As is typical, many of the 30 MLB teams have offered some April surprises. Some have been positive. If you claim that you saw the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers topping the National League Central or the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies topping the NL West, we’re going to call you a liar.
Of course, while some are offering positive surprises, others are shockingly horrible.
Who hasn’t lived up to the hype? The Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays were all American League playoff teams a season ago. What’s been going wrong with them? The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals have been the decade’s best National League teams. Why aren’t they living up to the hype?
It’s early and of course there’s a lot of baseball to be played. But which MLB five teams have been shockingly inept through the early part of the 2017 MLB season?
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats and records are accurate through the completion of the games played on Monday, April 17.
Record: 5-8 (T-fourth place, American League West)
The Rangers have a dangerous offense, a solid starting rotation and a horrendous bullpen. If that sounds familiar, it should. The same things were being said about Texas throughout the 2016 season.
The difference is that the Rangers were winning in 2016. In 2017, that has not been the case. In fact, even that 5-8 mark is inflated. Texas is 3-1 against the Oakland Athletics, 2-1 against the Los Angeles Angels, and 0-5 against everyone else.
Granted, “everyone else” includes only the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners at this point. But regardless of where a team is in the season, it’s never a good thing if it can only beat two teams that combined for a 143-181 mark during the previous year. That’s just not going to work over the long haul.
The good news is that the problem can be fixed. The Rangers’ biggest issue is their bullpen and relief help is generally the most realistic thing to acquire through mid-season trades.
Improving on that bullpen is a must, though.
Texas skated with a mediocre bullpen in 2016, but that’s not a long-term strategy in the modern game. There’s a lot of baseball to be played, but that becomes more of a threat than a sigh of relief if the bullpen continue down its current road. A 5.80 bullpen ERA is just not going to cut the mustard. It will only waste one of baseball’s most talented teams.
San Francisco Giants
Record: 5-9 (T-fourth place, National League West)
The good news for the Giants is that while the team sits at 5-9, their run differential is only minus-one. That tends to imply bad luck. While it won’t always happen, bad luck often balances itself out over the course of 162 games.
Unfortunately for San Francisco and its fans, that good news is offset by the opposition. The Giants have opened 2017 with two series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and one each against the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies — otherwise known as the have-nots of the National League West.
The have-nots, however, have had their way with San Francisco.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) April 18, 2017
Additionally, the Giants’ 5-9 mark includes a 3-0 record in games started by Johnny Cueto. Maintaining a 2-9 clip (or. 182 winning percentage) in 80 percent of the games will be highly problematic in the long term.
It’s presently too early to press the panic button. Nobody in the National League West has done much to separate themselves from the herd, so one hot streak could change everything for the Giants’ outlook.
But with two series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and another New York Mets lingering over the next month, San Francisco needs to turn things around fast. If the Giants can’t do that, they’ll be in for a long summer and will spend another odd-numbered year watching the playoffs from home.
Record: 6-7 (fifth place, American League Central)
Based on their record alone, it’s hard to put the Indians on this list. Granted, a 6-7 mark is less than stellar for a team that nearly won the World Series a season ago, but it’s not terribly alarming.
The way the record has happened, though, can’t go unnoticed.
Things started in such a good way for Cleveland. The Indians opened the season by sweeping a three-game series in Texas against the aforementioned Rangers. Since then, though, it’s been a struggle for Cleveland. The Tribe is 3-7 in its last 10 games.
Worse still, unlike the Giants — who have kept a respectable run differential — Cleveland has been getting blown out. The Indians have been outscored 52-37 by their opponents. It’s been a far cry from everything that went so well in Arlington.
To be fair, the Indians have the least reason to panic. The 6-7 record is poor, but nothing to go crazy about. Additionally, Cleveland was under .500 on May 1 a season ago and was even .500 as late as mid-May. That team wen 94-67 and won the American League pennant.
But what we’re seeing is well below the standard we’ve come to expect from this team. Certainly a 3-7 stretch and a minus-15 run differential is well below par. It may not be anything to be exceptionally worried about, but it’s not anything that anyone in Cleveland wants to maintain for much longer.
St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 4-9 (fifth place, National League Central)
We normally can’t use the word “inept” to describe the Cardinals. From 1998-2016, St. Louis had as many World Series wins (two) as losing seasons. So, while it’s still very early, 4-9 comes as a surprise.
Worse is that based on how the team has been playing, the record is not a fluke. In fact, based on its run differential (44 scored, 65 allowed), St, Louis has actually over achieved.
The Cardinals have slashed at .209/.287/.329 at the plate. The St. Louis pitchers have a 4.66 ERA and 1.455 WHIP. Defensively, the Cards have a .977 fielding percentage — the fourth-worst total in the league. These numbers are all bad for any team, not just the Cardinals and their normal standards.
How long before we can stop saying these Cardinals are "Not playing Cardinals Baseball"?
— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) April 15, 2017
To be fair, we weren’t expecting a “vintage” season from St. Louis. With the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central and a top-heavy senior circuit, a playoff spot was going to be hard to come by.
But what we’ve seen in the last 13 games has been abnormal. In the truest sense of the phrase, the Cardinals have been shockingly inept.
Toronto Blue Jays
Record: 2-10 (fifth place, American League East)
Every team on this list has struggled. But we’re not ready to press the panic button with the other four teams. With the Blue Jays, however, that time has already come.
Toronto is three games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for fourth place in the American League East. Only nine other MLB teams are that far out of first place in their respective divisions. The Blue Jays are 6.5 games behind the division-leading Baltimore Orioles. No other team is more than four games out of its division lead.
But while those numbers are troubling, they aren’t the only reason we panicking about Toronto’s start.
When a team is struggling, it’s nice to be able to point the finger at one or two things. It would be nice to say that the Blue Jays can turn things around when Aaron Sanchez and Josh Donaldson get healthy. It would also be nice to say that things will improve when (or if) Jose Bautista gets out of his slump.
But in truth, Toronto’s struggles have been the result of near team-wide ineptitude.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) April 18, 2017
Time may still be on the Blue Jays’ side in 2017, but nothing else is.
If Toronto can’t find its game fast, then it might as well start planning for 2018.