Something peculiar has happened with the main candidates for the Most Valuable Player award this year. Neither had enough impact to lead their teams to the postseason.
Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper, Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – all applicants for the individual award – will have to watch the consecration of the Major League Baseball champion from their homes.
Other luminaries have remained: Mookie Betts, José Altuve, Aaron Judge and Freddie Freeman. Of course, everyone was there last year when Tampa Bay Rays rookie Randy Arozarena got the spotlight.
Arozarena set postseason records with 10 home runs and 29 hits. The Cuban was proclaimed the MVP of the American League championship series, and he starred in a memorable gallop to score a run that forced a sixth game in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was an extraordinary breakthrough for a 25-year-old who had barely accumulated 42 regular-season games as experience.
October is the month when the real stars emerge. Here are five players that could be uncovered this month:
WANDER FRANCO, SS, TAMPA BAY RAYS
A candidate for Rookie of the Year in the American League despite just 70 service games, Franco had no complications in the transition from phenomenon in the minors to productive figure with the big team. The 20-year-old ambidextrous hit .288 with seven home runs and an .810 OPS, emulating the 43-game hitting streak that legendary Frank Robinson established in 1956 – the longest for a player 20 years or younger. Whatever happens this postseason, Franco looms as a star, but this October could accelerate his rise to the elite.
Another Rays player to watch: Rookie right-hander Shane Baz, who is 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his first three major league starts in September, could open a hole in Tampa Bay’s postseason rotation.
TYLER O’NEILL, GARDENER, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
The son of a champion bodybuilder, O’Neill sparked the Cardinals’ onslaught in September, setting a franchise record by stringing together 17 wins. He hit 13 home runs in the last 31 games and led the NL with 30 RBIs in that span. The 26-year-old Canadian has joined a fearsome trio of sluggers at the core of the offensive order alongside Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.
AUSTIN RILEY, 3B, ATLANTA BRAVES
Riley stepped forward when the Braves needed others to cover Ronald Acuna Jr’s loss with a right knee injury in July that left the Venezuelan for the rest of the season. The 24-year-old Riley entered the MVP conversation with 33 home runs, 107 RBIs and an .898 OPS. He disappointed last October, hitting .143 when Atlanta lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the league championship series. Redeeming himself this season could be key to Atlanta reaching its first World Series since 1999.
LUIS GARCÍA, PITCHER, HOUSTON ASTROS
The Astros still have several of the stars of the tainted 2017 champion team – José Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel. But his aspirations in 2021 depend a lot on this 24-year-old Venezuelan. The rookie was 11-8 with a 3.30 ERA in 30 games, including 28 starts. With Justin Verlander ruled out all year after Tommy John surgery and Zack Greinke possibly sent to the bullpen with a late-stretch injury, Garcia would be Lance McCullers Jr.’s shooting guard in a young starting rotation.
LAMONTE WADE JR., 1B / GARDENER, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
LaMonte has been the great discovery of the amazing Giants. Discarded by the Minnesota Twins, Wade made his way into the starting lineup and has chipped in several major hits for San Francisco to end the Los Angeles Dodgers’ eight-year reign in the NL West.