September moves that could impact NL East
One of baseball's more intriguing divisions heading into September, the National League East boasts a pair of teams with clear designs on a division title, a third club that could still muster a late postseason run and two others gearing up for 2019.
For all of the teams, the game is about to change. With rosters set to expand on Saturday, teams can carry up to 40 players on their active roster. While few clubs go quite to that extreme, the list of September callups who have influenced pennant races around baseball -- Francisco Rodriguez, David Price, et al -- is long and growing longer.
All five NL East teams also have prominent players they expect back. With those factors in mind, here is a look at the most impactful move each club may make after rosters expand this weekend:
Move to watch:Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson's return from the Minors
The Braves' seventh- and 13th-ranked prospects, respectively, Toussaint and Wilson each made a spot start earlier this year for the big league club. Because they're already part of a crammed 40-man roster, both could return in September to provide rotation or bullpen depth for Atlanta's stretch run.
A 22-year-old former first-round Draft pick who throws in the upper 90s, Toussaint is the more highly regarded arm. But don't sleep on Wilson, who at the tender age of 20 climbed from Class A Advanced Florida all the way to the Majors. Both youngsters could offer the Braves some extra fire out of their bullpen in September.
Move to watch:Lewis Brinson's return from the disabled list
Perhaps the odds-on preseason favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year Award, Brinson stumbled out to a .186/.232/.338 slash line over the season's first three months, then landed on the DL with a bone bruise in his right hip on July 4. He hasn't been active in the Majors since.
But Brinson recently resurfaced on a Minor League rehab assignment, rapping out six hits in a four-game span earlier this week. At just 24 years old, Brinson continues to tantalize the Marlins with a mix of power and speed that he hasn't yet been able to translate to the big leagues. A solid September would do wonders to re-establish Brinson's place as one of the division's bright young players.
Move to watch: Dominic Smith's return from the Minors
Although the Mets recently announced they will not call up second-ranked prospect Peter Alonso when rosters expand, Smith -- the man that Alonso leapfrogged on the Mets' Minor League depth chart -- is set to return. Once a candidate to be the club's Opening Day first baseman, Smith has hit just .195/.225/.377 during brief stints in the Majors this year, and he has been unable to replicate his previous success at Triple-A Las Vegas.
The Mets have done little to make things easy for Smith, declining to give him regular big league time and switching his position from first base to left field. But September, at least, should give Smith a chance to salvage his season; New York will offer him reps at both positions as they try to determine what the former first-round Draft pick's future holds.
Move to watch:Victor Robles' return from the Minors
Before Juan Soto, there was Robles, the Nationals' top-ranked prospect coming into this season. A hyperextended left elbow sidelined Robles in April, preventing him from making a quick return to the Majors after last year's sneak preview. But Robles avoided surgery and returned to Minor League action in July. Lately, he's been raking, collecting six multihit games since Aug. 18.
It's not yet clear how the Nats will manufacture playing time for Robles, with Soto, Bryce Harper and Adam Eaton all deserving of regular outfield reps. But even part-time contributions from Robles could help Washington compete -- or at the least, help the club better stomach the possibility of losing Harper this offseason.
Move to watch:Jerad Eickhoff's return from the DL
A notable name last offseason in the Phillies' rotation jigsaw puzzle, Eickhoff was one of a group of question marks that also included Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. While those two have settled into full-time starting roles, Eickhoff has spent the entire season on the DL -- first due to a lat injury, then because of a nerve issue affecting his right hand.
Eickhoff does not want that to be the lasting memory of his season. Recently restarting a rehab assignment, Eickhoff threw six shutout innings last time out at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Phils plan to activate him as soon as rosters expand on Saturday and, while Philadelphia doesn't currently have any room in the rotation, Eickhoff could spot start in September or pitch meaningful innings out of the bullpen.