Labor Day marks the final month of the MLB regular season. That means for teams fighting for a playoff spot like the Oakland A's, their performance in these last twenty or so games could mean the difference between making the postseason or falling short.
September is usually an epic month of baseball thanks to multiple postseason spots often going down to the limit. For example, in the A's miracle run in 2012, they clinched a wild card spot and then won the division the next day in what was the final series of that season.
But people who say baseball is too boring or the games are too long often point to this month as proof. During September, teams are allowed to expand their active roster from 25 players to as many as 40. So teams often use this opportunity to bring in a couple of their MLB-ready, highly touted prospects as well as more pitching depth that causes dugouts and bullpens to overflow with players. Managers, who have more relievers at their disposal, often resort to multiple pitch changes in a game, which can make the game feel boring to those who prefer the constant activity 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 increase the pace of the game. As part of this effort, this year is the last year that teams can do megalist expansion; next year's team will only be allowed to expand to 28 players in September. I think this is a good rule because it will limit the amount of breaks that come with pitching changes and will help ensure that those who get called up actually get to play instead of just coming to the big leagues to sit on the bench.
The A's opened this critical final stretch with a win last night, beating the Angels 7-5. Adding to their success, Seth Brown continues to exceed expectations since coming up last week, with two scoring triples in his Coliseum debut last night. This is a guy who came from some super small school in Idaho and wasn't on any of the A's top 30 prospect lists ever during his career; yet, this year he absolutely demolished Triple A pitching and continues to rake the plate now for the A's.
Another new face to be familiar with is catcher Sean Murphy who likely would have been called up sooner had he not had any knee issues 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.
Those new faces will certainly help, as will the return of injured outfielders Ramon Laureano and Stephen Piscotty. Laureono is expected back sometime this weekend against Detroit, while Piscotty's return is much more uncertain. The A's have been able to cope with the absence of two-thirds of their starting pitching thanks to breakout play from Mark Canha who has filled in center and right admirably while contributing at the plate. Khris Davis breaking out of his season-long slump would also make the A's more dangerous, though they have been able to stay in contention without the power production from him that they had become accustomed to. This is largely thanks to the consistently great offensive and defensive contributions of the duo of Matts–Olson and Chapman, and Marcus Semian. However, the A's won't 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 incredible this year, but they need help. If none of the former three find their groove, the A's could put one of their starters in the bullpen so Manea can step into the 5-man rotation, or they could bring up Matt Harvey and/or Jesus Luzardo (their top pitching prospectus ) to see if they can be of help. Either way, the tight wild-card race between the Indians, Rays and A's promises to be an exciting few weeks of baseball.