Francisco Cabrera. Pete Kozma. Jim Northrup. Bill Mueller. Gene Larkin.
These are names that will live forever in the minds of their team’s fans, obscure players heading into the postseason but legends afterward. This is one of the primary joys of the baseball playoffs: Players you never would have expected to have a huge moment stepping up on the biggest stage at the exact right time.
Of course, loyal fans of each of those teams, the ones who had been watching all year, they knew these players were capable of the big moments: In a way, they had been priming for them all year. So, as the Division Series prepare to commence, here’s a look at our prime candidates from each team to be the unknown-to-much-of-America, totally unexpected postseason heroes. You might not know them now. You might not see this coming. But we might be talking about all these guys soon.
Astros: Kyle Tucker, OF
The Astros have had so many prospects flooding the roster in recent years that it’s easy to look past Tucker, who, after all, isn’t Yordan Alvarez. (Who is?) Tucker had a 30-30 season at Triple-A this year, and he’s a potentially potent impact left-handed bat off the bench this postseason. In many organizations, he’d be the phenom coming to save the day. In Houston, he’s just another bat on a roster stocked with them. This could be his chance to break loose of the pack.
Rays: Jesús Aguilar, 1B
An All-Star and all-around happy story in Milwaukee last year, Aguilar never got it going for the Brewers this year, and they shipped him to Tampa Bay at the Trade Deadline. He almost immediately started hitting, increasing his slugging percentage by 50 points and providing a handy platoon at first base. The Astros have more right-handers than left-handers in their rotation, so he’ll likely start on the bench, giving him plenty of opportunities for big at-bats.
Twins: Jake Cave, OF
Cave was a bright spot for a disappointing Twins team in 2018, but while he has received less playing time this year, he sure has made the most of it, particularly with a terrific second half, posting a .964 OPS after the break. C.J. Cron’s lingering injury issues may get Cave in the lineup even more than expected.
Yankees: Cameron Maybin, OF
Of all the big names on this roster and all the juggling Aaron Boone’s going to have to do, Maybin gives the Yankees speed and outfield defense, two things they could actually use a bit more of. And he even joined the “launch angle revolution” this year, positing a career-high .494 slugging percentage. Lastly, few players are more traveled than Maybin, who has played for eight teams in his 13-year career. He has only made the postseason once in that time, and he won the World Series that year, for the 2017 Astros. He stole a base in the World Series, too.
Braves: Francisco Cervelli, C
Injuries to Ender Inciarte, Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson have severely thinned the Braves’ bench. That makes it more likely that the Braves will take three catchers in order get an extra bat off the bench. Cervelli, one of the most underrated catchers over the last decade, has had a tumultuous year -- at one point there was talk that concussion woes would prevent him from catching again -- but he has on-base skills that the Braves will need. And as Cardinals fans know from Cervelli’s years with Pittsburgh, he has been a thorn in St. Louis’s side, hitting .294/.367/.424 against the Cards in 199 plate appearances.
Cardinals: Tommy Edman, UTIL
The super-utlility man -- Mike Shildt considers him sort of like the Cardinals’ Ben Zobrist -- was a lifesaver for the Cardinals in September, putting up a 1.078 OPS for the month and coming up with big hit after big hit down the stretch. Where he will play depends on Kolton Wong’s health status, but he has proven massive for the Cardinals, whether it’s at second base, third base or right field.
Dodgers: David Freese, 1B
All right, all right: So you know who David Freese is. But while the veteran only got 162 at-bats this year, he was fantastic in them, putting up the best OPS (1.002) of his career at the age of 36. He hasn’t been a major part of the Dodgers this year, but he’s a key part of their platoon lineup against left-handed pitchers. And, as Freese has clearly established, he makes his biggest contributions in October. This is his time of year.
Nationals: Gerardo Parra, OF
Baby Shark, doo doo, doo doo doo. Parra has been a widely respected veteran for years now, but it wasn’t until this season that he got a full-on rallying cry, albeit one from a kids video that is cute at first and then domesticates itself in your skull for all eternity. Parra hit .500 off the bench for the Rockies in two playoff appearances, and is exactly the type of career role player who ends up as an October hero. If nothing else, his walk-up song will get the Nationals Park crowd stirring when they need it most. Now please stop humming the song.