There are no guarantees in baseball, which is why so many first-place MLB teams work frantically at the trade deadline to get better and thwart moves of the competition. After the blockbuster trade deadline in 2014, three division leaders that made significant moves have fallen out of first place and risk missing the playoffs.
Whether the drop can be attritbuted to team chemistry, an inevitable slump, or old-fashioned choking under pressure, it’s impossible to say. Here are the three contenders that definitely got worse despite additions to their rosters before July 31.
1. Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee’s surprising 2014 run was still firing on all cylinders on July 31, when the front office acquired slick-fielding Gerardo Parra from Arizona for a pair of minor leaguers. At the time, the Brewers controlled the NL Central with a record of 60-49 and a two-game edge over St. Louis. In fact, the Brew Crew was just two games off the pace of the Dodgers for the best record in the National League.
Since that point, Milwaukee has gone 13-17, including an eight-game losing streak that was still going as of September 4. The Brewers have dropped five games in the standings, which leaves them with a half-game lead for the second wild card spot. As it stands, the Brewers will be fighting tooth and nail to get that last playoff spot. Regarding Parra himself, the outfielder’s impact has been negligible. Maybe Milwaukee needed a bigger upgrade to stay in the race.
2. Detroit Tigers
Detroit nabbed the most prized commodity on the trade market — Tampa’s David Price — in what became a three-team blockbuster. The Tigers parted with Austin Jackson and Drew Smyly for the Rays ace. At the time, Detroit had an advantage of four games over Kansas City in the AL Central.
Since the July 31 deadline, Detroit has been treading water with an 18-16 record while Kansas City surged into first with a 22-9 performance. The Tigers trail the Royals by two losses as of press time. Detroit’s front office knew it would be sacrificing on offense (and outfield defense) in order to pick up the coveted Price, but concerns about team chemistry linger. If the Tigers hold on to their half-game lead for the second wild card spot, they will enter the playoffs with a formidable rotation but concerns in every other part of the club.
3. Oakland A’s
Like Milwaukee and Detroit, Oakland’s moves were made when the club held a division lead. In fact, the A’s were an MLB-best 25 games over .500 and two games ahead of the Angels in the AL West. Trading for Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammell, and Jon Lester suggested the A’s were all-in for a deep postseason run. In return they parted with slugger Yoenis Cespedes, which many sports writers considered a smart sacrifice given the statistical critique of Cespedes’s play.
One month later, the A’s have gone 13-19 and trail the Angels by five games in the loss column — a swing of seven games. The club does hold a three-game advantage over Detroit and Seattle for the first wild card, but the offensive malaise the A’s have experienced is likely tied to the loss of the thunderous middle-of-the-order presence Cespedes brought. With Sonny Gray, Lester, and Samardzija in line for the postseason, the A’s could be an imposing force in the playoffs, but elimination in the wild card game would represent a complete disaster for Billy Beane and his staff in Oakland.