10 X factors down the stretch

With just two and a half weeks left in the regular season, we still have dramatic division races in the National League Central and American League West as well as an intense wild-card race in the AL where five teams are separated by just three games for the final playoff berth.

Most fans following these races will concentrate on the teams’ best players, such as Yadier Molina, Joey Votto, Yu Darvish and David Price. However, the reality is that the difference-makers aren't whom you would expect.

Here are 10 X factors to watch in the final few weeks of the season:

1. Billy Hamilton | Impact: Game-changing pinch runner

Hamilton is by far the fastest human to wear a Reds uniform since I was their general manager and acquired Deion Sanders from the Atlanta Braves for Roberto Kelly in 1994. Hamilton already is in the record books having stolen four bases in his first four major league appearances, and most impressively, his first two were against Molina, the game’s best defensive catcher.

Hamilton has a chance to affect the pennant race with his legs, bringing back memories of Dave Roberts’ stolen base in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.