Bowden: 13 MLB players who need to step up as postseason races heat up

Only three weeks left MLB the regular season and postseason races are heating up. The Brave follow Mets for only half a game in the National League East i White Sox are only three back sides Guardians in the American League Central. AL wild-card teams split from the bracket, s Blue jays, rays and sailors heading to the playoffs, but the top spot — and home field advantage in the first round — is up for grabs, as the three teams entered Wednesday tied in the loss column. In the NL wild-card race, Brewers they have won five of their last six and are trailing them Padres two games each. The Phillies they have a 3 1/2 game lead over Milwaukee (and own the tiebreaker), but still have to face the Braves seven times, the Blue Jays twice and Astros three times, so their schedule is not easy.

Places in the playoffs, home field advantage and passage in the first round are at stake. Here are some of the key players who need to step up in these tight races to help their teams over the next 21 days.

Statistics are updated through Tuesday’s games.


NL EAST RACE

Mets — 1B Pete Alonso

Alonso was the Mets MVP all season, slashing .268/.344/.505 with 24 doubles, 34 home runs and an NL-leading 110 RBIs. However, he’s been relatively quiet over the last 30 days, hitting .226 with seven extra base hits in 27 games and 106 at-bats. In order to clinch the NL East and claim a valuable first-round bye, the Mets need Alonso to play like the power player he has been the last three weeks. The good news for New York: Over the last seven games, Alonso has been hitting .345/.387/.586.

Braves — RF Ronald Acuña Jr.

Acuña has been a disappointment this season in his return from ACL surgery a year ago, but thanks to rookie production Michael Harris II and Vaughn Grissom, the pressure on Acuña to perform is reduced. But as the Braves try to overtake the Mets for the division crown, they need more from their superstar righty. Over his last 15 games, Acuña is batting .258 with a .310 on-base percentage and just one home run. However, he did steal three bases in as many attempts during that span. Acuña’s base-stealing ability will be key in helping the Braves hitters once he gets more fastballs.

AL CENTRAL RACE


Rookie Oscar Gonzalez is hitting .319/.396/.596 this month, but the Guardians need more offense. (Jay Biggerstaff / USA Today)

Guardians — their line-up, from top to bottom

The Guardians pitching staff is doing everything possible to lead them to a surprise AL Central title. Over the last 30 days, their team ERA is 2.65, third best in baseball. However, their offense struggled during that span, ranking 29th in the majors with just 3.25 runs scored per game. In order to contain the White Sox, the Guardians need their lineup to start producing. Only in the last 30 days Oscar Gonzalez (five home runs) and José Ramírez (four) hit more than two long balls. Cleveland’s hitters worked on the count and getting on base, but couldn’t string together hits, which has become a problem late in the season, especially when they’re not hitting for power. (The Guardians are last in MLB with 16 homers in the past 30 days.) Down the stretch, the Guardians need their two All-Star position players, Ramírez and Andrés Giménezto deliver at the plate, but they also need production from the entire lineup, along with their elite pitching and defense, to hold off the White Sox, who they face four more times.

White Sox — RHP Lucas Giolito

The White Sox come out strong offensively, thanks in part to their bats Eloy Jiménez and Elvis Andrus, who have combined for 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in their last 15 games. Four of their stoppers — Jiménez, Andrus, José Abreu and AJ Pollock — have hit over .340 and posted an OBP of .390 or higher in the last 15 days. However, the key for the White Sox during the long streak could be Giolito, who has struggled to match his rotation mates this year. Giolito’s numbers took a turn for the worse from last season, especially after the All-Star break, as he posted a 6.04 ERA and 1.638 WHIP in the second half. They need him to turn things around in his final starts of the regular season.

