September is always a special time in baseball.
But it's also a strange time, when the rules are changed regarding roster size. And even odder this year, with teams, such as the Rays, competing for a new second wild-card berth and facing a different playoff format.
Cast Rays manager Joe Maddon as curious to see how it all works out.
The issue of roster expansion is an annual debate. After playing five months with a 25-man limit, teams go into the most important four weeks able to use up to 40 players.
As much emphasis as the Rays put on flexibility and versatility to maximize a 25-man roster, and as good a job as they do managing it, allowing other teams to use more players is a disadvantage.
Maddon said it can work both ways.
As a contender, he likes having the extra players around — they had 31 active Saturday — primarily to provide rest for the frontliners, and for some specific duties, such as pinch-running.
But he doesn't like managing against non-contenders that have and will use a bunch of extra players — often young and unpredictable — to create different matchups, with pinch-hitters and relievers, that otherwise would never have to be accounted for.
"They can make it very difficult on you," he said.
The solution, in Maddon's opinion and others, is to specify a set number of players — 28, 29, 30 — who can be active for each game.
He doesn't know yet what to think about the ramifications of the expanded playoffs. But he seems sure the addition of the second wild card, and the increased premium on winning the division (as the wild cards meet in a one-game play-in), will create additional issues, some unexpected. For example, teams might be more open to making trades in September, even though the acquired players won't be eligible for the postseason.
"It's different," he said.
But, bottom line, it should be even more intriguing to watch, with more teams involved and more games mattering. And, Maddon said, possibly even more exciting than last season's Game 162 dramatics.
"There's no telling how this is going to play out," he said. "Going through this whole process this year, it's going to present a lot of different caveats that weren't even thought about, or were thought about a little bit and now become more prominent. … It's going to be interesting, more so than it's ever been."