Possible playoff race X factors

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We're coming down to the wire, and every game counts in the MLB pennant race. With several teams either in a race for a divisional title, wild-card berth or home-field advantage, even the slightest developments -- managerial decisions, an injury, a surprise performance, an emerging rookie or even a pinch-runner -- can make the difference. Here are 10 American or National League players -- and two managers! -- who could be the X factors for their teams down the stretch.

American League

The American League has the more exciting pennant race of the two leagues, as both the East and West divisions are tightening, with the Blue Jays' lead at just 1½ games over the Yankees and the Astros leading the Rangers by just two games. In addition, there are three teams within 4½ games of the second wild-card spot. Here are the X factors to watch in the AL:


Toronto Blue Jays: Marcus Stroman, RHP

The Blue Jays have been the best team in baseball since the July 31 trade deadline, going 23-6, but they find themselves in a tight race with the New York Yankees. But Stroman could serve as an important X factor for them, and he made his first rehab start Wednesday by throwing 4⅔ innings of no-hit baseball. Stroman was expected to be the Blue Jays' Opening Day starter before going down with a knee injury.

Being able to put Stroman between David Price and Mark Buehrle in their rotation could be the difference for Toronto's AL East hopes in September and also decide how far the Blue Jays can go in October. Slotting Stroman's right-handed, high-velocity arm among two left-handers and a knuckleballer could make this rotation even more effective by disrupting the timing of opposing lineups with a nice variation of righties, lefties, velocities, arm angles and breaking balls.