Steve Pearce. David Freese. Luis Sojo. Pat Borders. Gene Tenace. These are not the first names anyone would have predicted to be their team’s saviors in the World Series, but they ended up being heroes for their teams regardless. They are legends for their fan bases in a way even some superstars aren’t.
By nature, it’s difficult to predict who the unlikeliest heroes will be for each of the teams in this year’s World Series: If they were easy to predict, they wouldn’t be unlikely, after all. But you can look at the Astros and the Nationals and make some educated guesses of who might surprise over the next week-plus. Who’s going to emerge as a folk hero for decades to come? Maybe it’ll be one of these six guys.
Matt Adams, Nationals. Adams actually played more games at first base than anyone else on the Nationals this year, and he was quietly third on the team in homers. With Ryan Zimmerman back and healthy, though, he likely won’t be starting many games this Series, with only three at-bats this postseason so far. (Though he seems like a potential DH candidate at some point, even with Howie Kendrick getting the nod in Game 1.) But Adams gets the call here because he has a long history of big postseason moments, from a game-winning homer in Game 5 of the 2013 National League Division Series to a notorious homer off Clayton Kershaw in the 2014 NLDS. He has more postseason homers than any other Nats player. He’s the perfect candidate to hit a few more.
Aledmys Díaz, Astros. Díaz only played in 69 games for the Astros this year, and he’s 0-for-7 so far this postseason. But this is a former All-Star -- he actually struck out with the bases loaded against now-teammate Will Harris in the 2016 All-Star Game, which ultimately made certain that Games 6 and 7 of that year’s World Series were in Cleveland rather than Wrigley Field -- who was legitimately excellent for Houston in his short stint this year. Díaz is essentially the team’s only infielder off the bench, and, particularly at Nationals Park, he may be their most reliable bench bat. He’s had an odd career, with four teams in his first three years after being a hyped Cardinals prospect, but his brightest moment could be yet to come.
Will Harris, Astros. Houston's bullpen is a little bit more in flux than it usually is, with Roberto Osuna’s struggles and Ryan Pressly’s injury issues. (The Astros say he will be fine, but that knee pop looked scary in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.) Harris has been a reliable reliever for five seasons now, but this was in fact his best year, with a 1.50 ERA in 68 appearances. Osuna gets all the attention, both good and bad, but Harris looks primed to be the reliever tossed into a huge spot … maybe the biggest spot.
Gerardo Parra, Nationals. BABY SHARK DOO DOO DOODOO DOO.
Sorry, it’s Pavlovian at this point.
The Nationals have a particularly thin bench, becoming of a team with a ton of stars but not that much depth. So Parra, without even considering his cult status with the fan base, could loom large in this series, not just as a pinch-hitter but as a potential late defensive replacement. This is the World Series, and two terrific teams, which means there’s going to be at least one game that goes into extra innings, and maybe deep into the night. That’s precisely the sort of game that Parra would loom large in. Imagine a 14-inning game at Nationals Park this weekend where Parra comes up with runners on in a tie game, a chance to give the Nats a walk-off win as 45,000 lunatics are all Baby Shark-ing. That’s a postseason moment to be etched in stone right there.
Aníbal Sánchez, Nationals. If there’s a pitcher who’s most likely to have a Nathan Eovaldi moment this World Series, it’s got to be Sánchez, right? Sánchez is the other Nationals starter, which is to say, he’s very good, he’s just not Scherzer/Strasburg/Corbin good. But you may remember him almost throwing a no-hitter in the NLCS, and whether he’s used as a starter or as a long man may depend on where this series is after three games. This is a veteran player who has pitched in countless big moments before and, unlike most of his teammates … he has been a part of a World Series before.
Kyle Tucker, Astros. Tucker has been a mess this postseason and has generally been thought of as a disappointment, considering his vaunted prospect status. But the raw talent is undeniable, and in the World Series, when everything’s moving incredibly fast and players can fall into despair out of nowhere, raw talent isn’t the worst thing to have to rely on. All it would take would be one Tucker homer to get him in the lineup regularly. We know he has the skills to do it.