Let's review a few of those trends, shall we?
No time for dreaming
The Blue Jays, Angels, Phillies and defending World Series champion Giants all entered the break looking into the possibility of fortifying the roster at the Deadline. They were clinging to hope that a second-half surge would vault them into the good graces of contention.
Precisely the opposite has happened. Since the break, the Phils are 1-8, the Blue Jays are 2-8, the Giants are 3-7 and the Angels are 4-7 (and have lost Albert Pujols, possibly for the remainder of the season). When Giants GM Brian Sabean described his club's mathematical situation as "horrific" in a recent radio interview, he might as well have been speaking for the other three, as well, for all four of these high-payroll clubs face a double-digit deficit in the division race and are at least nine games back of the second Wild Card spot. All have subpar run differentials, with the Phillies (minus-78) and Giants (minus-62) holding particularly ghastly marks.
It would be more than a bit delusional for any of these clubs to buy, at this point, and a sell could mean new homes for big names like Michael Young, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence and Howie Kendrick. Cliff Lee would be the biggest name of the bunch, but his salary and recent neck stiffness complicate matters. If Lee is moved at all, an August waiver claim might be more likely.
If the Royals had any thought about moving Ervin Santana this month -- and it's questionable how much they really considered it in the first place -- that possibility is off the table now. Santana is simply too valuable to a Kansas City club that's had just one winning season in the last 19 years and hasn't been at .500 this late in a decade.
Maybe a real playoff push is too much to ask out of the Royals (their offensive improvement under hitting coach George Brett remains more anecdotal than quantifiable, in terms of pure production), or maybe -- just maybe -- the 8-2 surge post-break is a sign of things to come. Whatever the case, the potential return for Santana isn't worth the gamble. If the Kansas City Royals have a shot at a winning season, they've got to take it. And in this case, taking that chance might mean amplifying the offense and/or shoring up the second-base hole.
The Rangers went all-in on Matt Garza, surrendering at least four and possibly five young players in exchange for a guy who they'll have no contractual claim to beyond 2013. The Tigers did as expected and shored up what had been, earlier in the year, a frustrating bullpen situation, adding Astros closer Jose Veras.
These were sound, proactive moves to plug holes on two teams that have the depth and talent level to vie for the AL pennant.
But these moves might not be enough, depending on how the Biogenesis punishment proceedings play out. This is all conjecture at this point, but with Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz and Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta both tied to Biogenesis documents, the threat of their possible suspension could prompt general manager Jon Daniels and Dave Dombrowski to consider alternatives in the trade market. Because while both players would have the right to appeal any suspension meted out by MLB (delaying possible punishment into the 2014 season), it might be in the best interests of both players, personally, to accept any punishment in the here and now, lest it affect their pending free agency.
If this all comes to a head in the next few days, as multiple reports indicate, and if Cruz and Peralta are involved, then these players would have to weigh the best interests of their teams against their own personal interests.
It's a heavy situation. For the Rangers, it's made heavier by the simple fact that their offense has been one of the worst in baseball (2.64 runs per game) in the second half. They already went hard after Garza, so there's no pulling back now.
No trap doors here
The frazzled fan bases of the Pirates and Indians, all too accustomed to second-half collapses in recent years, seem to have the ability to breathe a little easier these days.
The Pirates would have to go 18-40 or worse the remainder of the year to extend their two-decades-long streak of losing seasons. It's not going to happen. And as the Bucs demonstrated when they dismantled the Cardinals on Monday night to pull within a half-game in the division standings, their fans are free to dream about even bigger and better things than an 82-win season. They can actually think about October.
Tribe also looks like a fundamentally different ballclub than the one that faded thoroughly in 2011 and '12. Manager Terry Francona's starting staff has turned in a Major League-best 1.52 ERA since the break, and the Indians have won five straight to pull within 2 1/2 games of the Tigers and a half-game back of the AL Wild Card. They mean business.
So now that the fear of outright collapse has been at least temporarily abated, the question is whether these two clubs will go for broke at the Deadline.
The trouble there is that small-market clubs aren't in a great position to get aggressive for short-term fixes. Even with the recent surge, the Indians would love to add another front-line starter and the Buccos would love to fill their glaring hole in right field. But as much as a Bud Norris might help the Tribe or an Alex Rios might make sense for the Pirates, roster-wise, it's difficult to find a deal that aligns both with the short-term October objective and the long-term search for sustainability.