It's that time of year when rosters expand, breathing constricts and urgency, a foreign, unwelcome element through the breezy days of summer, changes how baseball games are played, managed and remembered. September baseball, the official start of the pennant race, arrives tomorrow. This time it is unlike anything you've ever seen before.
The addition of a second wild card in each league has created more of everything: more teams in contention, more meaningful games, more chance for tiebreakers and more memorable moments. No one can be quite sure how the jumble of teams might unravel.
Today, with about 83 percent of the season done with, half the teams in baseball still have a shot at the postseason. (Apologies to the Diamondbacks and Mariners, teams with losing records that fell below my cutlines.) Fifteen teams competing for 10 spots -- among them the unusual subsets of three of the six lowest payrolls in baseball (Rays, Pirates, Athletics), four teams that haven't won a playoff series in 14 years or more (Reds, Orioles, Pirates, Nationals) and six teams that had losing records last year (White Sox, Athletics, Orioles, Reds, Nationals, Pirates).
Meanwhile, the big-moneyed Phillies and Red Sox, long gone from contention, are cast in the unusual, awkward role of spoilers.
The best part about September is the unpredictability of it all. But to help you sort through the possibilities, if not to keep your breathing a bit easier, here is what to look for in the wildest September yet:
Rizzo could have been more creative about managing Strasburg's innings in the second half to get him into October, but Strasburg isn't Justin Verlander, either, especially this deep into the year. He has thrown six innings or less in 21 of his 26 starts, never seen the eighth inning this year and in his past 12 starts is 6-5 with a 3.80 ERA. His team is 6-6 in those 12 starts.
You won't have to wait long to find out about the AL East title. Starting tonight, the Yankees play 13 of their next 16 games against the Orioles and Rays.
The Orioles also could smash the record for fewest one-run losses in a full season: 10, by the 1986 Red Sox, 1998 Yankees and, oddly, 2006 Blue Jays. Yes, the Orioles hit home runs late, their bullpen is very good and manager Buck Showalter is detail obsessive, all of which help Baltimore in close games. But 24-6? That's just crazy.
Bundy is on the Orioles' 40-man roster, but Hamilton, the record-breaking speedster, is not on the Reds' roster. In fact, the Reds don't need to put him on the roster next year, either. Why is that important? Cincinnati would risk losing a player to make room for Hamilton and start his service time clock early just to have him around to pinch run. Hamilton, who set a new record this year with 154 stolen bases at two levels of the minors, would be more than your average pinchrunner, but the Reds don't believe that the risk/reward calculation is worth it.
For instance, with a crowded bench last year for master strategist Tony La Russa, the Cardinals won six games in September using between 18 and 23 players in those wins. They won the NL wild card by one game and went on to win the world championship.
In 2001, Barry Bonds hit number 40 in the
And commissioner Bud Selig better be talking now to Astros owner Jim Crane about adding Clemens to a team that already is a joke. Leave the gimmicks to independent baseball. Clemens, 50 years old, out of shape and out of the game for five years, is playing softball and golf in between starts for a minor league outfit. It's great that he's having fun, but major league competition and integrity are not compromised for vanity projects.
Braves at Pirates (12:35 p.m.)
Rangers at Athletics (3:35 p.m.)
Angels at Mariners (6:40 p.m.)
Orioles at Rays (7:10 p.m.)
Giants at Dodgers (7:15 p.m.)
Reds at Cardinals (8:15 p.m.)