Each MLB Playoff Contender's Under-the-Radar Player to Watch for Stretch Run

Brandon ScottAugust 21, 2022

Each MLB Playoff Contender's Under-the-Radar Player to Watch for Stretch Run

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    With the end of August approaching, it's important to get familiar with the players on the teams that matter.

    Everyone is familiar with the stars by now, but there are some under-the-radar names to follow in this stretch run.

    Here, we take a look at several of them playing on contending teams, defined by being less than five games back of a wild card spot as of Saturday.

    That just leaves out the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants. Most of us can agree neither of those teams are contending.

    It's important to remember all of these players are not necessarily performing well at the moment, but are key pieces to their teams down the stretch.

American League East

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    Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees

    There is no way around it. The Yankees are reeling. They are 4-14 in August after Saturday's loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Their OPS this month ranks 26th in baseball, despite normally being among the top. Their ERA this month is the ninth-highest, despite normally being among the lowest.

    Underlying the recent failure to meet these lofty expectations is the overall regression of Gleyber Torres.

    Once an elite player in 2019, Torres is now a far lesser version of himself at a time the Yankees could use a player with his potential.

    Three years ago, Torres tore it up with 13 home runs in August. So far, he has just two this month.

    Seeing how close he can get back to form and how he factors into the Yankees' future is worth monitoring.

    Raimel Tapia, Toronto Blue Jays

    It's a good thing the Blue Jays hold a healthy spot in the expanded wild card race. They don't lack for star power, which bodes well for the postseason.

    Toronto's lineup is headlined by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez and Matt Chapman.

    But Raimel Tapia has been an excellent addition since being traded from the Colorado Rockies in March.

    His inside the park grand slam last month was one of the more fun and bizarre highlights of the season. That he can play all outfield spots provides the Blue Jays with some lineup flexibility.

    Tapia's emergence as one of the Blue Jays' reliable left-handed bats, along with Cavan Biggio, has helped the team quell the notion that their lineup is too right-handed. He cooled off in August, but last month slashed an impressive .357/.368/.554.

    Harold Ramírez, Tampa Bay Rays

    It feels like all of the Rays fly under the radar. When you look at their lineup and overall offensive output, it's easy to wonder how they compete.

    Tampa Bay ranks 22nd in runs scored and 23rd in OPS. Sure, the pitching is phenomenal, which it typically is. But their best overall hitter this year has been newcomer first baseman Harold Ramírez.

    After bouncing from the Cleveland Guardians to the Chicago Cubs and then to Tampa (without ever suiting up for Chicago), Ramírez is now tied with Randy Arozarena for second in WAR on a playoff contender.

    Dean Kremer, Baltimore Orioles

    We’re just now getting used to the reality of being this far into the season and the Orioles positioned to make a playoff run.

    One of the reasons for that is Dean Kremer, who throws an above-average four-seamer and cutter. After Jordan Lyles, Kremer is tied with Tyler Wells for the second-highest WAR among Baltimore starters this year.

    The Orioles' rotation of the future will be built around John Means and two of their elite prospects, DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez. But Kremer is making a case to be right there with them.

American League Central

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    Steven Kwan, Cleveland Guardians

    While Julio Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman battle for AL Rookie of the Year, Kwan has quietly become one of the best players on a team leading its division.

    Among rookies, only Rutschman and Rodriguez have a higher WAR than Kwan, who leads rookies in batting average and is second in on-base percentage.

    He carried an 18-game hitting streak into early August, before leaving a game against the Houston Astros early with a foot contusion.

    Of all the division leaders, Cleveland feels like the least talked about. It could be because of how young the Guardians are and how unlikely it seemed they would be here.

    José Miranda, Minnesota Twins

    With Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Jorge Polanco and Luis Arráez, the Twins have a healthy amount of star power.

    One of their best hitters this season has been rookie José Miranda, the American League Rookie of the Month for July. He cooled down a bit in August, but he's still slashing .317/.377/.492 with three homers for the month.

    Over a seven-game stretch headed into Saturday, Miranda was slashing .345/.387/.586.

    The Twins are fighting for either the division or a wild-card spot, one game out of both entering Saturday. If they are going to be in the mix, Miranda will be an important part of it.

    Elvis Andrus, Chicago White Sox

    When the Oakland Athletics finally dismissed Andrus from their teardown project, the White Sox seemed like an obvious fit.

    They are without All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson, possibly for the entire season, and there is Andrus available to plug right in.

    Andrus doesn't exactly replace Anderson's level of play. But remember what Johnny Cueto said not long ago, essentially questioning the team's heart?

    Well, Andrus has that at least.

