Bowden: 13 MLB players who need to step up as postseason races heat up – The Athletic

The Athletic

Only three more weeks left in the MLB regular season and the postseason races are heating up. The Braves trace the Mets of only half a game in the National League East and the White Socks there are only three behind the Guardians in the American League Central. The AL wild card teams split from the pack, with the Blue jays, Radios and sailors heading into the playoffs, but the top spot — and home field advantage in the first round — is up for grabs, as the three teams entered Wednesday tied in the loss column. In the NL wild card race, the Brewers has won five of its last six and is tracking the fathers with two games. The Phillies are 3 1/2 games up on Milwaukee (and own the tie), but they still have to face the Braves seven times, the Blue Jays twice and the Astros three times, so their schedule is not easy.

Playoff spots, home-field advantage and first-round byes are at stake. Here are some of the key players who need to step up in these tight races to help their teams over the next 21 days.

Stats are updated throughout Tuesday’s games.


NL ORIENTAL VURS

Mets – 1B Pete Alonso

Alonso was the Mets’ MVP all season, slashing .268/.344/.505 with 24 doubles, 34 home runs and an NL-leading 110 RBIs. However, in the last 30 days he has been relatively quiet, hitting .226 with seven extra-base hits in 27 games and 106 at-bats. To win the NL East and claim a valuable first-round bye, the Mets need Alonso to perform like the impact player he is over the final three weeks. The good news for New York: In his last seven games, Alonso has picked it up, hitting .345/.387/.586.

Braves – RF Ronald Coin Jr.

Acuña has been a disappointment this season in his return from ACL surgery a year ago, but thanks to the rookie production. Michael Harris II and Vaughn Grissom, the pressure on Acuña to perform has lessened. But as the Braves try to overtake the Mets for the division crown, they need more from their superstar right fielder. Over the last 15 games, Acuña has hit .258 with a .310 on-base percentage and just one home run. However, he stole three bases in as many attempts during that span. Acuña’s base-stealing ability will be key down the stretch to help the Braves hit after he gets more fastballs to hit.

TO CENTRAL RACE


Rookie Oscar Gonzalez hit .319/.396/.596 this month, but the Rangers need more offense. (Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today)

Rangers – their lineup, top to bottom

The Guardians pitching staff is doing everything possible to lead them to a surprise AL Central title. Over the last 30 days, their team ERA is 2.65, third best in baseball. However, their offense struggled during that span, ranking 29th in the majors with just 3.25 runs scored per game. In order to hold off the White Sox, the Rangers need their lineup to start producing. In the last 30 days, only Oscar Gonzalez (five home runs) and José Ramírez (four) hit more than two long balls. Cleveland hitters worked with the count and on base, but they couldn’t string together hits, which has become a late-season problem, especially when they don’t hit for power. (The Rangers rank last in MLB with 16 home runs in the last 30 days.) Down the stretch, the Rangers need their two position players All-Stars, Ramirez and Andres Gimenezto deliver at the plate, but they also need production from all over the lineup, along with their elite pitching and defense, to hold off the White Sox, who they face four more times.

White Sox – RHP Lucas Giolito

The White Sox are coming off strong offensively, thanks in part to the bats of Eloy Jimenez and Elvis Andrus, who have combined for 11 home runs and 33 RBIs over their last 15 games. Four of their hitters – Jiménez, Andrus, Joseph Abreu and AJ Pollock — hit over .340 and posted a .390 OBP or higher in the last 15 days. However, the key for the White Sox during the stretch run could be Giolito, who has struggled to match his rotation mates this year. Giolito’s numbers have gotten worse since last season, especially after the All-Star break, as he posted a 6.04 ERA and 1.638 WHIP in the second half. They need him to turn things around in his final starts of the regular season.

