2018 MLB Playoffs: Every Team’s X-Factor

The 2018 MLB Postseason has arrived. There are many storylines and intriguing series to keep tabs on, but, at the end of the day, there is a way for each of the 10 teams competing for this year’s Fall Classic to come out victorious. Here is the X-Factor to every team’s success this October.

American League

Boston Red Sox: Rick Porcello

The Red Sox finished the 2018 regular season with the most wins in baseball, but their starting pitching is an area of concern heading into the postseason. Porcello is at the forefront of those worries. The righty has struggled over the last two seasons and been shaky in the postseason (career 5.47 postseason ERA). A historic season could be wasted if the Red Sox cannot hold their own on the rubber. Chris Sale is the ace of their staff and David Price‘s postseason struggles are well-known; Porcello’s struggles have been distracted by Price’s. If the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner can limit the number of baserunners he surrenders and pitch deep into games, the Red Sox could be unstoppable.

Houston Astros: Carlos Correa

The defending champion Astros are sitting pretty heading into the postseason, mostly due to their formidable pitching staff from top to bottom. But their offense has been underwhelming when compared to their 2017 production, outside of Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. While injuries have played a part in his struggles at the plate, Correa’s .239 batting average is extremely disturbing for the Astros’ sake. If they wish to defend their crown, the Astros need their offense to execute better, and that starts with Correa. If the shortstop fails to do so, the Cleveland Indians starting rotation (their first-round matchup) may give them headaches.

Cleveland Indians: Corey Kluber

Yes, one of the best pitchers in the sport is the X-Factor to the Indians’ success. Last season, Kluber wet the bed in his two starts against the Yankees in the ALDS, surrendering a combined nine runs in 6.1 innings pitched. The Indians have arguably the best rotation in the majors and a stacked lineup, but if their ace cannot pitch to his capabilities, they’ll be in trouble. With that said, if Kluber can pitch like the ace the Indians are accustomed to, then the Indians could potentially knock off the defending champion Astros in the ALDS and be able to redeem themselves from back-to-back postseason collapses.

New York Yankees: Luis Severino

The biggest concern for the Yankees heading into the postseason is their starting pitching. And after a bumpy second half, there is reason to be worried about Severino. Last season, he laid an egg in the AL Wild Card Game, failing to get out of the first inning, and he never pitched like the ace the Yankees consider him to be in the playoffs. A porous outing from Severino against the Oakland Athletics in the AL Wild Card Game (if he starts), or potential series to come, could have the Bronx Bombers watching the ALCS from their couch. However, if the righty pitches well, they could potentially head to the World Series.

Oakland Athletics: Bob Melvin

You didn’t read that wrong. The A’s manager is the X-Factor to their success. With no starter yet announced for the AL Wild Card Game, there are two routes the A’s could take: start someone for five innings, or go with a bullpen day. The A’s have a number of reliable starting pitchers such as Mike Fiers, Trevor Cahill, and Edwin Jackson, among others, but none of them are bonafide aces or surefire candidates to start a one-game playoff. Meanwhile, the A’s own one of the best bullpens in the game and could easily go with the trendy bullpen day strategy, attempting to shut down the Yankees lineup with multiple pitchers; it’s a big decision for Melvin to make.

National League

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun

The Brewers don’t have a true ace, but they do have a high-profile offense — which has to take things to the next level for this ballclub to go on a deep run this October. Someone whose presence will be vital is Braun. The 34-year-old outfielder was a productive source of offense in the 125 games he played this season, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 64 runs. And based on veteran pedigree and postseason experience, he could play an even bigger role in the postseason. Everyone knows what Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, and Lorenzo Cain have been able to do this season, but if Braun can work the count and come up with some clutch hits, he will make their offense formidable.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw

Although it took them 163 games to do so, the defending NL champion Dodgers found a way to win the National League West. But success from here on out is anything but a given for the Dodgers. And their ace, Kershaw, will be a make-or-break factor. The lefty’s postseason struggles are well-documented, and if he continues the negative trend, the Dodgers will be unable to defend their pennant. With that said, if Kershaw can pitch big in the postseason and/or pitch deep into games, the Dodgers can beat any team in the NL and the playoffs in general.

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran

The Braves shocked the baseball world by winning the National League East this season. And while they did so with a high-octane offense, the Braves will need their starting pitching to answer the call. Sure, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb are viewed as their two best starters, and Anibal Sanchez has been impressive, but the veteran Teheran’s ability to excel in the spotlight will be pivotal. He’s the Braves longest tenured starting pitcher and did not fare well in his 2013 postseason start. Nerves may creep in with this team in the postseason based on inexperience, meaning their veterans will have to pick up the slack; Teheran is the focal point of that effort.

Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant

The Cubs were able to earn home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game despite Bryant missing essentially a third of the season. But to reach the World Series they need the versatile 26-year-old to play up to his reputation. Having a rotation of proven starters and a stacked lineup can only do so much. And in the 102 games he played this season, Bryant, who had a .293/.397/.546 slash line over the past two seasons, hit just .272/.374/.460. If he struggles to get on base, then the Cubs could be looking at a difficult NLDS matchup, if they even make it past the Wild Card Game. The thinking was that Bryant’s return would propel their ballclub, but it hasn’t done so yet. Meanwhile, if Bryant plays to his capabilities, the Cubs could be the team to beat in the NL.

Colorado Rockies: DJ LeMahieu

Kyle Freeland and German Marquez have been reliable starters every fifth day, but the Rockies’ ability to go on a deep run this October will rely on their offense knocking starting pitchers out of the game early. LeMahieu is a crucial part of that. While he’s having a down year at the plate, hitting just .276, the second baseman hit at, or above, .300 from 2015-17 and is one of the best contact hitters in the sport. If he can get hot, or resemble the hitter the Rockies are accustomed to, this team could pose the most fearsome offense in the postseason. If LeMahieu doesn’t hit with more consistency, the Rockies will have little room for error.

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