Latin Link: Latino players likely to impact postseason play


Marco Scutaro may be the biggest midseason acquisition of all. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The 2012 major league season is coming to a close, and so is Hispanic Heritage Month. Latinos will still be in the news, however, since they will figure heavily in the success (or failure) of playoff-hopeful teams. According to Nomar Garciaparra, my favorite ESPN analyst, 27 percent of current MLB players are Hispanic. But that doesn’t necessarily include an accurate number of athletes who are of Latino descent, such as Nomar when he was on the field instead of the broadcast booth.

In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals have qualified for October baseball. As for the junior circuit, the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees look to be in good shape. Spanish is spoken on all these teams, both in the clubhouse and the dugout. The same could be said for all the contenders still in the hunt, except perhaps in Tampa Bay. Which teams will ultimately survive, though, is a crap shoot that could come down to the final series of games. Here are a few of my predictions and observations:

1. Even if the Detroit Tigers don’t extend their season, and they should, Miguel Cabrera will still win the AL MVP. The guy’s a beast and his offensive numbers prove it. He’s done a decent job at third base, and he’s got a shot at the Triple Crown.

2. Gio Gonzalez is my pick to win the NL Cy Young Award. On a pitching staff in Washington that is one of the best in baseball, Gio is the ace in the hole. And the Cuban-American was the season’s first 20-game winner.

3. Don’t expect Yadier Molina to win the NL MVP, but he deserves plenty of votes. There’s nobody better than Molina behind the dish, and his clutch hitting is one of the reasons why the St. Louis Cardinals still have a chance to defend their crown. Carlos Beltran can take a bow as well.

4. At 34 years of age, Aramis Ramirez is quietly having a career year in Milwaukee, and currently ranks among the league’s top five in four offensive categories. The Dominican was been the driving force behind the Brewers late bid to win a wild card spot.

5. If the Atlanta Braves punch their ticket for the playoffs, and they will, it’s probably because they didn’t trade Martin Prado this past winter. The versatile Venezuelan does everything but pitch and catch, and he ranks third in the league in base knocks. What’s more, some of the most important things Prado does never get entered in the scorebook.

6. Magic Johnson was a legend on the basketball court. But when it comes to baseball, the new owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers needs to learn a bit more about chemistry. The splashy transactions he approved that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and other high-paid stars to Chavez Ravine has been a massive struggle of egos. The same could be said about Albert Pujols and company with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Despite all the money spent, neither team is assured of a postseason berth.

In contrast, Bruce Bochy’s Giants pulled away from the pack in the NL West after the seemingly minor acquisition of Marco Scutaro. What does this prove? Sometimes less is more.

Mexicans on a mission

1. Another reason why the “Brew Crew” have surged to the finish line is shaggy-haired Yovani Gallardo. On pace for another 200 strikeout season, the right-hander from Michoacan has gone 9-0 since late July. With those results, who needs Zack Greinke?

2. Young Luis Cruz has been the answer at third base for the Dodgers, allowing “Hollywood Hanley” to return to his natural position at shortstop. With all the new additions, the terrific play of Cruz has yet to be recognized by the media. But the kid is hitting just a tick below .300, and his maturity has caught the attention of his peers.

Question marks?

Will Aroldis Chapman bounce back from his “tired shoulder” to once again anchor the Reds bullpen during the playoffs? Manager Dusty Baker has Jonathan Broxton waiting in the wings as plan B, but that’s like comparing apples to oranges, or maybe even lemons.

2. If the Chicago White Sox can pull off an upset and win the AL Central, the burden will rest on the left arms of Francisco Liriano and Jose Quintana. Both are weary and Chris Sale can’t pitch every night. After what looked like a miracle season, I fear that President Obama’s team is running out of fuel.

3. Alex Rodriguez is still the game’s wealthiest player, and he’s actually healthier than many of his Yankees teammates. Will this be the year he finally steps it up in the playoffs? For an aging A-Rod, pride is almost as important as money. I expect him to perform well, even though it may not always be in clutch situations.

So stock up on your favorite cerveza, amigos, and stay thirsty. This looks to be a very interesting journey to the World Series. Sit back and enjoy the fiesta.

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