5 Players to Watch in the Wild Card Round

The playoffs are finally here! The formidable test of a 162-game season has finally whittled down the field of contenders to just twelve teams. Every team will be eager to prove itself among the very best. As the Wild Card round gets started, here are five players to watch as they make an impact in October.

5 Players to Watch in the Wild Card Round

Nathaniel Lowe, Texas Rangers

The Rangers were unable to close out the season with the American League West title, but this lineup is still dangerous. The pitching staff struggled through September, so the burden will fall largely on Texas’ offense to advance deep in the playoffs.

Lowe has made himself a fixture in this Rangers lineup over the past three seasons as he looks to make an impression against his former team. When the Rangers were cruising halfway through the season, Lowe was one of the team’s best hitters. He slowed considerably through the final month of the season, posting a .553 OPS. That will need to turn around for this lineup to look like a true World Series threat. The lineup already looks strong with players like Corey Seager, Adolis Garcia, and Marcus Semien. Lowe could help stretch that depth five or six players deep of high-impact bats.

Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays

Gausman was one of the few constants for Toronto in a season that could have been so much more. The offense was exactly 15th in wRC+ in September. While the lineup has the capability of producing so much more, a vintage Gausman performance will be a step toward buying time for the Blue Jays to push across the runs they need to beat the Minnesota Twins.

Gausman had a 3.30 ERA since the start of August, including thirteen straight scoreless innings to round out the end of the regular season. He strikes out a lot of batters, and the Twins are prone to the strikeout, too. It could be a fantastic matchup for Gausman, but the Twins have plenty of hitters capable of doing damage. Gausman will earn some down-ballot Cy Young votes and he will have the chance to prove once more in October he is one of the best in the game.

Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

Pitching has been the Brewers’ identity over the past few seasons and it is no different with Burnes leading the way this year. The Brewers have one of the best bullpens in baseball to back him up. The former Cy Young winner will be matched up against an Arizona Diamondbacks team that had a team OPS of .668 in September, which ranked 26th in baseball.

It’s an unfortunate truth that the Brewers’ offense was lackluster this season, too, but Milwaukee had the 11th-best team OPS (.762) in September. That turnaround could be enough to see pitchers like Burnes lead a deep postseason run.

Burnes is still an ace-caliber pitcher. He had a disappointing start to his season with a 4.10 ERA by the end of June, but had another special finish with a 2.72 ERA the rest of the way. Burnes limits hard contact and forces groundballs, matched with his ability to work deep into games, is a potent formula for success.

 Willi Castro, Minnesota Twins

The Twins have been a top-five offense since the start of August, largely thanks to the emergence of several prolific rookies. Perhaps overlooked for this, Willi Castro played a big part in the Twins’ division title. After debuting in 2019, Castro is having his best year since the shortened 2020 season. His production fluctuated month by month, but he is fresh off a scorching September in which he hit .313/.398/.550 for a 161 wRC+.

Castro is walking at a career-best rate. He has made the most of these extra opportunities on base as he snagged 33 bases. He improved as a defender, as well, ranking in the 77th percentile for range, according to BaseballSavant. The Twins pitching might be the strongest aspect of their team, but players like Castro have helped overhaul what was a below-average offense for the first half of the year.

Bryson Stott, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are looking to make another run at the World Series, and Stott is a major reason they have that chance. His growth is exemplary of why the Phillies are stronger this year. In 2022, he had a .653 OPS and a .482 OPS in the postseason. This year? A .747 OPS while cutting down his strikeout rate and making more consistent contact.

He is a light-hitting, athletic shortstop who needs that bat-to-ball ability to thrive on offense. Despite poor exit velocity and barrel rates, Stott thrives by simply making “good” contact. Last year, he hit a ball with soft speed 17.9% of the time. That has dropped to 11.1% in 2023. He has one of the best contact rates in baseball and sprays the ball to all fields to make the most of his approach.

Not only has he made significant strides on offense, but Stott has become an elite defender, as well. Last year, Stott had 1 Outs Above Average, which ranked 126th. This season, he has jumped up to the seventh-best in all of baseball with 16 Outs Above Average. Stott looks like a truly well-rounded player with a chance to make another impression in baseball’s biggest stage. After starting in the World Series in his debut season, Stott is back and even better to help the Phillies in another run.

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