MLB playoffs: Who are the 'X factors' for the ALCS and NLCS?
We all know baseball is a team game, but some players are being counted on more to aid their club’s cause in these playoffs.
Here are the “X factors” for each team still in contention for the World Series.
Houston Astros: Zack Greinke
With Gerrit Cole now a Yankee and Justin Verlander injured, “ace” status fell to Zack Greinke in 2020. The 36-year-old veteran stumbled down the stretch, after a promising beginning for the Astros, and produced a 6.08 ERA in his final five outings of the regular season.
Greinke hushed the Twins bats over four innings in the wild card round, but he was unable to start in the ALDS until Game 4 because of “arm soreness.” Oakland tagged him for four runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Greinke has not been assigned a start yet for the ALCS by manager Dusty Baker, but the Astros cannot continually rely on their depleted bullpen if they want to beat the Rays.
Tampa Bay Rays: Randy Arozarena
The sudden ascendance of outfielder Randy Arozarena has been the most fascinating story of the MLB postseason.
Twelve of his first 20 postseason at-bats resulted in hits, including three home runs. Arozarena even hit the game-tying homer in Game 1 of the ALCS, en route to a Rays victory. Tampa fans are hoping he can keep this up.
Atlanta Braves: Freddie Freeman
We’re not saying Freddie Freeman should be fitted for "GOAT" horns just yet, but the Braves were clearly hoping for better production from their lineup linchpin in the first five games of the playoffs.
Freeman was a paltry 3-for-18 (.167), with no extra-base hits and just one RBI, in the first two rounds of the postseason. Fortunately for him, his lack of production didn’t really matter, as Atlanta’s pitching staff suffocated the competition (0.92 ERA over 49 innings).
But Freeman will have to get going at the plate if he wants to get past the Dodgers and into the World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen
Even the Dodgers, widely considered the deepest and most talented team in the majors, have a flaw — a closer who can’t close.
Manager Dave Roberts has been judicious in his usage of Kenley Jansen, whose struggles on the mound are becoming more commonplace, in these playoffs.
The most telling moment regarding Roberts’ trust issues with Jansen came in Game 2 of the wild card round, when Brusdar Graterol was called on for the save.
It will be interesting to see when and how often Jansen is summoned to work against the Braves in the NLCS.