These are the top 50 players in 2021 playoffs

October 4th, 2021

October is always the most thrilling month for Major League Baseball. The drama, the intensity of every pitch, the late nights that leave you giddily staggered the whole next day. This is baseball's month to strut its stuff. The game is at its absolute best.

It's a chance for stars to truly shine. Baseball's greatest players have had their most indelible moments in October, from Reggie Jackson's World Series homers to Madison Bumgarner's dominance to Derek Jeter's clutch heroics. This is the month when you want to see the best baseball has to offer.

Thus, as the postseason is about to begin, we rank the top 50 players competing in this year's tournament. It’s an interesting exercise when you consider that so many of the MVP favorites -- including Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien, Bryce Harper, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto -- are not in the playoffs.

That said, there will still be plenty of stars on display! Some of these players have been great for years; some have emerged in recent weeks. But all of them are absolutely pivotal to their team's success. These guys are as good as it gets. If you were picking a team based on trying to win in October, these are the guys you'd pick.

Note: We are not including injured players who are considered unlikely to play in the early rounds (or possibly longer), such as Clayton Kershaw, Max Muncy, Brandon Belt, Devin Williams and Carlos Rodón.

1. Max Scherzer, RHP, Dodgers: His last couple of starts have been shaky, but he might just win another Cy Young Award, and even if he doesn’t … is there a pitcher you want on the mound more in October? Didn’t think so.

2. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees: He’s lived up to the big contract for the first two seasons, and the Yankees need him as much as any team needs any pitcher. If he gets particularly hot, he could carry them all postseason. He could start that run Tuesday in the AL Wild Card Game. As important as relievers have gotten in October, nothing tops a legit ace, which is why we start this list with two of them.

3. Trea Turner, 2B, Dodgers: It is bizarre that a player as effortlessly talented as Turner would ever be considered the “other” guy in any sort of trade. He is precisely what an already stacked Dodgers team needed -- oh, and in addition to his near 30-30 (28 homers, 32 steals) season, he won the MLB batting title.

4. Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees: This year confirmed what we’ve known about Judge since he entered the league: When he’s healthy, there really isn’t anyone else like him. Has an opposite-field swing ever been more perfectly suited for the new Yankee Stadium?

5. Corbin Burnes, RHP, Brewers: The only real argument against Burnes winning the NL Cy Young Award is that he didn’t throw enough innings. But that’s not a problem in the postseason. The world is about to see just how mind-bendingly brilliant Burnes has been this year.

6. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves: The reigning NL MVP wasn’t quite as good as he was in 2020, but he was close -- and more important, he was the rock for this team after Ronald Acuña Jr. went out. Freeman is quietly building a compelling Hall of Fame case, but he’s already secured his legend in Atlanta.

7. Josh Hader, LHP, Brewers: If you are facing Hader this postseason and your team is behind, the game is already over.

8. Mookie Betts, OF, Dodgers: Sure, he had a “down” year (.858 OPS). But that’s only a down year for him, not any other mortal. He’s still an inner-circle star and the center of everything the Dodgers will be doing for the next decade.

9. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros: He has picked the ideal time to have the best season of his career: Right before he hits free agency. He has a history of huge postseason homers, and he’s going to have plenty of opportunity for more this October.

10. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals: St. Louis fans are learning what Rockies fans already knew: Watching Arenado play every day makes you realize you are watching a truly transcendent, all-timer of a third baseman. He’s also the Cardinal you trust the most in a big spot, and the focal point of what is probably the best defense in the postseason.

11. Liam Hendriks, RHP, White Sox: The closer Tony La Russa wanted has been exactly what the manager and his team needed him to be. If you want to flip-flop him and Hader, you might be justified.

12. Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers: He has been building up to this season for a while, but while his brilliance was not in doubt, this sort of durability was far from assured.

13. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Cardinals: Goldschmidt had solid, but not spectacular, seasons in his first two years in St. Louis, but he has returned to his Arizona MVP-level roots this year. And he has been particularly devastating down the stretch, including a 1.020 OPS in the second half, and a 1.141 OPS in September.

14. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros: Sure, go ahead and start booing. Altuve looked like a Hall of Famer before his poor 2020 season and he looked like one again this year. And there’s no player in baseball more eager to silence every hater.

15. Giancarlo Stanton, DH, Yankees: We all know what he can do when he’s healthy. Well, he’s healthy right now.

16. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox: His Field of Dreams home run will be the highlight that follows him around the rest of his life, but everything Anderson does captures your attention. We won’t be able to take our eyes off him this postseason.

17. Luis Robert, OF, White Sox: Sure, he played less than half the season, but have you seen what he did down the stretch? He has the talent that could carry this team all the way.

18. Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants: Did Brandon Crawford even see this coming? The longtime Giants mainstay has put together the best offensive season of his career -- by a lot! -- in his age-34 year, setting career highs in nearly every major category. And you can’t say he doesn’t know how the postseason works: He was winning World Series titles when Juan Soto was in grade school.

19. Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox: Devers very well might hit 50 homers someday, but now, at 24, he hit 37 this season … including the biggest one of the Red Sox season in the postseason clincher against the Nationals. It still feels like he somehow has even more room to grow. We might see it this October.

20. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox: Can you believe he has already been a mainstay of the Red Sox for nearly a decade now (he has a 2013 World Series ring)? Always durable, and forever terrific, Bogaerts was just his usual consistent self this year … and though he slumped down the stretch, he’s still a star.

21. Wander Franco, SS, Rays: Is this ranking too aggressive? Maybe! But is he already their best player? Maybe! Give this guy a year or two, and he might be on the very top of this list.

22. Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Brewers: The other brilliant Brewers starter, Woodruff is very Brewers: Unassuming, consistent and overpowering.

23. Lance Lynn, RHP, White Sox: He just keeps being underappreciated, year after year after year. He has secretly been one of the best three pitchers in baseball for a half-decade now.

24. Chris Sale, LHP, Red Sox: We’ve only seen it for 40 innings over the last two years, but Sale sure has shown plenty of glimpses of his Cy Young form since returning from injury. (Even if he has never actually won a Cy Young, despite finishing in the top six of voting a whopping seven times.) He did struggle in Game 162, and the Red Sox are going to have to win a game for us to even see him … but we all know what he can do at his best.

25. Buster Posey, C, Giants: Maybe the most remarkable non-Ohtani story in baseball this year, Posey is a former NL MVP who has found his old form after many, perhaps even himself, thought it had been lost forever. Can he win his fourth title?

26. Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros: This overlooked Astro has been an outfield mainstay all season, a quiet linchpin for a team with many recognizable names. He actually led the club with a .917 OPS.

27. Brandon Lowe, 2B, Rays: Lowe is the Rays personified: Not flashy, but consistently, incessantly excellent; a player who does everything well. Has anyone ever hit a quieter 39 homers?

28. Yordan Alvarez, DH, Astros: All the power in the world, it remains sort of unfair the Astros get to have this guy, too.

29. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers: His injury problems caused the Dodgers all sorts of issues, but now that he’s back, they look complete again.

30. José Abreu, 1B, White Sox: The reigning AL MVP just does what he always does: Be the veteran rock of a team that clearly revolves around him.

31. Julio Urías, LHP, Dodgers: Ho hum, another dominant Dodgers starter … one who, oh yeah, clinched a World Series for them last year and was this season’s only 20-game winner.

32. Yuli Gurriel, 1B, Astros: Oh, no big deal, just a batting champion who’s maybe the sixth-most recognizable hitter in the lineup.

33. Will Smith, C, Dodgers: Has he become the best catcher in baseball? It can be tough to sort him out from all the other great Dodgers, but he’s making a persuasive case.

34. Austin Riley, 3B, Braves: Riley had always flashed skills, but there was fear his plate discipline would keep him from reaching his potential. But his emergence (33 homers, .898 OPS) has been the biggest reason the Braves have overcome Acuña's season-ending injury.

35. Willy Adames, SS, Brewers: The transaction of the year. The Brewers started dominating the NL Central nearly at the very second they acquired Adames from the Rays. Milwaukee got in Adames exactly what it needed … and a whole lot more.

36. Tyler O’Neill, OF, Cardinals: The Cardinals have been waiting several years -- and waving goodbye to several outfielders who have succeeded elsewhere -- for O’Neill to put his five tools all together. This is the year we saw it: There are times when his power, speed and defensive skills look like they were created in a video game. (His arms sure look that way.)

37. Joey Gallo, OF, Yankees: Known mostly for his strikeouts and homers, he also walks more than anybody realizes and he is a deceptively good fielder. But let’s not kid ourselves: We all want to see those homers.

38. Adam Duvall, OF, Braves: Too high? I dunno: 38 homers and a National League-leading 111 RBIs beg to differ. (The sub-.300 OBP is the only thing preventing him from being a lot higher.)

39. Max Fried, LHP, Braves: You could argue he should be higher, but he lacks the dominant stuff of the other starters above him. That said, he matches up better against those monster Brewers starters than he’s probably given credit for.

40. J.D. Martinez, DH, Red Sox: We don’t know yet if his ankle is going to be OK, but it has been a delight to see Martinez’s power stroke return after a dreadful 2020. The Yankees haven’t forgotten what he’s like in the postseason: He was a monster against them in the 2018 ALDS.

41. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Giants: He faded a little as the season went on, but Gausman found his perfect place in San Francisco and he gave the Giants the ace they desperately needed.

42. Justin Turner, 3B, Dodgers: Just still there, being fantastic and being the heart of the Dodgers, like he has been for nearly a decade now.

43. Eloy Jiménez, OF, White Sox: Now that he’s healthy, he’s the sort of hitter that is going to strike all sorts of fear in pitchers late in every game he’s in.

44. Kris Bryant, 3B/LF, Giants: The 2016 NL MVP has been a nice fit for the Giants, though his numbers in San Francisco have been pedestrian (.788 OPS). That said, we know he doesn’t crack in the postseason.

45. Harrison Bader, OF, Cardinals: The sparkplug for the entire Cardinals’ September run, Bader is a defensive dynamo, a baserunning terror and a complete joy to watch. Who’s more fun than this?

46. Kenley Jansen, RHP, Dodgers: For all the issues Jansen has had the last few years, he has had one of his best seasons this year. Let’s see how the playoffs go, though.

47. Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals: The only guy over 40 on this list, he has had a resurgent season for the ages. He was the only choice to start the NL Wild Card Game.

48. Logan Webb, RHP, Giants: It’s not just 30-somethings who thrive for the Giants: They’ve found something special in Webb, who could end up being their best starter in October. His 2.71 ERA in the second half is the best among San Francisco starters.

49. Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays: He was good this season, maybe even worthy of the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but he wasn’t, you know, October 2020 Arozarena. But wow, what if he were that guy again this postseason?

50. Kolten Wong, 2B, Brewers: Another key offseason addition for the Brewers, he’s the leadoff man and the defensive wizard the team obviously needed. It’s temping to put Christian Yelich here as an additional Brewers position player, or perhaps Avisaíl García, but Yelich hasn’t resembled an All-Star since 2019, and Wong’s defense gives him an edge over García.