September held off just long enough for the Pittsburgh Pirates to remake their batting order, and for the New York Yankees to become relevant, and for the Los Angeles Dodgers to turn the NL West into a rout.
Now we enter the second-most important month of the baseball season, and some things are still on our minds.
Nine for September:
Jim Leyland's first priority is to win the AL Central. His second is to get there with a healthy Cabrera, who may have to sacrifice a shot at back-to-back Triple Crowns to rest a nagging issue with his abs. On the bright side, he has abs.
In the midst of becoming – or having become – one of the great right-handed hitters anyone has ever seen, Cabrera came out of Thursday afternoon's game early, promised he'd be fine for Friday's game, was, and then left that one early, too. He was held out of Saturday's lineup.
Leyland says Cabrera is in no danger of harming himself further, and that Cabrera experiences little to no pain batting or fielding, but that running the bases is problematic. Cabrera is as critical to the Tigers' offense that a .359 average (.419 with runners in scoring position), .450 on-base percentage, 43 home runs and 130 RBI would suggest. A big lead in the AL Central should make some of the daily decisions easier, perhaps at the expense of another historic season for Cabrera.
Yasiel Puig and the Los Angeles Dodgers
After a $42-million windfall and 63 minor-league games, Puig arrived with the bat of a thunderclap, the arm of a lightning bolt and the propriety of a noogie. He hit, he ran, he dispensed with cut-off men, he brawled, he was tardy, he was benched. Then he hit some more.
And the Dodgers won a lot of ballgames for it.
[Related: Will Yasiel Puig learn from his benching?]
By the looks of the NL West, the Dodgers can coast into their first postseason in four years. Along the way, Don Mattingly will hope for a happy medium between reckless Puig and indifferent Puig, and also get Matt Kemp back from the disabled list, and then choose three outfielders every night from four – Puig, Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. Puig is a lot of things – fourth outfielder is not one of them.
The playoffs and the Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates will win more games than they lose, which is something. They appeared poised for the same Steel City miracle two years ago, however, and then a year ago, and those seasons didn't end well. So the good baseball fans of Pittsburgh won't be much in the mood for the moral victory of bare mediocrity and a barren October, seeing as their Buccos spent the summer hanging around first place in the NL Central, and over four days added Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and John Buck.
[Related: Pirates trade for Justin Morneau]
The Pirates can't hit with either. But they can pitch. So they'll stand behind Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett, and they'll hope Jeff Locke merely needed a rest, and they'll ride Mark Melancon in the Shark Tank and then get Jason Grilli back, and perhaps get Wandy Rodriguez back, and maybe put two decades to rest.
In the AL East, where the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees can be found within 4 ½ games of each other, the Red Sox reside remarkably above the fray. We say remarkably, because just a year ago they were the fray.
The Red Sox regained their composure, made sound decisions, stacked good months upon good months, and haven't had their best starter throw a pitch since June 8. Buchholz appears to be recovering from shoulder and neck ailments that interrupted his season at 9-0 and with a 1.71 ERA; he is due for another rehab start next week and could return in time for a series in Tampa Bay that begins Sept. 10.
Arte Moreno and the Los Angeles Angels
This isn't the consensus view, but what if Albert Pujols returns healthy and confident, and Josh Hamilton is over his transition jitters, and Mike Trout is Mike Trout, and Mark Trumbo hits 35 jacks, and Peter Bourjos can stay upright? Well, yes, the Angels would still need all kinds of pitching. But isn't Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and a re-signed Jason Vargas a reasonable start?
It's wispy for 2014. All too wispy.
So, living with another poor team, burdened by payroll inflexibility, and perhaps unwilling to admit his role in it, Moreno has September to choose the course of his organization. General manager Jerry Dipoto is under contract for another year, though it's possible he'll take the hit for another third- or fourth-place finish in the AL West. Manager Mike Scioscia has another five years left on his contract, and he may not be safe either. The prevailing opinion is that Dipoto goes before Scioscia, but Moreno has proven to be unpredictable, just like his ballclub.
Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees
This has become the arranged marriage of Major League Baseball. The one where both realize they can't stand each other, are bound by the dowry, and now wait out 'til death do they part.
Imagine the spectacle of the Yankees (resurgent with Rodriguez in the middle of their lineup) and Rodriguez towing their many issues into the playoffs, among them malpractice accusations and a drug suspension on appeal.
Then again, nobody does spectacles quite like A-Rod, quite like the Yankees. And if Ryan Dempster didn't approve of Rodriguez playing on Aug. 18, he might just be given to the vapors on Oct. 18.
The hot seat and the New York Mets (among others)
In a place of some tumult, of a thin roster, of weird and occasionally goofy, of some heartache and one bummer of an elbow ache – that place would be Flushing, N.Y. – Terry Collins has walked the walk of a man in limbo.
A good man in a difficult job, Collins arrives at the end of his contract. He appears headed for a third losing season, which, in some organizations, would come with an automatic pink slip. Mets management seems to understand Collins has done what he could with what he was given, that he's more than the guy who can babysit the lean years. Barring something ugly over the final four weeks, Collins should return in February with a fresh contract.
Other places with decisions: Seattle, Eric Wedge; Anaheim, Mike Scioscia; Kansas City, Ned Yost; Washington, Davey Johnson; Minnesota, Ron Gardenhire; Philadelphia, Ryne Sandberg.
Biogenesis and the Texas Rangers
And the Tigers.
The suspensions for patronizing, fraternizing and/or otherwise comingling with Tony Bosch and associates end with the regular season, which for most meant a seven-week head start on their short game. For Nelson Cruz of the Rangers, however, it meant a trip to the Dominican Republic to keep his baseball skills sharp, to be followed by three weeks in the Arizona Instructional League, where under terms of the suspension he will be allowed to play.
Unlike the San Francisco Giants, who in a similar situation last season could have brought back outfielder Melky Cabrera and did not, the Rangers seem open to activating Cruz for the postseason. That's assuming they qualify, of course, and at the moment they lead the AL West. Alex Rios, acquired in an August trade with the Chicago White Sox, has taken over right field, meaning Cruz would return as the designated-hitter.
Faced with the same dilemma with shortstop Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers have yet to say whether they would have him back for the postseason. They replaced him by trading for Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias.
Yoenis Cespedes and the Oakland A's
The A's, who generally do things in mysterious ways, flattened out in August. They weren't bad, but they were mediocre, which was enough for the Rangers to run them down.
They still pitch with anybody in the league and they still have their problems on defense. Offensively, they're still better than you'd think. What they miss is Josh Reddick, felled by injuries and a .213 batting average. What they really miss is Cespedes, who would have been baseball's breakout story last season had it not been for Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.
With a month left, he's batting .227, striking out more often than last season, being fooled by sliders away and fastballs up, and killing rallies from the four hole. He's coming off an August that was his worst OPS month of his career (not counting last May, when he played in five games).
Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Jed Lowrie have had nice seasons. The A's have had a nice season. Cespedes, in September, could make them better than that.
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