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Pennant Chasers: Top Players To Watch This Postseason

REUTERS/Adam Hunger
REUTERS/Adam Hunger

Every team that makes it to October has a story. Each of these teams has a defining moment, a standout performance, or simply a time during the season when everything finally starts to click.

Now as these contenders work their way towards the final stretch of the season, they’re going to need to find some more magic.

While star players can provide stability over the course of the regular season, many times it’s an unfamiliar face that steps into the spotlight in the postseason.

We can all remember David Freese’s historical NLCS from 2011, Pablo Sandoval’s trifecta of homers in the 2012 World Series, and most recently, Madison Bumgarner’s rubber arm throughout last year’s playoffs.

Those are the kinds of performances that can sway momentum in a tight series.

With divisional battles heating up and the playoffs around the corner, let’s take a look at some players who may provide that extra spark for their team this postseason.

Yoenis Cespedes, Mets

Cespedes has grown very comfortable at Citi Field since being acquired from the Tigers at the trading deadline this July. In his first 26 games in a Mets uniform, he’s driven in 23 and slugged .560. Now Cespedes does have a little experience in the playoffs, however he has never made it past the divisional series in either of his previous appearances with the Athletics. Despite all this, his numbers in those series have been pretty impressive hitting .350/.395/.525.

He’s a scary hitter and pitchers will have to limit their mistakes when he’s at the plate.

Aramis Ramirez, Pirates

Ramirez finds himself back in Pittsburgh and back in playoff contention once again after deserting the lowly Milwaukee Brewers mid-season. He’s already announced his retirement following the season, but one last trip to the playoffs gives him enough time to make one final contribution. His past experiences in the playoffs have been rough, including being a part of the 2003 Cubs team during the Steve Bartman incident, and he’s a career .194 hitter in the playoffs. So what makes him a potential breakout player?

Youth.

Not his youth, but the players around him.

Even though they actually have a large number of veterans (AJ Burnett, Mike Morse, Francisco Liriano), being around young guns like Gerrit Cole and Gregory Polanco, Ramirez may be able to channel some of that star power from his younger days.

Randal Grichuk, Cardinals

Ask a Cardinals fan who they think the Rookie of the Year should be and they’ll tell you it’s this guy. And they’d have a pretty strong case if Grichuk had 100 more at-bats to his name. Grichuk has been overlooked by many because of the other young talents in his division (Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber), yet he has a higher average, slugging percentage, and OPS than fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Kris Bryant.

Although Bryant may have an edge in other statistical categories (homers, RBIs, OBP), Grichuk still plays on the most dominant team in the National League, which means we may get to see a lot of Grichuk and the Cardinals come October.

Grichuk has produced nicely for a rookie and if he continues his success into the playoffs, be wary of St. Louis because he’s just one of a handful of dangerous players on that team.

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees

People won’t give A-Rod enough credit for what he’s accomplished this season. After sitting out all of last season, he’s back at age 40 and putting up some of his best numbers since the start of the decade. Rodriguez is on pace for 30 home runs this year and his highest OBP since 2009, even higher than when he made his last All Star appearance in 2011.

So clearly something is going right for him this year. Look for A-Rod to capitalize once he’s put on the big stage in the playoffs. It’s what he loves. The playoffs are so very A-Rod.

What more perfect of a situation could you script for A-Rod to win back the hearts of Yankee fans than by winning a playoff game in the Bronx?

Mike Moustakas, Royals

After a forgettable 2014 season, 2015 has seen Mike Moustakas increase his batting average by 70 points and nearly cut his strikeout total in half. Everyone knew he had the power, but few thought he’d be able to bring his average up so high and so quickly. “Moose” is having quite a rebound campaign and his Royals are sitting comfortably atop the AL Central waiting for their shot at another World Series berth.

The Royals are one of the scariest, if not THE scariest team in the American League and Moustakas is the key player that can help them along the way. Eventually Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain will have an off night and someone will have to fill that spot.

Moustakas is that guy.

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