Welcome to the home stretch. The playoff races have been going full-bore since the All-Star break, but the ramifications become heavier now that we’re in September. We can say it with impunity now — every game matters. That even goes for the teams not pushing for a playoff berth. Every team in baseball has something to gain now that rosters have expanded to 40 players for the final full month. Here’s what every team should be looking to do now that calendar has flipped:
Toronto Blue Jays: Continue to do whatever you're doing with Marcus Stroman
Stroman has been fantastic in the month of August, posting a 2.48 FIP and averaing 11 strikeouts per nine innings in five starts. The Blue Jays, in turn, have surged and the rotation appears to have stabilized. Keep that alive and the Jays will be in the playoffs.
Boston Red Sox: Figure out third base
Aaron Hill and Travis Shaw aren’t working. Whether it’s Yoan Moncada or Hanley Ramirez, someone needs to give the Red Sox quality at-bats at third.
Baltimore Orioles: Find the spark plug
The Orioles are in this thing, but frankly, the current pitching isn’t going to get them across the finish line. Finding a way to get Chris Tillman back into the game is critical, but the team needs anyone other than Kevin Gausman to provide something better than generic production. The bullpen needs to bounce back in a big way after a month where it posted a 6.43 ERA.
New York Yankees: Enjoy the ride
The Yankees wisely gave up on the 2016 season at the trade deadline, and — get this — nothing bad happened. Actually, a lot of great things happened, and heading into the offseason, we should expect plenty of hype. Enjoy the last month when things will be calm.
Tampa Bay Rays: Establish Blake Snell
The 23-year-old is probably going to be the Rays’ top pitcher next year, as Chris Archer has improved his trade value dramatically in the last month (3.03 ERA, 2.58 FIP) and is likely to be moved in the offseason. Snell entered the season as the No. 12 prospect in baseball, and the sooner he fully and consistently actualizes that potential, the faster the Rays’ rebuild will be completed. Tampa’s move to a six-man rotation down the stretch shows that it's focusing on pushing Snell with an eye on 2017.
Texas Rangers: Maintain the pitching
The Rangers’ pitching was a joke heading into the trade deadline, but August was a stellar month, as the tide of Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels’ fantastic performances have lifted all ships. The Rangers can count on their two aces, but they need to keep Derek Holland pitching well — he’s been strong in his last two starts — and Martin Perez on this track.
Houston Astros: Make it click
The Astros are immensely talented but have been sporadic (at best) all season. They need to find that form that got them back in the race this year — that form that was present late in 2015. Two big keys: getting Colby Rasmus to find his groove at the plate and helping Alex Bregman continue his August production into September and beyond.
Seattle Mariners: Take no quarter
The Mariners are probably too far back to make a move for the wild card, but there have been positives over the past month that will serve them well in September and beyond (Edwin Diaz, Felix Hernandez finding himself.) If The Mariners take on the role of spoiler with gusto, they might be able to shake some things up and enter 2017 with momentum.
Oakland A’s: Extend the Sonny Gray redemption tour
The A’s bats are terrible, the bullpen is bad, and the rotation is hodgepodge at best. Those are problems that aren’t going to be solved. But they can make hope that Sonny Gray continues his August form (2.35 FIP, 3.60 ERA) in September. That would put the A’s in a position to sell in the offseason or enter 2017 with some optimism that their ace is back in ace form.
Los Angeles Angels: Find something, anything that works
The worst organization in baseball has the best player, and it needs to change one of those two facts in the next calendar year. Mike Trout isn’t going anywhere over the next month, so the Angels need to find any sort of viable starting pitching outside of Matt Shoemaker or a hitter to complement Trout and the faded but still box score-productive Albert Pujols.
Cleveland Indians: Establish the playoff outfield
The Indians have five outfielders that have gotten about 60 plate appearances in August. Only Brandon Guyer, the guy who had the fewest plate appearances (59) had a WAR worth noting. The Indians made a move for Coco Crisp and will likely call up No. 1 prospect Bradley Zimmer, giving the Indians seven outfielders for three spots. Who is going to start in the playoffs? Right now, the Indians' outfield appears to be the only thing that could stop them from winning the American League.
Detroit Tigers: Start the Justin Upton redemption tour
The Tigers’ big offseason acquisition has been a dud all season, and he had a dreadful August (.713 OPS). The Tigers don’t stand a chance of beating the Indians without Upton, and they don’t have much of a chance heading into 2017 unless he starts producing — all hands need to be focusing on how to get Upton to stop striking out roughly 30 percent of the time.
Kansas City Royals: Maintain pitching magic
It finally clicked on the mound for the Royals in August — Kansas City had the best rotation ERA in the AL in August and the bullpen was the best in baseball. The bats should come around, but if they don’t have the arms leading the way, the Royals have next to no chance.
White Sox: Decide Chris Sale’s fate
The White Sox need to manufacture some reason to go for it in 2017. The team is talented enough, but that’s what we were saying going into this season. Unless the Sox can find a reason to think that 2017 is going to be different, they should unload Sale in the offseason.
