No MLB team is perfect. The most successful teams are not only the ones that can play to their strengths, but the ones that can expose the weaknesses of their opponents. Obviously, it’s important to know what those weaknesses are.
It’s also important to leave our preconceived notions behind. We know what we thought would happen this year. But the season is underway now, and it’s important to judge what actually is happening. Obviously, some teams make finding flaws easier than others. But the flaws are there with everyone.
The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers engaged in a historic World Series in 2017. Too often this year, it’s seemed as though they left their bats behind. The Chicago Cubs have a good offense, but they are one element removed from being great. The Cleveland Indians, meanwhile, have been unbelievably bad at swinging the bat.
Meanwhile, teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves have surprisingly raced out to quick starts. Unfortunately, they’re significantly struggling in some pretty key areas.
From what we’ve seen, these are the biggest weaknesses of each team.
Houston Astros: Power hasn’t been there
The Astros are off to a good start. Still, one problem really does jump out. Houston just isn’t hitting the ball for much power. While the Astros are among the league’s best in hits, average, and OBP, they’re a little too reliant on singles. Houston ranks 18th in home runs hit, extra-base hits, and slugging. Logically, we have to think that a lineup with that many great hitters will turn it around. But in the early part of the year, the pop hasn’t been there. We never thought we’d say that about this team.
Milwaukee Brewers: Right-handed struggles
Milwaukee’s right-handed hitters have been purely awful this season. Brewers righties rank at or near the bottom of the league in essentially every major offensive category. They’re hitting .209/.279/.302 with hive home runs. With guys like Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, and Lorenzo Cain in the lineup, that just shouldn’t be the case. This has to turn around, and turn around fast. A team can maybe get away with struggling lefties. But there are too many right-handed hitters and too many ways to exploit the struggling ones.
Tampa Bay Rays: The talent isn’t there
It’s a rebuilding year for the Rays. As such, it’s hard to pick one part of this team that really jumps out. Matt Duffy’s .250 average leads the team. Denard Span, who is hitting .212 and has no home runs, leads Tampa in RBI. Chris Archer sports a 5.94 ERA. The Rays were considered a rebuilding team entering the year. There’s nothing about the performance of this team or any of its members to indicate that a surprisingly good season is really on the way.
Atlanta Braves: Mediocre starting pitching
Atlanta is off to a nice start. But if there’s one thing that really jumps out as a reason for concern, it’s a starting rotation that hasn’t quite lived up to what the rest of the team has done. Braves starters have posted a 4.28 ERA, which ranks in the bottom half of the league. Now, the plus side is that the bullpen has been fantastic. But if the starters can’t do better when it comes to matching the reliever’s output, then those relievers will end up getting tested a bit too much. The last thing you want to do is burn your bullpen out early. The starters will have to get better.
Minnesota Twins: Struggles vs. right-handed pitching
While the Twins have raked against southpaws, they’ve struggled against right-handed arms. Minnesota has hit .226/.304/.435 against right-handed pitchers. The .435 slugging percentage is decent. But in order for those extra-base hits to really hurt the opponents, the .226 average and .304 OBP will have to come up. It’s hard enough to be a team that struggles against lefties. But with the overwhelming majority of pitchers right-handed, surviving despite struggling against them is nearly impossible. The Twins are off to a decent start. But that won’t be sustainable if they don’t begin to hit righties better.
San Francisco Giants: Lack of offense
With Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, and now Johnny Cueto on the shelf, we figured this would be starting pitching. But by and large, Giants pitching has held up. The bigger problem is the offense. San Francisco has been shut out twice, been held to one run in two other losses, and has scored only a single run in two wins. The additions of Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria were meant to help add some juice to a lineup that was one of the worst in baseball in 2017. That may eventually happen. But right now, the Giants’ offense is still struggling mightily.
