Most MLB teams have around 30 games or less remaining in their schedules.
Which means only one thing: the dog days of summer are over and the post-season stretch drive is in full swing.
On Saturday, every team can expand to its 40-man roster, which could be wholly beneficial to many teams in the playoff mix.
While the American League playoff picture is near set, there are as many as nine teams in the National League with a legitimate shot of extending the season well into October and can use the manpower.
Some of the youngsters — and not so young — may have a bearing on a team’s chances. However, we think the unheralded “glue guys” currently contributing to their contending team’s chances are the ones to pay attention too.
Big money, high profile players are expected to do their job at an elite level, so they aren’t considered “unheralded.”
We combed over the rosters of 15 teams we believe have the juice to get into the post-season and identified an unsung player to watch out for. The criteria we used were: relatively inexpensive salary, veteran status, playoff experience and decent production.
Boston Red Sox – 1B Mitch Moreland
Beefy first baseman Moreland has been down the playoff road many times since debuting in 2011. And, having never won it all, despite two trips to the World Series with Texas, is probably itching to help take the might Bosox to the Promised Land. The nine-year vet is probably the best example of an unsung hero on this list, in our opinion. He’s 32, has a dependable bat and glove and makes about one-fifth David Price’s team high salary of $30 million ($6.5 million to be exact). On the free-spending Red Sox, $6.5 million is a median income. Now in his second season with Boston, first-time All-Star Moreland is hitting .253, with 20 doubles, four triples, 15 homers and 66 RBI. He has hit well against the AL teams we’ve deemed contenders, hitting a collective .297 with seven homers and 25 RBI. A Gold Glover with Texas in 2016, he has logged a .997 fielding percentage this year and should get some votes for another. In his post-season history, Moreland has a .236 average, with three homers and 13 RBI in 37 games.
New York Yankees – OF Aaron Hicks
Insofar as bargain players go, the Yankees are getting a heck of a deal in veteran outfielder Aaron Hicks. With big money Jacoby Ellsbury shelved for the season with an injury, Hicks is doing a superb taking his place in center field, for just over 1/10th the cost (Hicks is paid $2.825 million, while Ellsbury commands $21.142 million). Now in his sixth season and third with the Yanks, Hicks is making the most of the opportunity, hitting .249 in 112 games, with career highs already in homers (22) and RBI (63). In addition to that, he has drawn 72 walks, which is most on the team and owns a nice .365 on base percentage. He’s made just one error in the field for a .995 percentage and has two assists. His composite stats against fellow AL contenders haven’t been outstanding (.183 average, 13 walks, six homers and 15 RBI) but he has been deadly against Boston, a potential huge playoff match up. He is just 5-for-32 against them, but four of those hits were homers and he has driven in seven runs and drawn eight walks against Yankee pitching.
Cleveland Indians – C Yan Gomes
Handling a pitching staff well and throwing out base runners is hard enough work and if a catcher happens also to be a pretty good hitter, it’s a bonus. Gomes, a seven-year veteran who makes just a shade over $6 million this year in salary, is as described above. He has ably caught one of the best starting staffs in all of baseball, while tossing out prospective base stealers at a 30 percent clip so far this season (16-for-54). At the plate, he is hitting 260, with 21 doubles, 12 homers and 40 RBI in 94 games. He was an All-Star for the first time in his career and has had brief experience in the post-season with Cleveland, collecting four hits in 18 playoff at bats, with a double and a RBI. Against the other five legitimate contenders this season, Gomes is hitting .256, with four homers and nine RBI. He has been especially tough on Boston (5-for-12, HR, 2 RBI) and Seattle (6-for-17, 2 HR, 4 RBI).
Houston Astros – RP Tony Sipp
As has been seen in recent post-seasons, relief pitching is integral to success. One of their glue guys, reliever Sipp, is probably itching, then, to redeem himself after a down year with Houston in 2017. He did not see any action in the playoffs last season after going 0-1 in 46 appearances, with a 5.79 ERA and 1.393 WHIP. In most years before that, the veteran lefty was fairly dependable out of the bullpen and was good in his only post-season experience with Houston in the 2015 playoffs. Sipp allowed just one hit and one unearned run in 5.1 innings pitched that year. This season, the 35-year-old has bounced back to post numbers more like his stellar 2015 campaign. He is 2-1 in 43 appearances as a set-up man, with a 2.27 ERA, seven holds, 1.105 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 31.2 innings. Sipp has been tough on contending teams outside his division (a likely scenario will see them play one of those teams), surrendering just two hits in five innings against Boston, Cleveland and the Yankees, with four K’s. He is a free agent after this season and is earning $6 million.
