By Cliff Corcoran
Let's face it. We have no idea what's going to happen in the playoffs this year. And that's a good thing. Anything can happen in a one-game playoff, and there are too many elite teams in this year's postseason for there to be an easy favorite like last year's Cubs, who still needed an unlikely World Series comeback and extra innings in Game 7 to seal the deal.
What we do know is that short series will magnify the impact of individual performances. With that in mind, here is one player from each of the 10 playoff teams who could be a difference-maker.
Minnesota Twins -- Byron Buxton, CF
Buxton was sent down to Triple-A on July 14 with a .218/.292/.311 batting line and finished the season with an OPS+ below league average. Yet, he led the Twins in wins above replacement on the season. His .298/.342/.541 performance at the plate after his Aug. 1 recall helped lift the Twins into the AL's final playoff spot, but it is Buxton's all-around ability to impact the game that allowed him to emerge as the team's most valuable player after just two months of hot hitting. If not for the continued excellence of Andrelton Simmons, Buxton's play in center field might make him the most valuable fielder in the Majors, and he had 29 steals on the season while being caught just once. We don't know if it will be with his legs, glove, arm, or bat, but it seems likely that Buxton will continue to play a pivotal role for the Twins this postseason.
New York Yankees -- Dellin Betances, RHP
A four-time All-Star, Betances has a triple-digit fastball and a wicked curve, and he has struck out 40 percent of the Major League batters he has faced since 2013. He's also a pitcher who put 55 men on base via a walk or hit-by pitch in just 59 2/3 innings this season, struggles to hold runners on and had a rough patch from late August to mid-September in which he posted an 8.64 ERA over 10 outings. That stretch coincided with Betances' stint as closer while Aroldis Chapman was on the disabled list, although manager Joe Girardi tinkered with the backend of the bullpen even after Chapman returned. In his only previous postseason outing, against the Astros in the 2015 Wild Card Game, Betances walked the first man he faced, had a pinchrunner steal second, then gave up a run-scoring single. Of course, he then struck out the side in order in his second inning of work. The Yankees bullpen is deep, but the Yankees have precious little room for error this postseason.
Colorado Rockies -- Carlos Gonzalez, RF
It's unclear how much a variety of injuries, including a pitch to the hand in late April and right shoulder soreness which briefly sent him to the disabled list in late June, contributed to Gonzalez's struggles this season, but by the end of August he still had a slash line of .239/.308/.356. Then came September and a .377/.484/.766 performance that helped Colorado fend of the Brewers and Cardinals to claim the final NL playoff spot. If that line looks impressive, remember that in his only previous playoff opportunity (the 2009 Division Series against the Phillies) CarGo went 10-for-17 (.588) with two doubles, a homer, two walks and a pair of stolen bases. Eight years later, with his bat finally hot and his seven-year contract about to expire, he's surely champing at the bit for a chance to play deeper into October.
Arizona Diamondbacks -- David Peralta, LF
Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez are obviously the big bats in the Arizona lineup that will be the focal point of every opponent's pitchers meeting this postseason. However, setting up those big middle-of-the-order hitters will be Peralta, who has been the team's primary leadoff man since mid-July. Whether or not Peralta is on base when Goldschmidt and Martinez come to the plate will have a significant impact on how the opposition will have to handle those two mashers. The good news for the D-backs is that Peralta is 6-for-13 lifetime against the Rockies' Wild Card Game starter Jon Gray. The bad news, Peralta tweaked his back in the penultimate game of the regular season and sat out on Sunday. He's expected to be in the lineup on Wednesday, but it's unclear if he'll be at full strength.
Boston Red Sox -- David Price, LHP
The Red Sox hope Price, who struggled with elbow issues throughout the regular season, can serve as an Andrew Miller-like piece for them this October, overshadowing his own troubled postseason history in the process. Overstated though that history might have been prior to 2014, it clearly got in Price's head as he posted a 7.09 ERA in four starts and one bizarre relief appearance over the past two postseasons with the Blue Jays and Red Sox. However, he dominated as a reliever with the Rays in the 2008 playoffs, and again across five appearances and 8 2/3 innings for the Red Sox late in the season, striking out 13 while allowing just five baserunners.
Houston Astros -- Chris Devenski, RHP
Devenski was an AL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2016 and All-Star in 2017 who seems most comfortable in multi-inning outings, only getting more effective the longer he is allowed to pitch according to his, admittedly small-sample, splits. With a mid-90s fastball and two strong secondary pitches, a slider and changeup, Devenski can devour those dangerous middle innings. That would allow manager A.J. Hinch to have a quicker hook with his starters. It will be very interesting to see just how aggressive Hinch and Red Sox skipper John Farrell are with Devenski and Price this postseason. If last October is any guide, the more aggressive manager could be the winning manager.
Cleveland Indians -- Carlos Carrasco, RHP
The Indians surprised a lot of people (and teams) last October, but they're not sneaking up on anybody this year. The biggest change on this year's team is the presence of a second front-end starter in Carlos Carrasco, who missed last October after a comebacker broke his pitching hand in mid-September. This year, he's healthy and coming into the postseason hot, with a 1.27 ERA in his past seven starts and 14 strikeouts in his last regular-season turn. Will he respond to his first postseason exposure as well as Corey Kluber did last year? We'll find out on Friday.
Chicago Cubs -- Jake Arrieta, RHP
This has been a confounding walk-year for the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner. He finished June with a 4.67 ERA, dominated in July and August (1.69 ERA), then pulled up lame in September with a Grade 1 hamstring strain. That injury shortened his Sept. 4 start and put him on the disabled list. He pitched well in his return on Sept. 21, but he reaggravated the injury last Tuesday and skipped his final turn of the regular season. As things stand, it's unclear where he'll slot in the Cubs' Division Series rotation, but he'll have had nine days of rest by Game 1 and won't have thrown more than 71 pitches since Aug. 29 no matter when he starts.
Washington Nationals -- Bryce Harper, RF
Harper missed 42 games with a bone bruise in his left knee and a strained calf after slipping on first base on Aug. 12. After a brief illness, he finally returned on Sept. 26, but didn't do much in his final five games (3-for-18, .167, with no extra-base hits and seven strikeouts) and will have had four more days off before the Division Series commences on Friday. By all accounts, Harper's leg is healthy (he did steal two bases over those five games), but his comfort at the plate is an open question. If the Nats are going to make it past the Division Series for the first time in their history (on their fourth try in six years), they'll need Bryce Harper to be Bryce Harper on both sides of the ball.
Los Angeles Dodgers -- Corey Seager, SS
The 23-year-old shortstop will be in the postseason for the third time already. A career .305/.374/.502 hitter and two-time All-Star, he finished third in the NL MVP voting a year ago and is already taken for granted as the best everyday player on this Dodgers team. He's also dealing with a nagging right elbow injury that he said will likely require surgery in the offseason. Since that injury flared up in late August, Seager has hit just .205/.280/.349. However, he did pick up the pace a bit in the final week, with a pair of home runs earlier in the week and a three-hit game on Sunday. Perhaps the four days off will do him some good. Then again, the injury could not only undermine his hitting in this postseason, but given that it's his throwing arm, his fielding as well. It's no surprise that Seager's injury and the Dodgers' late-season swoon coincided.
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.