With the MLB playoffs now in full swing, let’s look at the potential players that could dictate each team’s outcome in October.
Around this time of year, there’s always that one player who rises to the occasion, refusing to let the bright lights and the big stage of the MLB playoffs phase him. Whether it be a Madison Bumgarner in 2014 or a Daniel Murphy in 2015, he’s the difference-maker in helping his team make a deep run into October. That player is known as the “X-factor.”
Texas Rangers – Yu Darvish
After a bit of a rough stretch in early September, Darvish has been lights out as of late, posting a 0.94 ERA while striking out 30 and walking three in his last three starts of the regular season. Darvish will look to carry that momentum heading into the postseason, where he’s pitched only once in his big league career due to injuries. Now that he looks as healthy as he’s ever been coming off Tommy John surgery, it’ll be interesting to see how well he handles the spotlight – a key variable for the Rangers.
Boston Red Sox – David Price
Price hasn’t lived up to the price in which the Red Sox paid for this past offseason, but he’ll get the chance to rectify his mediocre performance in the postseason, a place where he has struggled in years past. Price is 0-7 with a 5.27 ERA in eight career postseason starts, with the root cause being his susceptibility to the long ball, as his home run rate is 77 percent higher than it is in the regular season. If he can keep the ball within the confines and pitch like the ace we know he’s capable of being, the Red Sox will be as well-equipped as any team to win it all.
Cleveland Indians – Trevor Bauer
Because the Indians have been decimated with injuries to their rotation, Bauer will get the nod in Game 1 of the ALDS against a potent Red Sox lineup. Cleveland has reportedly considered the idea of deploying a three-man rotation, which means Bauer will toe the rubber twice in the series unless, of course, they get swept. Although he hasn’t pitched like a front-line starter in 2016, the Indians and their less than stellar offense are going to need him to if they have any aspirations of making a postseason run.
Toronto Blue Jays – Jason Grilli
A bullpen can make or break a team in the postseason, and in the Blue Jays’ case, that’s been their Achilles heel all season long. With Joaquin Benoit on the shelf and the uncertainly surrounding Roberto Osuna‘s shoulder, it’s imperative that Grilli seizes the more prominent role that he’ll likely receive in the back-end of the ‘pen. Grilli’s fiery competitiveness and postseason experience is well-suited for the job, as the 39-year-old journeyman hasn’t allowed a run in 12 playoff appearances.
Chicago Cubs – Ben Zobrist
With a lineup featuring an All-Star tandem of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, it’s easy to overlook the less flashy players such as Ben Zobrist. Nothing about Zobrist’s game is spectacular, but he’s a solid all-around player who will have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs hitting behind those two. If he’s able to replicate his postseason performance from last year in which he hit .305 for the defending champion Kansas City Royals, he’ll play a pivotal role in the Cubs’ attempt to end their 108-year World Series drought.
Washington Nationals – Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez may very well be the key for the injury-bugged Nationals in advancing past the first round and beyond given the bevy of left-handed hitters in the postseason. Despite the inconsistent left arm of his, Gonzalez should be able to have success in the NLDS against a Dodgers team that slashed a league-worst .215/.294/.337 versus southpaws in 2016. Keep in mind that Washington went 1-5 against Los Angeles this year, with the one win coming in a game where Gonzalez threw six innings of one-run baseball.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Yasiel Puig
When Puig was sent to Triple-A back in early August, there was plenty of speculation that his days in a Los Angeles uniform had come to an end. But since his return following the demotion, a rejuvenated Puig is hitting .280/.338/.561 with four home runs in 65 plate appearances. That wake-up call could prove to be quite the significant development for the Dodgers in October.
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San Francisco Giants – Hunter Pence
If the Giants plan on winning their fourth Word Series title in the last seven years, the team with the fourth-fewest runs scored in the second half is going to need someone to catch fire in their underwhelming lineup. Pence is a prime candidate to do just that given his spark plug tendencies and postseason success, hitting .313 throughout the Giants’ championship run in 2014.