Baseball games that actually count resume today; so upon starting the second half, it seemed prudent to look at some players with pivotal roles in the American League playoff race. Almost all top-10 lists will be ripe for subjective arguments and this one should be no exception.
That said, here are 10 players, in no particular order, who could make or break the AL playoff races.
The Rays' bullpen is a big reason why they're ahead of the Red Sox for the Wild Card and maintaining that advantage will be essential down the stretch. Joaquin Benoit has been nothing short of amazing for Tampa Bay and is one of the season's best free-agent signings. Tampa inked him to a minor league contract back in February, and Benoit has delivered a career-high in strikeout and ground ball rates along with a career-low walk rate. His 1.99 xFIP, a measure of fielding-independent ERA calculated by strikeouts, walks and normalized home-run-to-fly-ball rate, is the second-best mark in baseball behind Jonathan Broxton. This level of success is unprecedented for Benoit, and the Rays need it to continue.
Boston currently sits three games outside of a playoff spot. They are going to need some improvement, especially in the rotation, to catch up. But they can't afford any player falling back from his first-half performance. The player this might be most important for is Adrian Beltre. Now, anyone who watched Beltre play with the Seattle Mariners could have foreseen that Beltre would do well once removed from Safeco, but Fenway Park has not been the end-all, be-all catalyst for Beltre's offensive resurgence. Beltre has .841 OPS at home compared to a remarkable .979 mark on the road. Beltre is hitting at an offensive level that he has not even sniffed since his monster 2004 season. Can he keep it going through the second half?