National League: 5 Players Who Really Need a Big Week

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterApril 16, 2012

National League: 5 Players Who Really Need a Big Week

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    Let's begin this with the appropriate qualifier: It's early. Every team has approximately 150 more games on their schedule. Twenty-five weeks remain in the regular season. 

    But some players are off to bad starts that are raising major concerns. And if those struggles continue this week, those concerns could develop into full-blown panic among some fanbases. 

    A couple of the players on a bad slide are veterans who will surely get a chance to right themselves, as their resumes entitle them to the benefit of the doubt. But their teams also aren't in positions to wait very long, as they risk falling far behind in division races. 

    So here are five National League players who need to show something positive this week. 

    Please add your suggestions for anyone who needs a good week in the comments. 

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    After Lincecum was shelled by the Colorado Rockies last Wednesday, the baseball media was littered with "What's wrong with Tim Lincecum?" stories.

    In two starts, his ERA is 12.91. And though he's still striking out batters (10 in seven-and-two-thirds innings), Lincecum is giving up a bunch of hits (14).

    If Lincecum pitches a third consecutive poor start on Monday night against the Phillies, the questions are only going to get louder.

    Will the Giants have to shut him down for a period to see if there really is something physically wrong? Or just to give Lincecum a mental break from struggling on the mound, and perhaps work some issues out in some bullpen sessions with Dave Righetti?

Jason Bay, New York Mets

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    David Wright can't carry the New York Mets lineup alone. Especially when he's not in the lineup, thanks to a fractured pinky finger.

    The middle of the Mets' batting order isn't providing much production, and a primary culprit is Jason Bay, who's expected to be a substantial run producer.

    Bay is batting .185/.258/.333 with one home run and three RBI. Even more alarming is his total of 11 strikeouts in 31 plate appearances. 

    His $16 million salary for this season and next probably protects Bay from being benched. But if he continues to struggle, Mets manager Terry Collins might have no choice but to give Bay some time off to figure things out and try someone like Scott Hairston in left field. 

Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins

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    Johnson hasn't been quite as bad as Lincecum in his first two starts, but he hasn't been much better either.

    He's compiled an 8.23 ERA in nine-and-two-thirds innings while giving up 21 hits, the highest total in the majors. 

    But there are no injury questions hovering over Johnson. He had shoulder surgery last year and is still clearly working his way back to form.

    What's concerning, as the Miami Herald's Clark Spencer points out, is that Johnson isn't striking out batters. He's only whiffed five batters thus far, which is not Johnson's normal way of doing business. 

    Is he just rusty, or does that shoulder need to be built back up to full strength, preferably while pitching in warmer weather? 

Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants

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    Does Belt look like someone manager Bruce Bochy didn't like in high school? Did he inadvertently make an inappropriate joke to Bochy once?

    Fans and media following the Giants are looking for some reason—any reason—why the Giants skipper doesn't want to play his young first baseman.

    Belt isn't doing himself any favors this time around, however. As the Mercury News' Alex Pavlovic wrote, Bochy said he was going to "go with the hot bats," and Belt has most certainly not been one of those.

    In 17 plate appearances, he's batting .143/.294/.214. That makes Aubrey Huff almost look like Matt Kemp in comparison. 

    The only question is, will Bochy give Belt some at-bats to try and break out of his slump?

Marlon Byrd, Chicago Cubs

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    If Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are trying to trade Byrd in hopes of clearing at least some of his salary off the payroll and opening up a spot for top outfield prospect Brett Jackson, the centerfielder isn't giving his front office much to sell. 

    Byrd is batting .064/.147/.065 in 34 plate appearances, which has to be killing whatever trade value he might have to teams looking to add some outfield help.

    The Boston Red Sox are the latest team to show interest, according to the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer.

    But maybe Byrd doesn't really want to be traded. Maybe hurting his trade value is the idea. In the meantime, he's not helping his current team either.