You know about the superstars, the aces and the MVP candidates. But what about the guys whose contributions often are just as vital but almost always overlooked?
Whether it needs to lean on a grizzled veteran or a fresh-faced call-up, no contender -- regardless of payroll -- can contend for the postseason without help from unexpected sources. And these are those players.
Getty ImagesAdam Glanzman
Rangers: INF/OF Jurickson Profar
After he missed the previous two seasons, there were serious questions about whether Profar had a future with Texas. His offensive contributions don’t jump off your screen – five homers, 19 RBI, .670 OPS – but Profar’s versatility has been vital for the AL’s best team.
Profar has started at all four infield positions, left field and DH for the Rangers, who have withstood injuries (Shin-Shoo Choo, Prince Fielder) that might have KOed other contenders.
Getty ImagesRick Yeatts
Indians: 3B/LF Jose Ramirez
How have the Indians done this without Michael Brantley? There are plenty of reasons, but Ramirez is one of the most important. He began the season in left field – after playing only three games in the outfield in his minor-league career – and took over as the starter at the hot corner when Juan Uribe was cut loose in late July.
Ramirez’s 20 steals and .311 batting average are second on the team, and his .363 OBP is third. He’s also had a flair for the dramatic, batting .346 with runners in scoring position.
Getty ImagesJason O. Watson
Red Sox: C Sandy Leon
At best, he was Boston’s Plan D at catcher entering the season – behind Christian Vazquez, Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart. But by early July, Leon took firm possession of the starting job. Prior to this season, Leon was a .197/.258/.225 hitter with one homer and eight RBI in parts of four MLB seasons.
In 236 plate appearances in 2016, Leon is hitting .354/.412/.550 with seven homers and 33 RBI. Just as important, he has masterfully handled the pitching staff.
Getty ImagesAdam Glanzman
Blue Jays: 2B Devon Travis
Not everyone in Toronto’s lineup needs to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs, but that doesn’t mean Travis doesn’t have a bat. His .305 average leads the team, and his .465 slugging percentage is better than Troy Tulowitzki’s and Jose Bautista’s. Plus, he can be a pest for opposing pitchers (see: a 14-pitch at-bat against the Padres in July).
And then there’s his steady defense. Not bad for a middle infielder who has hit at the top and the bottom of the order.
Toronto Star via Getty ImagesRick Madonik
Orioles: RHP Kevin Gausman
The rotation is heavily criticized – and rightly so – for its 4.88 ERA (26th in the AL). However, things would be even worse if Gausman hadn’t stepped up. And that’s especially true since the start of August, when ace Chris Tillman was limited to just three starts because of injuries.
Gausman has a 2.40 ERA and a 10.36 K/9 ratio since Aug. 1, and the Orioles have won five of his eight starts in that span. Aside from the win/loss record, Gausman’s numbers are amazingly similar to Tillman’s.
Getty ImagesG Fiume
Tigers: LHP Matt Boyd
Much like Kevin Gausman in Baltimore, Boyd has been more savior than stopgap. With Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey and Daniel Norris all missing time and Anibal Sanchez temporarily shifting to the bullpen, Boyd has developed into a reliable option behind Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer.
Boyd made 12 starts as a rookie in 2015, posting a 7.53 ERA. Before Tuesday's clunker, he had been a quality start machine since rejoining the rotation in early July.
Getty ImagesHannah Foslien
Yankees: RHP Tyler Clippard
Sure, Gary Sanchez and the “Baby Bombers” are earning all the headlines, but the contributions of this 31-year-old reliever has gone largely unnoticed during the Yankees’ late-season resurgence. Because of the trades of Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, the bullpen had to be rebuilt.
New York picked up Clippard from the Diamondbacks in a transaction that seemed quite uninspiring. But he’s posted a 0.50 ERA and provided better than a strikeout per inning in 20 appearances in pinstripes.
Getty ImagesJim McIsaac
Mariners: 1B Dae-ho Lee
The 34-year-old Korean rookie made his presence known with a pinch-hit walk-off homer in mid-April and eventually worked his way into a platoon with Adam Lind at first base.
