It happens every fall. While the game’s best players -- the MVPs, Cy Youngs and future Hall of Famers -- push their teams to the postseason, it’s the other guys who show up and steal all the limelight in October.
Steve Pearce did it en route to the World Series MVP in 2018 with the Red Sox. Travis Ishikawa’s sudden hot streak in the Giants’ 2014 October run is remembered just as well as Madison Bumgarner’s star turn that same postseason. Donn Clendenon is remembered for doing it with the Mets in 1969.
It’s simply the way of the postseason -- some bench bat or bullpen arm will have seemingly been struck by a magical lightning bolt and they transform into the game’s best. The problem is figuring out who it will be.
So, we gazed into our crystal ball and asked it to tell us which role players will transform into superstars for the next few weeks. It’s an impossible task, but we did our best. These are the most likely unlikely postseason stars:
A’s: Jake Lamb
Like “Clerks,” Lamb shouldn’t even be here. If it was up to the A’s, the defensively astonishing Matt Chapman would be playing at third. But when the Gold Glover went down with a hip injury at the start of September, the A’s quickly snagged a replacement: the D-backs’ Jake Lamb.
Lamb was once an All-Star, smashing 30 home runs at the age of 26 in 2017. Unfortunately, since then, he’s hit just .205/.309/.351. Well, what better time to get hot -- perhaps dragging the A’s past the Division Series along the way, too.
Chance it happens (CIH): 50 percent
Astros: Myles Straw
He’s got the name that fits -- it sounds like it’s from a 1960s comic book. And he’s got the toolset: He’s got wheels for days -- stealing 16 of 19 bases in his career -- and has almost no power to speak of. Straw’s hit just five home runs in his entire professional career.
You know where this is going. There will come a time when Straw will come in to pinch-run. He’ll steal a bag. He’ll advance on a throw. He’ll tie the game on a sacrifice fly. And then he’ll come up and will belt the ball over the fence for the victory.
You can’t predict baseball … except when you can.
CIH: 15 percent
Blue Jays: Alejandro Kirk
Ah, our large king. The Blue Jays found baseball’s newest inefficiency this year: big dudes. They’ve got some of the largest adult sons in baseball with Vlad Guerrero Jr., Rowdy Tellez and Hyun Jin Ryu on the roster. They briefly brought in Dan Vogelbach (we’ll get to him later). And then they called up Alejandro Kirk.
Kirk is a 5-foot-8, 265 pound catcher. He's also a bonafide prospect with real tools. He revealed that to everyone on Sept. 22 when he smashed four hits and homered against the Yankees -- despite having never played above Class A Advanced! That's just the kind of thing we could see in the postseason.
The only reason this may not happen is that we want it to happen too much. The baseball gods hate rewarding that.
CIH: 5 percent.
INDIANS: Mike Freeman
Freeman is the exact type of player made for this list. He didn’t make his big league debut until he was 28 years old. He played for four different teams in his first three big league seasons, never collecting more than 66 plate appearances. He’s played every position except for catcher and center field. And now that he’s backing up José Ramírez -- the possible AL MVP Award winner -- he’s most famous for a tweet:
All of that adds up to one thing: Completely unexpected postseason glory.
CIH: 20 percent
RAYS: Manuel Margot
Margot is a do-it-all threat for the Rays. Though not a starter, he provides a solid glove at all three outfield positions, plenty of speed -- he led the Rays in stolen bases this year -- and a bat that can hold its own in the lineup. The one thing he didn’t have this year was much pop -- hitting only one home run after blasting 12 last year.
Statisticians may disagree, but I think that means only one thing: He’s due, and it will surely come when the Rays need it most. (This is called “Pulling a Dan Johnson.”)
CIH: 50 percent
TWINS: Luis Arraez
The Twins love dingers. They’ve handed out Homer Hankies for postseason appearances since 1987. And this team -- known as the Bomba Squad -- set an MLB record for home runs last season and finished sixth this year.
So, of course it’s going to be Arraez who steals the show. The second baseman has plenty of talent, don’t get me wrong. But look at his spray chart:
Yeah, that’s a guy who loves dumping in little bloopers right over the infielders' heads and in front of the outfielders. When it’s the ninth inning, and the team desperately needs a hit, it won’t be a home run from Nelson Cruz. It’ll be a single from Arraez.
CIH: 50 percent
WHITE SOX: Yolmer Sánchez
Sánchez was the spirit of the White Sox from 2014-19. He was their always energetic jokester, splashing himself with the Gatorade jug on walk-off hits. But then the Sox let him go before the season and he joined up with the Giants. After he was released by San Francisco, the White Sox -- loaded with young talent -- knew one ingredient was missing from their championship stew: Yolmer.
The Gatorade bucket is ready.
CIH: 20 percent
YANKEES: Erik Kratz
You think this one is a stretch? Psssshaw. No way. Kratz has already done it. When he was with the Brewers in 2018, he picked up five big hits in the NLDS … after recording all of 15 base hits in the previous three seasons combined.
