The Detroit Tigers were a popular pick to represent the American League in the World Series heading into the 2014 season. As the three-time defending AL Central Division champions, Detroit has made October feel like part of the regular season with trips to the ALCS each of those years.
But a hot start and some surprising moves previously put the Oakland Athletics into the driver's seat for this year's World Series crown. At 66-41, the A's own the top record in baseball by 2.5 games over the Los Angeles Angels, but general manager Billy Beane was far from satisfied with his talented club heading into July.
On July 4 the A's pulled the trigger on a type of deal that the organization has long avoided, sending three top prospects to the Chicago Cubs for two of the best starting pitchers on the market. Jeff Samardzija, who was named to the NL All-Star team after leading the league in ERA for much of the first half, gives Oakland a legitimate ace on an already talented staff. Teammate Jason Hammel also made the jump to the AL, joining the A's with a sub-3.00 ERA.
The trade not only pushed two strong starting pitchers out of Oakland's rotation, it also gave the team one of the top pitching staffs in the entire league.
But Beane wasn't done.
On Thursday, Oakland has reportedly sent slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for All-Star pitcher Jon Lester and clutch utility man Jonny Gomes, who hit 18 home runs for the A's in 2012.
After the two moves, Oakland's starting rotation looks like this:
*Oakland can decide to remove either Chavez or Hammel from the rotation to make room for Lester or stay with a six-man rotation.
What does all this mean for Detroit?
The first 100 games and these two trades separated the Athletics from the Tigers in terms of talent. With help from the struggles of Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, the A's had assembled a stronger starting rotation than the Tigers, an area considered Detroit's top asset.
Enter David Price.
Dave Dombrowski responded to the Lester signing in a big way on Thursday, bringing the top pitcher available to the Motor City. With Price, the Tigers' rotation has re-assumed its position as the best group in the MLB.
Now the two teams can only await the heavyweight matchup that now seems inevitable this postseason.