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Friday, October 16, 2009
Updated: October 20, 1:14 AM ET
Four difference-makers who could fly under the radar this postseason

ESPN.com

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Jonathan Broxton closed out the Phillies in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium.

By Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

As we go deeper and deeper into the postseason, each team will begin to reveal its unsung heroes. Every team has that one under-the-radar player who comes up big when it counts, and I'm picking one for each team in the postseason:

Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels, shortstop

Angels' third baseman Chone Figgins told me Thursday that no one outside of L.A. has any idea how good a player Erick Aybar is. Even though he's a relatively little guy, Aybar, Figgins said, is actually very strong.

Plus, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been raving most of the year about Aybar's tremendous range at shortstop as a Gold Glove-caliber defender. Remember, it was his two-run triple off of Josh Beckett that helped the Angels win the second game of their ALDS. Torii Hunter told me Thursday that the Angels are the most athletic team that he's ever been on. Certainly Aybar is one of those really good athletes.

Phil Hughes, New York Yankees, set-up man

Everyone knows Phil Hughes' story, but you tend to get lost a little bit in that Yankees' bullpen when it includes the greatest closer of all-time in Mariano Rivera. All of the great Yankees teams from the mid-90s to today have had a terrific set-up man to get the ball to the closer.

Now, that set-up guy is Hughes. New York's bullpen was solidified this year when they put Hughes in the eighth-inning role, and he has responded with tremendous work. The one thing we know about the postseason is you can't win without a good bullpen, and that includes a great set-up man such as Hughes.

Jayson Werth, Philadelphia Phillies, right fielder

Jayson Werth is one of the four Phillies who hit 30 home runs this year, but a lot more attention is paid to the three left-handed hitters who hit 30 homers (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez), since the Phillies are the first team to have three left-handed batters hit 30 homers in a season since 1929.

Werth can really play the outfield and steal a base. He will be extremely important, considering the Dodgers have lefties in both the rotation (Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf) and the bullpen (George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo). So, the Phillies are really going to need that right-handed compliment to the left-handed hitters, and that guy is Werth.

Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers, closer

Technically, it's impossible to be under-the-radar as a closer, but in this postseason we really haven't seen Jonathan Broxton completely tested in this role. There's no doubt that he has the stuff for this job. He throws 100 mph, and he had the lowest opponent batting average against (.165) this year of any pitcher in baseball with his number of innings (76).

But even when the Dodgers swept through the Cardinals, we didn't see Broxton having to protect one-run leads or anything else. Broxton proved what should be a clear point by shutting down the Phillies in the ninth inning in Game 2: He's a big-time closer. The Dodgers have the best bullpen in the NL, the lowest ERA, the lowest WHIP, and only the Yankees' bullpen has more wins this year than the Dodgers' bullpen. And guess who is right in the middle of all of that? Jonathan Broxton.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Oct. 15 | Oct. 14 | Oct. 13 | Oct. 12 | Oct. 9

PLAYOFF WATCH: SATURDAY'S MATCHUP

Angels at Yankees, 7:57 p.m. ET, ESPN Radio

Will the weather cooperate two days in a row? If so, A.J. Burnett takes the mound for the Yankees against Joe Saunders. Saunders enters on a roll; he has not lost since Aug. 1, going 7-0 in nine starts. One of those wins was a Sept. 21 victory against the Yankees -- though that game was in Anaheim, not in the cold surroundings at Yankee Stadium. Burnett also recently faced the Angels, beating them by pitching 5 2/3 steady, if unspectacular, innings Sept. 23 in a 3-2 Yankees win.

For the rest of the playoff schedule, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: SATURDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
12:15 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buck Showalter, Fernando Vina

BBTN MINUTE: ANGELS TAKE BLAME

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the performance put forth by Pedro Martinez, one the Phillies wasted in a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS:

Pedro Martinez
Postseason starts -- 10 years apart

Oct. 16, 1999 Oct. 16, 2009
Opponent Yankees Dodgers
Round ALCS NLCS
IP 7 7
Runs 0 0
Hits 2 2
K-BB 12-2 3-0
Result 13-1 win 2-1 loss*

* Martinez walked away with a no-decision

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
CC Sabathia• The Yankees, with the help of some suspect defense from the Angels, gave CC Sabathia an early lead, and he took care of it in the Yankees' 4-1 win in the ALCS opener. Sabathia allowed four hits and one run. He struck out seven and handed out just one walk.
WORST
Jayson WerthJayson Werth and Raul Ibanez had a tough day at the plate in the Phillies' Game 2 NLCS loss against the Dodgers. The pair combined to go 0-for-6 with four strikeouts. The next hitter in the order wasn't much help, either. Pedro Feliz also went 0-for-3 and struck out once in the 2-1 loss.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

A.J. Burnett The Yankees' decision on who to start behind the plate in Game 2 against the Angels might determine how effective starting pitcher A.J. Burnett is at Yankee Stadium. Burnett's numbers have been better across the board when Jose Molina is catching instead of Jorge Posada.

Burnett by catcher (2009)
Posada Molina
BA against .270 .216
Strikeout pct. 18.2 26.3
Miss pct. 18.5 22.7

The biggest difference is with Burnett's breaking pitches. He throws them nearly the same percentage of the time to each catcher, but with much different results:

Burnett's breaking balls by catcher (2009)
Posada Molina
BA against .210 .113
Chase pct. 27.9 33.7
In-zone pct. 40.2 36.1

-- ESPN Stats & Information

THIS DATE IN "THAT'S NASTY" HISTORY

Each night throughout the postseason, "Baseball Tonight" will remember some of the postseason's best pitching performances.

October 17, 1991 -- John Smoltz pitched a six-hit shutout, putting the Braves into the World Series with a 6-0 win over the Pirates. Smoltz is one of 15 pitchers to pitch a shutout in a winner-take-all game in a postseason series. The only pitcher to do it since Smoltz: Jack Morris, in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against Smoltz's Braves.