They could be le­gends of the fall

Fif­teen char­ac­ters who set the stage for post-sea­son play

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - DAVE SHEININ THE WASH­ING­TON POST

You never know whom fate will choose to be a post-sea­son hero. Some years, it’s Derek Jeter, Madi­son Bum­gar­ner or David Or­tiz. Other years, it’s Mark Lemke or David Eck­stein or Steve Pearce. By the end of Oc­to­ber, things haven’t al­ways gone the way you en­vi­sioned at the start of the month. We don’t know who will play the best for the next four weeks, but we know who fas­ci­nates us the most at the post-sea­son’s out­set.

Here, then, are the 15 most in­trigu­ing char­ac­ters (in re­verse or­der) of the 2019 play­offs — al­though you might want to check back around Hal­loween.

> Je­sus Luzardo, re­lief pitcher, Ath­let­ics: A top prospect who de­buted in the ma­jors in early Septem­ber, Luzardo has only made six ap­pear­ances, but that was enough to show he could be a huge, multi-in­ning se­cret weapon out of the bullpen for Bob Melvin and the A’s.

> Char­lie Morton, start­ing pitcher, Rays: The right-han­der, who locked down the fi­nal 12 outs of the As­tros’ 2017 World Se­ries ti­tle in re­lief, is now the ace of the Rays’ staff and, in the year of the home run, has been the tough­est AL pitcher to hit a homer against (0.69 per nine in­nings).

> Mike Soroka, start­ing pitcher, Braves: The 22-year-old Cana­dian right-han­der has been the Braves’ top starter, but he has zero post-sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence, and be­cause of that — plus his su­pe­rior road splits this year — the Braves ap­par­ently will save him for Game 3 at St. Louis and use bat­tle-tested lefty Dal­las Keuchel in Game 1 at home against St. Louis.

> Aaron Boone, man­ager, Yan­kees: New York ap­pears de­ter­mined to be cre­ative with its Oc­to­ber pitch­ing and that will put a spot­light on Boone, one of the favourites for AL man­ager of the year. He has a stacked bullpen, but the way he runs the front half of games will be at least as in­ter­est­ing.

> Nel­son Cruz, des­ig­nated hit­ter, Twins: The un­ques­tioned leader of the homer-happy Twins, Cruz be­came the third player in his­tory, af­ter Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, to hit 40-plus homers at 39 or older. In a lineup full of bash­ers, he’s the one teams won’t want to let beat them.

> Yor­dan Al­varez, des­ig­nated hit­ter, As­tros: Who’s the best pure hit­ter in th­ese play­offs? By on-base-plus-slug­ging per­cent­age (min­i­mum 350 plate ap­pear­ances), it’s the As­tros’ 22year-old rookie (1.067). Since his June ar­rival, the As­tros’ of­fence has been the best in the ma­jors. But if they make the World Se­ries, he’ll have to play some left field, where his de­fence is shaky.

> Josh Hader, closer, Brew­ers: A bril­liant, multi-in­ning weapon for the Brew­ers last Oc­to­ber (0.00 ERA, 10 IP, 16 Ks), he is one of the main rea­sons the Brew­ers sur­vived the loss of MVP Chris­tian Yelich to in­jury. Don’t be sur­prised if he goes two or three in­nings in the wild-card game.

> Rob Man­fred, com­mis­sioner, MLB: It’s his sig­na­ture on the base­balls, and while he man­aged to tamp down un­rest over “juiced” balls dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, an ugly, play­offs-wide Oc­to­ber slugfest would put him back on the de­fen­sive.

> Max Scherzer, start­ing pitcher, Na­tion­als: With Scherzer at the top of his game, the Na­tion­als are a dan­ger­ous op­po­nent. But that ver­sion of Scherzer hasn’t been seen in weeks. Has his skid been enough for him to lose No. 1 sta­tus?

> Jack Fla­herty, start­ing pitcher, Car­di­nals: The 23-year-old right-han­der was the best starter in base­ball af­ter the all-star break (0.91 ERA in 15 starts) and rep­re­sents the Car­di­nals’ best hope for ris­ing above the favoured Braves and Dodgers in the NL half of the bracket.

> Ken­ley Jansen, closer, Dodgers: Once con­sid­ered among the best in the game, Jansen is now the weak link in the Dodgers’ pitch­ing chain. Man­age­ment has danced around this ques­tion, but with the sea­son on the line, would they re­ally give the ball to Jansen in the ninth?

> Fred­die Free­man, first base­man, Braves: For all the talk about phe­nom Ron­ald Acuna Jr., Free­man is the Braves’ most dan­ger­ous hit­ter, which makes his late-Septem­ber el­bow in­jury all the more dis­qui­et­ing. At their best, the Braves are at least the Dodgers’ equal in the NL. With­out Free­man they aren’t their best.

> Justin Ver­lan­der and Ger­rit Cole, start­ing pitch­ers, As­tros: Hous­ton’s twin aces, neck and neck for the AL Cy Young Award, get a combo en­try here as a seem­ingly un­beat­able onetwo punch. Al­though the game has changed acutely, this could be the 2001 Di­a­mond­backs, with Curt Schilling and Randy John­son, all over again.

> Luis Sev­erino, start­ing pitcher, Yan­kees: Sev­erino’s dom­i­nance (small-sam­ple-size alert) since re­turn­ing from in­jury in mid Septem­ber has changed the pitch­ing equa­tion for the Yan­kees, giv­ing them a po­ten­tial ace they weren’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect­ing to have to match up against Cole or Ver­lan­der in a hy­po­thet­i­cal ALCS.

> Cody Bellinger, out­fielder/first base­man, Dodgers: A year ago, the Dodgers reg­u­larly benched Bellinger against left­ies. This year, he’s the favourite to be the NL MVP, with his of­fen­sive thun­der matched by de­fen­sive bril­liance at right field, first base and, of late, cen­tre field. We have a hunch the Dodgers will play him ev­ery game this time.

JOHN BAZEMORE THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A year ago, the Dodgers reg­u­larly benched Cody Bellinger against left­ies. This year, he’s the favourite to be the NL MVP.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.