Wednesday is a rare – and, to be honest, unwelcome – October day without baseball. It’s a day to rest, to reflect, and, if you’ve stayed up as late as I’ve done the past week, maybe catch up on some sleep. And now is a good time to take stock of the excellence some of these players have performed so far.
You can be one of the best players in the world, but it’s the postseason when your brilliance is in the brightest light when everyone sees it. There were some real standouts throughout the Wild Card round and most of the Division Series. Here’s a look at the top 10 players in the playoffs so far.
1st OF Kiké Hernández, Red Sox
Hernández obviously has a long postseason history with the Dodgers, including two huge homers in the NLCS last year. (His next game after the season will be his 64th, which is more than, say, Buster Posey played.) But he’s never been better than now. He hit .450 with two homers in the ALDS win over Tampa Bay, and you may have a vague memory of a particularly big at-bat that ended the series. He is the Robert Horry of the 2021 postseason: Big Shot Kiké!
2nd OV Joc Pederson, Braves
Is it the pearls? It must be the pearls! (This is a free slogan for any sportswear company that wants to use it.) The Braves’ Trade Deadline adoption has hit two monster homers, including an explosion in three runs that provided the only runs in a crucial Game 3 win Brewer. His biggest moments came off the bench – he’s 1 in 5 outside of his two pinch-hit homers – but there really isn’t much bigger than a postseason pinch-hit homer.
3. RHP Lance McCullers Jr., Astros
The guy obviously has a lot of post-season experience. The Astros almost certainly won’t win the 2017 World Series without him. But McCullers has now become their most reliable starter, and he’s been fantastic in both of his starts so far, giving up only one solo home run in 10 2/3 innings. He won’t be able to start Game 1 of the American League Championship Series but assuming his aching forearm isn’t serious, he’s a weapon when he starts and one that has been deployed from the pen too. Houston certainly knows it can trust him.
4. C Will Smith, Dodgers
Many at the Dodgers have argued that in addition to being the best catcher in baseball right now, Smith is the most important and underrated hitter on the team. He was instrumental in getting the Dodgers to march to their second win-or-go home game in a month, scoring .333 with two homers for a team just starting to finally get some runs. We’ll see what happens in Game 5 on Thursday night, but you know Smith will be right in the thick of it.
5. RHP Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox
It would be impossible for Eovaldi to top his 2018 World Series exploits, but he’s been trying so far. He was a hit in both of his starts for the Red Sox, hitting 16 hitters in 10 1/3 innings, more strikeouts than anyone else in the playoffs up to that point. Given Chris Sale’s struggles, Eovaldi seems like the ace among the Boston staff right now. He has to stay in top form against the Astros.
6. LF Kris Bryant, Giants
The Giants’ takeover of Bryant was so obvious it felt like it happened weeks ago, and it’s certainly paying off in the postseason so far. Bryant hits an incredible .462 so far, and he’s also played four positions including a brief stint in midfield. (Bryant has yet to play third base in the NLDS.) The Giants have a game to continue their truly remarkable season. Wherever you need him, Bryant will be there.
7. BY Kyle Tucker, Astros
Tucker was the best hitter for the Astros during the regular season and kept it going in the postseason, leading all hitters with seven RBIs. Whatever your opinion on RBIs, we all agree that they are pretty crucial in the postseason, yes? Tucker could have his star moment this month.
8.3B Rafael Devers, Red Sox
Devers met two homers and had an OBP of .429 in the 2017 ALDS against the Astros … as a 20-year-old. So it should come as no surprise that he starts the ball the way it is now, with two homers so far in October, including a crucial 3-run homer in the crucial Game 4 against the Rays. His post-season career line in 20 games is .308 / .387 / .538. That will work.
9. DH Jordan Alvarez, Astros
Alvarez’s supernatural eyelash has always been one of his superpowers and it pays off for him. He’s run six times in just four games and helped him find the highest OBP of all remaining players at 0.529. In a line-up where nobody particularly enjoys playing, the pitchers consistently avoid Alvarez.
10. LHP Tyler Matzek, Braves
Post-season victory is all about putting helpers in at the right time and at the greatest moments, and Matzek was everything the Braves could hope for. He posed in all four of the Braves’ games against the Brewers and did not give up a run in 4 1/3 innings, hitting six along the way. It is used whenever the Braves need it – which, as we have already seen, will often be the case. (Honorable mention to Matzek’s teammate Will Smith. The Braves’ closer saved all three of his chances in the NLDS after an often rocky regular season.)