The 2022 World Series Playoffs are upon us! Where anything can happen and anyone can step up in the big moments! Baseball is always filled with the unlikeliest heroes; take 2018 Red Sox World Series MVP Steve Pearce for example. If the American League wants to claim their first title since 2018, it’ll take important, underrated, or underperforming players to step up. Here is one underrated X-Factor for each AL team in their quest for the Championship.
Houston Astros (106-56)
X-Factor: Alex Bregman
When the Astros “won” their World Series in 2017, Bregman was an up and coming talent that was tearing up the league. This year, he enters as a veteran looking to lead and change the legacy of the Astros in recent memory. Bregman has not had a great year by his standards posting the worst numbers over a full season in his career despite a low number of strikeouts. While Houston has an outstanding pitching staff, they need Bregman to drive in runs in the middle of their order to get themselves back to the World Series.
New York Yankees (99-63)
X-Factor: Entire Bullpen
By far the biggest question mark for the Yankees this year has been their bullpen. While inconsistencies in their lineup have been issues as well, the bullpen needs to stay strong if they want to go deep this postseason. Many injuries have caused many arms to have to fill spots throughout the year and they enter with 7 bullpen guys on IL. However, Clay Holmes has stepped up in a closer role in the downfall of Aroldis Chapman, Lucas Leutege is a nasty lefty, and deadline acquisitions Lou Trivino and Scott Effross have shined. Overall, the health and consistency of the Yankees bullpen will either be their downfall or biggest X-Factor to win the AL.
Cleveland Guardians (92-70)
X-Factor: Josh Naylor
Cleveland is one of the most interesting teams in this year’s playoffs as they break the norm of today’s MLB. They rely on small ball and elite defense with smart, contact hitters throughout their lineup. The crown jewel? Jose Ramirez. We know JoRam is going to show up, but in the biggest moments, I think first baseman Josh Naylor will be the one to step up. His underrated pop and intense, fiery nature is the perfect spark in the postseason and he could potentially thrive in the spotlight. Look for Naylor to step up if the team is down, and lead the team in victory.
Toronto Blue Jays (92-70)
X-Factor: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The 2020 Playoffs were tough on the Blue Jays, being far from home in the dreaded Tropicana Field and swept away in the first round without much of a fight. 2021 saw an MVP-type season from Guerrero Jr. and the team fell one game short from the postseason. This year, Guerrero Jr. called it the movie, and so far, it has lived up to that title with twists and turns around every corner. Now, they’re here and clicking on all cylinders. However, Guerrero Jr. seems to be one of the few that took a little step back. Inconsistency, many double plays, yet some clutch moments late in the year have caused Guerrero Jr. to land in this spot; the X-Factor. At his best, this is a player that can take over and win you the series and take you through to the promised land. At his worst? The Jays will have an abrupt end to their film.
Seattle Mariners (90-72)
X-Factor: Robbie Ray
Cal Raleigh ended the drought that dated back to before I was born, and now it's the Mariners time to run with that adrenaline. Deadline splash Luis Castillo and more importantly Robbie Ray have to be the one-two punch they were promised to be this late in the year. The young offense of Seattle should be up to the task of the postseason trials so it falls to the rotation to be the X-Factor. Specifically, last year’s Cy Young winner Robbie Ray needs to show up big in front of his former home crowd if Seattle wants to go past round one and make a deep run into the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Rays (86-76)
X-Factor: Randy Arozarena
The never-say-die Tampa Bay Rays always find a way to get the job done. And with a rotating cast of pitchers that always baffle opposing hitters, it falls to the offense to drive in runs for their ace Shane McClanahan and company. Randy Arozarena made a name for himself in the 2020 playoffs. His infamous run led the Rays all the way to the World Series and his contributions will be the factor that brings them back again. If he can top 2020, this team could shock the world. But if he fails to show up, they just might facing an early exit