The Athletic

Bowden: 13 players who need to step up as post-season racing heats up

With just three weeks left in the MLB regular season, the postseason races are heating up. The Braves trail the Mets by just half a game in National League East and the White Sox are just three behind the Guardians in American League Central. The AL’s wildcard teams split from the pack, with the Blue Jays, Rays and Mariners heading to the playoffs, but first place — and home-court advantage in the first round — is up for grabs, as all three teams entered Wednesday tied in the loss column. In the NL wildcard race, the Brewers have won five of their last six and trail the Padres by two games. The Phillies are 3½ games ahead of Milwaukee (and own the tiebreaker), but they still have to play the Braves seven times, the Blue Jays twice and the Astros three times, so their schedule is not easy.

Playoff berths, home-court advantage and first-round byes are on the line. Here are some of the key players who need to step into these close races to help their teams over the next 21 days.

Stats are updated via Tuesday’s matches.


Mets—1B Pete Alonso

Alonso was the Mets’ most valuable player all season, slashing .268/.344/.505 with 24 doubles, 34 home runs and an NL-leading 110 RBIs. However, over the past 30 days he’s been relatively quiet, hitting .226 with seven extra 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 has been for the past three weeks. The good news for New York: In his last seven games, Alonso has regained the upper hand, averaging 0.345/0.387/0.586.

Braves — RF Ronald Coin Jr.

Acuña has been a disappointment this season when he returned from ACL surgery a year ago, but thanks to production from rookies Michael Harris II and Vaughn Grissom, the pressure on Acuña to perform has eased. attenuated. But as the Braves try to edge out the Mets for the division crown, they need more of their superstar right fielder. Over the last 15 games, Acuña has batted .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 in helping Braves hitters after him get more fastballs to hit.


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

Guardians – their range, up and down

The Guardians’ pitching team is doing everything they can to lead them to a surprising AL Central title. Over the past 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 points scored per game. To retain the White Sox, the Guardians need their training to start producing. In the past 30 days, only Oscar Gonzalez (five home runs) and José Ramírez (four) have hit more than two long fly balls. Cleveland hitters worked the count and got on base, but they weren’t able to string together hits, which became a late-season problem, especially when not hitting. for power. (The Guardians rank last in MLB with 16 homers over the past 30 days.) In the aftermath, the Guardians need their two All-Stars, Ramírez and Andrés Giménez, to deliver to the plate, but they also have need the production of throughout the roster, as well as their elite pitching and defense, to fend off the White Sox, who they will face four more times.

White Sox—RHP Lucas Giolito

The White Sox are strong offensively, thanks in part to batting Eloy Jiménez and Elvis Andrus, who have combined for 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in their last 15 games. Four of their hitters — Jiménez, Andrus, José Abreu and AJ Pollock — have batted over .340 and posted an OBP of .390 or higher in the past 15 days. However, the key to the White Sox during the stretch run could be Giolito, who has struggled to match his rotation mates this year. Giolito’s numbers have deteriorated 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 the tide in his final regular season starts.


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

Sailors – DE Mitch Haniger and DE Jesse Winker

The Mariners lead the Majors with a 2.42 team ERA over the past 30 days and are in a position to secure the top AL wildcard spot — and end their 20-season playoff drought — if their alignment can intensify. Their wild-card competition, the Rays and Blue Jays, have scored more points than them over the past month, but the Mariners have improved in their last 12 games and have topped every AL team in the during this period. Julio Rodríguez and Eugenio Suárez wore them, combining for 10 homers and 15 RBIs and reaching base at a 45% and 36% clip, respectively. However, those two will need help from Haniger and Winker if the Mariners are to hold home-court advantage going into the first round. In the past 15 days, Haniger hit .143 with three extra hits in 49 appearances, while Winker hit .074 with one extra hit in 27 appearances.

Rays – INF Isaac Paredes and SS Wander Franco

The Rays have ranked 30th in the majors over the past 15 days with just six home runs and while they have the pitching and defense to finish atop the wildcard standings, they’ll need long balls to do so. With 18 home runs, Paredes ranks second on the team behind Randy Arozarena, but he didn’t hit any in September. The Rays need him to hit the yard a few times during the stretch run. Meanwhile, Franco is finally back off the injured list and off to a strong start, going 6-for-20 with three RBIs in his first six games, but the Rays will need their 21-year-old sensation to be at. lived up to his 11-year, $182 million contract in recent weeks to beat the Mariners and Blue Jays for home-court advantage in the wildcard round.

Blue Jays—RHP Jose Berrios

Berríos has been a big disappointment this season, posting a 5.07 ERA, 4.68 FIP and 1.376 WHIP – all the worst marks of his career since his rookie year in 2016 – after signing an overtime 131 million dollars over seven years last November. However, he has pitched better in his last five starts, getting two or fewer earned runs in all but one. The Blue Jays need him to keep pitching that way to finish with the best record among AL wild-card teams and become a playoff threat. If the top of their rotation — Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Ross Stripling and Berríos — pitch to their potential, the Blue Jays could do some real damage in the playoffs. Berríos is key, and while he looks like he’s on the right track, the Blue Jays will need him to be consistently good the rest of the way.


The Josh Bell acquisition has yet to pay off for the Padres. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today)

Phillies — RHP Seranthony Dominguez

The Phillies are relieved to have their top reliever back in IL because they made five saves and the bullpen struggled in his absence. They stopped Domínguez (right triceps tendonitis) after an August 17 outing, 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 chances. On the season, Domínguez recorded an ERA of 1.57 and a WHIP of 0.87. To keep their wildcard spot and end their playoff drought, the Phillies need Domínguez to give their best in the bottom of the inning.

Chaplains – 1B Josh Bell

The Padres need to get their sticks going. They rank 12th in the NL over the past 30 days with 98 runs scored and 12th over the past 15 days with 42. Manny Machado has led the way for over a month in nearly every offensive category, including hitting hits, extra-base hits, home runs, RBIs and OPS. However, opposing teams will hover around Machado or walk him around in the remaining weeks if he receives no help. Enter Josh Bell. When the Padres acquired Bell at the trade deadline, he was raking for the national championships, reducing .301/.384/.493 with 24 doubles, three triples, 14 home runs and 57 RBIs in 103 games. But since the hit Juan Soto trade, Bell has gone .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 start, too.

Brewers – OF 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 at .298, Adames at .246 and McCutchen at .236. And they don’t get much help from Rowdy Tellez (.204 in his last 15 games) and Keston Hiura (.208). However, Yelich, Adames and McCutchen have done it before and need to activate it now to lift Milwaukee above the Padres or Phillies. The Brewers have the pitching and defense to make the playoffs if this veteran trio provides the running support.

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

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