Remember when the Wild Card Era began, when one of everyone’s main concerns was that it was going to derail postseason records? How were Mickey Mantle’s records going to last in a world where there were multiple playoff rounds? The answer, of course, was that they couldn’t, although you will find enough of Mantle in the World Series leads.
By now, though, our postseason records have enough water under the bridge: It’s been 26 years since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995 and by then, it had already been 26 years since MLB institutionalized the divisions in 1969. These records really mean something now.
To be more specific: There are several players likely to be a part of this postseason who have already inscribed their names in postseason history and will have more opportunities to improve on those records this October. Here we leave you with a look at some players who know very well what it is like to play in October, highlighting what they have done so far and what they could achieve.
1. Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays
The Cuban Arozarena, incredible as it may seem, is still considered a rookie, but even so he has played two postseason games: He was hitless in four at-bats in the 2019 playoffs with the Cardinals and then exploded at bat with the Rays in 2020. After his epic October, Arozarena is 32nd all-time in postseason home runs – he needs one to tie Paul O’Neill and Puerto Rican Jorge Posada, believe it or not – and among qualified players, he is seventh in batting average, 12th in on-base percentage and first in slugging (.790). Right behind him: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and… Troy Glaus. Of course, Arozarena’s slugging will most likely drop the more postseason games he plays, but what if it doesn’t?
2. Kenley Jansen, RHP, Dodgers
Panamanian Mariano Rivera is obviously the greatest postseason closer of all time: He has an impressive 42 saves total in October. (47 times, if you keep that score.) But Jansen is second all-time in postseason saves with 18, tied with Brad Lidge. And he’s not the only active closer in the top 10: Cuban Aroldis Chapman is seventh with 10. Jansen’s most impressive stat? He has the lowest batting average against .152 of any pitcher with 40 or more innings pitched in postseason history.
3. Clayton Kershaw, LZ, Dodgers
Kershaw finally had his dream postseason last year, but the idea that he had always fared badly before 2020 is not evident in the facts: He has 13 wins (fifth all-time, one to Tom Glavine and Justin Verlander and two of John Smoltz), and the opponents only hit .221 against him. And to get to the point: He’s the all-time leader with 207 postseason strikeouts.
4. Cody Bellinger, OF, Dodgers
Bellinger has a curious place on this list: He is 10th all-time in postseason strikeouts despite having played only 54 games. He has 72 strikeouts in 201 at-bats in October, which really is a lot, even at this time. Bellinger just got on the disabled list with a broken rib and was already having a tough year, so it’s unclear how much playing time he will see in October.
5. Albert Pujols, 1B, Dodgers
Pujols, in 2011, was well on his way to dominating the playoff record books the way he currently dominates the regular season record books. Unfortunately for him, he only played in three postseason games with the Angels – three losses. He will have a chance to beat that total this October. He is tied for 13th all-time in playoff games played with Matt Holliday and Reggie Jackson; his .599 slugging rate is the highest among the top 25 players in games played. He needs one more postseason home run to match Derek Jeter for third for career. He is three behind Puerto Rican Bernie Williams, who ranks second, 10 behind all-time leader Manny Ramírez. So basically you need an Arozarena-style postseason in 2020 to get there.
6. Justin Turner, 3B, Dodgers
One of the positive things about going to the postseason eight times in a row is that you start to rack up numbers. Turner is 20th all-time with 72 games played in those games and could move into the top 10 if the Dodgers go far. Thirty-two more at-bats will give him 300 for life, more than Paul O’Neill and just four less than David Ortiz. Eleven more hits would place him in the Top 10 of that category, while a double would put him in the top five, beating Ramírez and Puerto Rican Yadier Molina. (Assuming that Molina does not also hit a few).
7. Jon Lester, LZ, Cardinals
Currently, he is not the best veteran of the Cardinals rotation, as Adam Wainwright is 23rd in innings thrown in October with a 2.89 ERA, but the right-hander was affected by missing the entire 2011 postseason. However, Lester is the one. that has more achievements on a historical level.
He is 14th all-time in wins with nine and could move into the Top 10 if he wins one more game in October, tying Dave Stewart, Chris Carpenter, CC Sabathia, David Wells and Whitey Ford, although right now he only has one more than Gerrit Cole. Additionally, he is eighth in innings pitched and his 2.51 ERA is better than any pitcher who ranks higher than him on that list. He is ninth in strikeouts, but is likely to fall short of the name ahead of him, Max Scherzer. Of course, Lester probably won’t have a chance to pitch in October if the Cardinals don’t win the Wild Card Game.
8. Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals
Derek Jeter is the only player who has essentially played a full season of postseason games; he retired with 158. But Puerto Rican Molina is close to what would be a full year for a catcher. He has 101 playoff games, sixth of all time and first among active players. If he plays 10 more, he will tie Ramirez for fifth and need 11 to match David Justice for fourth. He is fifth hits and will surpass his compatriot Jorge Posada with three more hits this October.
9. Buster Posey, C, Giants
We save for the end what could be the most remarkable achievement. Posey’s historic postseason hits come in full from the three times the Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014: He is the only active Giants player to be on those three teams. Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford arrived in 2011. Posey has a chance to become the first National League player (and the first non-Yankee) to win four World Series rings with the same team since the league began. It was one of the divisions in 1969. The last players of the Old Circuit with four titles with the same team? Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres on the Dodgers.