We all know the postseason brings a higher level of tension and purpose. Those experiencing it for the first time say it's beyond anything they expected. To have eight months of hard work and the hopes of teammates and fans riding on every pitch is something that must be experienced
We all know the postseason brings a higher level of tension and purpose. Those experiencing it for the first time say it's beyond anything they expected. To have eight months of hard work and the hopes of teammates and fans riding on every pitch is something that must be experienced to be understood.
On the other hand, these final two weeks have their own share of nail-biting as teams fight for postseason spots. Even the clubs who aren't sweating a berth have decisions to make.
• MLB standings
So with that in mind, let's attempt to answer seven questions that still need to be answered in these closing days of the regular season:
1. What's Chris Sale's status for the postseason?
Two stints on the disabled list have forced Sale to use these closing days to rebuild his endurance, and the Red Sox have no idea what role he'll be filling -- or what kind of shape his left shoulder will be in -- when the postseason begins. While some have speculated about Sale taking on an Andrew Miller-type of super reliever role, Boston seems committed to Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello as its front three in the postseason.
2. Are the Yankees really in trouble?
Let's just say there are concerns for the Yankees, who are flirting with a 100-win season. If that's trouble, plenty of teams would sign up for it. New York begins this final stretch not entirely confident about any area of its team. On the other hand, it could all work out nicely because: 1. Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ could be a solid postseason front three in the rotation, 2. Aaron Judge's return changes the offensive dynamics, and 3. Zach Britton, Dellin Betances and Chad Green still make the bullpen formidable even without closer Albertin Chapman.
• Judge activated from DL
3. Are the Cubs going to be forced to trade for a reliever or two even if they're not eligible for the postseason?
Desperate times, etc. The Cubs have two closers injured -- Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop -- and Strop was ruled out for the rest of the regular season on Friday. C.J. Edwards is struggling with the strike zone, which seems to leave right-hander Jesse Chavez and lefty Randy Rosario as Chicago's most reliable options. Manager Joe Maddon hopes his starters can get a bit deeper into games. It bears watching.
4. Do the Dodgers have time to get their offense fixed?
Sure, it only takes a day or two to get rolling, and the Dodgers have a bunch of players with excellent track records. Los Angeles has scored three runs or fewer in nine of its last 15 games. The Dodgers have also scored at least eight runs four times in that span. So is the glass half empty or half full? Manager Dave Roberts is going to begin his lineup cards these last two weeks with Justin Turner and Manny Machado, and after that, he's going to mix and match depending on matchups and how he believes the game will play out. But there's plenty of time for Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp and others to get hot.
5. Can the Rockies clinch a playoff berth before the final weekend to set up their rotation?
The Rockies should have a postseason berth clinched by the regular season's final series, but it seems very, very unlikely that the National League West -- or even the Wild Cards -- will be settled until the final weekend. At least five NL teams seem likely to enter the final week fighting for four postseason berths, but Colorado could take a significant step toward taking control of the division next week with three road games against both the Dodgers and D-backs.
6. Who's going to start the Wild Card Game for the A's?
Mike Fiers is the early favorite because he's healthy and pitching well. But it's less important who starts for Oakland than any other postseason team. The front office -- that is, executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst -- have assembled one of the deepest and best bullpens in history, and manager Bob Melvin will be prepared to use all of them. Hitters will tell you it's "unsettling" to face a different pitcher every at-bat. So the Yankees should be prepared to be unsettled.
7. Is Carlos Martinez really going to be the Cardinals closer if they make the postseason?
Martinez certainly gives the Cardinals an intriguing late-inning option in their latest search for a closer. His fastball is touching 97 mph, and his slider has regained some of its old bite as he works his way back from a shoulder issue that sidelined him a month before the All-Star break. The original plan was to use him in lower-leverage situations, but with St. Louis fighting for a postseason berth, why not have him close?
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.