It never ceases to amaze how quickly fortunes can change when the calendar reaches September.
Heading out of Labor Day into the past week in Major League Baseball, the Yankees and A's had to feel pretty good about themselves. And heading into this week, they still have reasons to be positive moving forward. After all, New York is a game up in the American League East, and Oakland is second behind the Rangers in the AL West and still in front in the Wild Card standings.
But fate can be fickle, and so can injuries.
The A's suffered a huge scare that goes far beyond baseball when starter Brandon McCarthy was hit in the head by an Erick Aybar line drive on Wednesday. After surgery for a skull fracture and brain contusion, McCarthy has improved enough to deliver jokes on Twitter, but the A's will be without his pitching services indefinitely, all while they're still regrouping from losing starter Bartolo Colon to a 50-game drug suspension. The return of Brett Anderson has helped, but it's another blow for the A's postseason hopes. They know they'll have to bear down even more down the stretch.
As for the Yankees, they were in a weekend battle for first place with the surprising Orioles to begin with, and the games were exciting and infused with an October atmosphere, but the bottom line is this: CC Sabathia still doesn't look like himself, and first baseman Mark Teixeira is now hobbling on a left calf injury that could limit him severely the rest of the way -- if he plays at all. Then again, the Yankees beat Baltimore, 13-3, on Sunday to keep their one-game lead in the division.
"There's part of me that wonders that," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Sunday when asked if he thought Teixeira might be out for the year. "There's basically 3 1/2 weeks [remaining], and if [the hamstring] does go back to square one, then I really wonder."
Meanwhile, remember a few weeks ago when we were writing off the Angels?
The starting pitching had hibernated, the bullpen was shaky and the timely hits weren't coming. Well, take a look at them now. After Sunday's 3-2 win over Detroit, manager Mike Scioscia's group is a season-best 14 games above the .500 mark and has won six in a row, 11 of its past 12 and 15 of its past 18. They're only a game out of the Wild Card race, and it appears momentum might be on their side once and for all. This week, they'll get first crack at the A's with a huge four-game set at home against Oakland beginning Monday before traveling to Kansas City for a three-game series against the Royals.
"Everybody tries to make a two-hour movie out of the season, but in reality, it's 162 games and it's really hard to document," starter C.J. Wilson said after beating Justin Verlander and the Tigers on Saturday. "There are so many ups and downs. It's like the stock market. It's doing something every day, but you don't know what it's going to be."
Up the freeway a bit, another Southern California team is entering a crucial part of its season that could very well determine if an October appearance is going to happen, and the Dodgers aren't exactly heading into this stretch in perfect shape.
Center fielder and last year's National League MVP runner-up, Matt Kemp, will be out at least until Tuesday with labrum fraying and inflammation in his left shoulder, and he's hoping a cortisone shot would help. Kemp bruised the shoulder running into a wall in Coors Field on Aug. 28. Since then, Kemp has gone 3-for-29 at the plate.
"It's [injuries] been part of my game the whole year," said Kemp, who missed 51 games earlier in the year because of hamstring woes. "I'm not saying I've gotten used to it, but I've had to deal with it. I want to be in the lineup. ... But right now, the way my shoulder feels, I wouldn't do much."
And then there's Stephen Strasburg, who won't do anything except cheer on his teammates.
In Washington, the Nationals are still riding high with the best record in the National League, but on Monday, life without their ace begins. The right-hander has been shut down for the rest of the season to protect his prized arm for the future, Strasburg's not happy about it, and his teammates and manager, Davey Johnson, are going to have to adjust quickly to the present.
It begins with a week of tight NL East competition on the road, with the Nats slated for three-game sets against the Mets and Braves on the road.
"We knew it was coming," Nationals infielder Mark DeRosa said of the shutdown. "It's disappointing, because he is such an elite talent and it's fun to watch him take the mound every [fifth] day.
"But we keep going. Gio [Gonzalez], Jordan [Zimmermann], Edwin [Jackson], all these guys have pitched like No. 1s all year. I don't see any reason why it should affect anything chemistry-wise in the clubhouse. We won't let it. These guys have played too good. We have played too hard, too long. We knew it was going to happen. Stephen will be there for us the whole way. He was a huge part of this team's success up until this point. They are doing what they feel is necessary for their future for him."
Elsewhere around the league, the shifting winds of September continue to blow.
The Tampa Bay Rays, for example, are still very much in it, sitting two games out in the division race and one game out in the Wild Card standings.
And the Tigers are two games behind the White Sox in the AL Central, but they get a big chance to make a dent in that cushion when Detroit travels to Chicago for another monstrous four-game road series that could go a long way toward determining who we see in the postseason.
"You've got to play these games like they are the last game you are going to play, which is the way it is," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
"It boils down to you've got to win baseball games. That is as simple as it is. That's what it is for them, and that is what is for us and everybody else involved in a race. There are a lot of people in the same boat that we are fighting to get to the postseason."