Every MLB team aims to reach the postseason at the year’s outset. Once the contenders are separated from the pretenders, those teams in the former category have a new desire: To reach the postseason relatively healthy.
Each squad has to go through its fair share of aches and pains, strains and sprains throughout a 162-game season. But as we approach September, some contenders are close to getting reinforcements for a title run.
Here are the impact players who are scheduled to return from injury next month and possibly shake up the MLB playoff race.
Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
Harper is targeting a Sept. 1 return. He’s been out since being hit by a pitch that broke his left thumb on June 25. The Phillies have been able to stay afloat without the two-time National League MVP, posting an above-average OPS (.741) and wRC+ (+104) since then. Entering Saturday’s doubleheader versus the Mets, Philadelphia has a 27-18 record sans Harper. He is expected to begin a rehab assignment during the upcoming week, and everyone — the Phillies, Harper’s fantasy managers, baseball fans — should be excited to see him back on the diamond.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers — the best team in baseball — are basically unbeatable right now. And they will be adding a future Hall of Fame pitcher back into their rotation soon. Kershaw, who has been on the injured list since early August due to low back pain, threw off a mound Friday for the first time since sustaining his injury. Manager Dave Roberts said there’s a possibility that the acclaimed left-hander may not need a rehab stint before returning to L.A. Regardless, Kershaw is tracking toward a return in the first half of September. Among starters with at least 80 innings pitched, Kershaw ranks 10th in ERA at 2.64. The Dodgers’ starting rotation already leads the majors in ERA and will be getting even better next month.
Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
After experimenting for weeks, the Braves have finally found a suitable replacement for Albies at second base in exciting rookie Vaughn Grissom. He’s batted .371 with seven RBI and two steals over his first 10 MLB games. However, his time in the spotlight will probably come to an end within the next few weeks. Albies has been on the mend since fracturing his left foot in mid-June. The team hasn’t stated when he could begin a rehab assignment, but the two-time All-Star has been working out and should be cleared next month. He was a below-average hitter prior to his injury (90 OPS+), but Atlanta will be happy to plug him right back into the lineup once he’s ready. They are a lock for at least the No. 1 Wild Card spot, but they entered Saturday only 3.5 games behind the Mets in the NL East chase.
Luis Severino and Clay Holmes, New York Yankees
Not to be Captain Obvious, but the Yankees have a lot of problems right now. As of Saturday evening, they’ve lost 14 of their last 17 games. Everything has gone wrong, thanks in part to injuries on all levels. They might be able to welcome back power hitter Giancarlo Stanton before the end of this month. Then they could get two key pieces back onto their pitching staff. Severino, on the IL with a lat strain since mid-July, is on track for an early-September activation. Holmes is eligible to be activated on Aug. 29, but it’s unclear if he will return from his bout with back spasms when he’s first eligible.
Severino’s role is clear: Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said recently that the plan is for the right-hander to make five starts before the playoffs begin. For Holmes, who knows? He was the best reliever in baseball during the season’s first half, but he posted a 10.24 ERA and went 1-for-4 in save chances across 11 appearances in the month prior to his injury. He could return as the Yanks’ closer considering that Aroldis Chapman has also been far from a sure thing. We’ll just have to wait and see. Regardless, the Yankees will take any and all help at the moment. Leading the AL East by 15.5 games just a few weeks ago, that advantage has now been slashed to seven.
Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
You could also throw starting pitcher Shane Baz in here, but it’s not a given that he will be back from his right elbow sprain before the curtain drops on the regular season. He’s not throwing at the moment and can’t be activated until Sept. 12 at the earliest.
The path is clearer for Franco, who began a rehab assignment this week. Although some pain in his surgically repaired right hand forced him to stop swinging for a bit, the team expects him to get back to full game activity next week. If all goes well, he should resume as the Rays’ starting shortstop in early September. The Rays are currently clinging onto the third and final AL Wild Card spot. Franco has left something to be desired as a hitter, but his high-contact, high-average style is desperately needed in that Tampa Bay lineup that has plenty of swing-and-miss.
Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
Where will the White Sox be in six weeks? Currently three back of the Rays for that final playoff spot, they are trying to gain ground while Anderson heals from his Aug. 11 surgery to repair a torn finger ligament. He’s expected to miss six weeks, which makes a late-September return possible. He was batting .301 during an All-Star campaign prior to the ailment, and he is just one in a long list of injuries for the White Sox in what has been an underwhelming season on Chicago’s South Side.
Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
The oft-injured right-hander has thrown just eight innings this year, all coming out of the bullpen in three appearances. He missed the first two-plus months of the season due to right shoulder bursitis and then went back onto the IL in late June with more right shoulder problems. He’s now on a rehab assignment and being built up as a starter. He threw 52 pitches and three scoreless innings at Double-A on Tuesday. He will make his next start Sunday, throwing around 75 pitches. The hope is Flaherty will be in the majors by the start of next month.
The Cardinals have good rotation depth, but with rookie Andre Pallante nearing a career-high in innings, and Dakota Hudson having a below-average year, there should be room for Flaherty, who throughout all of the ailments and setbacks, has put together a solid 126 ERA+ since the start of 2018. He could further help the Cards pull away from the Brewers in the NL Central. They entered Saturday with a four-game lead in the division.