Every team’s X-Factor heading into MLB Playoffsby Jordan Leandre October 7, 2021 0 comments
Stars bring teams to the MLB playoffs; unsung heroes put them over the top in the end. The stage is set; every team from here on in will have to win a best-of-five or best-of-seven series to bridge their way to baseball glory. While there is elite talent on each roster, they can’t carry their team to a championship by themselves. For every Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, there needs to be a Hideki Matsui. For every Albert Pujols, there needs to be a David Freese.
Who represents each team’s X-Factor in the postseason?
San Francisco Giants
Mike Yastrzemski – OF
It was a down year for the grandson of Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski. In 139 games, the 31-year-old slashed .224/.311/.457 with a wRC+ of 106––all career-lows. While his defense was still up to par, the bat lagged, especially in the second half, where he posted just a 92 wRC+ in 236 plate appearances. The Giants have a stacked lineup, as Kris Bryant, Buster Posey, and Brandon Crawford have all done their part to keep the offense rolling. But with Brandon Belt out for at least the NLDS, Yastrzemski needs to be a force from the left side.
The Dodgers will be a tough team to beat, and it doesn’t get any easier with the winner of the Brewers-Braves series. The Giants will need to be firing on all cylinders to make the World Series, and Yastrzemski must be at the forefront.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Cody Bellinger – OF
Cody Bellinger is coming off of the worst season of his career, where he ranked tied for 307th out of 311 players with 250 or more plate appearances in fWAR (-0.8). Injuries played a significant role in his lack of production, but a 48 wRC+ and -0.8 fWAR from a man just two years removed from winning the National League MVP is unfathomable.
However, on Wednesday, he played well in the Dodgers’ Wild Card win over the Cardinals, going 1-for-2 with two walks and two stolen bases. It wasn’t the slugging Bellinger of 2019, where he hit 47 home runs, but it was a productive effort nonetheless.
He’s due to earn a raise in arbitration next season, with production that would make the average player fear being non-tendered. He may have to play a little desperate in the postseason to earn that 2022 paycheck. Regardless, the Dodgers will go as far as Bellinger can take them from a production standpoint. He’s a former MVP for a reason, and the Dodgers will need him to be productive this postseason.
After all, coming through in the MLB playoffs is the best way to redeem yourself after a subpar season.
Kolten Wong – 2B
Kolten Wong is who he is at this stage of his career: a relatively league-average bat with elite defense. The Brewers were one of the bottom 10 teams in wRC+ and slugging while being tied for the eighth-worst strikeout rate. They’re not a very good offensive team; they get by on their pitching––second in SIERA for a rotation––and defense––tied for sixth in defensive runs saved. Wong plays a significant role in the latter and will need to continue that into the playoffs. Wong also has a 125 wRC+ with runners in scoring position this season, so look for him to get a few timely hits along the way.
Huascar Ynoa – RHP
Overall, the right-hander had a productive season for the Braves. In 17 outings, Huascar Ynoa had a 3.60 SIERA and a 27.2 percent strikeout rate. While it is likely that Charlie Morton, Ian Anderson, and Max Fried will all see turns starting a game before him, he will be available out of the bullpen in at least the first two games of the NLDS. With an ability to strike guys out and limit Ball 4, coupled with his devastating slider and changeup, he could be an incredibly reliable weapon out of the bullpen. He has to put his fingerprints all over their run as a reliever and a start for the Braves to win it all.
Tampa Bay Rays
Michael Wacha – RHP
Michael Wacha had quite the odd season from a statistical standpoint. His xERA was 5.55; his FIP was 4.47, but his xFIP was 3.91 and his SIERA was 4.00. The Rays have an incredibly young, inexperienced staff despite making the World Series in 2020. They’re going to need their veteran arms––Wacha, David Robertson, and Collin McHugh––to log a lot of high-leverage innings for them to have a chance against some of the game’s most potent offenses in the American League.
Having made the World Series in 2013 and the NLCS in 2014 as a starter, Wacha certainly understands what it means to go three-plus innings in a postseason game. He might have to do that multiple times in each series for Tampa Bay to have a shot at recovering from last year’s runner-up finish.
He, Robertson, and Wacha have all won the MLB playoffs’ ultimate prize: a World Series title. He has to be instrumental if the Rays hope to capture their first.
Chicago White Sox
Yoan Moncada – 3B
Yoan Moncada had one of his better seasons in 2021, but his power was a far cry from what it was in 2019. In 144 games, he slugged just .412 and, despite carrying a .375 OBP, his wOBA was just .347. Moncada has home run power, but it’s going to need to join the party this postseason for the White Sox to have a chance.
Luis Robert, Jose Abreu, and Yasmani Grandal are all great hitters. All three will be pitched to in a way that’ll set up Moncada to drive in runs. He will have to be a primary source of run production for this White Sox lineup as it tries to navigate the Astros and then either the Rays or Red Sox pitching staff in these MLB playoffs. He’s more than capable of it. At this point, it’s just about it all coming together at the right time.
Boston Red Sox
Alex Verdugo – OF
Verdugo had a 2020 campaign in Boston of excellent results with a lot of good luck. In 2021, the script flipped. He had a career-high .340 xwOBA and a more balanced batted-ball profile, but his wRC+ was a career-low in three full seasons. When Verdugo is at his best, he’s hitting the ball on a line to all fields. He doesn’t have to be a power hitter to be productive. He already plays a stellar defensive left field; he needs to carry over that kind of production to the plate.
In the inaugural game of the MLB playoffs, he went 2-for-4 with three runs batted in and a double. He also made a baserunning blunder that luckily didn’t negate one of his three RBI from scoring. The latter will need to tighten up ahead of this upcoming series. For the Red Sox to have a chance in this powerhouse of an American League bracket, he’s going to need to shoulder a lot of the load, proving why he was the prize return in the Mookie Betts trade.
Cristian Javier – RHP
Cristian Javier burst onto the scene in the 2020 postseason, striking out 34.2 percent of batters faced in 9.1 innings of work. While 2021 was rather up-and-down as he bounced in and out of the rotation, he settled upon a pretty productive season. In 101.1 innings, Javier had a 3.93 SIERA and a 30.7 percent strikeout rate. His walks were high, 12.5 percent, but he was doing a fantastic job of getting Strike 3 this season.
The Astros don’t have the same dominating pitching staff they’ve had in the past. There’s no Justin Verlander; there’s no Gerrit Cole; Zack Greinke is past his prime. However, Javier can provide six to nine outs out of the bullpen any given night and has the electric stuff to be a dominant, shut-down reliever in October.
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