Armed with his trusty lion headband (what is up with that thing?) and his floating knuckler -- a pitch just begging to be used in the 18th inning of a postseason game -- Kratz is just waiting for his chance once again. The only problem is that he's likely the third catcher on the Yankees' depth chart behind Gary Sánchez and Kyle Higashioka.
CIH: 1 percent
BRAVES: Pablo Sandoval
There was a time when Sandoval was not the unlikely hero, but the star. As a member of the three-time World Series champion Giants from 2010-14, Sandoval posted a .344/.389/.545 postseason slash line, including one three-homer game off Justin Verlander in the World Series. But 2014 was a long time ago, and Sandoval has spent more time on comeback tours than most ‘80s rock bands.
After the Giants released Sandoval earlier this year, the Braves picked him up and sent him to their alternate site … before activating him on the final day of the season. Yeah, if that sounds like the start of an action movie, you’d be right. This is Kung Fu Panda season.
CIH: 30 percent
BREWERS: Daniel Vogelbach
Isn’t this just how it goes for the Mariners? Not only have they not been to the postseason since 2001, but then after they released Vogelbach (a fair enough decision -- he was hitting just .094), and after the Blue Jays also put him on waivers, the Brewers snagged him. Vogelbach got hot when the Brewers needed him most and now Milwaukee has snuck into the postseason field.
The jolly giant slugger smashed four home runs and two doubles since joining the Brewers. He's set up to run into some mistake fastballs at the game’s most important moments.
CIH: 70 percent
CARDINALS: Brad Miller
For the first time since 2017, Miller spent the whole season with one club. He seemed to enjoy it -- before a slump at the end of the year, the stirrup sock-wearing utility infielder-turned-DH was putting up the best numbers of his career.
But here’s one more thing to know about Miller: Despite all the midseason moves and teams acquiring him for the stretch run, he has never played in the postseason. He has enough power to stick at DH and can play almost anywhere on the field, so he’ll get his opportunities.
CIH: 25 percent.
CUBS: Billy Hamilton
You think the Cubs weren’t thinking about this when they picked Hamilton up off waivers? No, they knew a player with his speed and defense could make a huge difference when it matters most. Like, say, on the last day of the season when Hamilton hit his first home run in 760 days and stole home. Yeah, that’s a combo you quite literally may never see again.
Hamilton made the most of his first postseason appearance with the Braves last season. He played in two games, got one at-bat, scored two runs and stole a base.
CIH: 75 percent. There will be some chaos on the bases.
DODGERS: Clayton Kershaw
OK, I know what you’re saying: “Clayton Kershaw is a giant star! One who is still at the top of his game!” And I agree with you. But a) the Dodgers' entire roster is almost too good for this exercise, and b) if you listen to anyone who calls into sports talk radio, they'll regularly point to Kershaw’s 4.43 postseason ERA compared to his 2.43 regular-season mark.
Just imagine: In one swoop, Kershaw can silence those critics and end the Dodgers’ Buffalo-Bills-in-the-early-’90s streak of falling just short of postseason glory with one supernova October. Maybe this is the year it happens.
CIH: 80 percent
MARLINS: Lewis Brinson
Brinson was a highly touted prospect, ranking as high as 18th among the top MLB prospects. Unfortunately, while it seemed like the rest of the league’s rookies needed no time to acclimate to the Majors, Brinson posted a .183/.238/.293 slash line from 2017-19.
He got it up a few more ticks this season, getting over the Mendoza Line for the first time in his career and setting a new career high in slugging. He may never be the star that the Marlins were hoping for, but he could make himself a legend with a big October.
CIH: 35 percent
PADRES: Trent Grisham
Grisham was the goat for the Brewers last season, as his error on Juan Soto’s base hit led to the Nationals scoring three runs and winning the NL Wild Card Game. Traded over the offseason to the Padres -- seemingly everyone’s new second favorite team -- now is the perfect chance for him to make amends.
Sure, he’s outshined by players like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, but Grisham has plenty of talent. He makes that makes clear as he counts his home runs on his hands while rounding the bases. He hit a game-tying shot off Kershaw when San Diego and L.A. were battling for the division title. He walked off the Giants -- in their stadium! Grisham knows the importance of a well-timed dinger.
CIH: 65 percent
REDS: Aristides Aquino
Aquino was a home run machine when he was called up last season, blasting 11 home runs in his first 16 big league games. But since then, Aquino has hit just 10 more home runs in his next 64 games to go along with a .170 batting average.
That’s where the shortened season works in Aquino’s favor. Really, he just had a rough first half. Lots of people have those. The postseason is precisely the chance to show everyone why he’s nicknamed The Punisher.
CIH: 10 percent
Michael Clair writes for MLB.com. He spends a lot of time thinking about walk-up music and believes stirrup socks are an integral part of every formal outfit.