If you love misery, this is the September for you. We’re barely 10 days into the season’s final month, and we have three teams on the verge of humiliating collapses.
And then there’s the Yankees, who have never been good enough in 2014 to collapse.
On the day Oakland added Jon Lester and Detroit David Price, the A’s, Tigers and Brewers were all in first place. Entering play Wednesday, none of them is, and in the five weeks since, the three teams are a combined 51-62 and have gone from a combined eight games in front to 14 behind.
It’s a good thing Lester and Price will be available to start the wild-card games — if their teams make it.
It’s often said the six-month season is a marathon, or just a procession of four-hour Red Sox-Yankees games. Brewers, A’s and Tigers fans know it all too well this year.
A closer look:
Detroit: Last year’s Tigers won 93 games and came within a David Ortiz homer and a Jose Iglesias error of reaching the World Series. This year’s Tigers are on pace to win about three fewer games and play about three weeks less.
The Tigers’ addition of Price was a plus, but it was like seeing an oncologist for a heart condition. It didn’t address what ailed them.
The Tigers needed pitching at the back end, not the front. Too bad all those great starts depend on Joe Nathan for the last three outs.
Last year’s Tigers’ bullpen wasn’t good, but this year’s is worse. Their 4.22 bullpen ERA isn’t last in MLB, but it’s better than only four teams a combined 106 games under .500. And in a year when most ERAs have gone down, the Tigers’ bullpen’s is 0.21 higher than last year’s.
Dave Dombrowski’s only addition there was injury-prone Joakim Soria, who’s pitched 4.1 innings for the Tigers, gave up 10 hits and two home runs and got hurt. When in Joe Nathan’s bullpen, do as Joe Nathan does.
Price may be the Tigers’ best starter in 2014, if only by default. Annibal Sanchez is hurt. Justin Verlander is hurting, and it shows in his 4.82 ERA. Max Scherzer is 16-5 with a 3.19 ERA and has 232 strikeouts in 200 innings; he wants far more than the $15.5 million he’s getting this year. Rick Porcello is having his best season (15-10, 3.30), but who wants to bet on a repeat. Maybe Dombrowski can remind us again why Doug Fister was excess and worth dealing for a minor-league starter and a lefty reliever (who failed mightily).
Verlander’s shoulder troubles are the least unexpected news of the season. He’s pitched 200 innings in every season since 2007 and at least 218 in every one since 2009, leading the league three times.
For that the Tigers will pay him $28 million next season, which must make Scherzer throw even harder. A fragile Verlander will pair nicely with Miguel Cabrera, whose home run trot is now a limp because of a bad ankle. He’s due $22 million next year and $28 million in 2016 (and $32 million in 2023). Don’t let the Tigers handle your money.
The team already has $92 million committed for next year to five players, three of whom have been unable to fulfill their duties this season because of ailments and one because of incompetence.
They don’t need Prince Fielder to weigh them down.
Milwaukee: Brewers GM Doug Melvin has been a most favored target of criticism here for many of his moves: trading Brett Lawrie for Shaun Marcum, forfeiting a first-round pick to sign Kyle Lohse (Rob Kaminsky, the lefty pitcher the Cards used the pick on, had a 1.88 ERA in low-A this summer), his beneficent handling of Ryan Braun as opposed to his tough love with Fielder, and let’s add his deal of Nelson Cruz back in 2006.
I was about a week away from a mea culpa as regards Melvin and the 2014 Brewers, which shows that apologies, like good at-bats, often require patience.
The Brewers were in first place every day from April 9 to the last day of August, which offered Melvin little incentive to better the Brewers’ ills: first base, the fifth starting pitcher and depth in the bullpen. Did anyone really think Zach Duke would last?
The Brewers brought Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay to the plate 689 times and started Marco Estrada 18 times. If you’re wondering how that turned out, know that Estrada has thrown more home runs (29) than Reynolds and Overbay have hit (25). And a lot more singles.
Some of the Brewers’ bullpen woes were bad luck — Jim Henderson (2.70 ERA and 28 saves in 2013) never returned from injury and lefty Will Smith, who has 80 strikeouts in 60.2 innings, had OPSes against of .838 in June, 1.199 in July and .813 in August. By the time Melvin made a much-needed move to add Jonathan Broxton, the Brewers were sliding downward out of control, like Bernie Brewer after a home-team homer.
The Brewers, who were once 19 games better than .500, entered play Wednesday two games ahead of the Marlins. They may be able to hold them off.
Oakland: GM Billy Beane finally found a way to keep the A’s from losing the divisional series in a deciding game: lose in the wild-card game.
The A’s were 53-33 when Beane traded his best prospect (Addison Russell) for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel; they were 66-41 when he traded his second-best player (Yoenis Cespedes) for Jon Lester.
The A’s entered play 81-63 on Wednesday and hoping Adam Dunn can help them hold on to a wild-card spot. If you’re an A’s fan, you want someone to stop Beane before he deals again.
It’s not all the A’s fault. The Angels are 58-27 since June 5 and have made up 13.5 games on the A’s in that span.
But the A’s are left with strong starting pitching, an adequate bullpen, and Sam Fuld too often in the outfield and Eric Sogard at second (the A’s waived Fuld in April and traded excess starter Tommy Milone to get him back. Not exactly a win for Beane).
The Angels are better than the A’s, and there’s not much Beane could do about that. But in 2015, when the A’s no longer have Cespedes, Russell or Lester, and perhaps not the arbitration-eligible Samardzija, the Angels will be better by an even larger margin. That Beane might have been better able to contest.