Oakland Athletics – SP Edwin Jackson
A few of the kids in the Oakland A’s line-up were still in grade school when veteran starter Edwin Jackson first toed a rubber for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003. He was but a fresh-faced phenom himself at age 19 and has since been a well-traveled hurler who has played for an astounding 13 different major league clubs. In 16 years the 2009 All-Star has compiled a combined 102-123 record, with a 4.61 ERA and 1,437 strikeouts in 1,868.2 innings. Jackson will be important to any hopes the A’s have of claiming the wild card spot, which they held as of Aug. 31 by 4.5 games over Seattle. With ace Sean Manaea on the DL with shoulder tendinitis and who may not return even for the post-season, Jackson will be counted on to help fill the void. After signing a minor league deal with the A’s at the beginning of the season, Jackson was called up and has done fairly well in 12 starts. He is 4-3 with a 3.03 ERA and has limited opponents to a .217 batting average. He also has nine games of playoff experience and won a World Series with St. Louis in 2011.
Seattle Mariners – SP James Paxton
It was quite fitting earlier this season that veteran Canadian starter Paxton no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays. He was the first Canuck to register a no-no since Dick Fowler did it for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1945. Now in his sixth season, the Delta, B.C. native is the Mariners staff ace, sporting a 10-5 in 24 starts, with a 3.68 ERA, 1.105 WHIP and 176 strikeouts in 139.1 innings. The M’s are getting their money’s worth out of him this season, as he signed a bridge one-year contract worth $4.9 million. At 29, he’s not really a grizzled baseball geezer, however, he has paid his dues since being drafted by the aforementioned Blue Jays in the first round of the 2009 entry draft. Out recently with a forearm contusion, Paxton will re-join the team in time for a start against Oakland this weekend. He pitched well against division rivals Oakland and Houston this year, which is a good thing. But, he hasn’t fared all that well versus the other three contenders (Cleveland, Boston and New York).
Atlanta Braves – C Kurt Suzuki
On a team chock full of 20-something stars and future stars like Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, having an oldtimer like Suzuki around is valuable to the surprising Braves. The 34-year-old Hawaiian is platooning with 32-year-old Tyler Flowers behind the plate and is doing a great job handling a good young staff that includes Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Julio Teheran. In addition to calling a good game behind the plate, Suzuki is doing rather well beside it, hitting .262 in 86 games so far, with 21 doubles, nine homers and 40 RBI. He has a WAR of 1.2 and a dWAR of 0.3, which are both respectable — if not great — analytics numbers, especially for a part-time player. An All-Star with Minnesota in 2014, Suzuki has limited playoff experience in his 12-year career, collecting four hits in 17 at-bats with two RBI during the 2012 NLDS with Washington. He is a free agent as season’s end and is making $3.5 million.
Philadelphia Phillies – RP Luis Garcia
Depending on how things are looked at, the Phillies are either in good position to overtake the Braves for first place in the NL East (they are 3.0 games back) or they are fighting it out with as many as five other clubs for the last wild card spot (where they are 3.0 games behind Milwaukee). If they are glass half full, the team will need core guys like set-up man Luis Garcia to keep their game tight. Garcia is a feel-good story now in his sixth season with Philadelphia after being rediscovered on the baseball scrap heap in 2013. He as put up decent numbers, too, and quietly so. This year, he is 2-1 in 48 appearances, with 13 holds, a 3.83 ERA, 1.180 WHIP, 9.7 SO/9 and a 1.0 WAR. Garcia is making a team friendly $1.2 million on a one-year deal and has been good in 11 August appearances, showing he isn’t succumbing to fatigue with the stretch drive looming.
Chicago Cubs – RP Justin Wilson
The Cubs haven’t been shy about throwing big money at big name players to try and get back to the winner’s circle. That’s why relatively inexpensive workhorses like Justin Wilson are so beneficial to the Cubbies’ cause. Now with his fourth club in seven seasons, Wilson is doing what he has always done, working a lot of innings and holding down the fort until the closer can come in. The 31-year-old southpaw has made 58 appearances already this season and has registered a 4-3 record, 3.02 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 47.2 innings pitched. All that, for the affordable price of $4.25 million on a one-year contract. From a post-season perspective, Wilson has seen action four different times and owns a collective 1.80 ERA in five games, including a short but successful stint against Washington in the 2017 NLDS (2/3 inning, no hits, no runs). Wilson has been strong in August, recording two of his 12 holds on the season and a 1.50 ERA in 11 appearances.