Minnesota Twins: Help Byron Buxton find his groove
The Twins are going to call up the best prospect in baseball in September, and they need to focus their energy on getting him to stay up in the major leagues for good. He’ll be 23 by the time next season starts, so this is the real make-or-break call-up. He was hitting .324 at Triple-A as recently as last week, so there’s no reason to think he doesn’t have what it takes.
Washington Nationals: Help Bryce Harper find his swing
The Nationals right fielder isn’t playing poorly, but he’s not Bryce Harper. In the second half, Harper is only hitting .235, and while the on-base percentage is solid, he’s has a lower slugging percentage than Chris Heisey, who hasn’t exactly been on a tear. The Nats need to get the NL MVP Bryce Harper back before the playoffs.
Miami Marlins: Hold on for dear life
How the Marlins are still in the wild-card hunt with their offense is hard to explain. They have a -24.9 offensive WAR since the All-Star Game. If not for amazing pitching from Jose Fernandez, Kyle Barraclough and David Phelps, the Marlins would have been sunk by now. There’s still a chance, but even a progression to the mean might not be enough. Never underestimate the power of the will — that’s the best shot the Marlins have right now.
New York Mets: Make a decision on Jay Bruce
The Mets have the pitching, but they need to find some hitting down the stretch. Jay Bruce was brought in to provide that, and he’s done anything but hit, posting a .183 average, and .552 OPS since joining the team. With Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo in the wings, the Mets need to decide if Bruce is worth another 100 plate appearances this year.
Philadelphia Phillies: Let the foundation fully set
The Phils faded, as expected, but 2016 has been a good season — they’re clearly building toward something. Getting good news on Aaron Nola, who is out with a partially torn UCL in his right elbow, would be the best-case scenario and set up the team to make a wild-card run in 2017. But September should be about finding a viable No. 2 starter.
Getty ImagesDrew Hallowell
Atlanta Braves: Create momentum for 2017
The Braves think that they can be halfway decent in 2017. That is probably far-fetched, but there’s no reason to limit your dreams. Matt Kemp has been a positive for the team, and Dansby Swanson has been a coup of a pickup for Atlanta. If they can build off those two positives with two more, the Braves, who have been borderline watchable over the last month, might actually be watchable in 2017.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Squeeze some value out of Josh Reddick
The Dodgers have been arguably the most resilient team in baseball this year — that’s easy if you have the best farm system and the most money to spend — but they can’t justify continuing to play Josh Reddick if he continues to play like this. The former Oakland outfielder needs to have a big month if he wants to participate in the playoffs.
Getty ImagesDustin Bradford
San Francisco Giants: Find Buster Posey’s power
Buster Posey has never been a dominant power hitter, but 11 extra-base hits in the second half isn’t getting it done for the Giants. As the rotation has found some solidification and the bullpen posted a 3.64 ERA in August, Posey’s slugging woes loom largest.
Getty ImagesLachlan Cunningham
Arizona Diamondbacks: Get some value from scrap metal
The 2016 season has been an unmitigated disaster for the Diamondbacks, and frankly, the whole organization needs a power wash. But if they can get Jake Lamb to get out of the predictable slump he’s fallen into in the second half, or determine that Shelby Miller is still a viable major-league pitcher, that would be great.
San Diego Padres: Establish quiet confidence
Making splashes didn’t work out well for the Padres, who are still reeling from their big moves of two years ago. But now that the team has been more or less gutted, it can try to establish some foundation to have a solid 2017 season. The biggest issue at hand with that: Whatever happened to that Wil Myers contract extension we were told was coming in July?
Colorado Rockies: Find a reason not to trade Carlos Gonzalez.
This is a tough one. CarGo’s contract expires at the end of next season and he would net a haul on the trade market. Are the Rockies going to need him for a playoff push next year? September will go a long way to determining that. As per usual in Denver, it all hinges on the pitching.
Chicago Cubs: Rest and relaxation
It’s all going great for the Cubs right now — don’t mess it up by getting someone injured or burning your guys out ahead of the playoffs. This is the year — unless you do something in September to hurt your chances in October.
St. Louis Cardinals: Stop the rotation undulation
Carlos Martinez is the Cardinals’ No. 1. Does anyone want to join him in the playoffs? Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Mike Leake, Jaime Garcia — they’ve all been up and down, and more down than up as of late. There are opportunities for Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver to step up as well. If the Cardinals can get something resembling consistent starting pitching, they’ll get a wild-card berth.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Find an ace
It’s fair to say, at this point, that Gerrit Cole is in contention to be the Pirates’ ace, but they’ll have young studs Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow on the team in September. One of the three pitchers will be the Pirates’ No. 1 next year, and the competition could bring out the best in all three. If that happens, and the Pirates bats continue their August form, the Bucs will be in the thick of things.
Milwaukee Brewers: Tank to win
It’s not about the 2017 season or even the 2018 season — this is about Missouri pitcher Tanner Houck or Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall, two players in contention to be selected No. 1 in the 2017 MLB Draft.