Labor Day signifies the final month of the regular MLB season. That means that for teams fighting for a playoff spot like the Oakland A’s, their performance in these final twenty or so games could mean the difference between making it to the postseason or coming up short.
September is usually an epic month of baseball thanks to multiple postseason spots often going down to the wire. For instance, in the A’s miracle run in 2012, they clinched a wildcard spot and then won the division the following day in what was the last series of that season.
However, people who say that baseball is too boring or the games are too long often point to this month as evidence. During September, teams are allowed to expand their active roster from 25 players to as many as 40. Thus, teams frequently use this opportunity to bring up a couple of their MLB-ready, highly touted prospects as well as more pitching depth causing dugouts and bullpens to overflow with players. Managers, having more relievers at their disposal, often resort to multiple pitching changes in one game, which can make the game feel boring to those who prefer the constant action of a sport like basketball. However, this is about to change.
Since taking over as commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred has focused on trying to quicken the pace of play. As part of this effort, this year is the last year in which teams can do mega roster expansion; next year teams will only be allowed to expand to 28 players in September. I think that this is a good rule as it will limit the amount of game breaks that come with pitching changes and will help ensure that those who get called up actually get to play rather than just coming to the big leagues to sit on the bench.
The A’s started off this critical final stretch with a win last night beating the Angels 7-5. Contributing to their success, Seth Brown continues to exceed expectations since he was brought up last week, with two run-scoring triples in his Coliseum debut last night. This is a guy who came from some super-small school in Idaho and was not on any of the A’s top 30 prospect lists ever in his career; yet, this year he absolutely demolished Triple A pitching and is continuing to rake at the plate now for the A’s.
Another new face to know is catcher Sean Murphy who would have likely been called up earlier had he not had some knee problems this year. His elite catching ability and power at the plate is why the A’s are so high on him. He will get a few starts in September and then could emerge as the A’s starting catcher next year if he stays healthy.
These new faces will certainly help as will the returns of injured outfielders Ramon Laureano and Stephen Piscotty. Laureono is expected back sometime this weekend against Detroit, while Piscotty’s return is far more uncertain. The A’s have managed to cope with the absence of two-thirds of their starting outfield thanks to the breakout play of Mark Canha who has filled in in center and right admirably while also contributing at the plate. Khris Davis breaking out of his season-long slump would also make the A’s more dangerous, although they have been able to stay in contention without the power production from him that they had gotten accustomed to. This is largely thanks to the consistently stellar offensive and defensive contributions of the two Matts–Olson and Chapman, and Marcus Semian. However, the A’s will not go far in the playoffs unless they get more consistency from at least one, but hopefully all three, of Trevino, Treinan, and Soria. Petit and Hendriks have been unbelievable this year, but they need help. If neither of the former three find their groove, the A’s could put one of their starters in the bullpen so that Manea can go into the 5-man rotation, or they could bring up Matt Harvey and/or Jesus Luzardo (their top pitching prospect) to see if they can be of help. Either way, the tight wildcard race between the Indians, Rays and A’s promises an exciting few weeks of baseball.