- Daniel Murphy's power display helped carry the Mets to the National League pennant last year, but the seeds of that performance were sowed in late summer. This year some new names and some very familiar names could do the exact same thing.
When I sat down with Daniel Murphy for half an hour last Oct. 24, in a quiet medical examination room deep within the Mets’ clubhouse at Citi Field, he insisted that his life was not so different than it had been a couple of weeks earlier. “Nothing like having your son take a big poop in his diaper and changing him to keep you humble,” he said of his activities on his day off before, which was his first since he’d emerged as a certified postseason legend.
Soiled Pampers, of course, were not the only thing Murphy seemed to have changed last fall. The longtime slap hitter transformed himself into a slugger, and at just the right time, carrying the Mets to the World Series with seven home runs in just nine games over the playoffs’ first two rounds. If you had been paying attention, though, Murphy’s evolution had begun at least several months earlier, when the tactics he’d been working on all season with new hitting coach Kevin Long—seeking to pull and drive the ball, rather than spray it around—began to take hold. In the 50 regular-season games he’d played after Aug. 1, Murphy hit eight homers and drove in 37 runs, with a slugging percentage of .533—more than 100 points above his career standard.
Who might be this year’s Daniel Murphy? It could be Murphy himself. Now a member of the Nationals, Murphy continued his torrid hitting all season, batting .347 with 25 homers, 104 RBIs and a .985 OPS to emerge as an MVP candidate. Despite battling a gluteal strain in September, he finished strong once again, with a .927 OPS over the last two months. But he’s not the only playoff participant to enter October hot with the potential to get much, much hotter. Here are five other candidates—a couple of Turners, a couple of Ramirezes and one more whose legacy is already virtually unmatched—who could turn in a postseason for the ages.
1. Trea Turner, Nationals, CF
Washington didn’t call Turner up until July, antagonizing those of us who predicted that he’d race past the Dodgers' Corey Seager for the NL Rookie of the Year award. With just 73 games played, he simply didn’t have enough time. But if you extrapolate his stats out to 157 games—the same amount as Seager played—Turner would have surpassed Los Angeles' sensational shortstop in every offensive category, including batting average (.342 to .308), homers (28 to 26), RBIs (86 to 72), OPS (.931 to .877) and steals (71 to three). Everyone knew Turner had blazing speed, but the power was a surprise, and one that emerged after Aug. 1: He hit all 11 of his homers over the season’s final two months, during which slugged .591, 10th best in the majors.
2. Jose Ramirez, Indians, 3B
The 24-year-old Ramirez emerged as much more than a pleasant, versatile surprise for the Indians. The utilityman who batted a relatively punchless .219 last season was, arguably, their best offensive player this year, batting .312 with 11 home runs, 81 RBIs and 22 steals. He’s included on this list not only because of those overall numbers, but also because he muscled up as the season progressed. After Aug. 1, he hit six of his homers and ripped 30 extra-base hits overall, tied for sixth in baseball. His slugging percentage after that crucial date is familiar: .533, exactly the same as Murphy’s over the same stretch last season.
3. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox, 1B
At this time last year, Red Sox fans were grouping Ramirez with Pablo Sandoval as an irredeemable free-agent bust after he batted just .249 with 19 homers and 53 RBIs in 105 games in his debut season with Boston. But at 32, Ramirez put together his best season since 2009 and surged down the stretch, batting .306 after Aug. 1 with a .620 slugging percentage and 17 bombs, tying him with the Orioles’ Mark Trumbo for the most among playoff participants. There is a chance that Ramirez has finally found a productive balance between the batting champion he was at age 25 and the bulked-up slugger he has seemed to want to be in recent seasons. This is his time to prove it.
4. Justin Turner, Dodgers, 3B
Turner, 31, might have been the Daniel Murphy of last October, if not for Murphy. In the Dodgers’ five-game NLDS loss to the Mets, he hit .526 with six doubles and a 1.392 OPS, although those numbers were quickly forgotten when L.A. lost in five games. This season, though, the formerly light-hitting utilityman built upon his playoff breakout with 27 homers (11 above his previous career high) and 90 RBIs (30 more than his previous best). Like Murphy, he looks to be a genuine late bloomer, someone who figured out how to be a completely different type of player after the age of 30.
5. David Ortiz, Red Sox, DH
Really? We’re suggesting that the guy who is already a legend, and who already has several never-to-be-forgotten playoff moments on his resume—not to mention three rings—might now become the next Daniel Murphy? What we’re really saying is that Ortiz has it in him to surpass his already considerable single postseason standards, particularly 2004’s (.400, five home runs and 19 RBIs in 14 games) and 2013’s (.353, five home runs and 13 RBIs in 16 games). Despite the barking feet that, he maintains, will lead him to retire by November at the latest, he didn’t slow down during the stretch run, batting .305 with 13 homers, 42 RBIs and a .964 OPS since Aug. 1. This could be a truly magical final October for one of the game's most magical players.