The Phillies, Braves and Nationals find themselves in a three-team race in the National League East. It has been close for weeks, and there is no reason to believe it will not continue to be a thriller in the final weeks of the season.
There are a little more than seven weeks remaining to decide the division title. It is easy to imagine a player like Bryce Harper or Freddie Freeman or Rhys Hoskins carrying a team for a few weeks down the stretch. But game-changers are everywhere, especially when those players have an elite tool.
Here is a player on each NL East team with a game-changing tool -- one that could help decide which teams do and do not make the postseason:
The player and his tool:Ender Inciarte's glove.
Why it matters: Inciarte can run down a fly ball like few outfielders in baseball, providing a nice security blanket for Braves pitchers. He is tied for third in the big leagues with 15 outs above average, Statcast™'s defensive metric that measures the cumulative effect of all individual catch probability plays an outfielder has been credited or debited.
Signature moment: Inciarte made a five-star catch against the Brewers on July 5. It had a catch probability of just 25 percent, but he covered 68 feet with an opportunity time of four seconds to make the catch.
The player and his tool:J.T. Realmuto's athleticism.
Why it matters: Realmuto's 28.6 feet per second sprint speed is the fastest among MLB catchers. His average pop time (1.89 seconds) ranks third. His max-effort throws (87.3 mph) rank fourth. Realmuto's ability to hit, run and control the running game makes him the total package behind the plate, and that's why Miami won't trade him unless it gets a boatload of players in return.
Signature moment: A 1.76-second pop time to catch Amed Rosario stealing on May 23. At the time, it was the fastest pop time to second base on a caught stealing since Statcast™'s debut in 2015. (It's now the second fastest.)
The player and his tool:Noah Syndergaard's slider.
Why it matters: There are many reasons why teams dread facing Syndergaard, but one of them is his slider, which is arguably the best in baseball. It averages 92 mph, which is the hardest slider in the game. His 49.7 percent whiff/swing rate is fourth among starters.
Signature moment: Syndergaard struck out Harper with 94.1 mph slider on July 13. Ridiculous.
The player and his tool:Trea Turner's speed.
Why it matters: Turner's sprint speed (30.1 feet per second) is the fourth fastest in baseball. He leads baseball with 32 stolen bases, which means every walk and every single can turn into a double. Turner also can score from first on a ball hit into the gap or from second on a single.
Signature moment: Turner led off an April 7 game against the Mets with a bunt single. He then stole second. Turner had a 31.5 feet per second sprint speed on the single (30-plus is considered elite). His stolen base clocked at 29.2 feet per second.
The player and his tool:Jorge Alfaro's arm.
Why it matters: Basestealers are starting to think twice about running on Alfaro, regardless of a Phillies pitcher's time to the plate or the runner's speed and confidence. His max-effort throws to second base average 90.8 mph, 1.4 mph faster than White Sox catcher Alfredo Gonzalez, who ranks second in baseball. Alfaro also holds each of the top 10 hardest caught-stealing throws this season.
Signature moment: Alfaro caught Turner stealing with a 92.5-mph throw on June 30. It's the hardest caught-stealing throw since Statcast™'s debut in 2015.