Boston Red Sox: Bullpen
Boston hasn’t had a lot go wrong in the early part of the year. But one thing that really does jump out is the bullpen. Red Sox relievers have a 4.40 ERA and 1.33 WHIP through the early part of the year. That ranks in the bottom third of baseball. Obviously, that hasn’t cost the team in a big way yet. But looking into our crystal ball, that’s something that will change if it isn’t fixed in pretty short order.
St. Louis Cardinals: No offensive spark
A trademark of the Cardinals is that they almost always seem to produce good offensive teams. St. Louis may not have the overwhelming power that other teams have. But when push comes to shove, the Red Birds are generally one of the more effective offensive teams in baseball. Unfortunately, the 2018 version of the Cardinals has yet to get that memo. They’re hitting .235/.304/.373 with 47 runs scored, ranking no better than middle of the pack in any category. St. Louis is going to have a hard time competing with the offense providing that little of a spark.
Los Angeles Angels: Starting pitching
Quite honestly, finding a real weakness on the Angels is not easy. They rank as one of baseball’s top-10 teams in nearly every major category. That includes starting pitching. The problem is that pitching has been a real problem for Los Angeles in recent years. And as good as Shohei Ohtani has been, the problems have gone deeper than just one guy. We acknowledge that the Angels are off to a torrid start. But for now, we’re keeping our guard up.
Miami Marlins: Bad front office
We could pick the Marlins roster apart but really, what’s the point? Nobody was thinking that this team was going to be any good. The problem in Miami is the front office. Derek Jeter clearly doesn’t think this team will compete any time soon. Still, ticket prices are up. The fans are showing their displeasure. Despite being in a warm-weather city (and in a climate controlled dome), people aren’t going to the games. The ones that are going are cheering for the other teams. As a reminder, this ownership group has been in power for less than a year. It’s already alienated much of its fan base. That’s going to be a hard problem to overcome.
Kansas City Royals: No offensive depth
We weren’t expecting a lot from Kansas City in 2018. But even with that in mind, this team’s offensive struggles have been too big to ignore. Jon Jay sports the third best average on the team at .243. By comparison, even the Marlins have five hitters above that mark. Shifting our focus to the power, things actually look worse for the Royals. Kansas City hitters have hit only four home runs in 2018. Those have come off the bats of only two men, Mike Moustakas and Lucas Duda. The expectations may not be high for the Royals. But we’d like to see some younger players develop. That’s not happening.
Colorado Rockies: Pitching not even holding up at sea level
We normally have to grade the Rockies pitchers on something of a curve. Pitching at Coors Field, Colorado pitchers aren’t going to rank among the best of the league in anything. But Rockies pitchers have a 4.70 ERA and have allowed a .250 batting average. That’s high even with the curve. It’s even worse when we remember that Colorado has actually played more road games than home. The pitching will have to get better for the Rockies to get anything big going.
Detroit Tigers: Where’s the power?
Miguel Cabrera being tied for the team lead in home runs isn’t a problem. The problems really circle around who he’s tied with, and how many home runs they’ve hit. Cabrera isn’t tied with players like Nicholas Castellanos and Victor Martinez. No, he’s tied with Leonys Martin and Niko Goodrum. That wouldn’t be so bad, except for the fact that Cabrera, Martin, and Goodrum have each hit only one home run. That’s right, Detroit has hit only three home runs all year. It’s no wonder that even with a better than expected pitching staff, the Tigers are 4-7.
Washington Nationals: Too much production, not enough wins
This has been a dominant storyline through the early part of the year. A .500 record to start the year is fine. The key in April is to not get buried and even with a strong start from the Mets, that hasn’t happened to the Nats. The problem is that a number of Nationals, including Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, and Max Scherzer are off to incredible starts. With those kind of players starting so strong, 6-6 is not good. It makes us wonder what will happen if and when these guys cool off.
