There is only one week left in the MLB regular season. One week! We are dangerously close to “stare out the window and wait until spring” season. Twelve teams get to go to the postseason next weekend. But 18 teams do not. Which means we’ve got to savor every second we’ve got … while we continue to look toward the future.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the player on each team you need to be watching in this final week. Maybe it’s a young player who will be key to what will happen next season; maybe it’s a star going for a milestone; maybe it’s just a pending free agent that you might be saying goodbye to; maybe it’s someone who may make or break this whole postseason. Whatever the case, it’s one player to watch in this final week.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
Entering Wednesday, Vlad had five hits in his last 25 at-bats and hadn’t homered in more than a week, though he did have that dramatic walk-off single on Monday night against the Yankees. He has said this whole season is a precursor for what’s coming in the playoffs. And no one will care that he took a step backward this season if he destroys the ball in October. This week could have him working himself toward just that.
Orioles: Gunnar Henderson, 3B
After his torrid debut in the Majors, the Orioles’ latest stud prospect has slowed considerably. Of course, so did Mike Trout in his first season. He could give Orioles fans lots of happy offseason dreams with a terrific final week.
Rays: Wander Franco, SS
Injuries have stalled Franco’s presumed superstar-ascendant season, and he even had another hand issue this week. But the Rays are in line to make the playoffs anyway, and if Franco can get it going, he becomes the ultimate X-factor this October.
Red Sox: Triston Casas, 1B
The 2018 first-round pick has had some fits and starts in his first month in the Majors, but he’s starting to come around and is really looking like he just might be a permanent part of this Sox lineup.
Yankees: Aaron Judge, CF
Obviously. But for what it’s worth: Matt Carpenter’s about to come back, too.
Guardians: Josh Naylor, DH
The Guardians were desperate for offense this year, and Naylor gave them just enough to keep opposing pitchers honest against José Ramírez. If he can enter the postseason on a hot streak -- and there’s much growth here, as he’s still just 25 -- this could get exciting, fast.
Tigers: Spencer Torkelson, 1B
OK, so he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up since he got called back up in September, but his .688 OPS is his highest of any month. He is still a vital part of the Tigers’ future, and their fans would love for him to show something.
White Sox: José Abreu, 1B
The White Sox sure did have a tough year all around, but Abreu sure wasn’t part of the problem: He continues to be the White Sox best hitter, every year, no matter what … and now he’s about to become a free agent. Is this it for the former MVP?
Astros: Yordan Alvarez, DH
He’s having an all-timer of a season, and he’s the second-youngest regular on the team. But that poor showing in last year’s World Series (.508 OPS) is something Astros fans still remember (even if he was the ALCS MVP). He’s battling some ankle discomfort and now has a week to round into shape.
Athletics: Shea Langeliers, C
The centerpiece of the Matt Olson trade, he’s one of the few players here who seems like a key part of the future.
Mariners: Julio Rodríguez, CF
Is he healthy? Can he be back at full strength in time? No pressure, kid, just 21 years of postseason anticipation from Mariners fans falling on your shoulders.
Rangers: Josh Jung, 3B
The addition of Jung to the roster late in the season gave the Rangers a jolt of energy that could augur some good things in the next couple of years.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Ronald Acuña Jr., RF
So he hasn’t quite been the same this year, but he sure looked like it when he scorched two homers in Washington on Tuesday night. He’s still a superstar, and the one thing the Braves didn’t have last postseason. Could he carry them like he has in the past?
Marlins: Sandy Alcantara, RHP
He’s about to finish off the first Cy Young season in Marlins history. He’s got two starts left, and one of them could be to spoil the Braves’ NL East hopes. Don’t miss him.
Mets: Jacob deGrom, RHP
He’s looked very un-deGrom-like in his last three starts against the Cubs, Pirates and A’s, but particularly so in his loss at Oakland. He’ll have one more regular-season start, against Atlanta, and that could help erase the memory of those uneven outings.
Nationals: CJ Abrams, SS
He’s not the only exciting young player the Nats got in the Juan Soto deal, but he’s the centerpiece: He’ll be a big part of whatever the Nats do over the next half-decade.
Phillies: Nick Castellanos, RF
He has been out for nearly a month, but the Phillies sure could use his bat … and, frankly, a little bit of a finishing kick.
Brewers: Freddy Peralta, RHP
Peralta has had injury issues this year, but he’s been activated for the stretch run and is expected to make a key start Sunday. If they make the playoffs, will they be able to count on him?
Cardinals: Albert Pujols, DH
And Yadier Molina, and (maybe) Adam Wainwright. What a weekend it’s going to be in St. Louis.
Cubs: Willson Contreras, C
It feels like Wrigley Field has said goodbye to Contreras a couple of times. The home fans will get one more chance this week.
Pirates: Oneil Cruz, SS
So much of what the Pirates want over the next half-decade may ride on whether Cruz can turn his otherworldly talent into consistent production. Every day is a step toward, or away, from that. His September OPS is above .900, which is a very promising sign.
Reds: Hunter Greene, RHP
It has been an up-and-down year for Greene, who may end up with 15 losses this year. But look how he’s been lately: Over the last month, he’s been downright terrific (1.06 ERA). That’s the sort of thing that you can dream on all offseason.
D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF
He has been perfectly respectable for the D-backs so far, and also incredibly fast. (100th percentile in sprint speed!) For now, he’s a fun novelty. Next year, the expectations will be significant.
Dodgers: Tony Gonsolin, RHP
They’re trying to stretch him out after his injury issues to at least four innings for the postseason. How’s it going to work? He’ll face the Rockies on Monday, and we’ll get a clue.
Giants: Brandon Belt, 1B
He has been a central part of some pretty great Giants teams: Is this the last we’ll see him in a Giants uniform?
Padres: Juan Soto, RF
You know how, when the Padres traded so many players for Soto, everyone said, “having him for three postseasons gives them three shots: That’s worth it right there!” Well, here’s the first one. Thus far, he’s been of a bit of a disappointment (.804 OPS with San Diego), but a big postseason would make fans forget that.