MLB Playoffs: Top 5 NL Players to Watch
Top 5 NL Players to Watch in the Playoffs
With the MLB postseason inching closer and closer, teams are locking into their playoff spots and readying for the final push towards that one prized possession -- a World Series title. Though, it’s going to be a long and grueling trek through the NL’s best to get there.
Currently, the playoffs are just about set with the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves all extending their October baseball. The one final wild card spot is yet to be determined, but all good sense points to the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals slipping into the post-season battle royal.
Today, we breakdown the NL’s top projected playoff performers who will be pivotal to his team’s success. Perhaps, they’re picking up the slack of an injured superstar or have unrealistic postseason expectations to fill from their regular season achievements. Perhaps, it’s a player who has yet to grace the mound on the playoff stage or a player has been consistently inconsistent throughout the year. In all respects, the playoffs are a time to celebrate these spotlighted players who succeed on baseball’s biggest stage and those who, unfortunately, slip into inconsequentiality. We can’t wait to watch.
5. Matt Holliday
While the St. Louis Cardinals have yet to secure a playoff berth in the second wild card spot, its in all likelihood that they will etch their bid for the playoffs by the end of the weekend. Currently, they sit 3.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers with seven games to play in the season, which gives them a 90 percent chance of punching their postseason tickets.
The Cardinals have a slew of top notch talent to attribute to their late-season surge, but one player remains the biggest question mark on their team going forward -- Matt Holliday. The 32-year-old veteran has had one of the biggest up-and-down seasons on the Cardinals roster. He went from averaging .215 in the month of April to .340 in the month of May.
More recently, he has dropped from a .363 average in July to a lowly .244 in the combined months of August and September. If St. Louis is to put up a fight in the fickle, one-game wild card playoff (along with the rest of the postseason), they’ll need a solid performance from their No. 3 batter.
While there is no knowing of which Holliday will show up to the post-season, it’s just more reason to shine the spotlight on him. He, along with the entire Cardinals team, will most likely face the NL Cy Young award winner Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves. Not the best way to kick start a batting lull.
4. Aroldis Chapman
The Cincinnati Reds have been a steady, dominating force in the NL-Central and will, in all likelihood, face the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series. And keeping with the theme of the undervalued closer position, the weight of the Reds organization lies heavily on the shoulders of their late-inning flame thrower -- Aroldis Chapman.
The 24-year-old left-hander only has one blemish on his resume in the last three months of work, allowing three runs in a 5-3 loss to the Houston Astros on Sept. 7. Despite that, he’s been a shutdown closer in the last 34 games (best among closers in NL). In the grand scheme of things, he’s registered an impressive 1.55 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 119 strikeouts and 36 saves (4th in NL) on the year. Oh yeah, and his fastballs hit 102 almost every night.
There is, however, a precautionary measure with Chapman. On Monday, the Reds placed him on the DL with a fatigued shoulder and he is currently listed as day-to-day. But up-to-date medical reports indicate that it’s just normal wear and tear on a pitcher. The Reds organization can breathe a sigh of relief.
3. Craig Kimbrel
The almost anonymous closer Craig Kimbrel has slowly earned his bidding for the NL Cy Young award this year, making the Atlanta Braves a scary defensive juggernaut in the later innings. Many can argue that closers, or any relief pitchers for that matter, don’t tally a significant amount of innings under their belt, to which they don’t significantly impact the final outcome of games. I’d argue otherwise.
Closers have the unfortunate task of pitching in the most stressful and stomach churning situations. Especially doing it with such ease. Kimbrel has quietly garnered one of the best seasons a reliever has ever posted. Through 42 save opportunities, he has only allowed three blown saves. If you do the math, he has a 92 percent chance of successfully closing out a game. Not to mention his godly 1.07 ERA (best in the NL).
What makes Kimbrel even more dominant is his statistical value. Out of the 217 batters he has faced this year, he struck out 107 of them. That’s almost half. Opponents are hitting just a measly .129 average with a lowly .179 slugging percentage off the 24-year-old right-hander. Numbers that indicate he is the best shutdown closer in the game, and the biggest spotlight on him to uphold.
2. Gio Gonzalez
While Bryce Harper does deserve some recognition, as does hot-hitting Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, pitching heavyweight Gio Gonzalez is pitted with the biggest task, and as a result, the largest spotlight taking the place of Stephen Strasburg as the Washington Nationals No. 1 ace. But if it’s anyone to pick up the slack of the 23-year-old prodigy, it’s Gonzalez and his career-best and league-leading 21 win season.
Gonzalez has accumulated one of the best season’s in D.C.’s history with his C Young-caliber campaign. Through 31 games, the 27-year-old slinger ranks in the top ten in some of the most telling pitching categories, accumulating a 2.84 ERA (6th in NL), 1.12 WHIP (6th in NL), 201 strikeouts (4th in NL), and a .714 winning percentage (7th in NL). He has had his fair share of struggles through. The lefty went through a mid-season lull, allowing a 4.59 ERA in the month of July. Since then, Gonzalez has settled into a groove, tallying an almost un-hittable 0.79 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in September.
While taking over for Strasburg won’t be an easy feat, Gonzalez should be primed to make a statement in his first career-playoff appearance. For Nationals fans, let’s hope the rest of the young and unexperienced rotation can follow suit.
1. Buster Posey
Buster Posey has been the surging force behind the San Francisco Giants rise to the top of the NL West division. In that same vain, he is also one of the leading candidates to claim the NL MVP award, fighting off players like Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen to reap the benefits of the acclaimed prize. He’s batting a stellar .331 average, which pits him in the running for the NL batting title, a .405 on-base percentage and a .539 slugging percentage. On Wednesday, he slugged his 100th RBI of the season, the first since Barry Bonds did it back in 2004.
Posey’s best efforts come in clutch situations. In circumstances when runners are in scoring position, Posey has posted a ridiculous .355/.446/.536 batting line. He’s also ranks in the top of most, if not all, offensive metrics, including Wins Above Replacement (6.6, fifth in NL), weighted On-Base Average (.400, 3rd in NL) and defense (4.2 runs saved, 7th among catchers).
Even though he’s proved his worth time and time again, Posey is and will continue to be the player under the spotlight for the Giants as they head into the playoffs. For one, the narrative behind his resurgence after a grueling six-month layoff with a surgically repaired ankle is one of the biggest, if not the best, comeback stories of the year. Moreover, his return to the playoffs since his Rookie-of-the-Year 2010 campaign pits him under the microscope once again. Though, the 25-year-old catcher doesn’t really feel the heat. Posey’s coolheaded demeanor and patience at the plate give him the attributes of a wily veteran, which has translated to his impressive stats on paper.