Here Are the Standout Contributors From the Eliminated Wild Card Clubs

Josh Bell
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The wild card round is already short enough, and this year, all four matchups ended in sweeps. That’s not much postseason baseball for the Rays, Blue Jays, Brewers, and Marlins. Suffice it to say, none of those teams took October, despite what the t-shirts promised.

While I feel a twinge of heartache for the losing side in any postseason matchup, I feel especially bad for the first-round exits. After a 162-game slog with the playoffs as the only goal, their season is over in the blink of an eye. With time, some will be forgotten as contenders entirely. That seems a shame, considering how well each of these teams performed in the regular season.

With that in mind, I wanted to take one last moment to recognize the playoff performances of Miami, Milwaukee, Toronto, and Tampa Bay, before the winds of the postseason blow on to the Division Series matchups. To be clear, there isn’t a ton to celebrate; they were each swept, after all. Still, every eliminated team had at least one player whose postseason showing deserves a pat on the back.

The first team eliminated is the hardest to praise. The Rays went out with a whimper, scoring just a single run and giving up 11. On the offensive side, their most valuable contributors were Randy Arozarena and Isaac Paredes, but as you can guess by the lone run the Rays put on the scoreboard, neither lit up the box score despite accounting for their team’s only two extra-base hits.

If there were a standout performance from the home team at the Trop, it was from Zack Littell, pitching the final two innings of a game long out of reach. The righty was tasked with little more than mop-up work, entering in the eighth inning of Game 2 with the score already 7–1. That’s not exactly what we’d call a high-leverage spot. Still, Littell faced the toughest hitters Texas had to offer, including four All-Stars: Josh Jung, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, and Adolis García. He retired them all. With 37 pitches, 25 for strikes, he struck out four Rangers in two clean frames and allowed just a single baserunner, hitting Evan Carter with a pitch.

The Rangers’ win probability was over 99% by the time Littell entered the game, yet he never acted like he knew the score. Just look at these casual displays of deception to ring up Jung, Seager, and Nathaniel Lowe:

The second team to pack its bags was the Blue Jays, and while their offense was just as quiet as Tampa’s, at least their pitching staff turned in a stronger performance. Without a doubt, the strongest performer was José Berríos, but you probably already knew that. His final line has been cited in think pieces across the internet: three innings, five strikeouts, and one bequeathed baserunner that Yusei Kikuchi allowed to score in the fourth.

Berríos’ performance has already gotten more than enough attention, so instead, let’s talk about Santiago Espinal. The infielder hasn’t made much noise since his surprise All-Star appearance two summers ago, but in the wild card round, his performance was immaculate. In two plate appearances, he saw two pitches and recorded two hits:

Neither was what you would call a “hard-hit ball,” but each was a no-doubter of a base hit. His first was a perfect swinging bunt up the third base line, and although Jorge Polanco isn’t the most fleet of foot at the hot corner, I can’t imagine that even Matt Chapman could have fielded the ball in time to get the out. His second base knock was a more conventional single, and Statcast agreed, issuing the batted ball a .950 xBA.

If you ignore playing time minimums, Espinal finished with the second-highest wOBA and the fourth-highest xwOBA in the wild card round. Moreover, with .139 WPA in only two trips to the plate, his WPA/PA is tops in the playoffs thus far. I’m not here to tell you that Espinal was the most valuable or talented Blue Jay in those two games, but in a series marred by huge mistakes and poor decisions, it’s impressive that he managed to do absolutely no wrong.

Compared to the Rays and Blue Jays, the Brewers at least put up something of a fight. They scored more runs and reached base more often than the other eliminated teams, and they actually finished with a slightly higher wOBA and xwOBA than the Diamondbacks. The main problem for the Brewers was that their offense wasn’t effectively spread out; they left 20 runners on base in the series, and the majority of their offensive output came from just two hitters. Indeed, Christian Yelich and Willy Adames were two of the very best players in the entire wild card round:

It’s no controversial statement to say the Brewers are built around pitching. Entering the season, FanGraphs projected them to receive above-average production from only two positions outside of pitcher: shortstop and left field, otherwise known as Adames and Yelich (with apologies to William Contreras, whom our projections woefully underestimated). Adames had a down year at the plate, and while Yelich rebounded in 2023, its wasn’t to his MVP level.

Still, when push came to shove, they were the two hitters who showed up for Milwaukee in the playoffs. No player from an eliminated team had a higher OPS or WPA than Adames whose .174 in the latter stat currently ranks fifth overall. Yelich, for his part, was the only player from an eliminated team with at least +0.03 WPA in both games, and one of only two (along with Bryan De La Cruz of the Marlins) with a positive WPA at all in each game of the series. On top of that, he was one of only three players in the first round (and the only one not on the Rangers) to reach base at least three times in both contests.

Brewers Bright Spots
Player OPS wRC+ WPA
Willy Adames 1.339 269 0.174
Christian Yelich 1.225 239 0.163

The Marlins, much like the Rays, were trounced in the Wild Card round, struggling to reach base and to contain the Phillies’ offense. Were it not for the efforts of a single slugger, things might have gone even worse. Josh Bell went 4-for-8 with two doubles, good for a 1.250 OPS. He scored his team’s lone run in the first game and drove in their only run in the second. His four hits were half as many as the rest of the team combined, and his two doubles accounted for two-thirds of Miami’s extra-base knocks.

In Game 1, Bell doubled to lead off the ninth, giving the Marlins hope for a possible late-game comeback. He was back at it again the very next day; with the Marlins down to their final strike in Game 2, he kept their playoff hopes alive in front of tahe deafening Philadelphia crowd, singling to drive in a run. His efforts weren’t nearly enough, but as one man, he did everything he could. After Yelich and Adames, no position player from an eliminated team had a higher WPA or RE24. The switch-hitter was also the only player from an eliminated club with multiple barrelled balls:

None of Littell, Espinal, Yelich, Adames, or Bell will go down as postseason heroes. Nonetheless, for a couple of days in early October, they did everything they could to help their teams win. It wasn’t enough for a pennant, a trophy, or even a fresh “Take October” t-shirt, but it’s worth a little celebration all the same.

Leo is a writer for FanGraphs and an editor for Just Baseball. His work has also been featured at Baseball Prospectus, Pitcher List, and SB Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @morgensternmlb.

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4 months ago

I still think Bell opts in. He has a pretty nice one-year deal waiting for him and he showed a lot more power as the season went on.