Pirates vs. Cardinals: The playoff majesty of Carlos Beltran

October 4, 2013

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

For one moment, consider the postseason batting lines of the following two nameless hitters. Hitter A: .326/.467/.744, a 1.211 OPS and 15 home runs in 167 plate appearances. Hitter B: .357/.462/.783, a 1.244 OPS and 15 home runs in 156 plate appearances. Both stat lines are stunning, but Hitter B has the slight edge.

Now consider the names. Hitter A is Babe Ruth. Hitter B is Carlos Beltran. His dominance of the postseason continued Thursday afternoon when his three-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates starter A.J. Burnett helped power the St. Louis Cardinals to a 9-1 victory in Game 1 of their National League Division Series. The Cardinals looked like a juggernaut on Thursday: dominant pitching from starter Adam Wainwright, relentless hittters, flamethrowing relievers such as Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal. And, of course, there was the bat of Beltran, which seems to grow larger and more powerful when the leaves begin to turn orange and red.

When Beltran’s career ends, he will be an interesting case for Hall of Fame voters. He was the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, is an eight-time all-star, a three-time Gold Glover, has a career slash line of .283/.359/.496, 2,064 hits, 358 home runs, 11 seasons of 20-homers and 1,326 RBI. The switch-hitter has a career 61.1 WAR, which is sixth among active players, and an OPS+ of 122, which would rank 32nd among active players.

But when the stakes were at their highest and the pressure was most intense, Beltran, 36, becomes otherworldly. In addition to a long career of regular season consistency, his playoff performances should carry significant weight. His .783 slugging percentage, 1.244 OPS and 21 runs are the highest in postseason history. His 15 home runs are tied for eighth.

Remember his epic 2004 postseason? The Houston Astros traded with the Kansas City Royals for Beltran mid-season. He then hit 23 homers and posted a .926 OPS in 90 games to help push them to the postseason. In the playoffs, he hit four home runs in the NLDS win over Atlanta and then another four home runs in NLCS loss to the Cardinals. He hit .435 in 12 games. In the 2012 playoffs, which Nationals fans will remember well, Beltran hit .444 with two home runs in the NLDS win over Washington and then .300 with a home run against the Giants in the NLCS loss.

But part of Beltran’s legacy will be his failure in one at-bat in the 2006 playoffs. He signed a blockbuster $115 million deal with the Mets in 2005. He did little in the NLDS win over the Dodgers. But in the NLCS against the Cardinals, he hit .296 with three home runs. Trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and two outs in Game 7, Beltran struck out looking on a Wainwright curveball. Fans blamed Beltran and he was haunted by the strikeout.

Beltran has moved past that one postseason at-bat with his performances in last season’s playoffs and the start to this season’s postseason. He could add to his legacy with continued production this fall. His career has been stellar up until now and he may be remembered as one of the best, but unheralded, hitters of his generation. At the very least, he is one of the most dominant postseason hitters in history.

Other series

The Dodgers — without Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, and with Skip Schumaker starting in center field — defeated the Braves, 6-1, in Game 1 of the NLDS. Clayton Kershaw struck out 12 batters over seven innings. Adrian Gonzalez smashed a three-run home run. Yasiel Puig’s aggressiveness actually worked and wasn’t a detriment as many feared. Evan Gattis looked like a butcher in left field. Kris Medlen gave up five runs over four innings. For Game 2 on Friday, it’s Mike Minor vs. Zack Greinke, so advantage Dodgers.

Friday is a busy day of baseball. NLDS Game 2 between the Cardinals and Pirates is at 1 p.m. and it’s Gerrit Cole vs. Lance Lynn. Game 1 of the ALDS between the Rays and Red Sox is at 3 p.m. and it’s Matt Moore vs. Jon Lester. Game 2 between the Dodgers and Braves is at 6 p.m. And Game 1 of the other ALDS between Oakland and Detroit is at 9:30 p.m. between Max Scherzer and Bartolo Colon.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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