As the contenders battle for the postseason position, the stars will be in the spotlight and make their case for the awards season. But it takes a full roster to get a club into October, right down to the number of players finishing ninth or throwing an inning of a game.
Here are eight players who might not be the focus but could make all the difference on the track.
After the Astros sent Myles Straw to Cleveland, McCormick took on the role of the everyday midfielder, and he did nothing else early in his career than to impress Tuesday with a left hand pain. The Astros also needed some speed in the line-up after Straw’s departure, and McCormick seamlessly filled the void. He was by far the fastest runner in the Astros, with an average sprint speed of 28.9 feet per second. That’s just 1.1 ft / s below the elite threshold. He may not get the fanfare many of his teammates get, but McCormick has secretly turned into a five-tool player in an already dangerous contender.
The A’s bought Chafin before the deadline from the Cubs, where he had an ERA of 2.06 in 43 games, and he was exactly as advertised. The 31-year-old reliever has given up just two runs in 12 games during his tenure in Oakland, hitting about one batsman per inning and running two so far. He also brings the necessary balance to the Oakland Bullpen as Jake Diekman was their only left-handed player with more than 15 innings. Chafin only gave up three home runs throughout the year, an area Diekman got pretty bitten in. The move may have been overshadowed by Starling Marte’s stormy start, but the A got exactly what they needed out of both trades and that could be the tipping point in the hunt for the AL West crown.
White socks: Adam Engel, OF
Key stats: + 8.1% in hard hit rate, 2020-21
Always known for its speed, Engel has started to assert itself on the plate in the last two years. The 29-year-old has had an .829 OPS since the beginning of 2020, albeit in just over 200 record appearances. This season, Engel annihilates right-handed pitching. Despite being a righty himself, Engel has thrown .505 from equal-handed pitchers with seven home runs and six doubles in over 100 at-bats. When the racket isn’t playing, speed is still maintained as Engel has an average sprint speed of 29.7 feet per second, just below the elite threshold of 30.0 feet / s. With Luis Robert back in the Sox lineup, Engel slips into a timeshare with Brian Goodwin in the right field and could become an all-rounder in the postseason.
Wisler came out of the Giants in early June with an ugly 6:05 ERA. But since joining the Rays, he’s been tacitly one of the best helpers in baseball, posting an ERA of 1.98 in 27 1/3 innings. This season he’s in the top 10% of all pitchers for hard hit rate, expected ERA, and strikeout rate. So how did a pitcher with a career ERA above 4.80 get so dominant? Wisler has completely redesigned his pitch arsenal after 2019 and is now throwing almost exclusively sliders, throwing it over 90% of the time this season while dropping his sinker and curveball. Being a two-pitch pitcher – or rather a one-pitch pitcher – seems to work for him as opponents have been hitting .206 against him since arriving in Tampa Bay. Whenever Wisler ends up in a late inning roll for the Rays, expect him to make opposing thugs look silly.
In reality, almost any pitcher in the Giants’ bullpen could make this list, but Rogers may be the best of the group. And if he’s not the best, he’s definitely the most unorthodox. Rogers is last in the majors with an average four-seam fastball speed at 82.5 mph, but his funky submarine delivery makes him one of the most dominant late-inning rescuers in the game. He has an ERA of 1.95 this year and 11 saves in 60 games. He has only allowed four barrels of 180+ balls hit against him this season with a ground ball rate north of 60%. He is also in the top 5 percent of all pitchers in the walk rate with just under 4%. Limiting free passes and preventing home runs are two of the biggest keys in the postseason, and there aren’t many out there who do both better than Rogers.
Dodger: Alex Vesia, LHP
Key stats: 0 hits allowed against non-fastballs
After a cup of coffee in Miami last season, Vesia was a solid performance in a Dodgers bullpen that needed a real boost thanks to a constant string of injuries. Vesia has a WHIP below 0.85 and an ERA below 2.50 while being equally effective against hitters from either side of the plate. He throws four collectors on the mound almost 75% of the time, and it seems to work for him as the opponents only hit .134 of his fastball. Although he offers a fixed diet of fastballs, he’s not lazy with his secondary playing fields. He didn’t allow a hit on his slider or changeup all year, resulting in a 34% strike rate. He quickly becomes a man arriving late in must-win games.
Brewer: Tyrone Taylor, OF
Key stats: .834 OPS against left-handed people
After two years of switching between the Minors and Majors, Taylor has created a role in Milwaukee this season. He was defensively solid, fairly light-footed, and could hold his own in the batter’s box. However, it might be just what the Brewers need in the October lineup. This season, Taylor beats .284 with an .834 OPS against left-handed pitching, an area the Brewers really struggle in. As a team, they have an average of .237 and an OPS of .727, both of which rank in the bottom half of the teams in the majors. Taylor isn’t going to solve all of her problems facing southpaws, but in a pinch, he could become her X-Factor.
The Phillies need inning eaters if they are to stay afloat in the NL East race, but they haven’t found a really working formula yet. As August rolled around, they put Suárez on the rotation in an opener role, but he has gradually increased his workload, throwing a season high of 99 spots on his August 24 gig. In five starts, he has allowed five runs in 21 1/3 innings, reducing his ERA to a tiny 1.46. Suarez has been dominant outside the bullpen all year and was among the frontrunners in the league in capping average exit speed and batting average, but he’s grown in value over time and could make or break the Phillies’ season, as the case may be how deep he is can go into ball games.