By: Cole Bailey | October 2nd, 2018
The MLB Playoffs are officially here. It took a bit longer than expected, with two divisions needing to be decided in a Game 163, but we’ve finally made it. These playoffs look like they could be the best in a long time as well, as there is no shortage of storylines that will be sure to keep baseball fans hooked throughout. With that being said, here are 10 players that you should look out for all October long.
A’s: Matt Chapman- Khris Davis and his 48 home runs have been the most talked about story in Oakland this season, but it is Matt Chapman who has been the A’s MVP in 2018. Chapman has always been known as a once-in-a-lifetime defensive player (his 29 defensive runs saved this season lead all of baseball by a good margin), but his bat has come around in a big way this year. Chapman hit .278/.356/.508 with 24 home runs and a 137 wRC+ this year, which combined with the great defense have transformed him into a dark horse AL MVP candidate in only his second season in the majors. His performance at the hot corner will be very important in helping an A’s pitching staff that has its fair share of uncertainties, and getting on base like he has this season in front of guys like the aforementioned Davis will be paramount to Oakland’s success in the Wild Card Game and possibly onwards.
Yankees: Luis Severino- It was a tale of two seasons for the Yankees flamethrowing ace in 2018. In the first half of the season, Severino was dominant, pitching to a 2.31 ERA and a .208 batting average against with 144 strikeouts in 128.1 innings, which earned him the Cy Young in our midseason awards article. In the second half, however, he has been downright bad, with these numbers skyrocketing to a 5.57 ERA and a .290 batting average against in 63 innings. Severino is getting the start in the Wild Card Game despite these struggles, and the Yankees desperately need him to revert back to his first half form if they want to make another deep postseason run.
Red Sox: Mookie Betts- The Red Sox put up one of the best regular season performances in recent memory this season, and a big reason why was Mookie Betts. Betts had been considered a part of baseball’s upper echelon of players before this season, but he took his game to a whole new level in 2018. The 25-year-old hit a staggering .346/.438/.640 with 32 home runs, 30 stolen bases and a 10.4 fWAR this season, a performance that is likely going to win the AL MVP next month. As Betts goes, the Red Sox go, and having him setting the table for guys like JD Martinez and Andrew Benintendi at the top of the Red Sox order will be paramount, especially considering the fact that the remaining AL teams will be running out star starters like Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber every night.
Astros: Carlos Correa- If you asked baseball fans who the best shortstop in all of baseball was at the beginning of this year, a lot of them would have answered Carlos Correa. They would have been justified as well, as Correa hit at least 20 home runs and had an OPS of at least .810 in each of the past three seasons, with both topping out at 24 and .941 respectively in 2017. This year, however, things took a downward turn for the former #1 overall pick. Correa has battled a back injury for most of the season (even missing six weeks from late June to mid August), which has caused all of his numbers to fall significantly. He has been especially poor since returning from this injury, hitting only .180 with just two home runs. Correa was a big part of the Astros’ run to the World Series last year, so they will need him to get back to form soon if they want to repeat as champions in 2018.
Indians: Josh Donaldson- The trade for Josh Donaldson at August’s waiver trade deadline might have been a stroke of genius by the Indians’ front office. Donaldson had been one of the best players in all of baseball in the years leading up to 2018 (his 2015 AL MVP award will attest to this), but various injuries kept him off the field for almost all of this season. The Indians took a chance on him though, seeing that he wasn’t too far off from returning and that the price it would take to get him had dropped significantly. So far, he has made their decision look great, as he has posted a .920 OPS with three home runs in 60 plate appearances with Cleveland. Donaldson looks to be returning to his perennial All-Star form, which makes the Indians’ lineup with him, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley one of the scariest left in the postseason.
Cubs: Cole Hamels- The Cubs’ trade deadline acquisition of Cole Hamels wasn’t the most talked about deal at the time, but it has definitely been one of the most important ones. After struggling with the Rangers at the beginning of 2018, Hamels found new life with the Cubs, posting a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts with the team down the stretch. Hamels’ presence deepens the Cubs rotation considerably, and also provides them with some valuable postseason experience. The 34-year-old veteran was the World Series MVP for the Phillies back when they won it all in 2008, and has recorded a 3.48 ERA in 16 career postseason starts. Hamels might be a factor out of the bullpen during Tuesday night’s Wild Card Game, and will for sure be a big key to Chicago’s success if they make it past that point.
Rockies: Kyle Freeland- For the longest time, the Rockies have failed to find a #1 pitcher that can overcome Coors Field and carry their rotation into a deep playoff run. This finally might not be the case anymore, as Kyle Freeland has emerged as an NL Cy Young candidate for the Rockies at the perfect time. The former #8 overall pick made his debut with Colorado last year, and his performance was overall pretty encouraging. This year, though, he has taken a huge step forward, posting a 2.85 ERA and a 4.2 fWAR in 202.1 innings pitched. Even more impressive is the fact that he actually has a better ERA at Coors Field (2.40) than on the road (3.23), something that almost never happens to Rockies pitchers. Freeland has been the best Rockies pitcher on a team that has posted their highest regular season win total since 2009, and he will be the guy that Colorado turns to to win big games like Tuesday’s NL Wild Card Game.
Brewers: Josh Hader- Relievers have taken a much bigger role in deciding postseason games over the last few seasons, which means you should prepare to see a lot of Josh Hader for the NL-best Brewers this month. After showing signs of brilliance in his three months with the team last season, Hader became one of the best relievers in all of baseball this year, posting a 2.43 ERA and a league-leading strikeout percentage of 46.7% in 81.1 innings pitched. If the Brewers need to preserve a lead in the 7th inning or later, Hader will more than likely be the guy who is called upon, which should make opposing hitters more than a little nervous.
Dodgers: Walker Buehler- Since the departure of Zack Greinke, the Dodgers have struggled to find a legitimite #2 starter to put behind ace Clayton Kershaw in their playoff rotation. Their struggles might finally be over though, as Walker Buehler has looked like a true star this year year, especially recently. Since August 1st, Buehler has posted a 1.58 ERA and a .153 batting average against, which both rank near the top of the leaderboards in that time. He has showed he can perform under pressure as well, pitching 6.2 innings of one-hit, no-run ball in the Dodgers’ win against the Rockies in the NL West tiebreaker on Monday. Buehler is getting hot at the right time, and pairing him with the best pitcher of the last decade in Kershaw gives the Dodgers a 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation that can match up with anyone.
Braves: Ronald Acuña Jr.- It is rare to see someone as young as Ronald Acuña Jr. come up and immediately start producing. The 20-year-old has done nothing but produced ever since being called up in late April though, hitting .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs, 16 stolen bases and a 3.7 fWAR in 111 games. He has been especially good in the second half, posting an outstanding 1.028 OPS since the All Star Break. Acuña Jr. has been perhaps the perfect encapsulation of the young Braves’ quick rise to the top of the NL East, and if they continue their success in October, he will almost certainly be a huge reason why.
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