AL WILD-CARD RACE


Wander Franco was in IL from July 10 to September 9. (Nick Turchiaro / USA Today)

Mariners — OF Mitch Haniger and OF Jesse Winker

The Mariners lead the majors with a team ERA of 2.42 over the last 30 days and are in position to secure the AL’s No. 1 spot — and end their 20-season playoff drought — if their lineup can improve. Their wild-card competition, the Rays and Blue Jays, have scored more runs than them over the last month, but the Mariners have improved in their last 12 games and outscored every AL team during that span. Julio Rodríguez and Eugenio Suárez they carried them, combining for 10 home runs and 15 RBIs and reaching base at 45 percent and 36 percent, respectively. However, those two will need help from Haniger and Winker if the Mariners are to claim home field advantage for the first round. Over the past 15 days, Haniger has hit .143 with three extra-base hits in 49 at-bats, while Winker has hit .074 with one extra-base hit in 27 at-bats.

Rays – INF Isaac Paredes and SS Wander Franco

The Rays rank 30th in the majors over the last 15 days with just six home runs and while they have the pitching and defense to finish atop the wild card order, they will need some long balls to do so. With 18 homers, Paredes is second on the team behind Randy Arozarena, but in September he did not hit a single one. The Rays need to get around him a few times down the stretch. Meanwhile, Franco is finally back from the injured list and is off to a good start, going 6-for-20 with three RBIs in his first six games back, but the Rays will need their 21-year-old sensation to justify their 11-year contract, $182 million in the final weeks to edge out the Mariners and Blue Jays for home-field advantage in the wild-card round.

Blue Jays — RHP José Berríos

Berríos has been a major disappointment this season, posting a 5.07 ERA, 4.68 FIP and 1.376 WHIP — all career-worst marks since his freshman year in 2016 — after signing a seven-year extension last November, 131 million dollars. However, he has been better in his last five starts, allowing two earned runs or fewer in all but one. The Blue Jays need him to keep pitching like that to finish with the best record among AL wild-card teams and become a postseason threat. If the top of their rotation — Alec Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Ross Stripling and Berríos — tapping into their potential, the Blue Jays could do some real damage in the playoffs. Berríos is the key, and while he seems to be on the right track, the Blue Jays will need him to be consistently good until the end.

NL WILD CARD RACE


The acquisition of Josh Bell has yet to pay off for the Padres. (Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

Phillies — RHP Seranthony Domínguez

The Phillies are relieved to have their best player back from IL as they blew five saves and the bullpen struggled in his absence. They ruled Domínguez (right triceps tendinitis) out after an outing on August 17, but activated him on Sunday and has since gone hitless in two appearances. From June 17 to August 17, Domínguez was dominant: 18 of his 21 relief appearances were scoreless, and he converted nine of nine save opportunities. During the season, Domínguez posted a 1.57 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. In order to maintain their spot among the best players and end their postseason drought, the Phillies need Domínguez to be at his best in the late innings.

Padres – 1B Josh Bell

The Padres need to get their bats going. They ranked 12th in the NL over the last 30 days with 98 runs scored and 12th over the last 15 days with 42. Manny Machado led for more than a month in nearly every offensive category, including hits, extra-base hits, home runs, RBI and OPS. However, opposing teams will rally around Machado or walk him in the remaining weeks if he doesn’t get any help. input Josh Bell. When the Padres acquired Bell at the trade deadline, he asked Citizens, slashing .301/.384/.493 with 24 doubles, three doubles, 14 home runs and 57 RBI in 103 games. But from blockbusters Juan Soto trade, Bell hit .206/.320/.313 with just five doubles and three home runs in 131 at-bats. It’s his time to shine for San Diego. Oh, and they need Soto — .120/.313/.180 over his last 15 games — to get going, too.

Brewers — OF Christian Yelich, SS Willy Adames and DH Andrew McCutchen

The Brewers need their veterans — particularly Yelich, Adames and McCutchen — to carry them. Over the last 15 games, Yelich is hitting .298, Adames is hitting .246 and McCutchen is hitting .236. And they don’t get much help from Rowdy Tellez (.204 in last 15 games) and Keston Hiura (.208). However, Yelich, Adames and McCutchen have already done it and now they need to turn it on to lift Milwaukee over the Padres or Phillies. The Brewers have pitching and defense for the playoffs if this veteran trio backs them up.

(Ronaldo Acuña Jr. photo above: Brett Davis / USA Today)

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