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Monster mashers could crash pitchers' party

Monster mashers could crash pitchers' party

Say what you will about Doc, the Freak and CC and all this Year of the Pitcher hoopla. Heap as much praise as you want on the untouchable Cliff Lee, the silky smooth Cole Hamels and the unprecedented playoff pedigree of Andy Pettitte.

Behind every good pitcher -- make that, every great pitcher -- there's a man with a bat who's capable of ruining a team's season with a swing of the stick. Nothing can change a postseason or alter the fortunes of an entire season quicker than a well-timed home run.

The history of the playoffs is full of memorable home runs, and this year's postseason has already produced some key blasts despite the dominating starting pitching.

Lee and the Rangers wouldn't have been able to finish off the Rays in the American League Division Series had there not been a few big swings, including Ian Kinsler's two-run homer that broke Game 5 open. Mark Teixeira's two-run bomb in Game 1 of the other ALDS snapped a tie and sent the Yankees on their way to a three-game sweep of the Twins.

So as the National League Championship Series prepares to get under way on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX in Philadelphia with all eyes on the incredibly alluring pitching matchup of Roy Halladay of the Phillies and Tim Lincecum of the Giants, there are some talented hitters lurking in the shadows of the pitcher's mound.

The Phillies and the Giants each have several big-name offensive stars ready to take center stage, but not as many mashers as featured in the AL Championship Series between the Rangers and Yankees that gets under way on Friday at 8 p.m. on TBS in Arlington.

All four of the remaining teams can certainly pitch it, but each ranked in the top 10 in the Majors in home runs this year: the Yankees were third (201), the Phillies were ninth (166) and the Giants and Rangers were tied for 10th (162). All but one of those teams -- the Yankees, who ranked 15th -- were in the top 10 in team ERA this year.

The Yankees have one of the game's most prolific all-time home run hitters in Alex Rodriguez -- a newly minted member of the 600-home run club -- but he's not even the most feared hitter in a Bombers lineup that includes Robinson Cano, Teixeira and Nick Swisher, each of whom hit at least 29 homers in the regular season.

Looking for some other monster-mash candidates on the Yankees? Try Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Lance Berkman and Jorge Posada. Berkman, with 327 career homers, hit a key fifth-inning homer in Game 2 of the ALDS in Minnesota.

Then there's the Rangers, fresh off their first playoff series victory after beating the Rays. Texas smashed eight home runs in that series, with Nelson Cruz and Kinsler each going deep three times apiece to turn back the Rays, who had the best record in the AL.

Those long balls by Cruz and Kinsler marked only the second time in Major League history that a pair of teammates each hit three homers in a postseason series of five games or fewer. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were the other duo, setting the precedent in the Yankees' 1928 World Series sweep of the Cardinals.

Kinsler's three homers in the ALDS is one-third of what he had in the regular season, which is proof of the bright lights of October can bring out the best. And we haven't even mentioned Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero, two of the most feared sluggers in the league, or Michael Young, who's capable of going deep at any moment.

Brawny bashers Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth of the Phillies combined to hit 58 home runs in the regular season, with Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Chase Utley capable of swinging big sticks. Utley was the only Phillies player to homer in the NLDS sweep over the Reds.

For that reason, the Giants can only hope the Phillies don't break out the big sticks in time for their series. That's especially true for Howard, who is the only the player to hit at least three homers off Lincecum.

The Giants don't have the singular you-might-want-to-pitch-around-this-guy home run threat the other three LCS clubs possess, but their lineup is chock full of power bats. Veterans Aubrey Huff (26), Pat Burrell (20) and Juan Uribe (24) were the only San Francisco players to top 20 homers in the regular season, but rookie Buster Posey and outfielder Andres Torres have some pop. Posey hit 18 in only 108 games, which translates to 25 in a full 162-game season.

And don't forget Pablo Sandoval, who hasn't been able to match his terrific rookie season of a year ago, but the switch-hitting Kung Fu Panda shouldn't be taken lightly at the plate. That's probably good advice for any pitcher who takes the mound in the LCS.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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