CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers have eliminated themselves from playoff contention.
All three teams sold off at least one major asset at the trade deadline. While the Twins dealt an arm they had just acquired, the White Sox and Tigers have had full-blown fire sales.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals have put themselves in a position to compete for the American League Central crown.
Perhaps it may not be in their best interest, their farm system already depleted and the majority of their core set to become free agents after the season. But Ned Yost and company are hot on the Indians’ tails in the Central, and they got better.
The Royals went all in, acquiring one of the top starters on the market in Trevor Cahill, a key lefty in the bullpen in Ryan Buchter and a starter in a corner outfield spot in Melky Cabrera. They did it all while sitting just two games back of the Indians in the division.
The Cahill acquisition is the one most likely to shift the fortunes of any in the Central, giving a slightly-below average starting rotation an extra arm. On a team where your third and four starters, Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy, boast 4+ ERAs and 4.3+ FIPs, the upgrade could make a large difference.
Cabrera instantly upgrades the corner outfield spots, possibly platooning with Alex Gordon, who has struggled mightily to a .202/.296/.303 slash while playing full time. Jorge Bonafacio, the team’s other starter in the corner, slashes .258/.327/.446., but with a .320 BABIP and rookie status has the potential to regress.
There lies the issue for the Indians, in comparison.
For all intents and purposes, the AL Central leaders’ acquisition of righty reliever Joe Smith was an improvement based on playoff success, bolstering an already elite bullpen that now has the ability to stretch the worst start into a full-length pitching clinic.
That play is probably the right one, given that the Indians would have to go into a full meltdown in the second half to miss the playoffs altogether, but what about the chances the Royals keep up and take the crown?
The Indians have long been the favorites to win the division, but a large piece of a former World Series Champion core have been able to keep up even while the Indians are at their best. During Cleveland’s nine-game win streak from July 20th to the 29th, the Royals won eight of nine, grabbing a game back when the Indians’ streak was snapped and they rallied to beat the Red Sox.
Now one of those teams has bolstered their roster in the rotation, the bullpen, the field and at the plate. It wasn’t the favorites.
The Royals time to strike is now, as the Indians open up the month of August with eight of nine series against current playoff teams, including two against each other.
Cleveland is 4-5 in nine contests against Kansas City in 2017.
So while the AL Central picture has remained in flux for the first 100 games, that picture could be almost fully painted by August 31st.
The Royals intend to continue to muddy the waters.