Lee followed a productive two months (May-June) with two disappointing months (July-August), resulting in a brief demotion to Triple-A. Since returning on Aug. 27, he hitting .350/.409/.475 with eight RBI. He also has 14 homers this season.
Getty ImagesOtto Greule Jr
Astros: RHP Ken Giles
It was assumed that Giles would take over the closer role when the Astros paid a steep price to acquire him from the Phillies this past offseason. However, he failed to displace Luke Gregerson as the stopper during the spring and had a 6.33 ERA at the end of May.
At that point, he recaptured his dominance -- and when Gregerson hit the DL in early August, Giles got another chance to handle the ninth-inning duties. And he is 10-for-11 in save chances since then.
Getty ImagesRichard Carson
Royals: 3B Cheslor Cuthbert
When Mike Moustakas suffered a torn ACL in late April, there wasn’t an obvious replacement at the hot corner for the defending World Series champions. But then Cuthbert came along and calmed all of the concerns. He has hit for average (.279) and power (10 homers) after doing neither in 50 plate appearances with the Royals last season.
Cuthbert’s defense also has earned rave reviews from the coaching staff, likely earning him a roster spot next season when Moose returns.
TNS via Getty ImagesKansas City Star
Cubs: IF Javier Baez
Full disclosure: Kyle Hendricks was the inspiration for this idea, back before he was leading the league in ERA, coming within three outs of a no-hitter and becoming the front-runner for the NL Cy Young Award.
So, enter Baez, who has played all four infield positions and left field this season, while hitting 13 homers, driving in 50 runs and stealing 12 bases. And he’s done it as a selfless 23-year-old who is talented enough to start on just about any other team in the majors.
TNS via Getty ImagesChicago Tribune
Nationals: CF/2B Trea Turner
Not only did the 2014 first-round pick go from being a shortstop in the minors to Washington’s starting center fielder in the span of two years, he also is leading off. No pressure, huh? In just 56 games with the Nationals this season, Turner is hitting .338/.359/.538 with 30 RBI and a team-best 24 stolen bases. All at age 23.
There are far bigger names in Washington's lineup and rotation, but Turner is a big reason this team is closing in on a playoff berth after a forgettable 2015 season.
Getty ImagesGreg Fiume
Dodgers: LHP Julio Urias
Because of the injuries that have ravaged their rotation -- each member of their entire projected starting five has spent some/much/all of the season on the DL --- the Dodgers have used 15 different starting pitchers this season. And this just-turned 20-year-old is largely responsible for LA continuing to thrive without ace Clayton Kershaw for more than two months.
Urias has been recalled four times this season and has a 3.39 ERA in 14 starts.
Getty ImagesVictor Decolongon
Giants: 3B Eduardo Nunez
San Francisco’s offensive woes since the All-Star break have been well-documented, but they’d be even worse without Nunez's recent surge. Acquired from the Twins in late July, Nunez is tied for the team lead with 15 RBI since Aug. 18 and is hitting .291 in that span.
There’s been plenty of talk about whether losing third baseman Matt Duffy – he was traded to the Rays for lefty Matt Moore -- adversely affected the clubhouse chemistry, but Nunez has come up big on the field when the Giants needed him most.
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Mets: RHP Seth Lugo
If manager Terry Collins had known before the season that the defending NL champions would be leaning heavily on a 34th-round pick from five years ago, he probably would have guessed he already had been fired. But with Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz sidelined, Lugo has more than picked up the slack.
In five starts since Aug. 19, Lugo is 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA. If New York somehow manages to earn a wild-card berth, Lugo will be a major reason.
Getty ImagesAlex Goodlett
Cardinals: INF Jedd Gyorko
The baseball world gave a collective shrug when the Cardinals acquired the utility infielder from the Padres in December (in exchange for outfielder Jon Jay). And Gyorko appeared destined to remain on the path toward “fallen prospect” status until the team’s injury woes paved the way for him to start.
Since the All-Star break, Gyorko has hit 19 homers with an .869 OPS. And his 26 long balls are tied for the team lead on the homer-happy Cardinals.