Players who could make MLB playoffs for first time

Will Leitch

Much has been made out of the fact that Mike Trout — probably the best baseball player of the last decade — has never won a postseason game. But at least Trout has reached the postseason. (In 2014, his Angels, a team that included Trout, Albert Pujols, C.J. Cron, Josh Hamilton, Raul Ibanez, Rich Hill and David Freese, got swept by the Royals in the ALDS.)

Some of the more impressive players in baseball have never even made it that far. Some players have put together terrific careers without ever reaching the postseason at all.

However, for some of them, that drought may end this year. There are more than a dozen veterans who have been fantastic players but have never had a chance to play meaningful October games before — and all have a chance to do so this year.

Here’s a look at the 14 best players who have never played in a postseason game but might just get to this year.

With all the Home Run Derby theatrics, Alonso certainly hasn’t lacked for exposure on the national stage. But the Mets just missed the postseason in 2019 and haven’t had a winning record since. That is obviously going to change this year, which means Alonso is about to have the most important at-bats of his life — though he’s hardly the only Met who will be doing so.

The 30-year-old is one of the longest-serving Mets never to reach the postseason. Like another player on this list, he got to Flushing just after they stopped making the postseason. McNeil has certainly done his part, though: He has a career .305 average and is a two-time All-Star. It’s still weird he hit 23 homers in 2019, though.

Unlike Alonso and McNeil, he actually did play for the last Mets team to reach the postseason, the 2016 team that lost to the Giants in the NL Wild Card Game. He wasn’t on the roster for that game, although he had a .338 OBP that year, so maybe he should have been, rather than Ty Kelly or Alejandro de Aza. Nimmo is a perpetually underrated player, so it’d be nice to see him break through in his big moment.

[Trumpets play]. Díaz’s experience with the Mariners, for whom he pitched the first three years of his career, is more positive than most longtime Mariners. The team had two winning seasons and won 89 games in 2018, an All-Star season in which he had 57 saves. Díaz’s trade to the Mets, alongside Robinson Canó, certainly looks better now than it did after the first year, and he’s one of the main reasons those trumpets may be playing deep into October.

It’s actually sort of difficult to find current Mariners players who have been around a while without reaching a postseason game. Most Mariners are either young or came in from other organizations that have reached the postseason. (Even former Reds Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez made it in 2020.) That makes Haniger the only real pick here, though you do have to feel bad for Kyle Seager, who retired right before they (probably) ended their drought.

Mancini was so beloved in Baltimore that whether he would be traded became an annual debate every July. He finally was shipped out this year just in time for the Orioles to make their first serious run at the postseason since he arrived. They’re likely to fall short, which is why it’s handy that he’s in Houston now, playing for a team that has all the postseason experience, outside of him, that you could possibly want.

Poor Whit. Merrifield, along with Salvador Perez, was the face of the Royals until they traded him to the Blue Jays at the Deadline, but unlike Perez, Merrifield showed up just after the Royals made the World Series. That World Series win in Flushing back in 2015 remains the last time the Royals played a postseason game, which means Merrifield has to get there with the Blue Jays … with surely many Royals fans cheering for him all the way.

The second overall pick of the 2010 Draft—picked behind Bryce Harper and before Manny Machado—took a while to break through with the Pirates, and it cost him. He arrived in 2016, the year after the Pirates last made the playoffs. He made 29 starts for the Yankees in 2021 but didn’t appear in their AL Wild Card Game loss to Boston. Taillon has made just as many starts this year, so here’s hoping he gets a chance to get on the field this time.

In many ways, we’ll always be dreaming on Bell’s 2019 All-Star season, in which he hit 37 homers with a .367 OBP. He hasn’t been as good since, though you can hardly blame him for the Pirates never making the playoffs when he was there. (Or for missing the playoffs in Washington when he was there, too.) Shipped over to San Diego with Juan Soto at the Trade Deadline, he’s a wild card for a team that has tons of talent surrounding him.

One of two Phillies pitchers on this list—spoiler alert, every remaining player on this list is a Phillie—he’s the only one who has spent his entire career with the team. Nola has finished in the top 10 in NL Cy Young Award voting twice and could do so again this season. There will be something very fitting about seeing him on the mound for the Phillies once they finally play a postseason game again — if they make it, of course.

When Hoskins arrived in 2017 and started launching homers deep into the Philly night, he looked like he was the augur of a whole new generation of Phillies, a slugger who would be the next Ryan Howard, playing October after October. It hasn’t worked out that way, but he looks very well positioned, on the cusp of 30, to finally get to play some postseason games. Seriously, though, can you believe he’s almost 30?

The veteran catcher has faced the misfortune of playing in Miami for the first five years of his career, right before the Marlins made the playoffs in 2020, and then going to the division rivals who were in the midst of their own playoff drought. Realmuto certainly feels like a postseason catcher, and, at last, he’s about to be one.

Another very underrated player, Segura has had mostly rotten luck when it comes to the postseason. He came up in the Angels organization but left before they made their 2015 postseason appearance, played for the Brewers from 2012-15 (a period right in between postseason appearances for that club), had his best year for a 2016 Arizona club that lost 93 games and then spent the next six years with the Mariners and Phillies, the two teams with the longest postseason droughts in the sport. If the Phillies somehow fall short this year, Segura has to feel cursed.

Wheeler was a prized Giants prospect who was drafted the year before they won the World Series. He was traded to the Mets in between the Giants’ first and second titles, then pitched in 49 games for the team in 2013-14 (The Mets missed the playoffs both years). He then had to sit out both 2015 and ’16 with injuries, watching the Mets make the playoffs both times. Once he returned, he went through the same drought the other Mets on this list did, then got traded to the Phillies as they continued their drought. Here’s hoping the Phillies don’t get rid of him right before he pitches their playoff opener.

By Will Leitch

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