TO WILD CARD BEAR


Wander Franco was in the IL from July 10th to September 9th. (Nick Turchiaro/USA Today)

Sailors – BY Mitch Haniger and BY Jesse Winker

The Mariners lead the majors with a team ERA of 2.42 over the last 30 days and are in position to secure the top AL wild card spot – and end their 20-season playoff drought – if their lineup can step up the stretch. Their wild-card competition, the Rays and Blue Jays, have scored more runs than them in the last month, but the Mariners have come off a streak of their last 12 games and beaten every AL team during that span. Julio Rodriguez and Eugene Suarez carried them, combining for 10 home runs and 15 RBIs and reaching base at a 45 percent and 36 percent clip, respectively. However, those two will need help from Haniger and Winker if the Mariners want to lock down home field advantage for the first round. Over the last 15 days, Haniger hit .143 with three extra-base hits in 49 at-bats, while Winker hit .074 with one extra-base hit in 27 at-bats.

Rays – INF Isaac Paredes and SS Wander Franco

The Rays rank 30th in the majors over the last 15 days with just six homers and while they have the pitching and defense to finish atop the wild card standings, they’ll need some long balls to do it. With 18 home runs, Paredes ranks second on the team behind Randy Arozarena, but he didn’t hit one in September. The Rays need him to go a few times during the stretch run. Meanwhile, Franco is finally back from the injured list and off to a decent start, going 6-for-20 with three RBIs in his first six games back, but the Rays will need their 21-year-old sensation to live up to his. 11-year, $182 million contract in the final weeks to best the Mariners and Blue Jays for home field advantage in the wild card round.

Blue Jays – RHP Jose Berrios

Berríos has been a major disappointment this season, posting a 5.07 ERA, 4.68 FIP and 1.376 WHIP — all career-worst marks since his 2016 rookie year — after signing a seven-year, $131 million extension last November. However, he has pitched better in his last five starts, giving up two earned runs or less in all but one of them. The Blue Jays need him to keep pitching that way to finish with the best record among the AL wild card teams and become a postseason threat. If the top of their rotation – Alec Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Ross Stripling and Berríos – pitches to its potential, the Blue Jays could do some real damage in the playoffs. Berríos is the key, and while he looks like he’s hitting the road, the Blue Jays will need him to be consistently good the rest of the way.

NL WILD CARD RACE


Acquiring Josh Bell still hasn’t paid off for the Padres. (Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

Phillies – RHP Seranthony Dominguez

The Phillies are relieved to have their top reliever back from the IL as they blew five saves and the bullpen has struggled in his absence. They shut down Domínguez (right triceps tendinitis) after an outing on Aug. 17 but activated him on Sunday and he has made two scoreless appearances since. From June 17 to August 17, Domínguez was dominant: 18 of his 21 relief appearances were scoreless and he converted nine of nine save opportunities. During the season, Domínguez recorded a 1.57 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. To keep their wild card spot and end their postseason drought, the Phillies need Domínguez to perform at his best in the late innings.

Padres – 1B Josh Bell

The priests must get their bats going. They rank 12th in the NL over the last 30 days with 98 runs scored and 12th over the last 15 days with 42. Manny Machado led the way for more than a month in nearly every offensive category, including hits, extra-base hits, home runs, RBIs and OPS. However, opposing teams will pitch around Machado or walk him in the remaining weeks if he doesn’t get help. Get in Josh Bell. When the Padres acquired Bell at the trade deadline he raked for the Nationals, slashing .301/.384/.493 with 24 doubles, three triples, 14 home runs and 57 RBIs in 103 games. But since the hype Juan Soto trade, Bell hit .206/.320/.313 with just five doubles and three home runs in 131 at-bats. It’s his time to shine for San Diego. Oh, and they need Soto — .120/.313/.180 in his last 15 games — to get going, too.

Brewers – DE Christian Yelich, SS Willy Adames and DH Andrew McCutchen

The Brewers need their veterans — in particular, Yelich, Adames and McCutchen — to carry them. Over their last 15 games, Yelich is hitting .298, Adames is hitting .246 and McCutchen is .236. And they don’t get much help Rowdy Tellez (.204 in his last 15 games) and Keston Hiura (.208). However, Yelich, Adames and McCutchen have done it before and must turn it on now to lift Milwaukee over the Padres or Phillies. The Brewers have the pitching and defense to make the playoffs if this veteran trio provides the run support.

(Ronald Acuña Jr. photo above: Brett Davis / USA Today)

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