All sample sizes in the postseason are small, which means the unlikeliest of heroes can emerge. Unlike regular season awards dominated by the game’s best players, anyone who receives enough playing time to impact the series can warrant MVP consideration if they string together a few big plays or impressive outings. Look no further than this year’s ALCS, when Red Sox No. 9 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr.’s three huge hits led him to MVP honors.
Whether it was Pat Borders in 1992 or David Eckstein in 2006, a secret weapon often emerges to help lead their team to championships. With that in mind, let’s ignore the Chris Sales and Manny Machados of the world and take a look at some dark horse candidates to win World Series MVP in 2018.
Steve Pearce, Red Sox 1B
What better way to start this list than with a 35-year-old journeyman infielder acquired less than four months ago? When Pearce joined the Red Sox from the Blue Jays at the end of June, he completed the cycle of having played for all five teams in the AL East. At the time, Pearce's addition was designed to fortify Boston's depth (Pearce has played more than 100 games just once in 12 seasons).
Surprisingly, Pearce has been excellent for the Red Sox and has a specific skill that could prove very beneficial for Boston: He crushes lefties. For his career, Pearce’s OPS is over .100 points better against lefties than righties (.852 vs. .743). This season, that gap is .959 against .828. Those splits are relevant because three of the Dodgers’ four starters (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Hyun-Jin Ryu) are lefties. Pearce figures to start over Mitch Moreland at first base against all three and has the power to change this series with a few big swings.
Walker Buehler, Dodgers SP
The Dodgers’ rotation is headlined by Clayton Kershaw, an all-time great whose starts in Games 1 and 5 will drive headlines, good or bad, after his shaky performance in last year’s World Series. But behind Kershaw, Buehler might be Dave Roberts’ most important starter. The 24-year-old is the only righthander in the Dodgers’ rotation and features an upper-90s fastball along with an impressive slider. He might have the best pure stuff of any of LA’s starters, and the rotation sets up for him to potentially start another Game 7. In the NLCS, Buehler struggled in Game 3 but bounced back with a crucial, solid outing in Game 7. If he carries his outstanding second half into Game 3 and either starts Game 7 or comes out of the bullpen to close out the series in 6, Buehler could be the MVP.
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox SS
There’s a long history of infielders who aren’t one of their teams’ best hitters winning World Series MVP. They range from solid, above-average hitters (1986 Ray Knight, 1998 Scott Brosius and 2002 Troy Glaus) to light-hitting defenders (2006 David Eckstein and 2010 Edgar Renteria come to mind). Bogaerts straddled that line for the first five years of his career, posting OPS+ figures between 83 and 111. However, 2018 was a breakout offensive year for the Red Sox shortstop; he recorded career highs in homers, RBI, OBP, and slugging percentage, all adding up to a 135 OPS+. Like Pearce, Bogaerts has significantly better numbers against lefties and could benefit from seeing plenty of them early in games.
Chris Taylor, Dodgers OF/IF
During the 2017 playoffs, Taylor became a household name and showed one way a complementary hitter can be the MVP of a playoff series. He reached base multiple times in all five games of the NLCS against the Cubs—homering twice—to earn the award. He went on to come up with several big hits in the World Series and has continued his strong postseason play this year. With eight hits and an outstanding diving catch in left against the Brewers, Taylor could have won MVP of this year’s NLCS, too. If he follows the Ben Zobrist model from two years ago and racks up double-digit hits with good defense, Taylor could be your 2018 World Series MVP.
Bonus: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers CL; Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox CL
A relief pitcher hasn’t won WS MVP this century, but closers did win two in four years from 1996 to 1999, both for the Yankees. John Wetteland saved all four games in ’96, and Mariano Rivera had two saves and a win in the Yankees’ sweep three years later. Should either Jansen or Kimbrel save three or four games on their way to a title, they would likely be considered. The problem is that both have struggled with inconsistency. Kimbrel was great in the regular season but shaky in the playoffs thus far while Jansen has bounced back from a down regular season with 6.2 scoreless innings and three saves in the playoffs.