On Friday, Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis was suspended for 25 games for amphetamine use. This will keep Davis out of the Orioles' lineup for the last 17 games of the regular season and Baltimore's first eight playoff games (if there are that many). With Baltimore currently possessing an insurmountable division lead, Davis' ouster will only be relevant in the ALDS -- already a shortened, anything-goes affair -- and the first few games of the ALCS, if the Orioles advance that far.
The suspension has garnered much attention (as drug-related suspensions of big-name athletes are wont to do), but Baltimore might not miss Davis as much as you think (Joshua Ward lays out why in this piece). Aside from some raw power numbers, Davis has not contributed much else to the O's offensive attack in 2014 (his line of .196/.300./404 leaves something to be desired). Steve Pearce has contributed admirably this season (.290/.365/.532, with 17 home runs) and he'll fill in for Davis, and Baltimore's lineup is homer happy even without their big first baseman.
So while the Orioles chug into the playoffs just fine without Chris Davis, we wonder: if even Davis is replaceable, what players in the playoff hunt are indispensable? The loss of one of these five players would crush their team's playoff hopes.
Nelson Cruz, Orioles
Buck Showalter is currently kneeling before the Cal Ripken statue at Camden Yards, thanking the baseball gods for not taking his best hitter. Cruz, himself the recipient of a 50-game PED suspension in 2013, has more than capitalized on his one-year, $8 million deal with the O's. His 39 home runs and 102 RBIs are career highs, his 39 long balls lead the league, and Cruz's .857 OPS is higher than he's ever had in a full season. With apologies to outfielder Adam Jones, who is having a fine season in his own right, the Orioles need Cruz's powerful bat more than anyone.
Alex Gordon, Royals
Kansas City, holding on to the last AL wild card spot by their fingernails, could not afford to lose Gordon. Already facing the specter of a punchless offense (fewest homers in the majors) and the curious case that is Ned Yost gazing out from the home dugout, Gordon is the straw that stirs the drinks that are now required for all Royals fans to watch their team's agonizing playoff hunt. Gordon's .271/.352/.443 line has been essential: his on-base and slugging percentages leading the team, along with his hey-it's-more-than-anyone-else-has 19 home runs.
Felix Hernandez, Mariners
219 innings, 225 strikeouts, 41 walks, 5.49 K/BB, 2.14 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 0.918 WHIP, let's just move on.
Josh Donaldson, Athletics
Donaldson, the A's best hope after the Yoenis Cespedes deal, homered off King Felix in Oakland's massive win Saturday night in Seattle. The third baseman is slugging a team-high .455 (Stephen Vogt is at .473, but with less than half of Donaldson's 560 at-bats), with 27 homers and 95 runs batted in, and has been Oakland's most consistent offensive force in a less-than-balmy offensive year by the bay. Donaldson's refWAR of 7.1 is second to Mike Trout among MLB position players, and his 2.9 defensive WAR is fourth. If Donaldson went down, the A's would too.
Buster Posey, Giants
Across the bay from Donaldson, the San Francisco Giants are doing even-year things, aided by Buster Posey doing Buster Posey things. In the last month, Posey has hit .422 in 102 at-bats, knocking seven of his 20 home runs, and driving in 26. Posey, who has hit above .300 every other year for the Giants (I'll let you guess which years), is irreplaceable for San Francisco. He's third in the NL in batting, ninth in slugging and tenth in OPS, and this after a summer-long swoon that mirrored the Giants' on mediocrity. The Giants need an MVP-caliber Posey, and that's what they're getting.