Toronto Blue Jays: Not getting production from expected strong spots
In a way, the Blue Jays are the opposite of the Nationals. Toronto sits at 8-5 despite some of the team’s perceived stronger points not meeting expectations. The starting rotation, which looked to be one of baseball’s best, ranks in the bottom half of baseball in most categories. The same is true for an offense that has the potential to be one of the best in the league. We can call it a good thing that the Jays are winning despite all of this. Still, we’d like to see a little more from the offense and the starters. Team’s don’t usually continue winning when their best pieces are underperforming.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Inconsistent offense
At 9-3, things are clearly going well for Arizona. But looking at the Diamondbacks’ offensive production, there’s work to be done. Arizona hitters are slashing at .234/.326/.397. The problem is that while the ball doesn’t carry as well in April as it does in the warmer months, everything else in April generally favors the hitter. Hitters usually get into the swing of things before pitchers do. So, if the Diamondbacks are struggling to get on base now, what do we think will happen when the pitchers catch up? The 9-3 start is great. But the bats definitely need to wake up in the desert.
Oakland Athletics: Awful pitching
Oakland’s pitchers have earned a 4.50 ERA, which ranks in the bottom-10 of baseball. That’s bad. But the real problem is that we can honestly tell you that these pitchers have overachieved. Opponents are hitting .274 against the A’s. Anything above .250 is pretty high. Pitching was the biggest question coming into the season. Thus far, those questions have not been answered in the right way. With Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk on the shelf after Tommy John Surgery, other pitchers will have to step up. That has not happened this year.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Dreadful relief pitching
We understand that bullpen stats can be a little skewed this time of the year. Until you start racking up big inning totals, it just doesn’t take much to throw the numbers out of whack. But the Pirates aren’t any more susceptible to that than any other team. So, we can’t just play the small sample size argument when looking at the fact that Pittsburgh’s bullpen ERA is more than a full point higher than the next worst team’s. The Pirates have been one of the season’s early positive surprises. That surprise will not be sustained if the relievers can’t become much more effective.
Texas Rangers: No real strengths
It’s hard to pick out a weakness when looking at the early season production of the Rangers. Only, this isn’t quite like the aforementioned Angels, who have just performed well across the board. Quite the opposite. The reason it’s so hard to find any weaknesses here is that Texas just doesn’t have any strengths to contrast the weaknesses. Aside from Elvis Andrus (who is now out for roughly two months), the Rangers are not hitting. The pitching has been even worse than what the A’s have experienced. We might be able to pinpoint some good players for Texas. But as a team, the Rangers are struggling in a big way across the board.
New York Mets: Too dependent on the walk
The nature of being 10-1 is that things are probably going pretty well. Generally speaking, that’s been the case for the Mets. But when we get picky, one thing does jump out. New York has a .341 OBP, which ranks fourth in baseball. The Mets have a .240 average and .395 slugging, which check in at 11th and 16th. The problem with depending too much on the walk to score runs is that you’re relying on someone else’s mistake. If the opposing pitchers are throwing strikes, you need to find other ways to score. The Mets aren’t bad at that, but they’re not great, either. It is something to try and fine tune.
Chicago White Sox: RISP hitting
Chicago has struggled with its pitching. But in truth, that was somewhat expected. The more notable problem is that while the White Sox rank in the top-10 in batting average, OBP, and slugging, they’re only 15th in runs scored. That can be attributed largely to a .163 average with men in scoring position, the second-worst total in the league. While much of Chicago’s pitching is young, the offense is generally slightly more experienced. That means that the hitters will probably need to carry the team for a while. For that to happen, they must hit with men on base.
San Diego Padres: Too dependent on the home run
It’s been a while since we could say that San Diego relies on the home run at all. But we really can say that about the Friars this year. In fact, the Padres may rely on the long ball a little too much. They rank seventh in baseball in home runs hit. Normally, that would be fine. The problem is that San Diego is only 18th in runs scored. That’s largely due to a .233 average and a .301 OBP. There’s reason to be encouraged about the offense. But in order for the Padres to take the next step, the hitters will need to be a little more refined.
Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado show
Baltimore’s pitching has struggled. But in all honesty, that was expected. We also expected this to be a dangerous offensive team. Aside from Machado, that just hasn’t been the case. Adam Jones does have three home runs, but has scuffled to a .228/.254/.404 start. Chris Davis, meanwhile, has only one home run and is hitting .122/.250/.195. We know that the thought of facing the Orioles’ pitchers will make the mouth’s of opposing hitters water. But the lineup should be one that opposing pitchers dread. Nobody is in any hurry to face Machado. But the other stars in the lineup aren’t holding up their end.
Chicago Cubs: Poor table setting
The Cubs’ primary No. 2 hitter in 2018 has been Kris Bryant. That’s an idea more teams are adopting. Certainly, getting your best hitter more at-bats makes sense. The problem is that in order for your best hitter to be as effective as he can, he needs to have men on base. That means the leadoff hitter needs to get on base a lot, especially in a National League lineup. Chicago’s leadoff hitters are batting .218 and getting on base at a .306 clip. The Cubs lineup has been good. But to be great, Bryant will need to be hitting with men on. The No. 1 hitters will have to turn things around.
Cleveland Indians: Nobody is hitting
Something is going to change rather dramatically in Cleveland. It has to. The good news is that the Indians are 7-5. The bad news is that they’re hitting .170/.262/.290, ranking dead last in each category. Of eligible players, nobody has a higher batting average than Francisco Lindor at .216. Heck, if we include ineligible players, Tyler Naquin leads Cleveland at .263. It’s early, but this is a team wide failure. For a team this talented, it’s really hard to figure out. If the Indians are going to keep winning, the hitting will have to get much better. Winning seven out of 12 games is not sustainable with that little offense.
Philadelphia Phillies: Patchwork offense
The Phillies rank eighth in runs scored. That’s certainly something for Philadelphia fans to be encouraged about. The problem is that the Phils are 26th in batting average (.221), and 15th in both OBP (.315) and slugging (.396). That says that Philadelphia is cashing in its opportunities. That’s a good thing. We’re just not sure it’s completely sustainable. The offense needs to develop more consistency. The pitching certainly needs to get better but make no mistake, the Phillies will go where the offense takes them.
Seattle Mariners: Too few strikeouts, too many home runs
The Mariners are 6-4, which is a nice little start to the year. But looking at what the pitching has done, it’s hard to imagine that being sustained. Only three teams have struck out fewer batters than Seattle. Now, to be fair, no team has thrown fewer innings. The problem is that the Mariners are also tied for seventh in home runs allowed. That’s not a good combination. A lot of home runs is one thing. Too few strikeouts is one thing. But putting the two together is a recipe for disaster.
Cincinnati Reds: Another step backwards?
Like some other teams on this list, the Reds have so many problems that it’s hard to pick one out. That’s not good, but given that the Reds weren’t expected to be a contender this year, it’s not a huge problem, either. The problem is that after four straight losing seasons, it looked as though things may finally be heading in the right direction in Cincinnati. That hasn’t been the case. If anything, things are worse. Something positive needs to come out of the season. It’s early but right now, the Reds’ positive column is empty.
New York Yankees: Underperforming bullpen
The Yankees’ bullpen hasn’t been baseball’s worst in 2018. But it is keeping some less than desirable company. New York relievers have a 4.93 ERA. While they are striking hitters out at a high rate, little else is going well. The Yankee bullpen is walking more than 3.6 hitters per nine innings. Given that the New York ‘pen has also allowed seven home runs (tied for the most in MLB), those walks are really hurting, too. This bullpen has a lot of good names in it. So, it’s certainly capable of much more. The relievers just have to go out and show what they’re capable of.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Bats still asleep
To attribute the 4-7 start to any one part of the game would be wrong. The Dodgers have just not gotten anything going yet. The most glaring problem is still the offense. Guys like Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig, and Corey Seager should be sparking this team. Instead, they’re hitting .208/.220/.333, .205/.250/.250, and .214/.298/.286, respectively. It’s nearly impossible to overcome that. There’s a lot of time remaining. That’s good, because these players all have a long way to go to get to where they should be.