American League hopefuls all have areas of concern
From injuries to ineffectiveness, contenders looking to transcend flaws
The Tigers stole the spotlight at the Trade Deadline, working out details on a three-team deal that brought David Price to Motown in less than 16 hours. It gave the Tigers the first rotation ever to contain three pitchers who won the three previous Cy Young awards.
Will it give the Tigers what they want most -- a ticket to the sixth World Series championship in franchise history?
The Tigers entered Saturday leading the American League Central by 2 1/2 games over the Royals. But their 63-50 record is only the fourth best in the AL, behind the AL West tandem of the A's (71-44) and Angels (67-48) and the AL East-leading Orioles (66-49).
The Tigers, just like the seven other teams battling for the five AL postseason spots, do have areas of concern.
Detroit did acquire former closer Joakim Soria prior to the Deadline to try and stabilize its bullpen. Currently, the Tigers are using Soria in a seventh-inning role, while he has proven to be more effective in the ninth. He has allowed two earned runs over 18 1/3 innings in save situations and 13 earned runs in the other 18 2/3 innings he has pitched this season. The Tigers' bullpen has blown 10 saves and has a 4.44 ERA, which ranks 26th in the Major Leagues.
The A's are more of a postseason lock than any team. Not only do they lead the Angels by four games, but they are 9 1/2 games in front of Kansas City -- which currently holds down the second AL Wild Card spot. There's no doubt the A's strengthened their rotation with the early additions of Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel and their Deadline deal for Jon Lester. They did, however, have to give up Yoenis Cespedes in the Lester deal, which broke up the terrifying trio in the middle of the lineup. Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, with 23 home runs apiece entering Saturday, and Cespedes, who had 17 with the team, are the only A's with double figures in home runs and as many as 43 RBIs this season.
The Angels didn't have the budget or prospects to land a needed starting pitcher, so they have been stockpiling relievers -- including closer Huston Street. They do need starting pitchers to get the game to the bullpen, however, to create a value for relievers, and that's a concern. Tyler Skaggs has a strained flexor tendon in his left forearm, leaving his season in limbo. C.J. Wilson hasn't been any more effective since coming off the disabled list than he was beforehand, as he has given up at least six runs in four of his last five starts.
Baltimore has been seemingly flying under the radar in building a five-game lead in the AL East, the biggest advantage enjoyed by the six division leaders entering Saturday. If the Orioles have a chance in the late innings, the odds are in their favor. They are 12-4 in extra-inning games and 24-17 in one-run decisions. But this is a two-dimensional team -- relying on home runs and the bullpen. The O's need more consistency from their rotation to limit the wear on the relievers, who rank second in the AL with 369 innings pitched. Their offense is straight out of Earl Weaver's dreams -- looking for the long ball. Baltimore leads the Majors with 144 home runs, but ranks seventh in the AL in runs scored (489) and average (.257).
The Royals have not only moved within 2 1/2 games of Detroit, but are a half-game up in the battle for the second AL Wild Card spot. The bullpen has become dominant with the return of Kelvin Herrera from shoulder soreness in June. He has assumed the seventh-inning role and has not allowed a run since June 24. They still need a big bat, and are hoping Billy Butler finally starts driving the ball again. He has hit only seven home runs and driven in only 47 runs for an offense that is led in home runs by Mike Moustakas at 14 and RBIs by Omar Infante with 51, entering Saturday.
Seattle has had offensive struggles, and nothing underscores that fact better than Felix Hernandez's six no-decisions in starts in which he has allowed two or fewer runs. With a best-in-baseball team ERA of 3.02, the M's tried to jumpstart their offense with the recent additions of Austin Jackson and Kendrys Morales. But the wait continues, as Morales has hit .148 over his first 13 games and Jackson .250 over his first seven entering Saturday.
The Blue Jays' roster has been decimated by injuries. They need a run of good health. Just as Adam Lind (fractured right foot) began a rehab assignment and Edwin Encarnacion (right quadriceps strain) got close to starting one, too, came the loss of Brett Lawrie to the disabled list with a left oblique strain. Second baseman Maicer Izturis has been out since May 23, following left knee surgery.
The Yankees have pieced their rotation together and somehow remained in contention, which is a tribute to manager Joe Girardi and his staff. They have already used 12 different starting pitchers -- including recently giving a shot to Chris Capuano, who opened the season in relief in Boston and was signed by the Rockies after being released. Capuano was pitching for Triple-A Colorado Springs when New York acquired him from Colorado. The Yanks have also taken a flier on Esmil Rogers, now with his fourth franchise in the last three seasons. Hiroki Kuroda is the only member of the Opening Day rotation who hasn't been on the disabled list. Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery), Masahiro Tanaka (partial tear of right ulnar collateral ligament), CC Sabathia (right knee surgery) and Michael Pineda (right shoulder) are all on the disabled list, along with David Phelps (right elbow inflammation).