By Thomas Harrigan
Every October provides the opportunity for a group of players to rewrite their postseason legacies.
Take David Price, for example. Price’s playoff struggles were well documented prior to 2018, but the left-hander went 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA over his final four appearances (three starts), including victories in the clinching games of both the ALCS and World Series, to help the Red Sox win it all. Thus, his previous postseason failures became more of a footnote rather than a defining characteristic.
The nine stars below similarly have a lot to prove entering this postseason. If they step up, they could forever change the narrative surrounding their playoff careers.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals
It’s a small sample size, but Arenado’s .160/.148/.280 slash over six postseason games — five losses — leaves a lot to be desired. Five of those games came with the Rockies, but Arenado also went 0-for-4 as the Cards scored just one run against the Dodgers in last year’s NL Wild Card Game. A strong postseason run would do a lot to burnish the third baseman’s already solid Hall of Fame credentials.
Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees
Cole’s postseason numbers aren’t bad by any stretch, as he has recorded a 2.93 ERA with 111 strikeouts over 86 innings in his playoff career. But when you sign the richest pitching contract in history ($324 million over nine years), every October start is going to be scrutinized, and Cole’s most recent playoff outing was a dud. Facing the rival Red Sox at Fenway Park in the 2021 AL Wild Card Game, he allowed three runs on four hits (two homers) and two walks before being pulled in the third inning. The Red Sox went on to win 6-2, sending the Bronx Bombers home early.
Yu Darvish, RHP, Padres
Darvish not only owns a subpar 5.18 ERA over seven career playoff starts, but he also has three losses in games that eliminated his team from the postseason. After taking the L in the 2012 AL Wild Card Game with the Rangers, Darvish notably struggled against the Astros while pitching for the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series, dropping Games 3 and 7 while allowing nine runs over 3 1/3 innings. The right-hander departed as a free agent to sign a deal with the Cubs that offseason and has made only one playoff appearance since, taking a tough-luck loss against the Marlins in the deciding game of the 2020 NL Wild Card Series.
Tony Gonsolin, RHP, Dodgers
Gonsolin’s status for the 2022 postseason is up in the air after he suffered a right forearm strain in August, but he could be an X-factor if he makes it back for October. The right-hander went 16-1 with a 2.10 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP across 128 1/3 innings before his injury. That said, his postseason résumé is lacking, with 14 runs allowed on 14 hits (six homers) and 10 walks in 13 1/3 innings over seven appearances (three starts).
Bryce Harper, OF/DH, Phillies
While it’s unfair to pin the Nationals’ postseason failures entirely on Harper, the fact is, the team lost all four playoff series in which he participated, then went on to win the World Series the year after the slugger left as a free agent to sign with the Phillies for $330 million. Harper had a big series against the Giants in the 2014 NLDS (3 HR, 1.251 OPS), but went 11-for-59 (.186) in his other three postseason series with Washington. Four seasons into his 13-year megadeal, Harper could finally get a chance to taste October baseball as a member of the Phils, who have the second-longest postseason drought (10 seasons) in MLB behind the Mariners.
Manny Machado, 3B, Padres
Although Machado made his postseason debut as a 20-year-old rookie with the Orioles in 2012 and has amassed 126 plate appearances in the playoffs, he doesn’t have many positive October moments of which to speak. He’s a lifetime .200/.250/.383 hitter over 29 postseason games, including a .182/.208/.182 slash for the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series, which saw Machado go down swinging against Chris Sale for the final out in Boston’s clincher.
Matt Olson, 1B, Braves
Olson will have plenty of time to live up to the eight-year, $168 million contract he signed with the Braves after the A’s traded him to Atlanta in March, but a strong performance in his first postseason with the club would go a long way toward mollifying fans who were disappointed to see Atlanta move on from Freddie Freeman. Fair or not, Olson is going to be directly compared to his predecessor until he establishes his own track record of October success with the Braves. He’ll enter this postseason with a career .143 average and .690 OPS over 36 plate appearances in the playoffs.
Luis Severino, RHP, Yankees
Severino has to get some of the blame for the Yankees’ failure to get over the hump with their current core. The ace of New York’s staff before the team signed Cole, Severino has posted a 5.23 ERA over nine playoff appearances (eight starts). That includes three ALCS appearances against the Astros, who prevented the Yanks from winning the pennant in both 2017 and 2019. Severino didn’t get out of the fifth inning in any of those starts, going 0-2 and yielding six runs in 13 innings. The Yankees are likely going to need a healthy and effective Severino (due back this week from a right lat strain) in order to make a deep postseason run.
Trea Turner, SS, Dodgers
While Turner won a ring with the Nationals in 2019, he posted a .429 OPS in that Fall Classic and is a career .228/.274/.287 hitter with one homer in 39 postseason games. Turner is going to get paid top dollar in free agency regardless of what happens in October, but as his former Nats teammates Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon showed during the team’s championship year, a well-timed postseason breakout could add millions to your free-agent sticker price. That could be especially true in an offseason when Turner might be competing directly for free-agent bids with Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts (who both have opt-outs) in addition to Dansby Swanson.