It’s getting closer to October by the second, which also means the MLB postseason is just around the corner. In order for your team to be amongst some of the best in the league, you need to define what your X-factor is, and there are plenty to discuss. From the Baltimore Orioles’ young core to a stacked Los Angeles Dodgers roster, our team of writers aims to answer the question of who is the most important X-factor of these rosters in this week’s edition of the roundtable.
Seattle Mariners: George Kirby
Everyone thinks that Julio Rodríguez has been the catalyst for the Mariners’ mid-season turnaround, but a pitching staff with a league-leading 3.70 team ERA and 16 shutouts has also played a significant role. Seattle’s rotation will determine how far the team goes should they make their second straight postseason, and barring injuries, Luis Castillo and Logan Gilbert will get the nod in the first two games of a postseason series. That leaves Kirby as the starter in game three, and because of his league-best 8.78 strikeout-walk ratio or his 3.57 ERA, he will be up to the challenge. Should the bullpen become taxed after the first two games, Kirby can give most of the relievers a day off; he has pitched into the seventh inning in 15 of his 28 starts and tossed over eight innings in three of them. The All-Star righty did not surrender a run in two postseason appearances last year, and if that pattern continues in 2023, the Mariners have a shot at their first World Series appearance.
Chicago Cubs: Jameson Taillon
Should Chicago cling to their half-game lead for the third National League Wild Card spot, starting pitcher Jameson Taillon needs to get going if the north siders want to make any noise in October. In his first year of a 4 year/$68 million contract, Taillon has struggled to put quality outings together with consistency as his earned run average sits at an underwhelming 5.27. Chicago’s rotation is already headlined by Cy Young award finalist Justin Steele, Javier Assad, Kyle Hendricks and Jordan Wicks. If Taillon can get going and pitch as well as we’ve seen in small stretches this season, it will only make this rotation more dangerous in October.
Associate Sports Editor
Milwaukee Brewers: Brandon Woodruff
Normally, pitching in just 10 games over the course of an MLB season isn’t going to constitute the title of an X-factor on a division leader, but the 2023 version of Brandon Woodruff doesn’t look like just any typical starter. With just four runs given up over his past five starts, a 5-1 record on the season and the fourth highest WAR on the roster with a 2.6, he’s extremely pivotal to a Milwaukee roster that’s going to face some tough challenges headed into October. It’s even more important that this team has elite pitching as their offensive player have made up a bottom-half groupin terms of runs scored, so to have Woodruff pitching like he has is not only crucial, but also essential to their playoff hopes.
Atlanta Braves: Kyle Wright
After finishing last year’s season with an MLB-high 20 wins and 10th place in NL Cy Young voting, many expected Braves pitcher Kyle Wright to build on that performance this year. After all, Wright is just 27 years old and entering the prime of his career. Instead, he’s dealt with a shoulder strain that took him out for four months after his first five starts, none of which were great. Since returning to an Atlanta team that is at the top of the majors, Wright has been horrible. He’s tallied seven innings in two starts, allowing 11 hits and 10 runs. Given the strong core of Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder and Charlie Morton that grounds the Braves’ rotation, there’s a big opportunity for Wright to thrive as a bulk reliever in the playoffs. If he can get past his weak play as he moves to a relief role–something that takes pressure off many struggling starting pitchers–he could be the X-factor for this already dominant Braves squad.