While every remaining postseason team is here because of its stars, first and foremost, playoff series often swing on lesser-known players coming through in big moments.
Whether it’s a lefty reliever who can neutralize a key bat, a speedster who comes off the bench to steal a base late in the game or a pinch-hitter who gives his team a late-inning matchup advantage, every club has an unheralded player who could make a big difference in a close game during the Division Series.
Here’s a look at each team’s “secret weapon” for its Division Series matchup.
Orioles: Tyler Wells, RHP
Wells was arguably Baltimore’s best starter in the first half (a 3.18 ERA over 18 outings), but the 29-year-old fell off the radar a bit after the All-Star break, when the heavily used right-hander hit a wall (an 11.00 ERA in three starts) and was sent to the Minors to take a breather. After Wells threw 113 2/3 innings in the big leagues, the Orioles opted to move him back into a relief role, which is how he was used as a rookie in 2021. Upon rejoining Baltimore on Sept. 22, he tossed five scoreless innings without giving up a hit over four appearances. Wells has the potential to be an X-factor in the O’s back-end bullpen mix in October. -- Jake Rill
Rangers: Josh Sborz, RHP
The Rangers’ bullpen struggles are no secret. Sborz himself has been a big part of that with a 5.50 ERA this season. But when Sborz is on, he’s on. He posted a 1.08 ERA in April, and 0.55 in June, but also has had ERAs over 10.00 in two separate months. He tossed 1 1/3 innings in the Wild Card Series-clinching win against the Rays and has proven that he can pitch in big spots at times. The consistency has been an issue, but if the Rangers can have another quality reliever with José Leclerc and Aroldis Chapman, they’ll be in a much better place. -- Kennedi Landry
Astros: Mauricio Dubón, UTIL
Dubón has been one of the Astros’ most valuable players this season and figures to play a key role in the postseason as the first player off the bench. Dubón may start in center field when Justin Verlander is on the mound for Game 1 (and perhaps Game 5), but that’s likely the only time he will start in this series. That being said, he’s a weapon off the bench because he can hit the ball to all fields, doesn’t strike out much and has played every position this year except pitcher and catcher. Dubón will probably be manager Dusty Baker’s first pinch-hitter off the bench against a lefty. -- Brian McTaggart
Twins: Willi Castro UTIL
The Rocco Baldelli Twins have never been a team to play a ton of small ball -- until now. Castro was recently referred to by his skipper as one of the team’s most valuable players, and it’s not tough to see why. He can play good defense at every position but first base and catcher as the versatile cog who makes Baldelli’s aggressive pinch-hitting moves work defensively. He can drop down bunts -- both to sacrifice and for a hit -- and he has stolen the most bases (33) by any Twins player in a decade. He’s done all that while posting a .750 OPS as a switch-hitter. Whether it’s a key bunt, a daredevil stolen base or a mad dash home, expect Castro to be a difference-maker in late, close games. -- Do-Hyoung Park
Braves, Brad Hand, LHP
Hand has posted a 9.00 ERA against every team other than the Phillies since he was acquired at the Trade Deadline. He has worked three hitless and scoreless innings against the Phillies within this same span. He’ll be called upon to face Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper in key situations. Schwarber is 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against Hand this year and Harper is hitless in two at-bats. A.J. Minter is the only other left-hander in Atlanta’s bullpen. So, expect to see Hand frequently during the NLDS. -- Mark Bowman
Phillies: Orion Kerkering, RHP
Kerkering made his MLB debut on Sept. 24 and impressed Mets hitters with his 99 mph fastball and incredible slider (some call it a sweeper). He showed enough promise and poise in his first three appearances that he made the Phillies’ NL Wild Card Series roster. Kerkering struck out a batter in a scoreless inning in Game 2, making him the first Phillies’ pitcher to make his MLB debut in September and pitch in the postseason since Marty Bystrom in 1980. Kerkering wouldn’t be on the NLDS roster if he wasn’t good, and Phillies manager Rob Thomson said he trusts him enough to put him in high-leverage situations. The Braves have never seen him. Maybe the Phillies can use that to their advantage. -- Todd Zolecki
Dodgers: Ryan Brasier, RHP
Brasier is hardly an unknown given his role with the Red Sox in their 2018 World Series run. But after a pair of bad seasons in Boston, which ultimately resulted in his release, Brasier has found new life in Los Angeles and will be a big piece in October. After joining the Dodgers in July, Brasier allowed just three runs over 39 appearances. The veteran right-hander hasn’t given up a run since Aug. 6 against the Padres. With the D-backs having some right-handed firepower in the middle of the lineup, Brasier should be a busy man in the NLDS and possibly beyond. -- Juan Toribio
D-backs: Andrew Saalfrank, LHP
If you read his name and said, “Who?” don’t feel bad. Saalfrank, a sixth-round pick out of Indiana in 2019, was not a highly-touted prospect, but he’s sure performed like one for the D-backs since coming up early in September. The 26-year-old tossed 10 1/3 scoreless innings in 10 appearances for the D-backs and quickly earned manager Torey Lovullo’s trust. He came into a bases-loaded, one-out jam against the Brewers in Game 2 of the NL Wild Card Series and got out of it without a run scoring. He could be a big weapon against the Dodgers' left-handed bats. -- Steve Gilbert