One of the great things about baseball is the sense of meritocracy it delivers. Make the playoffs after the grind of a 162-game season, and you've proven your mettle.

In a way, the flip side of that idea also applies. While you might not get a true sense of a team's skill level over the span of five or 10 games, the randomness that comes with such a small sample size can also deliver also kinds of wild and unpredictable results. Drill down to individual players, and all kinds of wacky stuff can happen in a span of a few games.

That's where we find ourselves with the National League wild-card race. With nine games left in the regular season, the Mets and Giants are tied with the same record, while the Cardinals sit just a half-game behind both teams with 10 left to play. That means we could see any number of complementary players making unusually big contributions for those wild-card contenders...on the positive side, and the negative.

With that in mind, let's dive in with nine lesser-name players who could play a big role in deciding who punches their ticket to the playoffs, and who goes home early.

Addison Reed
MIN • RP • #43
IP73 2/3
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Seeking depth for their bullpen at waiver trade deadline, the Mets acquired Reed from the Diamondbacks for the negligible cost of minor league pitchers Miller Diaz and Matt Koch. That he came so cheaply was a nice surprise, given how Reed had performed for the D-Backs and White Sox to that point: 233 2/3 innings with a 4.19 ERA and a good but not elite 241/71 strikeout-to-walk rate. Since joining the Mets, he's suddenly become one of the best relievers in the game, firing 88 2/3 innings with 103 strikeouts, just 17 walks and four homers allowed, and a sparkling 1.62 ERA. In his past 12 appearances he's somehow been even better, tossing 11 2/3 innings with 13 punchouts, no walks, and no earned runs allowed, though he had a rough outing on Thursday night against the Phillies, allowing three earned runs and giving up a late lead in a game the Mets ultimately won.

The Mets' setup role, seemingly in peril when Jenrry Mejia's PED suspensions forced talented setup Jeurys Familia into the closer role, has been in great hands since Reed took the reins. With the rotation consisting of Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon, and a roll of duct tape, the Mets' bolstered bullpen, and its ability to shorten games, could prove pivotal down the stretch.

Robert Gsellman
IP31 2/3

Along with fellow out-of-nowhere rookie Seth Lugo, Gsellman has saved the Mets' bacon right when they needed most. With injuries felling top starters Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz, the 23-year-old former 13th-round pick has pitched five-plus innings in each of his five starts, including an impressive 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball against the Nationals Sept. 14. He'll never be confused with any of the star-caliber starters currently riding the DL. But with his final two starts both coming against the pushover Phillies, Gsellman merely needs to continue to be competent, giving that upgraded bullpen and the lineup's unlikely heroes a chance to shine.

Asdrubal Cabrera
CIN • SS • #3
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At what point do we have to stop calling Cabrera an unlikely hero? From July 1 through Wednesday's game, Cabrera was hitting a fantastic .306/.355/.582, with 13 homers in just 54 games, numbers that rival Corey Seager and any other elite shortstop in baseball. He'd gone absolutely nuts in September, batting .328/.408/.627 and reminding everyone that the two-year, $18.5 million deal he signed in December ranks as one of the biggest bargains in the league.

Then on Thursday night, in one of the wildest (and most important) games of the Mets' season, Cabrera came to bat in the 11th inning with a chance to produce some heroics. He came through with a game-winning three-run homer, as well as the bat flip of the year.

Sergio Romo
IP26 2/3
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The best team in the majors in the first half of the season has been the worst in the National League in the second half. Much of the blame goes to an offense that came through time after time in high-leverage situations before the All-Star break, only to fall apart in those spots since then. Still, let's not get too nuanced here: The Giants bullpen seemingly blowing every other game, led by closer Santiago Casilla's league-leading nine blown saves, have torpedoed San Francisco's season, and caused manager Bruce Bochy to be uncharacteristically erratic with his bullpen usage.

Lately, an old friend seems to have given Bochy and friends a potential solution to the problem. Romo picked up his first two saves of the season by closing out the Giants' 2-0 win over the Dodgers Tuesday, and their 2-1 victory over the Padres Thursday. In those two appearances, Romo faced seven batters, struck out three of them, and allowed just one baserunner. After missing nearly three months with a forearm injury, then struggling upon his return, Romo is now back to being the frisbee-slider-throwing terror who was a terror in San Francisco's pen for multiple years. Now all they need to do is produce some occasional big hits to match.

Eduardo Nunez
NYM • 3B • #12
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Many Giants fans were none too pleased when the club flipped third baseman Matt Duffy to the Rays for lefty starter Matt Moore. Even with the team's obvious need for rotation help, trading away the Rookie of the Year runner-up halfway into his second big league season seemed harsh, while also creating a gaping hole at third. Nunez hasn't provided the same defensive skill at the hot corner as Duffy did. But you can't complain about his bat: He's hitting a slightly better than league average .266/.328/.426 since coming over at the deadline. Now Nunez just needs to figure out how to shake off the clutch curse -- he's batting just .260/.317/.350 with runners in scoring position, one of many Giants who've struggled in key spots.

Jeff Samardzija
SF • SP • #29
IP197 1/3
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A $90 million pitcher isn't typically thought of as a complementary part...except on a team that also employs Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. But that's where we're at with Samardzija, the towering right-hander who can look unbeatable one night and not worthy of pitching in A-ball the next. Thursday night marked a case of the former, with Shark plowing through seven scoreless innings against the hapless Padres, allowing just four hits, striking out nine, and walking none. He'll face a tougher assignment in his final start of the season Sept. 30, opposing a Rockies team that's not just a product of their home environment.

Randal Grichuk
LAA • CF • #15
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The 25-year-old outfielder cranked 47 homers in 103 games in his 2015 rookie season, slugging .548 and seemingly adding another middle-of-the-order threat to the Cardinals lineup. Then he opened this season by hitting a measly .206/.276/.392 through his first 62 games, earning a demotion to Triple-A. Recalled July 5, Grichuk muddled along for a few more weeks, before recently catching fire: He's mashing at a .299/.330/.609 rate, leading the Cards in most major categories over the past month. There's a big of a chicken-and-the-egg question in play: Did Grichuk simply need a return to everyday playing time in center field to turn things around, or did his recent hitting surge force manager Mike Matheny's hand? Either way, a surprisingly middle-of-the-pack Cardinals team could sorely use more extra-base hits from their inconsistent slugger.

Zach Duke
CIN • RP • #32
IP58 1/3
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The Cards didn't make much of a splash at the trade deadline, opting for complementary pieces rather than blockbuster deals for stars. That modest approach has returned dividends here and there, though...led by Duke. The former White Sock has tossed 20.2 innings since coming to St. Louis in July, allowing just 13 hits with no home runs, while fanning 22. He's no lefty specialist either, holding right-handed hitters to a measly .195 batting average and .283 slugging average. Getting a poor man's Andrew Miller for a tiny fraction of the price quietly ranks as one of the best deals of the year.

Alex Reyes
LAD • RP • #27
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If there were ever a time to celebrate a 50-game suspension, it's the one that Reyes had to sit out earlier this year. As a first-round draft pick and elite prospect, Reyes is on a strict workload limit being monitored by the Cards; since he missed one-third of the season for getting caught with weed (and spent another chunk of the season pitching in relief), that limit isn't in play. That's how a 22-year-old rookie smokes an opponent for seven scoreless innings in just his third major league start...that and facing those ice-cold Giants, anyway. With a terrific fastball-change combo that's limited hitters to a sub-.150 batting average against both, Reyes represents both one of the freshest and one of the nastiest arms going at this late stage of the season.