For the Tigers, they currently sit two games back of the Kansas City Royals. They will idle as the Royals host the New York Yankees this evening before Detroit brings them to town for a three game set.
To say they have struggled would be an understatement. After a 13-13 July - which, at the time, was considered unconscionable - has been followed by a 13-16 record in August. The last weekend was particularly trying, as David Price lost a complete game without giving up an earned run, and Detroit subsequently split a series against Minnesota when they were outscored 42-31. Their bullpen is mainly the culprit, as they currently sit next to last in the American League in ERA and Wins Above Replacement.
St. Louis, on the other hand, is a game and a half back of the Milwaukee Brewers, whose success this season has come from the same sources as the Royals, namely a lot of defense, a little bit of starting pitching, and a lot of good bullpen arms led by a resurgent Francisco Rodriguez, Zach Duke, and former Royal Will Smith.
The Cardinals, though, are a bit worse off than the Tigers. Whereas Detroit appears to be struggling, St. Louis seems to be playing over their head at times, punctuated by the fact that they have the worst run differential (-8) of any team currently holding a playoff spot. As far as runs scored, they are ahead of only the San Diego Padres' historically bad offense in the National League. And though the pitching has been there for most of the season, led by "Always a bridesmaid and never a bride" Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright and his cohort Lance Lynn, the rotation just hasn't been able to overcome their offensive hindrances.
To that end, we come to the crux of our tale to date: A month ago, each of these teams had chances to address these glaring needs, and both decided to make adjustments to positions of strength instead.
While the Tigers traded for Joakim Soria in an attempt to shore up the pen, he managed just 4.1 innings (while giving up five earned runs) before being shelved for a month. Injuries may not be foreseeable, but relying on a guy with two Tommy John surgeries and a history of shoulder injuries to beef up your relief corps is short-sighted.
Additionally, Detroit made the big Splash of the deadline, sending off Austin Jackson, Drew Smyly, and spare parts for David Price. And while Price has pitched well (four starts, 30.2 innings, 2.35 ERA), the team itself is just 2-2 in his starts, and the absence of Austin Jackson in center field and at the top of the lineup has been readily apparent. Meanwhile, Drew Smyly's new team, the Tampa Bay Rays, are 2-2 in Smyly's four starts with the team, and he has an ERA of just 1.55 over that span.
Give credit to Detroit for trying. The Cardinals, well...
St. Louis sold low on Allen Craig, who as recently as last season hit .315/.373/.457, and included Joe Kelly, who was struggling to adjust to a full-time starting role, for John Lackey, cutting from an area that needed improvement to beef up an area of strength. Lackey, for his part, has done llittle to impress over his short time with the Cardinals. In addition, they pulled the trigger on a trade for Justin Masterson, whose 5.51 ERA in Cleveland is dwarfed by his 7.43 ERA in St. Louis.
The methodology behind making the moves may have been understandable at the time, but in retrospect it may end up costing these teams a shot at their divisions. And though St. Louis is clinging to a Wild Card spot at the moment, Detroit is on the outside looking in right now. The Tigers overall would seem to have a better angle at the postseason, and are certainly better suited to succeed in a short playoff series.
But they have to get there first.