A postseason baseball game can turn on one swing of the bat. That’s been common knowledge down through the years, but was evidenced once again Wednesday night when Brandon Crawford’s grand slam propelled the Giants to an early lead in an 8-0 win at Pittsburgh. Sometimes, a playoff home run will come from the unlikeliest of sources. Other times, it’s exactly who you would expect that deposits the ball over the fence to help lift his team to victory.
As the four Division Series get underway, we take a look at the top sluggers by 2014 home run total that could make an impact on the postseason. Of the 18 players with the most home runs in major-league baseball this year, a third of them are still playing. Here are the six home run hitters to watch in the 2014 MLB playoffs (ranked in reverse order of most 2014 home runs).
6. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
Only one player on this list comes from the National League, and it’s Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez hit 27 home runs during the 2014 MLB season, and will be looking for more in a divisional series against St. Louis. The veteran’s done it before: He hit two home runs in Game 5 of last year’s NLCS against the Cardinals. Gonzalez comes into the postseason hot, as he homered in the final two games of the regular season.
5. Albert Pujols, Angels
Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols hit 28 home runs during the regular season, the second-best total on his team. The Halos’ first baseman will be looking for his first home run against the Royals since May 2013 when the teams begin their series Thursday. He has 18 postseason homers in his career, but hasn’t played a playoff game since the 2011 World Series (with St. Louis).
4. Adam Jones, Orioles
Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones has 169 home runs in his career, but none in the playoffs. Jones hit 29 in the 2o14 regular season, one of which came against the Detroit Tigers (the Orioles’ opponent in the ALDS). Four of his bombs came after September 19, so his swing seems to be fine-tuned and ready for October. Will it translate to the first postseason homer of his nine-year career?
3. Victor Martinez, Tigers
Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers blasted a career-high 32 home runs during the 2014 season, including one against the Orioles. (His previous best was only 25, back in 2007.) In all, Martinez is up to 189 for his career and has five postseason homers to his credit, three of them with the Tigers. He’s likely to come up with quite a few big hits for Detroit this month: He’s hitting .314 in 36 career playoff games.
2. Mike Trout, Angels
One of the best players in all of baseball, Angels star Mike Trout has piled up 36 home runs and 111 RBI this season, both career-best numbers. The fourth-year player will be making his postseason debut when the Royals come to town, and has three homers against Kansas City so far in 2014. Can Trout’s regular-season success transfer to clutch hits on the game’s biggest stage? No reason to think otherwise, in our estimation.
1. Nelson Cruz, Orioles
The leading home run hitter in baseball this year is Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz. Cruz reached the 40-homer mark in 2014 (the only MLB player to do so) after not even hitting 30 in any of the previous five seasons. He owns 14 postseason homers, but none with the Orioles. Cruz’s production tailed off a bit down the stretch this season, as the slugger only hit one home run after September 7. The Orioles need him (and teammate Jones) to come through in a big way to take down the Tigers.