- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

The Cleveland Indians have played their way back into the thick of the playoff race, but the grind is only beginning.

Manager Terry Francona’s team does not have another off day on the schedule until Sept. 25. That’s a full month after Cleveland’s previous off day, which was Aug. 25.

So yes, Francona has been looking forward to the chance to expand his roster in September.

“It’ll help. Bullpen arms are always welcome,” he said. “We’re not taking guys out of their roles. Some of the call-ups will give us more options on our bench. It’ll let us stay away from some guys sometimes, lets us see some of the younger guys and it keeps guys fresh.”

The Indians trail first-place Kansas City by 3 1/2 games, and they were leading the Royals 4-2 in the 10th inning Sunday night when the game was suspended because of rain. Then Cleveland had to travel home quickly for an afternoon game Monday against second-place Detroit.

It’s a tough situation, but now that September has started, managers have more bodies available.

“It’s a different game, it really is,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. “On your side, you’ve got to remember all the players you have, the different options you have. On the other side you’ve got to be aware of their weapons. You can’t quite get the matchups like you can during the regular season because of all the extra players.”

September baseball means more pitching changes and more substitutions in general. From 2004-2013, regular-season games from Sept. 1 on featured an average of 8.43 pitchers, according to STATS. The average was 7.62 in games earlier in the year.

The number of substitutes per game - not including pitchers - rose from 3.48 to 5.14 when rosters expanded.

Here are a few other things to watch around the majors this week:

MARQUEE MATCHUPS: There are several to choose from. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber faces Detroit’s David Price on Monday, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers takes on Doug Fister of Washington on Tuesday night, and Oakland’s Jon Lester starts against Seattle’s Felix Hernandez on Wednesday.

SLIDING: Oakland is still in solid shape to make the postseason, but the AL West may be slipping away. The Athletics trail the Angels by five games after Los Angeles swept a four-game series between the teams. Oakland scored one run in the final three games of that set and has to face Seattle’s tough pitching staff next.

ALL TIED UP: Milwaukee has lost five in a row, and now the Brewers are tied for first with St. Louis atop the NL Central. The Cardinals begin a four-game series at Milwaukee on Thursday night.

GOOD ENOUGH: Colorado’s Justin Morneau is leading the National League batting race with a .311 average. That doesn’t exactly conjure memories of Tony Gwynn’s heyday, but Morneau has been a bright spot for the Rockies after his career was derailed for a while because of concussion problems a few years ago. (And even the marvelous Gwynn once won a batting title with a .313 average in 1988.)

ON A ROLL: Drew Smyly is 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA since being sent from Detroit to Tampa Bay in the deal that brought Price to the Tigers. Smyly’s overall ERA this year is down to 3.31. Price’s is at 3.32.

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