In a 162-game season, every game counts. But let’s face it: These last seven weeks have a greater meaning.
Seventeen teams started the week 5.5 games or less from a playoff berth. So we picked a player from each of those clubs who could make a difference down the stretch.
1. Chris Sale, LZ, Red Sox
There was a time when it seemed like Sale’s return from Tommy John surgery would be the finishing touch for the Red Sox. But we’ve seen the shortcomings of Boston’s rotation, a problem the team didn’t resolve by the trade deadline. Now it can be said that the Patirrojos count on Sale being the ace of yesteryearñor to get to the postseason. The southpaw impressed with his material and command on his return Saturday, his first major league start in two years.
2. Fernando Tatis Jr., RF (?), Parents
It’s going to be difficult for us to adjust to seeing Tatis in a position other than shortstop, but the Dominican has been serving as right fielder since Sunday. At least the swing is the same. After being disabled three times and dislocating his left shoulder at least four times, it is unclear whether Tatis will be able to continue performing at his level this season or how the experiment in right field will turn out. But the fate of the Padres, who have had many problems with the monticular body, could be in Tatis’s hands.
3. Corey Kluber, RHP, Yankees
Dominican Domingo Germán is injured. His compatriot Luis Severino had a setback. And Andrew Heaney has not been the solution. The Yankees need another reinforcement for the rotation and Kluber could give it to them if he returns in September from a shoulder injury, as expected. Kluber, who pitched a no-hitter this season and has a 3.04 ERA in 10 starts, has started a minor league rehab assignment.
4. Starling Marte, CF, Athletics
With a .905 OPS, 11 stolen bases, 11 RBIs and 12 scored, Marte perhaps represents the most impactful acquisition a team made prior to the trade deadline. So, we will be waiting to see if the Dominican and the Athletics can continue to fight. Thanks to Mars, Oakland has been able to cope with the suspension of Ramón Laureano, also from Santiago.
5. Clayton Kershaw, LZ, Dodgers
Kershaw has been forced to suspend his activities twice this season due to inflammation in his left forearm, so it is not known if the veteran will be a factor in the Dodgers down the stretch. Los Angeles’ ninth is hoping Kershaw will return in September, and while the team has several questions right now (including Mookie Betts), Kershaw is perhaps the most crucial, given how decimated the rotation is.
6. Ian Kennedy, RHP, Phillies
We can’t talk about the Phillies ‘chance of making the playoffs without talking about the Phillies’ bullpen. Kennedy was the linchpin that Philadelphia acquired ahead of the trade deadline. The right-hander did poorly at first, allowing three home runs in his first four games after being traded. But it has given an indication of being mating. And the great season he was building in Texas speaks to his ability to help Philadelphia fight for the NL East title.
7. Travis d’Arnaud, C, Braves
The Braves added plenty of outfielders before the trade deadline to counter the losses of Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna, and they have a very strong lineup. But getting d’Arnaud back in health was key. The catcher didn’t add much in his first 23 games this season before breaking his thumb, but if he can regain the form he showed in 2020, when he won a Silver Bat in the National League, it will be a big thing for the Braves.
8. Carlos Carrasco, RHP, Mets
Yes, Jacob deGrom’s status is of great importance to the Mets. But now that we know the ace will be out until at least mid-September, it’s more important that the other members of the rotation keep the Mets in the fight until then. Carrasco has a 10.32 ERA in four starts since returning from a strained right hamstring, but he has been very successful in the majors and the Mets are urged to get back in shape.
9. Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Reds
If Joey Votto just wants to keep hitting home runs, that would be wonderful. And don’t discount what Jonathan India has been doing either. But let’s focus on the bullpen. Lorezen has made a huge impact on that aspect of the team since he recovered from a shoulder strain and then a hamstring strain. Its first 9.2 episodes were blank. Cincinnati could have Tejay Antone soon, too, and these guys have shown the confidence to protect leads and beat the Padres for the second NL Wild Card.
10. Brad Hand, LZ, Blue Jays
The poor record in career-decided games has hurt a Toronto team whose impressive running deference doesn’t match their near-disappointing record. The offense needs to perform better late in games, but it’s also important that the new bullpen can preserve late-game leads. Newcomer Hand has yet to score a rescue or an advantage preserved by the Blue Jays.
11. Alex Bregman, 3B, Astros
Houston’s great lineup hasn’t been racing in July or August, in part because it hasn’t had all its pieces in place. Bregman would soon be reinstated after a strained left quadriceps. That would be a great injection for a club that have shown some limitations in their infield depth.
12. Wander Franco, SS, Rays
The development of the Dominican in the Major Leagues and the attempt by Tampa Bay to tie up the East Division of the American League could coincide perfectly in the final stretch. With an offensive line of .244 / .304 / .423 in his first 42 games, the young shortstop has yet to get into his rhythm at the plate. But he has had his moments where he has shone, as demonstrated by the homerun for the lead last week in a key win over the Red Sox.
13. Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Giants
If anything can stop the Giants’ incredible (and fun) season, it would be a monticular corps in danger of being left with nothing in the tank. DeSclafani, who has been an excellent signing, returned from a brief stint on the disabled list due to shoulder fatigue last week, just as Dominican Johnny Cuento was forced to lose time with a sore right hip. San Francisco needs a lot of quality innings from DeSclafani, after Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb in the starting rotation.
14. Jarred Kelenic, CF, Mariners
Some may not have realized it, but the newbie might already be latching on. After falling to a .141 / .230 / .250 offensive line as of Aug. 6, Kelenic has begun to look more polished in recent days and the walk he traded to give Seattle the win at the end of Last week it was a very disciplined turn.
15. Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals
The possibilities are slipping away from San Luis at this point. But having an ace like Flaherty, who looked fantastic last weekend on his return from an oblique condition, keeps the team alive.
16. Christian Yelich, LF, Brewers
Milwaukee has the NL Central under control and has a group of pitchers that no club wants to face in October. But he would have an even better chance of qualifying if Yelich regained his level. The past two seasons have been bumpy for the ranger, who hasn’t blown the fence since June 26.
17. Carlos Rodón, LZ, White Sox
The Papalids are fixed atop the Central de la Americana. But they are still looking for the No. 1 position on the Young Circuit. It’s important that you get into rhythm as you return from the disabled list heading into the postseason.