As the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) season enters its last few weeks, the race for the coveted playoff spots continues to heat up. All of this year’s contenders have one or two unheralded players who have played an unsung role in their team’s success throughout this campaign.
Unsung Heroes For MLB Playoff Contenders
National League (NL)
The Arizona Diamondbacks‘ entire roster has contributed to the team’s push for a wild card spot. Zac Gallen has emerged as one of the best starting pitchers in the league, and outfielder Corbin Carroll has lived up to his prospect hype as the frontrunner for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. One less-heralded player having a good season is shortstop Geraldo Perdomo, who earned his first All-Star Game selection and continues to contribute on offense and defense.
The Atlanta Braves have the best record in baseball (92-48) and are one of the top picks to win the World Series because their offense features superstars like right-fielder Ronald Acuna and first-baseman Matt Olson. Acuna is a National League MVP front-runner because he has put up incredible stats, becoming the first player in MLB history to hit at least 30 homers and steal at least 60 bases in one season. Olson has hit 46 home runs and has 115 RBIs in his second season in Atlanta. However, before this season started, people wondered if the team could replace shortstop Dansby Swanson, who joined the Chicago Cubs in free agency. Unheralded entering the season, Orlando Arcia won the job in spring training and ran with it, playing good defense, hitting 17 home runs, and gaining an All-Star nod for the first time.
While potential NL Comeback Player of the Year winner Cody Bellinger is getting all the headlines, he is not the only player who has aided the Chicago Cubs’ rise up the standings. Former top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay has emerged as the team’s closer, pitching to a 2.80 ERA with 22 saves and 65 strikeouts. Justin Steele has been the club’s best-starting pitcher. The 28-year-old left-hander has pitched his way into the Cy Young conversation in a breakout campaign with a league-leading 16 wins and a 2.55 ERA through 26 starts.
On an exciting young Cincinnati Reds team full of talented hitting and pitching prospects like Elly De La Cruz and Hunter Greene, TJ Friedl stands out as someone uncelebrated but just as important. He signed with the Reds as an undrafted free agent in 2016 after playing collegiately at the University of Nevada. So far, in 2023, Friedl has accumulated 12 home runs, 51 RBIs, and 24 stolen bases in 119 games.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers are another team with a loaded roster, spearheaded by the superstar trio of left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw, outfielder Mookie Betts, and first-baseman Freddie Freeman. One under-the-radar player who has positively contributed is veteran outfielder Jason Heyward. Despite only receiving a minor-league contract in the offseason, Heyward made the team and has hit fourteen home runs. It has been a bounce-back season for a player who endured a couple of disappointing seasons with the Cubs after heavily impacting the 2016 team that broke the club’s more than a century-long championship drought.
Entering his first season with the Miami Marlins, second-baseman Luis Arraez quieted most of the naysayers after flirting with a .400 batting average for the first chunk of the season. Unheralded left-handed relievers Andrew Nardi and Tanner Scott also have performed well in the team’s bullpen.
Pitching is once again the strength of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers, who feature former NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes at the front of their starting rotation. Journeyman reliever Joel Payamps has had a strong season as a set-up reliever. Also, at the trade deadline, the club improved its offense by acquiring outfielder Mark Canha and first baseman Carlos Santana, two versatile and perennially underrated position players.
Second-year second baseman Bryson Stott falls under the radar because he bats in the same lineup alongside superstars Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Trea Turner. However, emerging as a cornerstone everyday player for the Philadelphia Phillies, Stott’s .294 batting average leads the team, and he has clubbed 14 home runs, driven in 55 runs, and played good defense at his position.
San Francisco Giants
Overshadowed by ace Logan Webb, Alex Cobb is quietly having another excellent season for the San Francisco Giants. The veteran right-hander recently lost a no-hitter attempt with two outs in the ninth inning and is 7-6 with a 3.74 ERA in 26 starts this year.
American League (AL)
Before the season, the first-place Baltimore Orioles acquired Ryan O’Hearn from the Kansas City Royals for cash. In his first season in Baltimore, he is batting .303 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs. Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish are two underrated starting pitchers who have been consistent all season.
Chas McCormick gets overshadowed on a Houston Astros team featuring Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker. The underrated outfielder, who made a great catch that helped the Astros win the World Series last year, has broken out offensively this year with a career-high 20 home runs, 63 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases in 95 games.
The Minnesota Twins‘ offense has received unsung contributions from rookie infielders Edouard Julian and Royce Lewis in light of Carlos Correa’s struggles and Byron Buxton’s inability to stay healthy. Lewis, a former number-one overall pick in 2017 whose shine was fading due to injuries, just became the first rookie to hit three grand slams in eight games or fewer. Julian, an 18th-round selection in 2019, has homered 11 times.
The Seattle Mariners have a roster of talented homegrown players pushing for their second straight playoff berth. Pitcher George Kirby is a little underrated still, although he has taken another step forward in his second season, going 10-9 with a 3.39 ERA in 26 starts. Unheralded trade-deadline acquisition Josh Rojas has platooned with Jose Caballero to give the Mariners solid production at second base over the past few weeks.
Tampa Bay Rays
Third-baseman Isaac Paredes and designated hitter Harold Ramirez are two of the latest underrated contributors that the Tampa Bay Rays picked up from other teams and developed into Major League players. This year, Paredes has slugged 28 homers and totaled 87 RBIs, while Ramirez is hitting .300 with nine home runs and 54 RBIs.
Utility player Ezequiel Durán has filled in all over the field for a Texas Rangers team that jumped into playoff contention this season. He is batting .277 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs, deepening his team’s lineup that begins with the superstar middle-infield duo of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager.
Toronto Blue Jays
Davis Schneider, a 28th-round draft pick out of high school in 2017, has made the most of his opportunity with the Toronto Blue Jays. Called up to fill in for injured infielders Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette, the 24-year-old became the first player in MLB history with nine hits and two homers in his first three games. In 20 games, he has hit seven homers and 19 RBIs, signaling that he wants to stick around even when the starters return.
Many of these players will be as important as their more well-known teammates as the season concludes and the playoffs begin. Champion teams like the dynastic San Francisco Giants (2010-2014) showed the necessity for contributions from every player on the roster during the grueling end of the regular season and multiple-round postseason.
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