World Series X factors: Astros, Dodgers who could seize the spotlight

LOS ANGELES – Megastars such as Clayton Kershaw and Jose Altuve will be at the forefront of the World Series, but there’s also a storied history of unheralded players making a huge difference in October.

Who could be this year’s X-factors? A quintet of names you best know now before they seize the spotlight:

Alex Bregman, Astros

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft as a shortstop, Bregman has made a smooth transition to third base in his first full major league season. His stellar throw to the plate to nab the Yankees’ Greg Bird to preserve a 1-0 Astros lead in Game 7 of the ALCS is one of the best defensive plays of the postseason.

Bregman moved up to the No. 2 spot in the order for the ALCS finale and could see more time there in the World Series with three left-handers in Dodgers’ starting rotation. He hit .331 with a .570 slugging percentage against southpaws during the regular season.

You can identify him by his uniform number: 2, after someone who built his reputation in October, Derek Jeter. “Unbelievable player, especially in the postseason. I wanted to be that guy when I grew up.”

Chris Taylor, Dodgers

The co-MVP of the National League Championship Series, Taylor, a shortstop and center fielder, has a .410 on-base percentage in this postseason and hit a pair of home runs in the five-game conquest of the Cubs. But his versatility in the field may be even more important with starting shortstop Corey Seager returning from a back injury.

“It’s been like that all year. People go down, the next person steps up,” Seager said Monday. “You like seeing stories like that where a guy puts in the work and turns his career around.”

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In the NLCS, Taylor started twice at short and three times in center field and scored five runs as the Dodgers' leadoff hitter.

Marwin Gonzalez, Astros

Houston’s version of Taylor made at least 10 starts at five positions during the regular season, but he’s played all but one game this postseason in left field. (The other was at first base.)

Gonzalez has struggled at the plate in the playoffs, hitting just .162 in 37 at-bats.

“I was trying to do a little bit too much,” he said. “I’m going to try to focus a little more and try to be the same as (in) the regular season. It’s not easy.”

Gonzalez led the Astros with 90 RBI in the regular season and as a switch-hitter, he can be dangerous no matter who’s on the mound. He also has the strongest outfield arm of anyone not named Yasiel Puig in this World Series.

Brandon Morrow, Dodgers

Closer Kenley Jansen is the best in baseball, but the Dodgers have used a number of pitchers to set him up. Morrow, a former starter who missed time in each of the past four seasons with injuries, finally emerged as a legitimate weapon after signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers in the off-season.

He streamlined his pitch mix, scrapping a splitter and a cut fastball, focusing exclusively on his fastball and slider.

“I knew I needed to come in and show swing-and-miss stuff. You can’t just get outs if you’re on a minor league deal. You’ve got to strike guys out. That’s just the way it is if you’re going to be in a major league bullpen,” Morrow said. “My best swing-and-miss stuff is my fastball and slider.”

Averaging a career-high 98 mph on his fastball – at age 32 – Morrow posted a 2.06 ERA during the regular season and has been even better in the playoffs. He’s allowed one run and three hits in 8 1/3 postseason innings (1.08 ERA) and held hitters to a .111 batting average.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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