It's impossible for an MLB postseason to go by without an unexpected star turn for someone who nobody thought much of when the playoffs started. Five- and seven-game series are built to highlight a corner infielder who gets hot at just the right time, or a starter who begins missing more bats than usual, or a reliever who just won't stop throwing extremely hard. The surprise postseason heroes always arrive, but even by the usual standard, Atlanta outfielder Eddie Rosario is doing something special.
By the time Game 4 of the NLCS started, Rosario had already been knocking the cover off the ball and was in possession of a few of the series' signature highlights. He continued to pour it on Wednesday night, finishing the game with four hits (his second four-hit game of the series), two dingers, and four RBI. His second homer, which came in the ninth inning and extended the Atlanta's lead to 9-2, functioned as something of a victory lap:
Rosario is now slashing .588/.632/1.059 in this postseason, and those are not numbers anyone expected to see next to his name once the leaves started turning. Which isn't to say that Rosario is some scrub who has just been touched by the baseball gods at the right time. The 29-year-old outfielder debuted with the Twins in 2015, and through six seasons in Minnesota he hit 119 homers and racked up 11.9 WAR. Despite that solid production, the Twins released Rosario in the offseason because they didn't want to pay him anything near the $10 million salary he was likely to earn through arbitration. He then caught on with Cleveland on a one-year, $8 million deal, but then Cleveland fell out of contention and Rosario got hurt, so he was sent to Atlanta for none other than Pablo Sandoval at the trade deadline.
It's funny: I just sort of reflexively wrote that Cleveland was "out of contention" because they were 50-50 and nine games back of the division lead at the trade deadline. But what about Atlanta? At that same moment they were not only 51-54 and five games off the division lead, they had just lost all-world outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. to a torn ACL. If Atlanta had decided at that point to just pack it in and hope for better luck next year, nobody would have blamed them. But some teams try, and some don't.
GM Alex Anthopoulos went out and traded for Rosario, and also Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, and Jorge Soler at the deadline, essentially remaking his outfield on the fly and managing to do so without giving up anything close to a top prospect. Those four players not only helped turn Atlanta's season around and push the team into the postseason, they have been the engine that's kept the wins coming throughout the playoffs.
This is the good stuff. So much of what animates baseball these days is just number-shuffling and bloodless accounting. Unless you happen to root for the Dodgers or the Yankees, you spend every season being put in a position that requires you to care just as much about how capably your team can manipulate service time and navigate arbitration as you do about seeing some guys hit some dingers. These are the conditions that made Atlanta's new quartet of outfielders—all fine players who just had the misfortune of finding themselves on teams that were more concerned with shaving payroll than winning games—so easy to acquire. That Atlanta went out and got them—all of them!—and is now being richly rewarded for refusing to cower in the face of a devastating injury to a star player and an uphill climb to the postseason counts as a real feel-good story. Atlanta wanted to win, and they found some players who wanted the same thing, and now they are all winning.