MLB trades set up seasons
Since the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, Major League Baseball (MLB) standings have taken a bizarre turn. At the deadline, the Oakland Athletics had baseball’s best record by a significant margin. The Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals were locked in a tight race for the National League (NL) East.
The Milwaukee Brewers looked like a surefire playoff team, riding an excellent start to a midseason lead in the NL Central. The Detroit Tigers looked like they were going to walk leisurely to what feels like a 40th consecutive American League (AL) Central title.
None of those things are remotely true anymore due to a combination of deadline moves and baseball randomness.
The Oakland A's have been one of the worst teams in baseball since the trade deadline. After trading left fielder Yoenis Céspedes to the Boston Red Sox for ace starter Jon Lester, it appeared the A’s were gearing up for a World Series run. This was in addition to the acquisition of starter Jeff Samardzija earlier in the season.
Céspedes had a great case as one of the most overrated players in baseball, as his back-to-back home run derby crowns could not mask an abysmal .298 on-base percentage at the deadline.
The A’s recent stumble has been bizarre and hard to make sense of. Lester has been very good, but a number of key players have cratered since the trade.
Catcher Derek Norris and first baseman Brandon Moss, two players who were having excellent seasons as major contributors to baseball’s best offense, have gone ice cold, providing very little pop to a lineup that switched out its biggest home run threat in Céspedes for utility fielders. Starters Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray have both seen huge drops in effectiveness as their innings piled up.
The A’s, who were once a common pick to win the World Series, now see their playoff hopes in peril. They sit only a half game above the Kansas City Royals for the first wild card and two games above the Seattle Mariners for the second wild card.
The Braves were never supposed to be as good as they are. After great pitching took the team to the playoffs last year, they lost three starters in spring training. With very little everyday offensive talent in its lineup, the team was supposed to have a tough time repeating last season’s magic.
For half the season, however, the starting rotation pitched very well. The expected contributions from ace Julio Tehran helped, but more important were guys like starter Aaron Harang succeeding seemingly out of nowhere.
As of Tuesday, the Nationals have clinched the division, and the Braves are looking very far up at the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Giants for wild card spots.
The Brewers are another team that seems to have lost their way since deadline day, which is particularly confusing since they did not make any notable moves. It seems that the whole team was either playing over its head and took longer than expected to regress to the mean, or torrid stretches from the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals simply outpaced the Brew Crew.
Finally, the rise of the Royals has been shocking and exciting. Perpetually tortured Royals fans might be treated to postseason baseball for the first time since their 1985 World Series victory, all due to several key changes since the trade deadline.
The Tigers seemed to be running away with their division, but some regression from starter Rick Porcello and terrible defensive play from their infield mired the Tigers. In what was an extended cold streak through August, the Royals were given the chance to heat the race up.
Several Royals players also finally seem to have found their swings despite brutal early season struggles. The crown jewels of the Royals’ farm system, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, were absolutely terrible for most of the season.
Hosmer was eventually injured and Moustakas was sent to the minors. Upon return, both players have been putting up okay base numbers and surprising power numbers.
Royals starters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura were good for the first half of the season and have been excellent since the deadline, with starter James Shields upping his play as well. This team has an amazing bullpen, with closer Greg Holland flanked by Wade Davis, the most effective reliever in the majors this year.
Often the excitement of the postseason buries what goes on in the regular season. This A’s collapse could be remembered for a very long time, but minor changes since the trade deadline have drastically altered the course of the MLB.
These last few games and the postseason should offer even more excitement in what, so far, has been a thrilling season.