The MLB Postseason begins on Tuesday, and ten teams are looking to raise the trophy once the World Series concludes in early November. And while there are 25 players on each team that will likely play a role in which team ends up as champion, we’ve tried to narrow it down to each team’s one key player this Postseason.
Baltimore Orioles: Mark Trumbo.
We start with a team with obvious strengths, and obvious weaknesses – the Baltimore Orioles. And on this team, I don’t think there is one player that exemplifies those strengths and weaknesses than Mark Trumbo. He’s a great hitter, putting together a .256/.316/.533 line this season with a major league leading 47 home runs. He’s also a hideous defender, totaling -11 DRS and -7.7 UZR in 791 innings in the outfield this season. I can totally see Baltimore’s Postseason hinging on something that Trumbo does, be it a massive home run off of Marcus Stroman or a horrendous misplay in the outfield.
Boston Red Sox: Craig Kimbrel.
It may seem strange to put a closer here, especially a superhuman closer like Craig Kimbrel, but for the first time in his career, Kimbrel has been less than automatic. His 3.40 ERA is a career high, and while he’s only blown two saves, he *has* lost six contests, an indication of how John Farrell isn’t saving him for just pure save situations. In nine September innings, Kimbrel has allowed six earned runs, walking nine and striking out 14. Boston has a decent enough bullpen in front of Kimbrel, led by Robbie Ross, and former closer Koji Uehara, and ground ball machine Brad Ziegler, but if the less than dominant Kimbrel shows up in the AL Division Series, the Indians’ strong, patient offense could make this a short series.
Chicago Cubs: Jake Arrieta.
Well, this seems ridiculous. The reigning NL Cy Young winner? C’mon, Joe. But Jake Arrieta isn’t the same, soul-taking pitcher he was last season – he’s mortal once again. In 2016, Arrieta’s walk rate nearly doubled (to a still respectable 3.47 batters per nine innings), his strikeout rate fell (to a more than respectable 8.67 batters per nine innings), and his ground ball rate also dropped a bit (once again, to an acceptable 52.6% rate). He’s still good, but not great – in the second half, he’s striking out barely more than twice the hitters he’s walking. With Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks both turning in strong seasons, there will be less pressure on Arrieta to drag the Cubs rotation to the promised land, but a return to form could be the difference in whether or not the Cubs finally break [insert whatever curse you want to cite here].
Cleveland Indians: Trevor Bauer.
Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are both out for the Postseason. Corey Kluber will start Game 2 for the Indians, though he’s been dealing with a strained quad as of late. All of the pressure is falling on Trevor Bauer, a guy who actually started the year in the bullpen. Bauer actually had a strong year – he threw a career high 190 innings, struck out 168, walked 70 (a career-best 3.32 walks per nine), and pitched to a 4.26 ERA while also getting ground balls at a 48.7% clip. But he’s the fourth-best Indians starter when everyone is healthy, and he’ll be carrying a huge load this series. If he can’t take the heat, Cleveland’s ALCS drought will probably go on for another year.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Rich Hill.
Plenty of Dodgers work here, but I went with Rich Hill, who has been brilliant in his six starts with the team (1.83 ERA, 39 strikeouts, five walks)…but he’s battled blister issues, which is why he’s only made six starts over the last two months. Clayton Kershaw’s back is still a bit of a question mark for the Dodgers over the rest of the season, and it’s unsure how Kenta Maeda will hold up going forward after his first season in the US. If the Dodgers want to roll past a Nationals team dealing with their own injury woes and dream of knocking off the Cubs (or the Mets or Giants) in the NLCS, Hill needs to be at 100%.
New York Mets: Noah Syndergaard.
It’s a bit of a cop out to choose a starting pitcher for one of the Wild Card teams, but if Noah Syndergaard outduels the Giants and pitches the Mets into the NLDS, he’s not going to have much backup in the rotation. Jacob deGrom is out. Steven Matz is out. Matt Harvey is out. Syndergaard’s “help” will be the immortal Bartolo Colon and Robert Gsellman, not exactly the most inspiring duo in the world. So much weight is going to be on Syndergaard’s shoulders this October if the Mets want to win their second NL pennant in a row – it might simply be too much for him, or anyone, to withstand.
San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey.
I don’t want to say that the Giants “backed in” to the playoffs, but they didn’t exactly roll in like a house of fire. Most of the Giants offense scuffled along in the second half, including Buster Posey, and they’re doing to need to do better if the team’s even year magic is going to strike again. But Posey is the straw that stirs the drink for the Giants, and his performance especially stood out – he homered just three times in the second half, and hit .282/.357/.383 in 66 games after the All-Star Game. For the year, he homered 14 times and hit .288/.362/.434, the worst offensive output (excluding the 45 games he played in 2011) of his MLB career. Simply put, Posey needs to do better and set the tone for the Giants offense.
Texas Rangers: Ian Desmond.
Ian Desmond was a surprising MVP candidate in the first half for the Texas Rangers. In the second half, not so much. His production cratered, and Desmond produced a .237/.283/.347 line with just seven homers and six steals. Several members of the Rangers, including former Brewer and Astro Carlos Gomez, were able to pick up the slack, but Desmond needs to do more, especially given the struggles of Nomar Mazara and Jurickson Profar.
Toronto Blue Jays: Marcus Stroman.
Another cop out, picking a Wild Card starting pitcher. But John Gibbons’ decision to start Marcus Stroman over Francisco Liriano on Tuesday night is coming under plenty of scrutiny, and Stroman needs to repay his manager’s faith in him. It hasn’t been an easy year for the Blue Jays’ starter – he’s tossed a career-high 204 innings, pitching to a 4.37 ERA, striking out 166 and walking 54. He’s also given up 21 homers, a dangerous omen against this powerful Orioles lineup. Baltimore has had their way with Stroman in 2016, knocking him around in four starts to the tune of a .344/.369/.531 line and a 7.04 ERA. If a similar start occurs at Rogers Centre, Gibbons may be raked over the coals by Jays fans.
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper.
We end with Bryce Harper, the reigning NL MVP who has had a disappointing follow-up to that season. Harper hasn’t been able to put it all together this season, slashing just .243/.373/.441 with 24 homers and a career-high 21 steals. While it may seen obvious to say that Harper needs to do better, it’s doubly so now that Wilson Ramos’ season is over thanks to a torn ACL and that Daniel Murphy didn’t play much over the season’s final week because of a (ahem) strained buttocks. It’s up to Harper to carry the Nationals offense, kicking and screaming if necessary, out of the Division Series for the first time.