Baseball in September means that the regular season is nearing its end, and teams are either cruising to a division title, pushing for a playoff spot, or waiting for the season to end so they can start their golfing vacations. With the extra wild card team included in each league, more teams are in the race for the playoffs, although it really only amounts to one game guaranteed. While one game can be a legitimate deciding factor in a 5-game or 7-game series, I firmly believe that a 1-game playoff does not always produce the better team winning.
Although this year’s wild card race is much tighter than the race last year, the leading wild card team could be up by seven or eight games and then lose the wild card playoff game because of a fluke or lucky game from the lesser team (infield fly dropped by a left fielder ring any bells).
September offers a different feel to baseball teams because they are allowed to expand their rosters and have more than the 25 players allotted during the rest of the regular season. This means that players can be called up who have specialties that may not have warranted a roster spot for the entire year, but are critical in helping a team play more than 162 games for the season. One of the best examples this year is Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds. He may or may not see a playoff game based on the team he plays for though.
Hamilton may be a good player for years to come, but he is a no-brainer September call-up with the speed he possesses. He has the potential to become an all-around threat, but his main role for the Reds right now is to get on base, steal bases, and score runs. His spot on the roster paid dividends the very first game he appeared in, as he stole 2nd base and then scored on a base hit as the Reds won that game 1-0. Speed will keep you employed in baseball and help teams win games, and Hamilton proved that in his first Major League game. A late-inning playoff game always needs a fast runner who can score from first on a base hit to tie a game.
Pitching is an area that can benefit from call-ups but can also be hurt by it. While a team usually carries 12-13 pitchers at any given time, an extra pitcher or two can change the way some players are used and effect a team’s performance. Relievers are used to throwing in certain situations, a certain number of innings, or at least have a routine from game to game and week to week. This is based on a 25 man roster. More pitchers means greater variance in the options managers have and could possibly deter a pitcher from his routine. Routine in baseball is critical as it more a mental preparation than a physical one, and pitchers who are not mentally prepared to come into a game when called upon are very dangerous to the manager and team putting them on the mound.
Despite the new options managers have, Major League players are Major League players for a reason. Teams that successful can instill those winning ways onto the young newcomers and give them expectations to live up to right away. Losing teams have new players that have to deal with players who are playing out the season and some who are fighting for roster spots for next year’s team who will not take kindly to new competition.
A great example of this can be found in a book by Dirk Hayhurst called Out Of My League. He describes being called up the San Diego Padres and how out of place he felt around the Major Leaguers. Established veterans may not have many worries, but many players on any given roster do not know their status for the next season, and they are not inclined to make a new life long best friend who was just brought up to help out the team.
Playoff teams endure the grind
With or without new players on a roster, teams still have to perform all the way through the last month of the season. Nothing is more demoralizing than to have a good year only to see a division or wild-card lead slip away in the last few weeks and end up with the same fate as over half the league by missing the playoffs. Baseball is probably the hardest sport to be a playoff team, based on the number of teams that get in. 10 out of 30 teams, or 33% make it. While some teams take for granted being contenders every year and reaching the post season, it is an accomplishment to be proud of from year to year. Simply being a playoff contender doesn’t cut it for most fans in today’s society.
There aren’t as many teams today that make the playoffs year in and year out. Some teams go from worst to first, such as the Red Sox this year. Others can be great one year and awful the next year (the Phillies quick downfall and firing of Charlie Manuel). Yankees fans may have history to lean on with 27 rings, although most fans couldn’t name half the years the team won those rings, but most teams do not have a rich history to fall back to if their team misses the playoffs. That is why every year a team is a contender should be thought of as “The Year” and fans should back their teams as much as they can. Yes, there is always next year, but next years means that every team is in the race with 162 games to go versus this year, with only 5 or 6 teams in it and less than 30 games to go.