American League West

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    Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros

    Everyone’s talking about Justin Verlander staring down Father Time and not blinking.

    Verlander should win the AL Cy Young, and Framber Valdez is an All-Star for a pitching staff that’s among the best in baseball.

    It has been done largely without McCullers, who’s looked good in his first two starts since returning from a strained flexor tendon suffered in the American League Division Series against the White Sox last year.

    Think about it. The Astros’ rotation is already the best in baseball, and now they add a pitcher who is good enough to relegate one of the starters to the bullpen.

    Logan Gilbert, Seattle Mariners

    The metrics would tell you Gilbert has been the Mariners’ best starter this year. Not the reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray, who they signed in the offseason, or their major trade deadline acquisition Luis Castillo.

    But if you paid attention to his most recent outings, there is cause for concern.

    Gilbert has a 9.39 ERA and 2.02 WHIP for the month of August while the Mariners fight to keep their lead in the wild-card race.

    Gilbert is talented enough to be a top-three starter, and right now he's not even a mediocre fourth option. It could just be something mechanical, but he and the Mariners' staff need to figure it out.

National League East

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    Adam Ottavino, New York Mets

    Most of the attention goes to Edwin Diaz, and rightfully so. He's the best reliever in baseball and a star in New York.

    But Adam Ottavino has become an important part of the Mets bullpen.

    The 36-year-old signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Mets and held a 2.30 ERA through 47 innings pitched as of Saturday.

    He's second in WAR among Mets relievers, only behind Diaz.

    Michael Harris II, Atlanta

    Harris might not be as under the radar now that he's signed a $72 million extension after he'd played just 72 big league games.

    But the rookie center fielder is still playing in the shadows of Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley, Matt Olson and Dansby Swanson.

    It's a luxury when a team can hit someone with an .826 OPS toward the bottom of the order.

    Atlanta holds a comfortable lead in the wild-card race and is only four games behind the Mets going into Saturday's action.

    Once Atlanta is in the postseason, keep an eye on the freshly paid rookie.

    Alec Bohm, Philadelphia Phillies

    The Phillies are in a tight race for the second or third wild card with the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers.

    They have a few notable players: Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto, Nick Castellanos, Rhys Hoskins.

    And then there's Alec Bohm, who had a disappointing 2021 season and has bounced back in 2022.

    He was slashing .285/.318/.396 going into Saturday, when he hit third for Philly with an RBI double to give the club the lead in the third inning.

National League Central

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    Jordan Montgomery, St. Louis Cardinals

    Over their first three starts since the trade deadline, the pitcher who the Yankees traded away is outplaying the one they brought in.

    Montgomery, who failed to register a win in his final eight starts with the Yankees, is 3-0 since being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals. He's posted a 0.54 ERA and 0.90 WHIP, giving up just 12 hits with 17 strikeouts and three walks in those three starts.

    Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright are pitching so well and the Cardinals offense is so good that it's easy for Montgomery's early resurgence to fly under the radar.

    Omar Narváez/Victor Caratini, Milwaukee Brewers

    The Brewers have a platoon system going at catcher with Omar Narváez and Victor Caratini. The left-handed hitting Narváez catches when a right-hander starts, while the right-handed hitting Caratini goes against lefties.

    Caratini took most of the load this month after Narváez strained his left quad Aug. 3 and landed on the injured list.

    What's interesting is that Caratini started the season as the clear backup to Narváez, but Caratini has made a strong case to be the No. 1.

    His 11.1 percent walk rate is top 10 among catchers, and he hits the ball harder than Narváez, so it will be worth watching if Caratini becomes the main guy by the end of the season.

National League West

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    Trayce Thompson, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Can a Dodgers player really be under the radar? It seems like all of their players are stars at this point.

    If we're to pick one, it would have to be Trayce Thompson. And even he comes from a famous sports family.

    Once you get past Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux and Will Smith, there's Thompson contributing in a complementary role.

    Thompson has a .902 OPS, slashing .286/.375/.527 in 43 games with the Dodgers this year.

    Brandon Drury, San Diego Padres

    When thinking of the Padres' moves at the trade deadline, acquiring both Juan Soto and Josh Bell from the Washington Nationals is always going to come first to mind.

    The Padres, whose offense has struggled at times this season, added arguably the best hitter in baseball in Soto along with one of the best hitting first basemen in the game in Bell.

    But they also traded for Brandon Drury from the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds. Quietly, San Diego acquired a middle-of-the-order bat in addition to Soto and Bell.

    Drury's first 17 games with San Diego were not impressive (.200/.258/.383), but he's hit three home runs, and his .824 OPS on the season injects more life into this lineup.


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