LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Baseball expanded its postseason party to a 16-team, March Madness approach.
It is the largest group of teams that has been included in the postseason, a likely one-time boom driven by the shortened 60-game regular season because of the novel coronavirus.
More teams translates to more local representation in the chase to win a World Series ring. By my count, seven former Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana players have opportunities to hoist the commissioner’s trophy.
That breaks down to four Cards, two Hoosiers and one Wildcat. Here is a rundown on the final seven.
The players are listed according to their team’s probability to win the World Series by predictive analytics website fivethirtyeight.com.
On a team that features Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger and others vying to become Mr. October, Smith quietly delivered another terrific season. After missing time in August because of a neck injury, Smith started slowly, hitting .188 in his first 14 games. He probably needed less time in the lineup and more time in the training room.
That’s not the way Smith operated at the University of Louisville or at Kentucky Country Day High School. He played through the injuries, got healthy and finished with one of the hottest bats on baseball’s best team.
Will Smith - Los Angeles Dodgers (8) pic.twitter.com/7n8ArQ2a7d— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) September 27, 2020
In September, Smith hit .348 with four home runs and 14 runs batted in. His OPS+ (on base percentage plus slugging percentage, factoring the differences between ball parks) was tops on the Dodgers and 11th in major league baseball at 164. Average is considered 100.
In this story at MLB.com, Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts said that he has been so impressed by Smith’s determination not to swing at pitches outside the strike zone that Smith will bat in the middle of the order for the Dodgers’ in the postseason.
Los Angeles begins its first-round series against Milwaukee on Wednesday.
2.. Aaron Slegers, Indiana, Rays reliever (10%)
Nobody counts on its bullpen more than the Rays, so look for Slegers to earn plenty of opportunities if Tampa can handle Toronto in its opening series.
Aaron Slegers gets the 3 inning save in a 1 run game. Cash may very well deploy him in high leverage situations (and for multiple innings) throughout the playoffs. He has had an exceptional 2020 season: pic.twitter.com/uJDK3jl3nZ— Rays Metrics (@RaysMetrics) September 27, 2020
At 6 feet 10 inches tall, the former IU closer posted a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio of 19 to 5. Opponents hit .194 against Slegers, who allowed one home run in 26 innings. He’s not a flamethrower. He just looks like one.
3. Taylor Rogers, Kentucky, Twins reliever (8%)
A season after he saved 30 games for Minnesota, Rogers continued to show that he’s capable of closing games, earning nine saves as the Twins won the American League Central.
Dazzling control defines Rogers’ approach. He faced 91 hitters and walked four, while striking out 24. The Twins play Houston in the opening round. They’ll need Rogers to advance to the second round against the A’s or White Sox — before getting a crack at the Yankees.
4. Chad Green, Louisville, Yankees reliever (8%)
Green recovered from a shaky stretch in August when he allowed four home runs to hold his spot as a critical piece between the Yankees’ starters and closer Aroldis Chapman.
He won three games and saved another because of a power breaking ball that allowed Green to average more than a strikeout per inning (32 in 25 2/3). The Yankees open postseason play at Cleveland with a tasty matchup between Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber.
5. Adam Duvall, Louisville, Braves outfielder (7%)
Check the National League home run leaderboard. There’s Duvall, tied for third with mega-millionaires like Mookie Betts and Manny Machado with 16.
Duvall will never hit for a high average. Too much swing and miss in his game. That’s one reason the Reds and the Giants moved on from the former U of L and Butler High School star. Duvall already has one World Series ring earned in San Francisco.
Pete Alonso (53) & Eugenio Suarez (49) led the NL in HR in 2019.They combined to hit 31 HR total in 2020.Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall, & Ronald Acuña, Jr. combined to hit 31 home runs as well......in just the last 30 days. pic.twitter.com/AUkArDqR4s— Knockahoma Nation (@KnockahomaNTN) September 28, 2020
But there has been thunder in Duvall’ bat this month. He’s hit a dozen home runs with 20 runs batted in during September.
Now Duvall has a chance to taunt the Reds in a first-round series.
6. Kyle Schwarber, Indiana, Cubs outfielder (5%)
Nobody on the list has more on the line this month than Schwarber, the converted IU catcher. Four seasons after he was celebrated for returning from a knee injury to contribute to the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory, Schwarber was called out for his outfield play by manager David Ross last week.
Kyle Schwarber MAY have been pulled from the game after not fully hustling to get this ball in, which resulted in a triple and a run. pic.twitter.com/3Jib3u6aCO— Cubs Zone ™️ (@CubsZone) September 21, 2020
Schwarber will be a free agent after the 2021 season. Some have suggested that it’s time for the Cubs to move on from a guy who hit .188 with 66 strikeouts in 191 at-bats. Maybe he’s better suited to life as a designated hitter.
The Cubs are matched against the Marlins starting Wednesday.
7. Adam Engel, Louisville, White Sox outfielder (2%)
Engel, the former U of L center fielder, lost his spot in the White Sox starting lineup to rookie Luis Robert. But he never pouted or complained.
He delivered his best batting average (.295) in the big leagues while playing all three outfield positions and contributing as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter.
This will be Engel’s first appearance in the postseason as the White Sox open in Oakland Tuesday.
Man of Slug. pic.twitter.com/nXVKBHKOYm— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) September 29, 2020
Engel celebrated in a day he'll always remember -- a home run in his first at bat, followed by a double in his second.
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