These 13 itching for redemption ... and glory

September 28th, 2020

As we approach the most unusual -- and potentially the most exciting -- postseason in baseball history, a new group of October heroes is certain to emerge.

But for every triumphant moment we see, it will mean defeat for somebody else, leaving players itching to get back to the postseason the following year to redeem themselves.

For the group of players listed below, this is next year.

You won’t find any members of the World Series champion Nationals, because redemption doesn’t take place the year after winning it all. (Not to mention that the Nats aren’t in the playoffs to defend their title, but that’s another story altogether.)

Here’s our look at 13 players with a little extra motivation as they prepare for the 2020 postseason:

It’s difficult to argue that a group largely responsible for the end of the Cubs’ 108-year championship drought has a need for redemption, but the years since that historic title have been less than memorable. This group of players was hailed as the game’s next dynasty, yet the results have gotten worse each year.

The Cubs fell to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series in 2017, dropped a 13-inning NL Wild Card Game to the Rockies in 2018, then missed the postseason entirely last year. After a bounce-back season that ended with Chicago’s first NL Central title in three years, this group -- which is only under control in its entirety for one more year -- the Cubs’ championship core might have just one shot left at glory together.

, LHP, Yankees

The last time we saw Chapman on a postseason mound, he was grinning as Jose Altuve rounded the bases on his walk-off home run that ended Game 6 -- and the American League Championship Series. Chapman had allowed just one run over 13 postseason appearances since rejoining the Yankees before the 2017 season, so while he has excelled in October with New York, that one pitch could haunt him until he’s able to exorcise those demons.

, RHP, Cubs

Darvish has been flat-out spectacular this season, his best overall effort since his 2013 sophomore campaign, when he finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting. Darvish’s first two postseason efforts ended in losses in 2012 and ’16, though he appeared to have redeemed himself in 2017 with wins over the D-backs and Cubs during the first two rounds of the Dodgers’ playoff run.

The World Series was a different story, as the right-hander recorded just five outs in each of his two starts, giving up four earned runs in both games. Darvish believed he was tipping his pitches in that series, though the revelations about the 2017 Astros had him second-guessing why he struggled. Three years later, Darvish will finally have another crack at October.

Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves

The four-time All-Star posted an MVP-caliber performance in 2020, but like always, the Braves’ success -- and that of their top players -- will be judged on what happens in October. Atlanta hasn’t won a postseason series since 2001, losing eight straight Division Series dating back to '02.

Freeman has lost an NL Wild Card Game and three NLDS since breaking into the league, posting a .791 OPS in 14 career playoff games (his career regular-season OPS is .892). Last year’s 4-for-20 series against the Cardinals was immediately followed by right elbow surgery, which could have explained his lackluster performance. Freeman is healthy and riding a wave of momentum heading into this postseason, giving him and the Braves the hope that things will be different this year.

, RHP, Rays

Glasnow was unable to follow up his breakout 2019 season with a strong performance in October, throwing a combined seven innings in a pair of ALDS starts against the Astros last October. Glasnow, who was tipping his pitches in his 2 2/3-inning Game 5 loss, finished his first postseason with a 7.71 ERA. Glasnow will join Blake Snell and Charlie Morton as Wild Card Series starters as the Rays look for their first ALDS win since 2008.

, LHP, Dodgers

No story about October redemption would be complete without Kershaw, whose career postseason ERA (4.43) is a full two runs higher than his regular-season mark (2.43). Kershaw, who has had a number of postseason gems to go along with his clunkers, appeared to get over the hump at the start of the 2018 playoffs, when he posted big starts in two of his first three outings, then got the final three outs of Los Angeles’ Game 7 NLCS triumph over the Brewers.

But the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner lost both of his World Series starts to the Red Sox, pitching to a 7.36 ERA. Last year, Kershaw delivered a quality start in a loss to the Nationals in Game 2 of the NLDS, but he served up back-to-back homers to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in a Game 5 relief appearance, blowing the lead as Washington won the game in 10 innings. Kershaw’s Hall of Fame résumé is already loaded for a first-ballot induction, but the 32-year-old is still searching for his first World Series ring -- and the chance to prove himself as a big-time postseason pitcher.

, RHP, Twins

How good have the Dodgers been the past few years? Maeda, who made 71 regular-season starts for Los Angeles from 2017-19, was relegated to the bullpen in each of the past three postseasons. His move to the Twins proved to be a blessing for Maeda, who had an outstanding year (6-1, 2.70 ERA, AL-low 0.750 WHIP) in his first season with Minnesota.

The 32-year-old won’t be in the bullpen this October, getting his first shot to start in the postseason since his disappointing 2016 playoffs (0-1, 6.75 ERA in three starts). The Twins -- who are 8-3 in his starts -- are hoping Maeda can continue doing what he’s done all season.

, LHP, Athletics

Manaea made his first and only career postseason start in last year’s AL Wild Card Game, allowing four runs in two-plus innings, serving up three home runs in a loss to the Rays. The left-hander beat himself up after that game, surely looking forward to his next shot at October baseball.

That shot comes this year, as Oakland captured its first AL West title since 2013, ending the Astros’ three-year divisional reign. Manaea’s performance has improved each month this season; his ERA has been roughly two runs lower from July (7.00) to August (5.06) to September (3.04). He couldn’t carry September success into October a year ago, but now, he gets a second chance.

, 3B, Indians

Ramírez had a monster 2020 season, looking more like the MVP candidate of 2017 and ’18 than he did a year ago. Now that Ramírez has reasserted himself as one of the most dangerous hitters in the league, it’s time for him to prove that he can carry that stature into October.

Following a pedestrian 2016 postseason in which Ramírez posted a .662 OPS with one homer and three RBIs during Cleveland’s run to the World Series, the next two years were a pure disaster. Ramírez earned a pair of third-place AL MVP finishes with superb regular seasons in 2017-18, but the postseason was a different story. He went 2-for-20 in a five-game ALDS loss to the Yankees in ’17 and 0-for-11 in a three-game ALDS sweep at the hands of the Astros in ’18, combining for one RBI and no extra-base hits in those eight forgettable games.