As the MLB playoff races heat up, keep an eye on these 10 players who will need to come up big to lift their teams into the postseason.
Baseball fans are in for an extremely exciting finish to the 2019 regular season. Both Wild Card races are completely up for grabs, especially in the National League, where six teams are within 2.5 games of the final spot. The top Wild Card in both leagues is under two games and has been that way all year. This season could be setting itself up for another wild final day of action like the unforgettable 2011 season that came down to an epic finish.
All of the teams fighting for a playoff spot can make an honest case to themselves and their fans that they are going to emerge victorious. Some teams can obviously make that case more easily than others, but the races will come down to who is able to get hot and stay hot into September.
As we evaluate the potential contenders who have a more difficult path to the playoffs (teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves are all well on their way to locking down their spots), it is interesting to note that each and every one of them has a high-profile star not quite living up to expectations this year or an underrated player who has been tasked with a bigger responsibility than originally expected due to injuries or other circumstances. These are the players who will decide the playoff races.
10. Ryan Yarborough
With injuries ravaging their pitching staff, the Tampa Bay Rays have been forced to lean even harder on their “opener” strategy this season. Reigning Cy Young Blake Snell, young hotshot Tyler Glasnow and dependable Yonny Chirinos are all on the Injured List, leaving only Charlie Morton and rookie Brendan McKay functioning as standard starting pitchers. Whatever the Rays are doing is obviously working, however, as they lead the American League with a 3.50 ERA.
Left-hander Ryan Yarborough has gotten the most work of the group of pitchers the Rays have used to cover the bulk of the innings in games with an opener. The 27-year-old threw 147.1 innings last year while starting only six games and has logged 98.2 this year in 20 games and six starts. He went 16-6 last year with a 3.91 ERA and has already picked up 11 wins this year with a 3.56 ERA.
The Rays are proving that this concept can work over the course of multiple seasons. They went all in on the plan last year and nearly snuck into the playoffs after going 41-25 in the second half. Tampa Bay has now played nearly .600 baseball over their last 186 games.