Well, it’s been a fun summer hiatus. Some of us have moved, some of us have started new jobs, others have finished old jobs, and still others have stayed exactly where they are. Were I a writer of lazy sensibilities, I would talk about how this turbulence is reflected by the chaos of the Major League Baseball season. However, not only is this turbulence a part of life for any and all, it is also an annual rite of August baseball that teams’ fortunes are in a perpetual state of rise and fall.
(I make no claims as to not being a writer of lazy sensibilities. Y’all have been warned.)
Because it’s been a fun hiatus, it’s time to check in on some of our most favorite baseball teams. As opposed to last year’s overly premature serenading of the Oakland A’s going all in for Jon Lester (a move that…well, it didn’t work out), I’ve decided to wait a good span of time to see how the transactions affected the teams that made moves. This way, the passage of time would show whether teams made great decisions that led to sustained success and victory, or made terrible decisions that led to setbacks that could and would last for years.
So, two weeks later, here we are. This is that favorite Addison Recorder baseball game: Three Up, Three Down. (Post-Trade Deadline Edition!)
Up – Toronto Blue Jays
Holy cow, sports fans.
Before the Trade Deadline, the Blue Jays were mired in a perpetual state of .500 baseball. Aside from their one quality winning month back in May, everything seemed pretty bleak for a team that hasn’t made the postseason dance since 1993. For frame of reference, The Lion King had yet to grace theaters the last time the Jays made the postseason.
One ten game winning streak later (pending a stirring comeback by the Oakland A’s tonight), the Jays are sitting one game back of the New York Yankees for first place in the American League. The Jays stunned the baseball community by trading for Troy Tulowitzki, a player who is – albeit, when healthy – the best shortstop in baseball. And this for a team that wasn’t exactly pressing for offense; their current +131 run differential is tops in baseball. Still, in spite of the *ahem* upgrade, this was a team still in desperate need of a front line starting pitcher.
So, naturally, the team traded for David Price, one of the 10 best starting pitchers alive. And all he’s done since then is to go 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA in 15 IP with 18 Ks and one run allowed.
Yeah, the Jays are stacked. Barring a total and utter collapse, one might think that their return to the postseason is eminent.
Down – Detroit Tigers
Let us now eulogize the Detroit Tigers teams of the late aughts and early 10’s, the team fronted by a Triple Crown winner in both pitching and in hitting, a team with more stars than there were in the heavens. Think about it – at one point, the Tigers rotation consisted of Justin Verlander, David Price, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister, with a line up that featured stars like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and the venerable leadership of Jim Leyland, a team that earned three consecutive MVP awards at one point.
Unfortunately, the bright spots of that team never aligned all at once. Verlander’s best year came in 2011, Scherzer and Price would come in later trades, Fielder flopped his way out of town, and Leyland faded into the hills to smoke cigars on a sunset beach somewhere. To my mind, this team most resembles that great Cleveland Indians team of the 90s, where a host of fantastic players rallied repeatedly, crushing baseballs en route to glory…and yet never quite reaching the pinnacle of greatness. (The one big difference is that the Indians ran into the 90’s Braves and Yankees, two teams that are all-time greats, while the Tigers ran into…those really weird Giants teams that won in even years. Life really isn’t fair if you’re from Detroit.)
Now Price will be pitching the Jays to greatness, while Mike Ilitch lives out his sunset years watching a team crippled by its immense finances (go take a look at the money owed to the Pitcher Formerly Known as Verlander, and you will know the meaning of regret) fade and sputter beneath the team immediately following in the rankings.
Up – Kansas City Royals
The Royals continue to defy the expectations of everyone except for those who live in Kansas City. Their big offseason gets were Kendrys Morales (who now leads the team in RBIs) and Alex Rios (who is…a guy). And yet there they were at the trade deadline, hovering at 20 games over .500, yet without that ace who might counter Madison Bumgarner in October or anybody with a pulse who could play second base besides Omar Infante.
So the Royals traded for Johnny Cueto, possibly the best starting pitcher available on the marker (why, yes, I am a Reds fan, who wants to know?). And then they did what any analyst worth their salt suggested and acquired Ben Zobrist to play left field until Team MVP Alex Gordon returns. At that point, it is assumed that Zobrist will slide right into playing second base, nudging Infante into the more natural role of bench veteran that he should have been playing about four months ago.
Cueto is a huge get for a team that came within one run of taking Game Seven of the World Series last year to extra innings, where anything can happen. Meanwhile, Zobrist was the unsung hero of that team the Royals most resemble, that being the late aughts Tampa Bay Rays. That team made it all the way to the World Series, running into a Phillies team at the peak of its powers. These Royals have already tasted October glory and have not forgotten it. They are hungry, and with that defense and that bullpen, they will be a match for anybody.
Down – Minnesota Twins
It also doesn’t hurt that the Royals have a 12 game lead in their division. The closest team within sniffing distance is the Twins, and they’ve not exactly thrown in the towel in the hunt for the Wild Card…but they’re not far off. This year was supposed to be a building year for the Twins, something any Twins fan or employee would tell you. The fact that they’ve contended for as long as they have is a small miracle.
Seriously. There’s decent pitching there, but nothing to stand against the tops of the league. The hitters are young, but they’re as green as freshly cut grass. Their top power hitter is the husk of Torii Hunter. Joe Mauer is still a good hitter, but he’s not what he once was. The smoke and mirrors that guided the Twins to Wild Card contention have been shattered and blown away, leaving a team that has high hopes for next year, but not many left for this year.
At least that ball park sure seems like fun!
Up – Chicago Cubs
Speaking of fun ball parks, every game I’ve gone to at Wrigley Field this year has been a blast. The score boards are weird and intrusive, but the Cubs are – dare I say it – a hell of a good time. The rookies are playing lights out, the pitching staff is great, and Joe Maddon has the team playing winning baseball in August.
I don’t give a whole lot of love to the Cubs in this column (again, Cincinnati), but after the drudgery of the past few years, this team is really easy to get behind. Well, not that easy – I’m still a Reds fan, and if I had to cast my lot with a team, it’ll be with either Johnny Cueto’s Royals or the long suffering Blue Jays (you guys, Kurt Cobain was alive to see the Blue Jays in the postseason). That being said, if the Cubs are in the hunt for October, you know its a good time to be a sports fan in Chicago.
(I mean, the Hawks won, which, I mean, go Hawks, but I’m still WILD FOR THE WILD.)
Down – San Diego Padres
#Padres largely standing pat because GM A.J. Preller believes the team can reach the postseason, source says.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2015
SD: 54 – 61 – .470 – 10 games back in Division race – 11 games back in Wild Card race