Seven Players Who Will be Pivotal Factors in the American League Playoff Race

The Major League Baseball playoff race is heating up. Here are seven players who will be pivotal factors in the American League playoff race this month.

Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

The Yankees Achilles heel is their starting rotation, and they desperately need their veteran starters to turn a corner, Tanaka in particular. This season the right-hander owns a 4.47 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, has totaled strikeouts at a low rate, and is on pace to surrender a career high in walks. He has been inconsistent, is putting a lot of runners on base, and has been roughed up too often.

Over the last few seasons Tanaka has struggled in the first half of the season and picked up the slack in the second half, but this season he has been an enigma and been unable to string together a series of encouraging starts. Barring a historic collapse, the Yankees are going to win the AL East, but they’re battling with the Houston Astros for home field throughout the AL playoffs; a resurgent Tanaka would be an enhancer in their quest to edge the Astros.

Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and they’re heavily relying on a pitching staff that has been plagued by injures and turnover. Blake Snell, Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow are on the injured list, and management traded Ryne Stanek, Jake Faria, and Adam Kolarek at the trade deadline. The one constant throughout the season? Morton. The veteran right-hander owns a a career-best 3.06 ERA and 1.10 WHIP and has totaled 209 strikeouts.

He has fooled hitters with his multi-pitch arsenal, is going deep into games, and has been a force to be reckoned with. However, Morton has been in a rut over his last seven starts, as he has surrendered 21 runs and three home runs over 39.0 innings pitched. If the Rays are going to crack the postseason, they need their ace to be an automatic win whenever he takes the hill.

Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox aren’t dead, they’re just on life support. With that said, they’re still just five games out of the second AL Wild Card seeding. Now, for any Hail Mary playoff attempt to succeed, the Red Sox need an ace; Rodriguez has been performing at the best rate of his big-league career, as of late. He’s working out of trouble, beginning to get into a rhythm with his offerings, and is pitching deep into games.

Rodriguez recorded ERAs of 2.03 and 3.41 in July and August, respectively, and, on the year, he owns a 3.97 ERA. He also tossed back-to-back shutouts in August. Chris Sale is done for the year with an elbow injury, Rick Porcello owns a 5.42 ERA, and David Price and Nathan Eovaldi have been inconsistent. Someone has to take the hill and provide the Boston faithful with the mindset that they’re winning that particular game. Whether Rodriguez can continue doing so will be the final straw for the Red Sox.

Jake Odorizzi, Minnesota Twins

The Twins have weathered the storm since their late-July/early-August free-fall, but their starting rotation remains a question mark. Sure, Jose Berrios has been reliable, and Michael Pineda has been a steady force. But Kyle Gibson is on the injured list, and Martin Perez is an inconsistent force; the Twins need Odorizzi to pick up the slack.

Back in June, Odorizzi was one of the best pitchers in baseball, as he sported an astounding 1.92 ERA and 0.97 WHIP after a June 9 start on the road against the Detroit Tigers; he has been a different pitcher since. He’s not deceiving hitters with his off-speed pitches, is surrendering runs at a high rate, and, as a result, is getting kicked off the hill midway through games. The Twins need pitchers who can provide length and reliability in October, and Odorizzi is arguably their most important starter when it concerns the need for him to garner consistency.

Franmil Reyes, Cleveland Indians

The Indians powered their way back into the playoff race this summer, but they find themselves skidding off course. They’ve fallen to five and a half games behind the Twins for first place in the AL Central, their lineup has been underwhelming, and they were swept by the Rays — who they’re competing with for playoff positioning — over the weekend. Their starting rotation has held its own in the face of adversity, meaning Cleveland’s bats have to wake up; Reyes can lift their offense.

Acquired at the trade deadline in a three-team deal that sent right-hander Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds, Reyes has underwhelmed at the plate, hitting .221 in 29 games with the Indians. But the big right-handed hitter finished with a .280 batting average last season, is a power machine, and can be a fearsome force in the middle of an order. With Jose Ramirez and Tyler Naquin out for the regular season due to injury, Reyes needs to pick up the pace at the plate.

Zack Greinke, Houston Astros

When the Astros acquired Greinke at the trade deadline, the widespread gut reaction was that they had a formidable starting rotation which was going to help them capture the AL pennant. While the transaction could pan out to do as such, the right-hander hasn’t been dominant in his five starts with the club. He sports a 1.31 WHIP and has surrendered 16 runs in such starts.

Greinke, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and the resurgent Wade Miley could be the best starting rotation in the playoffs, especially considering how Greinke will be more accustomed to his surroundings. But the Astros are battling with the Yankees for home-field advantage in the AL playoffs. The Astros have lost eight of their last 10 games played in Yankee Stadium dating back to their 2017 AL Championship Series matchup with the Yankees; ace-like outings from Greinke could alleviate that element.

Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics

The A’s have steadily crawled their way into the playoff race, by means of a well-rounded roster from a talent and production standpoint. Their offense hits the long ball, plays small ball, and has improved over the regular season. Their starting rotation has been a reliable bunch. Their bullpen has been steady too, but it hasn’t been as lights out as it was last season; Treinen is a vital reason for that.

After recording a remarkable 0.78 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 2018, the right-hander has fallen off his game this season. He sports a 4.66 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, has surrendered a career-high eight home runs, and isn’t locating his go-to pitches (sinker, four seamer, and cutter) on a consistent basis. Treinen has shown glimpses of his All-Star self this season, but the A’s have no margin for error in their quest to make the playoffs; Treinen must be on top of his game in the late innings, especially in tightly contested affairs.

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