Yasiel Puig has been a sensation in Los Angeles, and the Cuban rookie may very well have been the Dodgers' team MVP, despite playing just half a season. But the postseason can be a whole different beast.
The microscope will be more focused, the lights brighter and the competition stiffer than anything Puig has dealt with before. While a player of his caliber may thrive in such a situation, there is a possibility that he will wilt under the pressure.
With Matt Kemp's season officially over and Andre Ethier still ailing, there will be more of a burden on Puig in the postseason than originally expected. He will likely man right field or center field, depending on the matchup, and hit leadoff for the duration of the Dodgers' playoff run.
So what can we expect out of the 22-year-old who hit .319 with 19 homers and 42 RBI in just 104 games at the big league level during his first major league season? Will he respond to the pressure and lead the Dodgers to the World Series? Or will his penchant for baserunning errors, poor pitch selection and overthrows thwart their chances?
Here are five predictions for Puig's performance in the 2013 postseason.
This isn't a big stretch, considering Puig hit .319 during the regular season, despite slumping and hitting .214 in September. Though the sample size is limited, Puig hit at least .400 against all potential NL playoff opponents, other than the Cincinnati Reds (.269).
We don't even know if the Reds will advance beyond the one-game wild-card playoff, but Puig has mashed against the St. Louis Cardinals (.400), Pittsburgh Pirates (.462) and especially the Dodgers' first-round opponents, the Atlanta Braves (.500).
Puig wasn't great with runners in scoring position or in "high-leverage" situations, according to Baseball-Reference.com this year, hitting just .225 in 85 plate appearances when one swing could significantly raise or lower the game's win expectancy.
That being said, he was among the game's best after the seventh inning this year, hitting eight of his 19 homers in the seventh inning or later. These situations will arise in the playoffs, and Puig will be at the center of it eventually. One of those stats is going to give.
You thought this was going to be all happy predictions, didn't you? Too bad. As valuable as Puig can be in every asset of the game, his mental mistakes have cost the Dodgers regular-season games and will probably lead to a loss in the postseason too.
Don't worry—the reward will still outweigh the risks in October, but the chances that Puig suddenly learns how to pump the brakes while running and hit the cutoff man from the outfield just because it's a new month are very slim. He won't be perfect in the playoffs; that's for sure.
There, that's better! Puig is an incredibly gifted athlete who has total five-tool potential. The problem with his tools is that they aren't sharpened yet. When he does utilize them properly and to their full potential, it spells trouble for opponents.
And for some reason, Puig has had a knack for making up for his misdeeds soon after they occur. It would surprise nobody to see Puig make a great defensive play to save a couple big runs, or wreak enough havoc on the bases that it leads to a Dodgers win.
Now we're getting a little more ambitious. Any number of great players can earn a postseason series MVP distinction. The Dodgers alone have guys like Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez who are more than capable of doing so.
But Puig will snap out of his September funk at some point, and it will be at the expense of an opposing playoff team. As we've all witnessed, when Puig gets hot, he gets really hot. Of course, this prediction all hinges on the idea that the Dodgers will win at least one postseason series. Puig will have to be a big part of that.
Can Puig help lead the Dodgers to their first World Series title since 1988? Will he prove the doubters wrong and contribute to the playoff run in a positive way? Or will he single-handedly cost the Dodgers a shot at glory?
Comment with your postseason Puig predictions below.
The magic is back on Thursday night in Atlanta. See you there.