Time is growing short for the Tigers competition in the AL Central. Before the season began, only the Minnesota Twins appeared to have no chance to contend in the division and only the Minnesota Twins did not appear to be trying to contend. The Twins have been somewhat of a pleasant surprise (for people who do not enjoy watching the Twins lose) in that they – while still hovering a little under .500 – don’t look to be nearly as bad as the Astros or Marlins.
Remember that prior to the season, we figured there was a good chance they would be just that bad. The other three teams didn’t get a huge amount of respect from the national press and statistical forecasters, but were expected to finish near .500 with non-trivial chances of making the playoffs. If you figure to win 83, a few extra things going right is all it takes to at least take a playoff chase down to the last week in September. They didn’t look to have teams as good as Detroit on paper and weren’t expected to do so well, so Tigers fans have been mostly dismissive of the Indians, Royals and (especially) White Sox but it’s important to remember that they did not give up before the season began and that their owners invested significant resources in giving their teams a chance.
The hope is always that signings will help to pay for themselves by bringing in new revenues. But… if an organization that is stretching it’s resources does not see results in terms of wins or ticket sales these teams risk losing a lot of cash in a hurry. An owner’s resolve will be tested. The logical response might be to pare expenses to the bone like the Florida Marlins did last year when it becomes obvious that free agents like Mark Buerhle are not paying their own way. And after that long-winded introduction we get back to the matter at hand: the time is at hand when these three teams need to play well in order to convince their fans (and their owners) that they have a shot at winning when mid-season trades start being discussed.
The Indians losing streak has hit 7 after a sweep in Detroit. They have fallen from the division lead to 6.5 games behind Detroit. Probably more worrying for management is that the Indians – despite looking pretty good through the end of May – sold fewer than 500,000 tickets to their first 30 home games, putting them last in the American League. Remember – the Houston Astros are also in the American League and everybody in Houston knows that the team is not trying to win, but they’ve still sold 593,400 tickets for 33 home games. It wasn’t that long ago that the Indians sold out every games, but it is looking like damage has been done to their relationship with fans that signings of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher aren’t able to fix.
Kansas City had an absolutely terrible month of May. They began the month 4 games over .500 at 14-10. So far in June, the Royals are 6-2. But…. in May? They went 8-20 and fell far out of contention. Kansas City resources were pushed to or possibly beyond what their market can bear (for a team that doesn’t win-win-win and sell out every home game) in order to push forward their prospect-driven push into contention. The Royals may need to hit .500 again by the end of the month, at the very least, to convince ownership that some of those expensive players needed to win in the short run wouldn’t have more value traded for prospects. The White Sox’ story has a few less ups and downs so far… their high-water mark was a .500 record on May 26 after an 8-3 run. Since then they’ve gone 2-10 and fallen to 8 games back (last in the division). Each of the three teams has a few guys that should be doing better who really, really are not pulling their weight.
The .498 OPS from Chicago’s Jeff Keppinger, the 5.24 ERA from Cleveland’s Scott Kazmir and the 5.66 ERA from KC’s Wade Davis. There are certainly reasons to expect things to get better for each team going forward. But… there are also a number of guys on each team who aren’t pulling their weight and maybe, at this point, shouldn’t be expected to. And that’s what is going to keep management worrying. Should Cleveland give up on Ubaldo Jimenez and Brett Myers? Will they get anything out of Carlos Carrasco this year? And more to the point – can they actually win the AL Central without contributions from those guys? The same goes for Kansas City with Jeff Francoeur and Mike Moustakas or Chicago with Adam Dunn and the aging Paul Konerko. On June 9 of last year, the Tigers were 5 games under .500 and 6 games out of the lead in the division. We knew that they weren’t out of it and thought it not just possible but likely that they would would right the ship. None of these contenders are exactly out of it at this point in 2013 – though they’ve all fallen behind. But… the extent to which any of them is “likely” to right the ship and put up a fight down the stretch is a matter of debate, not a given. The terms of that debate will largely be determined over the course of the next three weeks, and with that whether these teams will simply throw in the towel.