The wordplay of “wild cards” is obviously more than a playoff round old now, but why ruin a good thing?
Ryan Brasier, RHP, Boston Red Sox
If the 108-win Red Sox have a weakness, it’s the bullpen. An offensive juggernaut with a stout starting rotation, the road to closer Craig Kimbrel —and even he— has been an adventure.
An unlikely source out of the pen in 2018 has been 31-year old Ryan Brasier. He hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since way back in 2013, when he pitched seven games for the Angels, and has been out of affiliated ball since 2016.
He pitched in Japan last year and the Red Sox took a flier on him this past spring. He received his call-up in July and proceeded to throw scoreless baseball in his first seven outings (eight innings).
Boston’s bullpen has searched for parts all year and Brasier has remained with the team since his debut in July. He posted a 1.60 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in 34 games.
In the ALDS against the Yankees, he allowed inherited runners to score in his first outing but bounced back to total 2.1 scoreless innings. He struck out the side in game two, highlighted by a stare-down and K of Gary Sanchez.
Tyler White, 1B/DH, Houston Astros
The Astros loaded depth chart projected to have one spot available on the hitting side in 2018.
That spot was DH, and when the Opening Day roster was announced, the four names battling for that starting spot were Evan Gattis, Jake Marisnick, Derek Fisher and J.D. Davis.
Tyler White and Tony Kemp were optioned, but both ended up being significant contributors this year. Especially White, who has jumped the other five and fellow 1B/DH A.J. Reed to become an everyday player for the reigning champions.
The Astros have long been wanting to give the former 33rd-round pick an extended look. A huge Spring Training in 2016 earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster, but Yuli Gurriel quickly took over first base.
After just 22 MLB games in 2017, he returned to the big league club in June, and like Ryan Brasier, never looked back. He hit .276 with an .888 OPS in 210 AB and in the ALDS sweep against Cleveland, White was on base five times in nine trips to the plate.
If the Astros make the World Series again, their games on the road in the DH-free NL environment will render White just a valuable pinch-hitter, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Domingo Santana, Milwaukee Brewers
Perhaps the truest definition of a “wild card” amongst all these names, Santana literally has boom-or-bust potential in the NLCS. Not just because he’s actually a power hitter, but the former everyday player has been reduced to pinch-hitter in the postseason.
Through no fault of his own, Santana, who clubbed 30 home runs for the Brewers in 2017, simply has no place to play. Maybe the front office is scared to trade away another potential Khris Davis, but most expected Santana to be traded after Milwaukee brought in both Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich over the off-season.
Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips cleared out, and Eric Thames has become a non-factor after 31 dingers himself last year, but Santana remains a Brewer and is manager Craig Counsell’s choice weapon off the bench.
Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Off-season trade acquisition Scott Alexander has been great for the Dodgers this season, but the team has opted to go with the former phenom Julio Urias on their NLCS roster.
It’s a bit of a surprise, as Urias pitched just four lonely innings in September after missing the entire year. However, in those four innings, he showed why he was one of the most popular pitching prospects in recent memory, with seven strikeouts, one walk and one hit allowed.
He wasn’t on the NLDS roster, but L.A. believes their 22-year old is good to go. (If he were to get hurt again, they would just re-swap Alexander for him.)
Not many pitchers in all of baseball are nastier than Urias. It’s highly unlikely the Dodgers try and stretch the customary starter in the series, but like Domingo Santana in the other dugout, it’s a huge weapon to have on your bench.