September is looming. The final month of the regular season in Major League Baseball, the one that has a penchant for pennant-race pandemonium, is now a milepost just a few more clicks up the old hardball interstate. The week ahead is the last full seven-day panel of 2017 in which
September is looming. The final month of the regular season in Major League Baseball, the one that has a penchant for pennant-race pandemonium, is now a milepost just a few more clicks up the old hardball interstate. The week ahead is the last full seven-day panel of 2017 in which each slate of games has the word "August" before it.
In other words, game on. The end of August is coming soon, and plans are already being made for October.
Some teams -- we're looking at you, Dodgers, Astros and Nationals -- are so far ahead that the postseason is a foregone conclusion and the biggest priorities for the last five weeks of the 162-game grind are staying healthy and sharp while lining up a championship-ready rotation.
The rest of the contenders are jockeying for position, trying to find the right combinations to click now and stay hot through the final month-plus, and hoping to shine under the brightest of spotlights.
So naturally it's only fitting that the coming week brings about a handful of series that should bring the postseason atmosphere, and if we don't mind getting a bit ahead of ourselves, possibly a look at matchups we might see on those chilly but sizzling October nights.
Right away we look to Progressive Field on Monday. That's where the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox take on the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians in what should be a fantastic four-game set.
Red Sox fans are getting used to watching their young and dynamic lineup bash the ball, with 20-year-old rookie Rafael Devers the latest addition to an attack that has been averaging north of six runs per game while building their division lead through a smoldering August.
"We have a lot of different ways to generate runs," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "I love the fact that there's quality at-bats up and down the lineup. We're going to take opportunities to advance 90 feet. It's just the tenacity of the group as a whole. Once we turned into the month of August, the offense has turned it on. It's not any one guy."
The same can be said for Cleveland, which has been getting contributions from all over its roster, much like in its AL pennant-winning run a year ago that included a three-game sweep of Boston in the AL Division Series. Unfortunately for the Indians, the one guy they've been leaning on the most on the starting pitching end of things, ace Corey Kluber, could have his scheduled Wednesday start vs. the Sox pushed back because of a mild right ankle sprain from Friday night in Kansas City.
Kluber is 12-3 with a 2.67 ERA and 196 strikeouts in 145 innings this year, so the Indians know they have to be very careful with him.
"He anchors this whole thing for us," Indians outfielder Jay Bruce said. "We obviously need him."
The Angels feel the same way about their center fielder and perennial MVP candidate, Michael Trout, who missed two months with a torn thumb ligament but has put himself right back in the nightmares of opposing teams while helping put his team right back in Wild Card contention.
The Angels have won nine of their last 11 games and exited Sunday tied with the Minnesota Twins for the second Wild Card spot, 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees.
"Once you're playing that good and seeing the light, you want to keep doing it, winning all the games," Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "You want to close them out."
The Angels have a tough test this week with a four-game home series against the Texas Rangers, who still aren't out of it when it comes to a potential Wild Card spot. Texas, only 2 1/2 games out of a Wild Card slot, will play 20 of its remaining 39 games vs. Wild Card-contending clubs. That's called opportunity for October.
"Every game for us is big," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We have to take advantage of every situation that we can. Obviously, the Angels are one of the teams in front of us. It would be more beneficial for us to at least win a series there."
Other potential postseason series on the docket this week include Seattle visiting the Yankees for a three-game set over the weekend, the Brewers heading to Los Angeles for a weekend three-gamer against the Dodgers, and a possible World Series matchup from Tuesday to Thursday. That one features the National League East-leading Washington Nationals against the AL West-leading Astros in Houston.
The Nationals' new-look bullpen looks great after another dominant performance from closer Sean Doolittle on Sunday. The Astros have been holding their own of late but would much rather play with star shortstop Carlos Correa, ace Lance McCullers and catchers Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, all of whom are expected back soon from injury woes.
"As far as results go, we had a good week -- a better week than the previous week," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "But that type of stuff is reflective. We need to look forward and see where we're going."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.