The inaugural Wild Card Series round is behind us, narrowing the postseason field from 16 to eight. Some players seeking redemption for past Octobers thrived in the opening round, and while getting to the Division Series is an important step as teams try to chase down a World Series title, it’s only the first.
These six players -- who have some unfinished personal business to differing extents -- will have an opportunity to help their teams take that next step toward the Fall Classic.
Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Yankees
Prior to the Wild Card Series, the last time we saw Chapman on a postseason mound, he was grinning as Jose Altuve rounded the bases, his walk-off home run ending Game 6 -- along with the 2019 AL Championship Series and the Yankees' season. Chapman entered Game 2 on Wednesday against the Indians in the eighth inning with the score tied and a pair of runners on base with nobody out, then promptly gav up a go-ahead single.
The hard-throwing lefty escaped the inning with no further damage, then watched the Yankees take a lead in the ninth before cinching the win with a dominant final frame. Chapman has mostly excelled in October with the Yankees, but until he can help pitch them to a World Series, that Altuve homer will stay with him.
Chapman isn’t the only Yankees hurler with something to prove in the ALDS. Cole (4.96 ERA in three starts), Tanaka (4.20 in three starts) and Britton (7.71 ERA in three appearances) were all knocked around by the Rays this season, giving them plenty of motivation in their best-of-five matchup with Tampa Bay.
As a whole, the Yankees’ pitching staff posted a 4.84 ERA against Tampa Bay this season, more than a half-run higher than their 4.25 mark against the rest of the league. New York went 2-8 against Tampa Bay in 2020, preventing the Yankees from winning back-to-back AL East titles for the first time since 2011-12.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves
Sweeping the Reds was a huge step for Freeman and the Braves, giving Atlanta its first postseason series win since 2001. But the Division Series round has been a nightmare for the Braves, who have dropped eight straight NLDS dating back to 2002. Freeman -- one of this year’s NL MVP Award favorites – went 1-for-6 in the Wild Card Series, giving him a .786 career postseason OPS (his career regular-season OPS is .892).
His 4-for-20 showing in last year's NLDS against the Cardinals was immediately followed by elbow surgery, which could have explained his lackluster performance. Freeman is healthy and riding a wave of momentum in 2020 -- especially after his walk-off single ended a marathon Game 1 against Cincinnati -- giving him and the Braves the hope that things will be different this year.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Rays
Glasnow was unable to follow up his breakout 2019 season with a strong performance in October, allowing six runs over 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.
This year began in better fashion for the 27-year-old, who held the Blue Jays to two runs over six innings, striking out eight in a Game 2 win. The Rays earned the AL’s No. 1 seed despite Glasnow’s 4.08 ERA this season, so now he’ll try to help them snap their ALDS skid -- they’ve lost four straight dating back to 2010 -- and get to their first ALCS since 2008.
Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers
No story about October redemption would be complete without Kershaw, whose career postseason ERA entering this year's playoffs (4.43) was exactly 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 -- had pitched to a 7.27 ERA from the 2018 World Series until the 2020 NLDS, including a disastrous relief outing in Game 5 of last year's NLDS against Washington in which he served up back-to-back homers by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto.
The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP gave a vintage performance in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series on Thursday, tossing eight scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts to put away the Brewers. 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 consistent postseason pitcher.
Sean Manaea, 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 didn’t happen during the Wild Card Series, as he didn’t appear in any of the three games against the White Sox. Manaea’s performance has improved each month this season; his ERA has dropped about two runs each month 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’s hoping for a second chance.