The 2019 MLB Playoffs will start on Tuesday with the Washington Nationals hosting the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wild Card. Over in the American League, two surprising teams in that of the Athletics and Rays will do battle in Oakland.
Two of these teams will advance to the divisional playoffs with six other squads awaiting the start of their October runs.
Among those, the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees seem to be favored. Though, the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins should have something to say about that.
From an under-the-radar pitcher in the Bronx to a veteran infielder in the nation’s capital, here’s a look at one unheralded player from each playoff team.
Adam Ottavino, pitcher, New York Yankees
New York’s questionable rotation will be forced to take on a Twins offense in the divisional around that hit north of 300 homers during the regular season. That’s going to make the team’s bullpen even more important if the Yankees want to advance.
Now that dominating reliever Dellin Betances is lost for the season, it stands to reason that New York will rely even more on the 33-year-old Ottavino after he put up a career-best 2019 campaign. The veteran pitched to a 1.90 ERA and 1.32 WHIP while striking out 88 batters in 65.1 innings. He’s going to be extremely important to New York’s success in the playoffs.
Max Muncy, first baseman, Los Angles Dodgers
Muncy continues to fly under the radar for a Dodgers team that won 106 games during the regular season. That’s primarily because of the star power Los Angeles boasts in the form of Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger. However, Muncy’s presence as one of the big three can’t go unnoticed.
The lefty hit 35 homers, drove in 98 runs and posted an .888 OPS en route to earning his first ever All-Star appearance. As a lefty, Muncy’s performance against right-handed pitchers will loom large. He was actually worst in all major categories against pitchers who toe that side of the rubber. If Los Angeles wants to end its 31-year championship drought, he’ll need to step up here.
Eddie Rosario, outfielder, Minnesota Twins
The right-handed heavy Twins lineup will be relying on Rosario and Max Kepler to do their thing from the other side of the plate. That’s especially true with lefties J.A. Happ and James Paxton in New York’s rotation. Rosario is the true wild card here.
The outfielder put up a career-best 2019 campaign that saw him hit .276 with 32 homers, 109 RBI and an .800 OPS. The good news here is that Rosario posted a .281/.315/.451 split against lefties during the regular year.
Ozzie Albies, shortstop, Atlanta Braves
It stands to reason that MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr. and All-Star Freddie Freeman will get most of the play in Atlanta. For good measure. They are the primary reasons this young Braves squad has legitimate World Series aspirations.
Even then, Albies’ two-way play makes him a major weapon heading into the divisional around against the St. Louis Cardinals. Albies hit .296 with 24 homers and 86 RBI while leading the NL in hits during the regular season. As a switch hitter, he’s going to continue helping Atlanta as the team looks to navigate through what will be a matchup-heavy postseason.
Jesus Luzardo, pitcher, Oakland Athletics
Dominant. That would be the best way to describe Oakland’s young left-handed hurler. Since being called up, the organization’s top prospect has posted a 1.50 ERA with a 0.67 WHIP while striking out 16 batters in 12 innings. A likely starter moving forward, the A’s have used him in crucial relief situations. That included a two-inning save Saturday night to wrap up home-field for Wednesday’s game.
The great thing about Luzardo is that he can be extended to three innings in relief duties. That’s huge in the Wild Card round, especially if Oakland gets five or six strong from its starter. Luzardo also held left-handed hitters to one hit in 14 at-bats during the regular season.
Jack Flaherty, pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
It’s unfortunate for the Cardinals that Flaherty had to take to the mound Sunday to help St. Louis clinch the National League Central. The team would rather have had him rested for the divisional round against Atlanta. Unless Flaherty pitches on three-day rest, he won’t take to the bump until Game 2 next Friday.
Even then, it’s not a horrible situation for the Cards to be in. Flaherty ended the regular season with a 2.75 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00 while striking out north of 230 batters. He also posted a solid 3.13 ERA on the road. That could be huge this coming weekend. St. Louis will need Flaherty at the top of his game from the bump.
Tyler Glasnow, pitcher, Tampa bay Rays
Even with Charlie Morton getting the start on Wednesday, there’s a decent chance we’ll see Glasnow. If not, Tampa Bay could use him as the Game 2 starter against Houston should the team win in the first round. There’s also a chance that the Rays simply use Glasnow as a weapon out of the bullpen.
However manager Kevin Cash and Co. use Glasnow, the expectation here is that he’ll be dominant. Despite missing nearly four months to injury, Glasnow showed out in a big way. He posted a 1.78 ERA and 0.89 ERA in 12 appearances (all starts) during ther regular season. He’s going to be limited to a few innings. But much like Luzardo in Oakland, Glasnow could be a major weapon come October.
Jordan Lyles, pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers
It’s absolutely amazing how much Lyles improved following a mid-season trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The veteran posted a 5-7 mark with a 5.36 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in Pittsburgh. Since being acquired by the Brewers in July, Lyles is 7-1 with a 2.45/1.11 split.
He’s going to play a major role in any potential playoff run for the Brewers. In fact, an argument could be made that Lyles is the No. 1 option for Craig Counsell and Co. ahead of staff ace Brandon Woodruff. It will be interesting to see how he’s utilized in October.
Will Harris, pitcher, Houston Astros
A lot has been made about potentially the most dominant starting pitching trio since the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s. For good reason. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke could propel Houston to the World Series by their mere presence on the bump.
With that said, Harris will figure into the equation big time as a late-inning option. Both Oakland and Tampa Bay get starting pitchers to throw a lot of pitches. It’s part of their Moneyball mantra. As Houston’s most consistent reliever (1.51 ERA, 0.93 WHIP), Harris will be a big time figure in the playoffs. He must act as a bridge on the rare occasion that one of Houston’s starters doesn’t go deep into a specific game.
Howie Kendrick, infielder, Washington Nationals
In a lineup filled with youth, Kendrick has provided a much-needed veteran presence for Washington during a dominating second half run for the team. Playing multiple infield positions, he’s acted as a reinforcement on defense. However, it’s Kendrick’s performance at the plate during the second half of the season that should be talked about more.
The veteran hit .373 with a .423 on-base percentage and .587 slugging percentage during that span. The hope for Washington starting in the Wild Card round is that Kendrick continues to be brilliant from the plate.