St. Louis Cardinals – RP Bud Norris
The Chicago Cubs ought not look now, but the St. Louis Cardinals are breathing down their necks. The Cards are within 4.5 games of division-leading Chicago, and also sit a half game ahead of Milwaukee for the first wild card playoff position. And, like the Cubs rely on veteran reliever Justin Wilson to appear often, so too do the Cardinals with 10-year veteran rightie Bud Norris. At 33, the converted starter is enjoying one of his finest statistical seasons in the big leagues. He has assumed closer duties with St. Louis and has recorded 28 saves in 32 opportunities. Norris owns a career low 2.85 ERA in 56 appearances and has struck out 63 batters in 53.2 innings pitched. That is pretty solid production for a journeyman hurler, who signed a one-year deal with St. Louis for $3 million. He’s been more than solid during the dog days of August, converting eight of nine save opportunities, four against fellow playoff hopefuls like Los Angeles, Colorado and Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Brewers – 3B Mike Moustakas
The Brewers are in a dog fight with several teams to claim one of two coveted wild card playoff spots, or try to climb over St. Louis to overtake Chicago for the NL Central title. It’s fitting then, that they got a big canine in Mike Moustakas to help with the spade work during the stretch drive. The Brew Crew picked up Moustakas, an impending free agent making a bargain $5.5 million this year, at the deadline for a couple of minor leaguers. The burly third sacker has made an immediate impact, hitting .280 in 29 games since the trade, with 12 extra base hits and 19 RBI. All together with the Royals and Brewers, Moustakas has logged a .256 average, with 28 doubles, a triple, 25 homers and 81 RBI. The 29-year-old, eighth-year big leaguer will be valuable come the post-season, having been to two World Series, winning it all with Kansas City in 2015.
Arizona Diamondacks – RF David Peralta
The man on this list providing the greatest bang for the buck is Arizona’s David Peralta. A homegrown talent who has patiently bided his time in the system is having a breakout year. In 121 games, the 30-year-old outfielder is hitting .303 (tops on his team), with 24 doubles, five triples, 26 homers (second only to Paul Goldschmidt) and 74 RBI (ditto). Peralta inked a team friendly one-year, $3.3 million contract as a bridge from his first four seasons. That salary, for the record, is 1/10th what highest paid player Zack Greinke commands ($34 million this year) and less than a third what Goldschmidt makes ($11.1 million). Dollar figures aside, Peralta is hot, hot, hot, playing a big role in Arizona maintaining a slim 1.5 game lead on Colorado and 2.0 games on the Los Angeles Dodgers. Peralta is hitting a lofty .376 in August, with 10 homers and 21 RBI. In the first game of a series against L.A. Thursday night, Peralta slammed a three-run bomb, accounting for all his team’s runs in a huge 3-1 victory.
Colorado Rockies – RP Adam Ottavino
Pitching in the thin air of Coors Field is foreboding at the best of times. Pitching well at the mile high stadium is another matter all together — and impressive. That is exactly what set-up man/closer and workhorse Adam Ottavino has done this season, for the low, low price of $7 million (it is the last year of an accelerating three-year $10.4 million contract, for the record). In 62 games this season, the seventh-year Rockie has registered an impressive .208 ERA, five saves, 28 holds, a 1.000 WHIP, tiny .162 opponents’ batting average and a whopping 95 strikeouts in 65 innings. And get this, his ERA at home is way slimmer at home (1.27) than on the road (2.70). As the Rockies have battled for position in the NL West, 1.5 games back of Arizona, Ottavino has been a busy man in the dog days. He made 14 appearances and registered a 2-1 record with a save and six holds.
Los Angeles Dodgers – RP Josh Fields
Glue guys come in all shapes and sizes and in some cases take a while to come into their own. Dodgers reliever Fields, now in his sixth season, is one of those characters. For three and a half years with Houston he struggled to keep his ERA below 5.00, but had outstanding enough heat to push his SO/9 well over 10 every season. A trade to the Dodgers at the 2016 deadline seems to have done the trick. While his strikeouts per nine have gone down a bit, he has a collective 2.68 ERA in 116 appearances for Los Angeles. This year, so far, is arguably his most complete season. The 32-year-old from Athens, GA is 2-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 37 games, with two saves, eight holds and a slim WHIP of 0.932. Fields has enough post-season experience to make him worthy of mentoring younger Dodgers, should the team be able to secure a division title or wild card berth (flip a coin).
Washington Nationals – OF Adam Eaton
Somehow, some way, the Nationals are still within sniffing distance of a wild card playoff spot at 7.5 games back and a 67-67 record. They didn’t sell the farm at the deadline and are just a winning streak away of putting significant heat on the likes of Philadelphia and Atlanta. One integral guy to root for the Nats quest to get back into the race is CF Adam Eaton. He has battled some pretty severe injury issues the last couple of years, which had to be disheartening considering the three good seasons he put in before that with 2017 with the Chicago White Sox. Eaton got in only 23 games with Washington in 2017 but seems to have things on the up-and-up this year, getting into 72 games (starting all but two in August). He’s making $6 million on the third year of a five-year contract he signed in Chicago and is hitting .300, with 13 doubles, a triple, five homers, 26 RBI and six stolen bases.