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#pounditTuesday, March 21, 2023

20 standout players of the MLB playoffs

Yu Darvish, SP, Dodgers

Yu Darvish’s time with the Dodgers involved some ups-and-downs during the regular season. His LA debut came with a 7-inning shutout, but then he had consecutive outings in early September where he allowed five runs. So far, it’s been the dominant Darvish who has shown up in the postseason.

Darvish looked nearly unhittable in a Game 3 NLDS win over the Diamondbacks. He went five-plus allowing just one run on two hits. He could have gone much longer, but Roberts used a quick hook in the game. In Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cubs, Roberts let Darvish work a little longer. He went 6.1 innings of one-run ball, picking up the win. Having him to supplement Clayton Kershaw has made a world of difference in the postseason for the Dodgers.

CC Sabathia, SP, Yankees

Sabathia established himself as the Yankees’ stopper during the regular season, as he was dominant following losses. He’s continued the same trend in the postseason. Sabathia came up huge in Game 5 of the ALDS against the Indians, pitching 4.1 innings of two-run ball, striking out 9. He gave the Yankees enough to turn the ball over to the bullpen, which kept Cleveland scoreless the rest of the game. Then with his team trailing 2-0 in the ALCS, Sabathia came out and shut the Astros out for six innings of Game 3 to get the win. He has become a trusted arm for the Yankees this postseason.

Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals

Ever since his dominant debut as a rookie, Strasburg has always felt like something of a disappointment — a good, but not great starter who has dealt with injuries and sat out an entire postseason — against his wishes, mind you. In this year’s postseason, though, he looked like the superstar pitcher that many had always dreamed he’d be.

Though the Nationals didn’t win the series, it was no fault of Strasburg. He didn’t give up an earned run in 14 innings, walking three and striking out 22. His second start came in the middle of huge questions about his health. Strasburg gave us the ace-level performance we’ve always wanted.

Jay Bruce, OF, Indians

A little-heralded waiver trade at the time of his acquisition, Bruce was a key reason the ALDS got to five games. He hit .278 with two key homers in the five-game series loss, including the game-tying blow in Game 2 that helped complete Cleveland’s remarkable comeback from 8-3 down in the eventual victory. Bruce is due to be a free agent after the season, and his postseason performances probably bought him a few extra suitors once he hits the open market.

Kenta Maeda, RP, Dodgers

Many starters see their stuff play well out of the bullpen, and that is exactly what has happened to Maeda in the 2017 postseason. An average enough starter during the regular season, manager Dave Roberts has reinvented Maeda as a righty specialist who dominated when thrown into the fray during the NLDS against Arizona. Maeda struck out four in two innings, serving as a vital bridge between the Dodgers’ starters and closer Kenley Jansen. He also threw a scoreless frame and picked up the win in Game 1 of the NLCS.

Maeda will probably wind up back in the starting rotation next year, but it’s easy to see how this relief stint could really give him a shot of confidence.

Masahiro Tanaka, SP, Yankees

Tanaka had taken a back seat to Luis Severino this year after struggling for much of the regular season, but he’s rediscovered his ace form just in time for the Yankees. He was outstanding in the ALDS against the Indians, throwing seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 Game 3 win that helped gives the Yankees confidence to begin their comeback. And, while he was not quite as great in his first ALCS start against Houston, Tanaka only gave up two runs in six innings and kept Houston right in the game. Opponents have hit just .159 against him in his two playoff starts so far.

Michael Taylor, OF, Nationals

Taylor is perhaps the most unlikely star to emerge from the playoffs so far. A career .243 hitter — though he had a fine season for Washington in 2017 — Taylor hit .333 in the NLDS, including a pair of massive home runs. One was a grand slam off Wade Davis to put Game 4 out of reach. For a while, it looked like his three-run homer early in Game 5 might have been the final nail in the Cubs’ coffin. It didn’t turn out that way, but Taylor can still hold his head high after a fantastic series.

Brandon Morrow, RP, Dodgers

Once an extremely highly-touted pitching prospect — the two players drafted after him in 2006 were Andrew Miller and Clayton Kershaw — injuries put Morrow in the baseball wilderness until he re-emerged as a reliever in 2016. The Dodgers picked up him for 2017 and he’s become an absolutely vital setup man for Kenley Jansen. He’s pitched 7.1 postseason innings thus far and given up just two hits and one run. Morrow is a huge reason the Dodgers are so much better-equipped to win in 2017; their bullpen depth is so much better.

Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox

For much of the season, Boston’s third base situation was pretty much awful. Devers stepped in and, while the Red Sox were eliminated much sooner than they would have liked in the ALDS, they can take heart from the performances of a young man who was just 20 when he made his postseason debut. Devers hit .364, went deep twice, and knocked in five runs against the Astros, making himself one of Boston’s standout offensive performers. This kid has a very bright future, and now everyone knows it.

David Price, RP, Red Sox

Many will scoff at the Red Sox having a $30 million reliever, but the truth is David Price came up big for Boston in the playoffs. Price entered Game 2 of the ALDS against Houston with the bases loaded and one out in a 4-1 game and was able to escape without allowing further damage. The score remained 4-1 by the time he left 2.2 innings later. In Game 3, he entered a 4-3 game and kept Houston off the board for four scoreless innings. It wasn’t until later that Boston’s offense broke out and exploded for a 10-3 win.

Price’s second season in Boston was derailed by injuries, but his performances in the playoffs gave him and Sox fans confidence that he may still be a valuable contributor over the life of his contract.

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