The playoff series between the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals should provide plenty of offense. With names like Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Anthony Rizzo, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Zimmerman, there will be no shortage of thump in the National League Division Series.
But one player who has a chance to be a real difference maker in the series is Catcher Willson Contreras.
Contreras was putting together a terrific year and was arguably the Cubs’ best player coming out of the All-Star break. He was hitting .311 with 10 homers, 29 RBI and posted a 1.080 OPS between July 14 and August 9. His hamstring injury on August 9 was not only a big blow to the Cubs’ lineup at the time, but to Contreras as he missed a significant portion of August before returning on September 10.
Contreras played fairly well in a handful of games in his return despite missing a chunk of time. He had a respectable .289 batting average, but one thing was missing from his repertoire: his power. He hit just one double and no home runs in the 15 games after his return from the disabled list which was a bit alarming given his earlier production.
The good news is that despite the lack of power, Contreras’ plate discipline didn’t take long to return, supported by the robust .460 on-base percentage he posted in September. He also moved well both behind the plate and running the bases showing that the lack of power wasn’t due to any re-aggravation.
The Cubs as a team and a lineup revolve around Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, but Dusty Baker is likely to game plan around them to avoid being beaten by the Cubs’ two biggest boppers, which leaves the onus on Contreras as the cleanup hitter to produce. This isn’t in anyway a knock against the young catcher, who despite missing over a month was second among MLB catchers (min 115 games) with a .855 OPS.
In playoff baseball, small samples sizes tend to loom a lot larger than they would during the regular season and there’s reason for optimism in hopes for a Contreras bounce back. He’s hitting .333 with five home runs in just 24 at-bats against Nationals including homers off of Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, both of whom he’ll face in this series.
Contreras hasn’t been able to tap back into his power since his DL stint, but with the time off between when the season ended and Game One on Friday, there is plenty of time for him to be back to his old self.
There is a big opportunity for Contreras to not only break out vs. the Nationals, but being a key piece in the Cubs’ moving on to the NLCS, should that happen. He has shown this season that when his bat gets hot, he can carry the team. Having a hot Contreras behind Bryant and Rizzo will be a dangerous sight for opposing pitchers.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports