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Friday, September 21, 2018

20 standout players of the MLB playoffs

Yasiel Puig tongue

The Major League Baseball postseason always produces superstars. Some of those who emerge are expected, while some are unlikely players who go from anonymity to household name overnight. That can happen thanks to a hot streak at the right time, a dramatic home run, a surprisingly great pitching performance, or some sterling defensive play.

Here is a list of 20 players who have been the standout players so far during the 2017 MLB playoffs.

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros

The potential AL MVP had a great regular season, and that has carried over into the postseason. Altuve, for as well-known and well-respected as he is across baseball, has never really had that signature moment or stretch of performances to really establish himself as a major star. In his only previous playoff series — the 2015 ALDS against Kansas City — he went just 3-for-22.

This year, he promptly opened his postseason with a three-homer game, and he hasn’t looked back since. He hit an astonishing .533 against Boston, and has only slightly cooled in the ALCS, hitting a mere .357. He’s a superstar now, and everyone is taking notice.

Yasiel Puig, OF Dodgers

For much of his career, Puig has been better known for bat flips, off-field antics, and on-field mental errors than for star power on the field. Sure, he has always had spectacular plays in him, but it would be fair to say he had never put it all together. Not anymore.

Puig is having an absolutely dominant postseason, hitting .429 and driving in six runs in Los Angeles’s first six games. It’s too soon to say that he’s found something permanently — Puig has had hot stretches before — but if this keeps up, he’ll evolve into a superstar he once looked destined to become.

Didi Gregorius, SS, Yankees

Gregorius was never going to properly “replace” Derek Jeter, though he was given the near-impossible task of doing so. He has done as well as anyone reasonably could have, though, and his clutch performance in Game 5 of the ALDS had a near-Jeteresque quality to it: two at-bats and two home runs against one of the game’s elite pitchers in likely AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Those homers ended up being the difference in the ballgame, and confirmed what many in New York already knew: Gregorius has quietly evolved into one of the game’s better shortstops. Gregorius also added a big two-hit game in his team’s comeback win in Game 4 against Houston.

Justin Turner, 3B, Dodgers

On a team with so many superstars and high-priced players, it’s Turner who is the heartbeat of the Dodger offense. After torching Arizona to the tune of a .462 batting average — including a Game 1 performance in which he homered and drove in five runs — Turner followed it up just as solidly in the NLCS. He has gone 3-for-11 with three walks, including a walk-off three-run home run in Game 2 that made him a cult hero in Los Angeles. Turner is a star — he played like it during the regular season and has proven it during the postseason.

Tommy Kahnle, RP, Yankees

The entire Yankee bullpen could qualify here, but Kahnle in particular is a name that has excelled. He very rapidly blossomed into an elite reliever while pitching for the White Sox in what is currently baseball purgatory. A trade to the Yankees was just what he needed, and he’s been every bit as good for them. In eight postseason innings, he has yet to give up a run. He’s only given up one hit and two walks, good for a microscopic 0.375 WHIP. The Yankee starters had their struggles at times, and they’ve needed to lean heavily on the bullpen. Kahnle has been up to the task.

Dallas Keuchel, SP, Astros

Keuchel is, of course, a former Cy Young winner, so it’s not as if he wasn’t on anyone’s radar. He had, however, fallen off it a bit after an underwhelming 2016 and struggled with injuries through parts of 2017. He’s firmly back on that radar.

While Justin Verlander has gotten much of the publicity, Keuchel has actually outpitched him in this postseason, giving up only one run in 12.2 innings, good for a 0.71 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting just .156 against him. Keuchel has always been an ace — we just needed a reminder.

Jose Quintana, SP, Cubs

Quintana has been really good for a long time — the problem was that it always came with the Chicago White Sox, who never made the playoffs during his tenure. A midseason trade to the Cubs came with some hiccups, but his numbers improved across the board, and his playoff debut has been as steady and assured as the rest of his career has been.

Though he’s yet to win a game, Quintana has only given up two runs in 11.1 innings of action. He’s kept the Cubs in every single game he’s been in — even giving them a brief relief stint in Game 5 of the NLDS against Washington.

Yuli Gurriel, 1B, Astros

The 33-year-old Cuban rookie proved himself to be a fine hitter and was one of Boston’s chief tormentors in the ALDS victory. Gurriel had nine hits in 17 at-bats, including a double and triple, putting constant pressure on the Red Sox. Though he didn’t drive in as many as he liked — he had no RBIs and proved more of a table-setter — he was a massive headache for Boston. His hot hitting continued in the ALCS. He drove in one of the team’s runs in a 2-1 Game 1 win, and he knocked in three in Game 4.

Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers

Kenley Jansen has used the big stage of the postseason to cement his status as the best closer in baseball this year. Jansen has pitched seven scoreless innings this postseason, recording a win and a save for the Dodgers. He’s allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out 12. He’s gone more than one inning for the save on two occasions this postseason, including Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cubs where he struck out all four batters he faced. Having Jansen to close out games gives Dave Roberts a Mariano Rivera-like option in the postseason.

Justin Verlander, SP, Astros

Verlander has given the Astros everything they could have asked for since being acquired in a trade, and then some. Not only did Verlander go 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA to finish out the regular season with Houston, but he has continued his hot pitching into the postseason.

Verlander has gone 3-0 in his three starts with a 2.04 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. His Game 2 start of the ALCS against the Yankees was particularly impressive — he struck out 13 in a complete game victory as Houston won 2-1. The Astros’ technology is said to have helped him.

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