For four of the five teams in the American League Central, September is about the long-term future, for 2019 and beyond. For the Indians, September is about October.
Cleveland's eventual runaway in the division race put teams squarely into different camps heading up to the July non-waiver Trade Deadline, let alone September. The Royals, Tigers, Twins and White Sox all head into the season's final month with decisions looming on who fits into their plan to contend again, either prospects on the cusp or young players trying to stay afloat. With expanded rosters, the opportunity is there to look at players who spent the summer either developing in the Minor Leagues or getting healthy from midseason injuries.
The Indians' window is now, and their healthy lead in the standings gives them a chance to put together their roster -- which has a lesser degree of health lately -- for a postseason run.
For different reasons, then, the final month is about more than team results, but also individual assessments. Here's a look at each team's situation and a key move to watch:
Move to watch: Trevor Bauer's return from the disabled list
The timing of Bauer's return from the disabled list (stress fracture in his right fibula) could impact the makeup of the Indians' roster for the AL Division Series. Bauer is expected to be back in September, but it remains to be seen if he will have ample time to build back up to jump right back into the rotation. If Cleveland takes a conservative approach with Bauer's volume, maybe he can become a bullpen option for the ALDS. Bauer's status will undoubtedly play a roll in how the Tribe structures its staff for the start of October.
Move to watch: Right-hander Josh Staumont being promoted from Triple-A Omaha
Staumont, 24, will have to be added to the 40-man roster this fall, and there is much anticipation among the fan base and in the organization to see him called up to make his Major League debut this September. He can top 100 mph on the radar gun, but the concern always has been command with him -- he has walked 283 hitters over 361 innings in the Minors. Staumont is having a decent year at Triple-A Omaha this year -- 3.58 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 73 innings with opponents hitting just .217 against him. The Royals have converted him to the bullpen since mid-June, but the results have been inconsistent.
Move to watch: Daniel Norris' return from the DL
While slugging prospect Christin Stewart will get a lot of well-deserved attention as an expected September callup, Norris' stretch run is likely more important for the Tigers as they near a decision time for the talented but mercurial left-hander. For all the ups and downs Norris has had since his arrival in the David Price trade three years ago, he is just 25 years old with a healthy, live arm, and he can dominate a good lineup when he's on his game. But Norris needs to rebuild confidence that he's healthy after missing four months following groin surgery, and he needs to build confidence that he's still effective. A good September start or two would go a long way towards building momentum for what will be a critical Spring Training for Norris next year. He can still fit into Detroit's long-term rebuild, but he has to find a place.
Move to watch: Recalling Byron Buxton from Triple-A Rochester
It's been a lost season for Buxton, who has dealt with several injuries, including a broken left toe and a sprained left wrist. But he's healthy and producing at Triple-A Rochester, and he will rejoin the Twins once rosters expand in September. Buxton, an elite defender in center field and the fastest player in the Majors per Statcast™, has the chance to finish the season strong and provide some optimism heading next year. The former No. 1 overall prospect is just 24, but it's been a rocky road for him early in his career due to injuries and offensive struggles. With his skill set, he's arguably Minnesota's most important player, and he'll get regular playing time in center down the stretch to show what he can do when healthy.
Move to watch: Eloy Jimenez's Major League ascent to the Majors
Right-hander Michael Kopech earned a big league callup on Aug. 21, and he has since made two strong starts, allowing one run and striking out eight over eight innings. Now White Sox fans want to know if Jimenez, the team's No. 1 prospect and No. 3 overall per MLB Pipeline, will follow when rosters expand on Sept. 1. Jimenez has missed a significant chunk of time this season due to adductor and pectoral injuries, but there's no question the outfielder can hit. Jimenez has a .401 average and a 1.103 OPS for Triple-A Charlotte in 37 games after the All-Star break, but his promotion in September is not guaranteed.