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

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

Max Fried, Atlanta Braves

The Braves look poised to win the NL East for a second consecutive season. Outside of their bullpen, this team has been able to matchup against any team in the NL. At the same time, their starting rotation is a bit of enigma, and Fried’s 2019 campaign embodies such a notion. Through May, he was performing amongst the elite left-handers in the sport and serving as a potent force at the top of the Braves rotation. But he has been a different pitcher since.

He’s putting a troublesome amount of runners on-base and, more often than not, having the ball taken from him midway through games. While it’s his first year as a consistent starting pitcher, Fried’s 3.86 ERA and 1.32 WHIP don’t scream postseason ready, as he could be in store for three-inning starts based on the amount of baserunners he’s surrendering. Mike Soroka has been great, Julio Teheran is a proven commodity, and Dallas Keuchel has a bevy of postseason experience, but this unit has its fair share of question marks. Can Fried come through in crunch time?

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

One month ago, Doolittle was regarded as one of the best closers in baseball. Then he surrendered 10 runs over five consecutive appearances, including five home runs. He couldn’t get his fastball past hitters, was getting tattooed, and later went on the injured list. On the year, the southpaw owns a career-worse 4.25 ERA and 1.38 WHIP and has surrendered a career-high 10 home runs. The Nationals need the premier reliever of old to make a return, pronto.

The Nationals sport one of the worst bullpens in baseball, regardless of the midseason acquisitions of Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias, and Hunter Strickland. The one steady force in their pen over the last two years has been Doolittle, and the Nationals desperately need him to right the ship. Without a group of relievers that they can rely on to get big outs, the Nationals could lose home field in the NL Wild Card Game and perhaps any hopes of going on a deep playoff run. That starts with Doolittle.

Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals struggled out of the gate, but they’ve gradually worked their way up to first place in the NL Central. Oddly enough, certain aspects of their roster are still stagnant and/or not performing up to their career standards, their lineup in particular. And there’s not a player on the Cardinals roster who has puzzled the baseball world more than Carpenter. After going on a power surge late in the 2018 season, the versatile infielder is hitting just .221, has totaled just 37 RBIs, and sports a .702 OPS this season.

It’s easily the worst season of his big-league career, but Carpenter has shown that he’s capable of bursting out on a dime. The same goes for other big swingers such as Paul Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna, and Yadier Molina. But Carpenter is Cardinals’ identity. A more productive version of the homegrown infielder would boost the Cardinals offense and help out a starting rotation that has come into its own since the All-Star break.

Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have a starting rotation of regressing veterans and reliable, but not overpowering, pitchers. Darvish is the biggest Wild Card on their pitching staff. In his two seasons with the Cubs, he has been plagued by injuries and recorded a 4.95 ERA in his debut year in the Windy City. But in two of his last three starts, Darvish has performed like the pitcher the Cubs signed up for.

Surrendering one run through eight innings against the New York Mets and tossing seven shutdown innings while totaling 10 strikeouts against the Philadelphia Phillies, he flat-out dominated opposing lineups on the road. His cumulative numbers aren’t astonishing, or reminiscent of his time with the Texas Rangers, but Darvish has some of the nastiest offerings in the game. It’s a matter of consistency. If he can consistently pitch to his strengths, fool hitters, and pitch deep into games, he could be the ace the Cubs need in October.

Chase Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are trying to will their way to the playoffs, but their starting rotation is doing them no favors. Outside of Zach Davies and Brandon Woodruff, their staff is an unpredictable bunch that doesn’t go deep into games, and, as a result, burns out its bullpen. They need someone to pick up the slack. Can Anderson have a monster September? While the right-hander sports a career-worse 4.58 ERA, as well as a 1.31 WHIP this season, he has been a steady force for the Brewers in years past.

In 2017 and 2018, Anderson recorded ERAs of 2.74 and 3.93. Ultimately, the Brewers need just one outstanding month out of him to make the playoffs. Davies is pitching to his career tendencies, Woodruff is in his first year starting on a consistent basis, and Jhoulys Chacin was recently released after enduring the worst season of his big-league career. The Brewers offense can matchup with any team in the NL; they need reliable starting pitching and for such comfort to come from a veteran who has found success in the past.

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have the most well-rounded depth chart and pitching staff in the NL, and the idea that one member of their ballclub is going to hinder their championship aspirations could sound goofy. But the reality is that Jansen is struggling in the ninth inning this season. His command is spotty, he has blown a career-high seven saves, surrendered nine home runs, and owns a career-worse 3.86 ERA this season.

The Dodgers have some proven arms in their bullpen, but, as a whole, they’ve been underwhelming this season. Management didn’t make a move at the trade deadline, and the Dodgers are just four and a half games up on the Braves for the best record in the NL. Plus, once the postseason arrives, the Dodger faithful is going to be holding its breath when Jansen’s on the hill; he’s not the dominant closer of old.

Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks

The D-Backs were sellers in the offseason and at the trade deadline, yet they’re 73-67 and just three and a half games out of the second NL Wild Card seeding. While the organization may not have intended to be in the playoff race, they have a talented depth chart, as well as some blossoming young starting pitchers and a bullpen of proven commodities. To do the once unthinkable, that being make the postseason, the D-Backs need Ray to pitch like the ace the organization has seen in the past.

Ray has put together another yawning campaign this season. He owns a 3.97 ERA and 1.32 WHIP and has surrendered a career-high 25 home runs. At the same time, the left-hander is adept at grinding out at-bats, striking out hitters (Ray is one strikeout away from his third 200-plus strikeout season), and working out of trouble. Taylor Clarke, Merrill Kelly, and Zac Gallen have strung together some encouraging outings, but that’s not enough in a robust playoff race. The D-Backs need the best version 0f Ray this month.

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