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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

10 players who will have a big impact on the MLB playoffs

Aaron Judge

The MLB playoffs are approaching, with teams clinching their spots on nearly a daily basis. The storylines are numerous, and there are several players worth focusing on. Here’s a look at 10 key players whose fortunes in October will have a big say on who ends up celebrating a championship when all is said and done.

Aaron Judge, Yankees

What will the Yankees get out of Judge? He’s back in the lineup after two months out following a wrist injury, which should give him enough time to get back into rhythm before the playoffs. It better, because the Yankees, who struggled without him, could use the pop. Even in his injury-shortened year, he has 26 home runs, but he has yet to go deep since returning. Pitching is important for the Yankees, but Judge’s health and recovery will have a huge say in how far they can go in October.

Cole Hamels, Cubs

Regarded as a top playoff ace, Hamels’s last October outing was actually a bad one. He gave up six earned runs in 3.1 innings in the 2016 ALDS against Toronto while pitching for the Texas Rangers. He has immediately become Chicago’s best starter since being acquired, and the Cubs will lean heavily on him in October. Now 34, he can’t be sure how many more chances he’ll get to pitch at a high level in October, so he won’t want to let the opportunity pass.

Alex Bregman, Astros

Bregman has developed fairly quietly into one of the game’s better players and yet another Houston star alongside Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. In his second year of full-time action, Bregman has hit 51 doubles and 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs. The versatile third baseman was a big part of Houston’s championship run a year ago. It stands to reason he will be again if the Astros can once again reach the promised land.

Christian Yelich, Brewers

Yelich has proven to be worth what the Brewers gave up to get him. He’s hit for the cycle twice, is batting well over .300, and has his first 30-homer season in the bag. He and teammate Lorenzo Cain have combined to change Milwaukee’s fortunes. Should the Brewers make the playoffs, it will be Yelich’s first postseason appearance, and one of the league’s more gifted hitters will be looking to make an impression in his first playoff.

Khris Davis, Athletics

Now in his third consecutive 40-home run season, Davis is no joke. The Athletics might have better all-around players, but none with the pure power that Davis brings to their lineup. His 45 home runs lead MLB, and he’s a threat to go deep every time he steps into the box. For the surprising A’s, that’s a big threat to have, especially if they’re getting men on base in front of him. Sure he strikes out a lot, but Oakland will take it.

Ronald Acuna, Braves

MLB’s brightest young stars haven’t always made it to the playoffs in recent years. Mike Trout, for instance, has one three-game sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals in 2014 on his resume. Acuna looks like a lock to make an appearance in his rookie year. The dynamic young star is already quite well-known, but he’ll have the opportunity to really make himself a household name if he follows up his strong rookie season with an outstanding playoff. If he does that, the Braves could really go places.

Corey Kluber, Indians

Kluber has fallen short in big spots so far in his playoff career. He wasn’t sharp when the Indians lost Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, and in two starts against the Yankees in last year’s ALDS, he posted a 12.79 ERA. Kluber has something to prove, and with Trevor Bauer returning from injury, the Indians need Kluber to step up. He’s been one of the sport’s great aces in the regular season. It’s time for him to carry it into the playoffs.

Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

We saw what happened to the back end of the Dodger bullpen when Jansen’s heart issue caused him to miss time and then struggle upon his return. When right, Jansen is one of the game’s elite closers and most reliable arms. The Dodgers have the talent to do better than they have been, but at times, their bullpen has been thin. Even though he’s already said he’d play in a potential playoff matchup with Colorado, the Dodgers will hope it doesn’t come to that given the issues the thin air causes with regard to his heart.

Chris Sale, Red Sox

Sale is an enormous wildcard at this point. There was one time when he looked like the clear-cut AL Cy Young winner, but repeated arm issues have robbed him of most of his season since the start of August. Boston is working him back in slowly, using him as an “opener” to reintegrate him into the rotation and stretch him out. Barring setbacks, he should be at least physically capable to handle his normal workload by October. How good will he be? Boston’s success arguably hinges on him being very good.

Nolan Arenado, Rockies

Arenado, despite playing his usual strong defense, has not been at his best in September. Normally good for a .300 average and 30-plus homers, the third baseman has hit .234 in September with only three bombs. His season average has consequently dropped below the .300 mark. His struggles are such that the Rockies held him out of a big game to try to get him right. The Rockies are battling for a playoff spot, but if they get it, Arenado will be key. The former MVP candidate needs to be at his best to help get Colorado in and through the postseason, especially if Trevor Story’s elbow injury turns out to be a problem.

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