Matt Harrison, who has been the Rangers best starting pitcher in the 2012 season. Harrison leads all Rangers starters in innings pitched (207.1) and ERA (3.26), which are both career bests for the lefty. In his last two starts, though, Harrison has appeared as though the career high in innings pitched may be wearing on him at the end of the season. Last week against the Seattle Mariners, Harrison uncharacteristically issued four walks. On Thursday, against the Oakland Athletics, Harrison gave up four runs in six innings off of two home runs, and only struck out two.

In 2011, Harrison struggled with some arm fatigue in the final months of the season. While his 2012 struggles have not been so pronounced, it has been noticeable. It could just be a mini-slump for Harrison, but it may be a solid, conservative approach to find ways to get him some extra rest.

The Rangers will need both Napoli and Harrison to be at the top of their game once the playoffs begin. Currently, one’s stock is on the rise, while the other appears to be falling. Yet, due to the nature of baseball, there is no way of telling how they’ll perform each time they take the field. We just won’t know until we know.

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