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Cardinals’ Carlos Beltran raises level of play in postseason

St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran pops cork off his bottle champagne start celebratilocker room after Game 6 National

St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran pops the cork off his bottle of champagne to start the celebration in the locker room after Game 6 of the National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

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Updated: November 23, 2013 6:24AM

Postseason records, by definition, involve small samples. Only one player in baseball history has played the equivalent of a full season’s worth of playoff and World Series games. That’s the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, who has 734 plate appearances in 158 postseason games.

So when you look at the all-time postseason leaders in OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), you have to take it with a grain or two of salt. Former Royals slugger Willie Aikens is the leader at 1.215 against a career regular-season OPS of .809, but he had only 49 postseason plate appearances. If one of his four playoff home runs had been caught on the track instead, it would have knocked 125 points off his OPS. Or if he had one more 0-for-4 game on his postseason summary, it would have cost him 104 points.

That’s the way it works with small samples.

Of the top 10 players in postseason OPS, only three have more than 100 plate appearances. Two are members of the original Yankees dynasty, performing at normal levels. Babe Ruth, No. 2 behind Aikens, had a 1.211 playoff OPS in 167 plate appearances,
just a bit above his 1.164 career OPS in regular-season play. No. 3
is Lou Gehrig, who had a 1.208 postseason OPS in 150 plate appearances against a 1.080 OPS in the regular season.

The other player in the top 10 with 100 or more plate appearances in the playoffs is someone you can watch this week in the World Series. Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran ranks seventh with a 1.173 playoff OPS in 198 plate appearances. That includes his .944 in the National League Division Series against the Piraes and his .899 in the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers this season.

His best postseason was his first, with the Astros in 2004. At age 27, Beltran had a 1.591 OPS in the NLDS against the Braves and a 1.521 OPS in the NLCS against the Cardinals. He has had only one truly miserable playoff series, with a .722 OPS for the Mets in the 2006 NLDS against the Dodgers.

Beltran’s postseason OPS is 338 points higher than his career regular-season OPS of .835. That’s difficult to sustain, and those with significantly more plate appearances don’t approach that.

Eight hitters in major-league history have 400 or more postseason plate appearances. The highest OPS among them is .937 by Manny Ramirez in 493 plate appearances. His career regular-season OPS is .996. The hitter in that group with the greatest positive difference between regular-season and postseason OPS is Jeter (.916 in the playoffs, .828 in the regular season).

The other six: Bernie Williams (545 plate appearances, .850 postseason OPS, .858 regular-season OPS), Jorge Posada (492, .790, .848), David Justice (471, .717, .878), Kenny Lofton (438, .667, .794), Chipper Jones (417, .864, .930) and Tino Martinez (405, .672, .815).

Beltran, 36, is unlikely to reach 400 postseason plate appearances. His playoff/World Series numbers are a near-certainty to remain far above his regular-season norms. He doesn’t have to pass Aikens for that to be a major feather in his Cardinals cap.

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