Week Ahead: Final month looms large
Here comes September.
After Monday's August finales around the Major Leagues, we leap right into the final month of baseball's regular season, the one that will end with postseason pairings and champagne parties in joyous clubhouses. You know, the one that never lets us down, with excitement right down to when the last out is recorded.
The Week Ahead ushers us into that glorious month when pennant races reach maximum tilt and hardball heroes are seemingly born every night. And, as usual, the 162-game slate doesn't slow down, so there's plenty to discuss.
There are magnificent late-season games in the offing over the next seven days, and there will also be the annual parade of September callups to reinforce rosters and give intriguing looks at who might jump up and surprise people in October. There will also be Jake Arrieta, the Cubs starter who finished off last week with a Sunday night no-hitter and will try to follow it up this week with more mastery.
First, a look at the standings shows two key National League series to open the week before a bushel of matchups with October implications arrive in time for the weekend.
The Nationals have been playing better and will look to keep it going in a pivotal three-game set against the club with baseball's best record, the Cardinals, in St. Louis beginning Monday.
Also, one of the best rivalries in the game, Dodgers-Giants, gets another renewal in Los Angeles the night after Los Angeles went 0-for-the-game against Arrieta.
The weekend series are as good as it gets when one considers the state of the standings as we enter September.
We've got Rangers at Angels in a matchup of American League West contenders, with Texas looking poised to possibly make a run at division-leading Houston, given that Derek Holland is back from injury -- he threw a three-hit shutout on Sunday -- and the team also now has Cole Hamels in its rotation.
"We really didn't play well at home … it was all aspects of it," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said of the team's turnaround. "We were losing games at home really in any way imaginable. We'd blow leads, we'd make errors, we wouldn't hit, and when we played those games with multiple runs scored, we weren't winning them. I feel like now that has flipped."
Elsewhere this week, we've got Pirates at Cardinals in a battle between the NL Central rivals with the two best records in the Senior Circuit, and that's not all.
The D-backs are still in it and will go to Wrigley to play the Cubs. The Rays and Yankees will take part in a typical AL East fray down the stretch, as will the Orioles and torrid Toronto Blue Jays.
As for callups, the Dodgers might start September on Tuesday by getting their top and MLB.com's No. 2 overall prospect, shortstop Corey Seager, into the big leagues and that lineup. Other big names that could hit The Show this week include Tampa Bay's Blake Snell, Texas' Joey Gallo, Alex Judge for the Yankees, Archie Bradley for the D-backs and Toronto's Dalton Pompey.
As for regular old big leaguers coming back from injury, two hugely important ones could hit the field again this week.
Kansas City is possibly due to get the services of four-time Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon, who's been on the sidelines since July 8 with a severe groin strain. Gordon, who's been rehabbing with Triple-A Omaha, would help strengthen a team that's been stellar even in his absence and enters the week ahead with the best record in the AL.
The Marlins might not be contenders, but that doesn't mean they don't want Giancarlo Stanton back. The slugger, who fractured the hamate bone in his left hand on June 26, could be back with Miami as early as Friday.
Stanton had 27 homers and 67 RBIs in 74 games, many of them of the tape-measure, highlight-reel variety, and will be a welcome sight for Marlins fans who already have their sights set on improving in 2016. The outfielder is slated to be in the lineup for Class A Advanced Jupiter on Tuesday.
"Hopefully, he can have some at-bats, test his wrist and see where he is," Marlins manager Dan Jennings said.