Pa Rowan Kauner
Posted by FOX Sports MLB

yes Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt and Mookie Betts and Manny Machado everything will matter in October. But to make serious strides in October, every team needs help beyond its superstars.

Every team needs the X factor.

These players aren’t the best on their teams, but their subtle presence will make a difference. Perhaps they are moving away from trauma. They may have had an up and down season. Maybe young. Maybe they’re just not household names yet.

In any case, the performances of these members could be the difference between winning the cup and an early exit.

Here’s the X-factor for each playoff club.


New York Mets: Eduardo Escobar

The Mets are 16th in the majors in home runs. Who in the composition will provide them, except Pete Alonso and Franziska Lindor? How about the current player of the month? The start of Escobar’s first season in New York hasn’t gone the way he envisioned, but the 33-year-old has been the Mets’ best hitter since early September, belting eight homers with a .321 average during that time.

San Diego Padres: Josh Bell

Things haven’t gone well for Bell since he put on a San Diego uniform. He had a 153 OPS+ in 103 games with Citizens; since joining the Padres, he has a 75 OPS+ with a negative WAR. He’s hitting the ball more, he’s not hitting the ball as hard, and he has just eight extra-base hits in San Diego. But this is a guy who hit 27 homers last year and had an .895 OPS in the first half of the season. If he enters the Padres order, they could make some noise.

Philadelphia Phillies: Serantani Dominguez

Dominguez has helped keep a struggling Phillies team afloat for most of the year, but he’s seen his ERA nearly double from the 1.57 mark he had on Sept. 13. He will be an important piece of leverage, and whichever version the Phillies get in October could depend on how long they last.

Toronto Blue Jays: Ross Stripling

This offense is one of the best in baseball. The pitching staff was shakier, but Stripling provided stability. The Blue Jays will need someone in the rotation to step up behind them Kevin Gausman and Alec Manoahand taking into account Jose Berrias“Fickle nature this year, they will probably need Stripling for important innings. He has a 2.79 ERA with 44 strikeouts and five walks since coming off the injured list on Aug. 17.

Seattle Mariners: Eugenio Suarez

It is tempting to put Julio Rodriguez here, but the newcomer has already become a star. On the other end of the service time spectrum, the veteran Suarez’s power and cutting time will be crucial to the Mariners’ middle-order offense. After seven years in Cincinnati, Suarez is enjoying his chance in Seattle and is hitting better with runners in scoring position (.298/.392/.537). He is also the team’s top hitter against lefties (164 WRC+).

Tampa Bay Rays: Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow returned from Tommy John surgery in no time. All-star starter Shane McClanahan hasn’t quite looked like himself since returning from a hit to his left shoulder in mid-September, making Glasnow’s presence even more important for the Rays. The hard-throwing right-hander is still recovering, but he struck out 10 of the 26 batters he faced in two starts ago and averaged 97.4 mph on his fastball — up nearly half an hour faster than last year. He could be a giant addition in October.

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Los Angeles Dodgers: Gavin Lux

For most of baseball’s second half, Lux’s OPS hovered around .800. Then in September, that number dropped. Still, the former top prospect took a big step forward in his age-24 season. His consistency played a prominent role in helping turn the lineup into the top half of the Dodgers’ lineup. If the Dodgers get a version of Lux, who had a .293/.370/.430 slash line in late August, it will be much more difficult for pitchers to navigate their offense.

Atlanta Braves: Beginners

You’ll recognize a lot of the same names and faces from last year’s championship, but there’s also a youth movement happening in Atlanta. In fact, the two top NL Rookie of the Year favorites are on the same team, as an outfielder Michael Harris II and the starter Spencer Strider have become vital participants. How will the young guys handle the bright light for the first time? The health of Strider, whose NLDS availability is uncertain due to an oblique injury, and the play of Harris will be a big factor in whether Atlanta can repeat.

St. Louis Cardinals: Jose Quintana

The Cardinals are making an offensive push to compete in October, but a long streak won’t be possible unless someone in the rotation steps up. Since Jordan Montgomery made waves for his performance at the deadline, it was Quintana who led that rotation in September. Maybe he is the guy in October.

Houston Astros: Framber Valdez

This rotation may not boast much national prominence Justin Verlander, but that could change in October. Valdes went from a solid starter the last two seasons to an All-Star this year, logging the most innings in the American League while amassing a 2.82 ERA. He saw him as funny streak of 25 consecutive quality starts recently ended after stumbling in his final two starts in September, but he returned to action in the regular season finale. The Astros will need Valdez, the rotation’s only lefty, to be in his usual form to get where they hope to go.

New York Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton

Judge didn’t get much help offensively in the second half of the season, and Stanton’s health was a big factor. The All-Star MVP hasn’t looked the same since returning from left Achilles tendonitis in late August, but October seems to have breathed life into Stanton’s bat. At the beginning of the month, he won three games in a row. A native of Southern California thought about the Yankees-Dodgers World Series. His ability to produce will play a major factor in getting the Yankees there.

Cleveland Guardians: Stephen Kwan

The Guardians’ pitching is elite. Their hitters are pesky and persistent, they make a lot of soft contact, steal a ton of bases and strike out less than any other team in baseball. There is there is no better example than Kwanwho has more walks than strikeouts, six homers, 19 stolen bases and the same on-base percentage as an All-Star teammate Andres Gimenez. We’d probably be hearing a lot more about him in Rookie of the Year conversations if it weren’t for Julio Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman.

Rowan Kauner covers the Dodgers and the NL West for FOX Sports. He previously served as the Dodgers’ digital and print editor. Follow him on Twitter at @RavanKauner.

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