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#pounditWednesday, May 29, 2024

Eight players who will shape the MLB playoff race

Mike Trout

As the pennant race heats up in Major League Baseball, the league’s various contenders find themselves in different spots. The likes of the Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, and Los Angeles Dodgers have more or less wrapped up their divisions. Aside from those teams, there are several franchises that still have a lot to play for. These teams are competing for division titles or wild-card spots.

Here are eight players on teams that may or may not make the playoffs. Each of these players will have a major say in what happens with their team.

1) Mike Trout, Angels

Finally, we get to see Trout in an actual playoff race again. The surprising Angels are right in the thick of the American League wild card race. They are competing despite the fact that Trout missed a month and a half of the season.

The superstar outfielder is the type of player who is talented enough to single-handedly lift his team into the postseason, and he’s certainly trying to do so. With seven home runs in 22 August games, Trout has been pacing the Angels in what may somehow be his best career season yet. If he keeps it up, an Angels playoff appearance may not be as far-fetched as it once seemed.

2) Aroldis Chapman, Yankees

The back-end of the bullpen was supposed to be one area where the Yankees would have little problem in 2017. That has not worked out as planned, as the Yankees traded for David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle at the deadline. The reasons for the moves are because Dellin Betances has had a huge problem with walks, and mostly because Chapman has not been Chapman.

The fireballing lefty had been doing fine until August, when everything suddenly fell apart. A run of four outings saw Chapman give up seven runs in 4.1 innings, blowing one save, and ultimately led to him losing his closer’s job. He has every chance of getting it back, and the Yankees really need him to — a healthy and effective Chapman would be huge for them down the stretch.

3) Aaron Judge, Yankees

You knew it was coming. After a first half in which he took the baseball world by storm, Judge is hitting just .186 since the All-Star break, with a more modest seven home runs in 38 games. His slugging percentage has dropped all the way down to .372 over that span, and he’s been icing his shoulder — though he firmly denies that this is a factor in his struggles.

Whatever the reason, the Yankees can’t afford to have Judge hitting like this. They would have been able to handle a bit of regression — they probably expected it — but hitting under .200 with little extra-base power isn’t something they can swallow easily. Judge doesn’t need to be hitting .330 again with perpetual power. The Yankees just need him to get back to above average.

4) Ervin Santana, Twins

The Twins are doggedly hanging around in the AL wild card race, and a big reason why has been their pitching. Minnesota has the quality on offense to at least contend if their pitching can pull its weight. That hasn’t happened over the past few years, but thanks to the likes of Santana, it is now.

Santana has a 3.24 ERA and leads the American League in both complete games and shutouts. There is no way Minnesota would be occupying the second wild card spot without him. The trick is that a pitching staff that lacks depth and experience on a contender really needs Santana to keep it going. They will fade fast if he can’t.

See Nos. 5-8 on Page 2

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