Winter acquisitions yet to pay off for trio of clubs
Angels, Blue Jays, Royals have all struggled while waiting to reap benefits of trades
A series of high-profile offseason acquisitions had three American League teams entering this season hoping to put an end to their respective postseason droughts of varying lengths.
Instead, the Angels, Blue Jays and Royals each find themselves below .500 and needing a significant second-half push to even enter the playoff picture conversation. Each club has had its share of issues -- some of which even they have had trouble pinpointing -- while also showing recent glimpses of their potential.
Entering the season's second half, Toronto trailed in the AL Wild Card hunt by 8 1/2 games, while the Halos and Kansas City trailed by nine and 9 1/2 games, respectively. Yet as reigning AL West champion Oakland showed in 2012, overcoming a nine-game deficit at the All-Star break is certainly within the realm of possibility.
"There's just been too many examples of teams in September that have overcome being down eight games and nine games," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "If you were asking me this question at the end of August, my answer might not be the same, but a lot can happen in a month and a half. We were 11 games under .500 at one point. There's still time."
While the Blue Jays took a major step backward coming out of the break, suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the Rays, the Angels and Royals each took two of three from their respective division leaders.
Though a step in the right direction, the Halos still have a long road ahead if they are going to avoid the letdown of missing the postseason after signing the league's marquee free agent for a second straight season. Along with adding Josh Hamilton, the Angels hoped they had shored up their bullpen this past offseason with the additions of Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett, who have combined for just 13 appearances due to injuries. The season-long struggles at the plate for Hamilton haven't helped matters.
"It's a compilation of events, truthfully," Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said recently. "We have not performed to our ability in a lot of different ways, and we have a half-season to turn it around."
The positive for these three teams is that each showed the potential to do exactly that just one month ago. The Blue Jays posted an AL-best 17-9 record in June, the Royals led the AL Central with a 16-11 mark for the month and the Angels went 14-13, just two games off the pace of the division-leading A's.
As has been the problem for much of the season, however, the teams couldn't sustain that success. Entering the break, Kansas City had dropped five straight, Toronto lost nine of 14 and the Halos had came up short in four of five.
The Blue Jays, who acquired the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey, as well as former All-Stars Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes in a blockbuster offseason, had a similar setback last month. Toronto followed up a season-long 11-game winning streak from June 11-23 by losing eight of its next 11 to fall back below .500.
"Maybe we're overrated, maybe we're not as good as we thought we were," said Buehrle, who sits at 5-7 with a 4.83 ERA. "During the 11-game winning streak, we had everything going for us. Guys were making plays. We were hitting balls just out of the reach of guys. We were making the right pitches at the right time. Now it just seems like nothing's going our way."
The Halos suffered a similar fate following their season-best eight-game winning streak in late May, dropping 11 of their next 15, including four straight at the hands of the last-place Astros.
"Our challenge is focusing on that process and playing good baseball," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "In stretches this year, we have done a good job of it, and then it seems like we get knocked back a little bit."
The same can be said for their key offseason acquisition. Hamilton has shown signs of busting out of his season-long slump, most recently going 9-for-31 (.290) with four homers and 10 RBIs in eight games from July 2-10, only to go 3-for-23 (.130) with no long balls and two RBIs in six games since.
Toronto has gotten similar up-and-down production from Buehrle and Dickey, while Johnson has struggled and Reyes missed more than two months due to a severely sprained left ankle.
In Kansas City, newcomers Ervin Santana and James Shields have provided consistent production in the starting rotation, but Wade Davis hasn't nearly lived up to his expectations. Acquired along with Shields in the deal that sent top prospect Wil Myers to the Rays, Davis lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his latest outing on Monday and has a 5.92 ERA on the season.
"The work ethic, the winning attitude that those guys brought into the clubhouse, [our hitters] wanted to bend over backwards to score runs for them," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Earlier in the season, they put more pressure on themselves to produce than they needed to. Now, we're at a point where they've backed off, they know what a good swing feels like, and they're much more confident and more comfortable at the plate."
With more than two months left in the season, there's still plenty of time for the Blue Jays, Royals and Angels to work their way back into the postseason picture a la the 2012 Athletics. In order to do so, however, they all need to consistently meet the winning potential that each has flashed at various points this season.
"I think the capability that this team has is still very, very good," Dickey said. "I hope we carry an expectation of that going forward now. We obviously haven't put all the pieces together. Hopefully, we're going to be able to do that."