Wednesday is a rare -- and, to be honest, unwelcome -- October day without baseball. It's a day to rest, reflect and, if you’ve been staying up as late as I have for the last week, maybe catch up on a little sleep. And it’s as good a time as any to take stock of just how outstanding some of these players’ performances have been so far.
You can be one of the best players in the world, but it’s the postseason when your brilliance has the brightest light on it, when everybody sees it. Through the two Wild Card Games and nearly all of the Division Series, there have been some true standouts. Here’s a look at the 10 best performers in the playoffs so far.
1. OF Kiké Hernández, Red Sox
Hernández obviously has a long history in the postseason with the Dodgers, including two huge homers in the NLCS last year. (His next postseason game will be his 64th, which is more than, say, Buster Posey has played.) But he’s never been better than he is right now. He hit .450 with two homers in the ALDS win over Tampa Bay, and you may have a vague memory of a particularly big at-bat that ended the series. He’s the Robert Horry of the 2021 postseason: Big Shot Kiké!
2. OF Joc Pederson, Braves
Is it the pearls? It’s gotta be the pearls! (This is a free advertising slogan for any athletic apparel company that would like to use it.) The Braves’ Trade Deadline acquisition has hit two monster homers, including a three-run blast that provided the only runs in a pivotal Game 3 win over the Brewers. His biggest moments have come off the bench -- he’s 1-for-5 outside his two pinch-hit homers -- but there really isn’t much bigger than a pinch-hit homer in the postseason.
3. RHP Lance McCullers Jr., Astros
The guy obviously has plenty of postseason experience. The Astros almost certainly don’t win the 2017 World Series without him. But McCullers has evolved into their most reliable starter now, and he has been fantastic in his two starts so far, giving up just one solo home run in 10 2/3 innings. He won’t be able to start Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, but assuming his sore forearm is nothing serious, he’s a weapon whenever he starts and one that has been deployed out of the 'pen as well. Houston certainly knows it can trust him.
4. C Will Smith, Dodgers
Many around the Dodgers have argued that Smith, in addition to being the best catcher in baseball right now, might be the most important and underappreciated hitter on the team. He’s been pivotal in the Dodgers’ march to their second win-or-go-home game in a month, hitting .333 with two homers for a team that is just now starting to finally score some runs. We’ll see what happens in Game 5 on Thursday night, but you know Smith will be right in the middle of it.
5. RHP Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox
You would think it'd be impossible for Eovaldi to top his heroics of the 2018 World Series, but he’s making a run at it so far. He has been nails in his two starts for the Red Sox, striking out 16 hitters in 10 1/3 innings, more strikeouts than anyone else in the playoffs to this point. With Chris Sale’s struggles, Eovaldi appears to be the ace of Boston's staff right now. Against the Astros, he’ll need to remain at his best.
6. LF Kris Bryant, Giants
The Giants' acquisition of Bryant was such an obvious fit that it felt like it had happened weeks before it actually did, and it’s certainly paying off in the postseason so far. Bryant is hitting an incredible .462 this October, and he has also played four positions, including a brief stint in center field. (Bryant has yet to play third base in the NLDS.) The Giants have one game to continue their truly remarkable season. Wherever they need him, Bryant will be there.
7. OF Kyle Tucker, Astros
Quietly the best hitter for the Astros during the regular season, Tucker has kept it going in the postseason, leading all hitters with seven RBIs. Whatever your thoughts on RBIs, we can all agree they’re rather pivotal in the postseason, yes? Tucker may be having his star moment this month.
8. 3B Rafael Devers, Red Sox
Devers hit two homers and had a .429 OBP against the Astros in the 2017 ALDS … as a 20-year-old. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see him launching the ball like he is now, with two homers thus far this October, including a pivotal three-run homer in the decisive Game 4 against the Rays. His career postseason line, in 20 games, is .308/.387/.538. That'll work.
9. DH Yordan Alvarez, Astros
Alvarez’s preternatural batting eye has always been one of his superpowers, and it’s paying off for him big time. He has somehow walked six times in just four games, helping him put together the highest OBP of any player remaining at .529. In a lineup where no one is particularly fun to pitch to, the player pitchers are consistently avoiding is Alvarez.
10. LHP Tyler Matzek, Braves
Winning in the postseason is all about deploying relievers at the right times and the biggest moments, and Matzek has been all the Braves could have possibly hoped for. He pitched in all four of the Braves’ games against the Brewers and didn’t give up a run in 4 1/3 innings, striking out six along the way. He’ll be used whenever the Braves need him -- which, as we’ve seen already, will be often. (Honorable mention to Matzek’s teammate, Will Smith. The Braves’ closer saved all three of his opportunities in the NLDS after an often times rocky regular season.)