Every MLB Team's Biggest on-Field Issue Contributing to Their Success/Failure
The 2012 season in MLB has certainly seen a share of surprises thus far.
With almost a quarter of the season finished, only one division winner from last year is currently leading their division now (Texas Rangers), and only four of last year's postseason teams has a winning record.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles are leading the AL East, and the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Indians have provided their fans with plenty of thrills early on in 2012.
So, what are the factors that have led to the success or failure of teams thus far? Let's take a look.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Home Is Not Where the Heart Is
Last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks were the clear surprise in the National League, going from worst to first in capturing the NL West Division title. One of the biggest keys to their success was their ability to win at home—a 51-30 mark, good for third best in the NL.
However, the 2012 season has seen the D-Backs struggle mightily at Chase Field. Since sweeping the San Francisco Giants at home to start the season, Arizona has failed to win any home series since, posting a miserable 4-12 record in the process.
Blame can certainly be cast upon slow starts by Justin Upton (.226, 3 HR), Paul Goldschmidt (.218, 2 HR) and injuries to key impact players (Stephen Drew, Daniel Hudson). However, playing worse at home than on the road is never a recipe for success.
Altlanta Braves: Setting the Table Properly
The Atlanta Braves are off to a 22-14 start, sitting just a half-game behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East heading into action on Tuesday, and they can thank their top of the order for helping them get there.
Michael Bourn and Martin Prado have thus far provided the perfect mix at the top of the batting order for Atlanta—Bourn with a .331 average and .393 on-base percentage, Prado getting on base at a .364 clip.
Together, two have provided plenty of opportunities for the meaty part of the batting order (Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, Chipper Jones) to capitalize on scoring chances.
As a result, the Braves are second in the NL in runs scored, and if Bourn and Prado can keep up with their penchant for getting on base, the Braves' chances for a postseason berth will continue to look bright.
Baltimore Orioles: It's All About the Bullpen, Baby
With their record of 22-14 heading into Tuesday's game with the New York Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles are sitting atop the AL East Division, tied with Tampa Bay for the second-best record in all of baseball.
Wait, is that right?
Yes, these O's are winning, something that hasn't been seen in Baltimore since 1997. And the bullpen has been the main reason why.
Manager Buck Showalter has good reason to turn to his 'pen in the later innings—collectively, his group of relievers has posted a 9-3 record and 2.28 ERA.
While Jim Johnson has been lights out in his role as closer (11 saves, 0.57 ERA), the guys leading up to Johnson have been just as stingy in giving up runs as well.
Pedro Strop (1.35 ERA), Luis Ayala (1.86 ERA), Darren O'Day (1.56 ERA) and Matt Lidstrom (1.29 ERA) have been simply outstanding, giving Showalter terrific options to support his starting rotation.
Boston Red Sox: When Is Tee Time Again?
There are four teams in the American League East Division that currently have a winning record, and none of them are the Boston Red Sox.
While the title may have grabbed attention, Josh Beckett's golf game is not the reason for the failures of the team early on in 2012, although his decision to play golf one day after having his next start scratched was certainly not well received by fans in Boston.
The starting rotation itself, Beckett included, has been abysmal thus far, with a 13-14 record and 5.46 ERA heading into Tuesday afternoon's contest with the Seattle Mariners.
Jon Lester's complete-game effort on Monday night was a sight for sore eyes, and Beckett's performance on Tuesday (seven shutout innings, nine strikeouts) after giving up seven runs in 2.1 innings following his Golfgate incident was encouraging as well.
For the Sox to get back on track, the starting staff will need to build off Lester and Beckett's efforts of the last two days, plain and simple. The bullpen of late has been much better after a rocky April, and the bats have been coming around as well.
Daisuke Matsuzaka will be making his return sometime later this month to help add some depth, and Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard are both coming off strong outings as well, so good signs are definitely there for the Sox.
Chicago Cubs: Chicks Aren't Digging the Long Ball
Chicago Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair has made the most of the opportunity given to him thus far, finally getting a chance to play regularly in the majors at the age of 29.
LaHair is hitting .356 with nine HR and 20 RBI in the team's first 35 games. However, the rest of the team has combined to hit just 13 long balls, ranking them second-to-last in the National League.
Considering they play half of their games at one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors, that's not a good sign.
Alfonso Soriano just picked up his first homer of the season on Tuesday, and free acquisition David DeJesus finally went yard this past Friday for his first homer as a Cub.
The starting rotation has been surprisingly effective, save for Chris Volstad (0-5, 6.92 ERA), but that effectiveness is rendered useless if it can't be supported by an offense that thus far ranks 14th in the league in runs scored.
Chicago White Sox: Infield Bats Are Still on Vacation
When the Chicago White Sox stumbled to a 79-83 record and third-place finish in the AL Central Division last year, much of the blame was focused on the horrific seasons turned in by Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.
Dunn and Rios have both bounced back, Dunn hitting .250 with a team-leading 12 HR and 28 RBI, and Rios with a .280 average and 14 RBI.
The culprit so far this season has been, with the exception of Paul Konerko, the entire infield.
The combination of Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez and Brent Morel is hitting a collective .199 with three HR and 28 RBI. Their collective on-base percentage of .244 is equally as putrid.
There is even less help on the bench, where utility infielders Brent Lillibridge and Eduardo Escobar have combined to hit just .174 with two RBI.
Cincinnati Reds: Can Aroldis Chapman Pitch Every Day?
Heading into Tuesday night's contest with the Atlanta Braves, the Cincinnati Reds were in second place in the NL Central division, just two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
In a crowded division that has seen a bevy of changes, the Reds are hanging in there, and their bullpen has done its part to chip in, including Cuban sensation Aroldis Chapman.
In 14 appearances thus far, the 24-year-old fireballing southpaw has literally been unhittable. Chapman has struck out an astonishing 32 batters in 18.1 innings, allowing only five walks and six hits.
Logan Ondrusek has yet to give up a run in relief, either, so he has certainly done his share. But for anyone facing Chapman, it's almost a lost cause right now.
Cleveland Indians: Tribe Is Lowe-Balling
Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti is looking like a genius after watching Derek Lowe's performance on Tuesday afternoon against the Minnesota Twins.
Antonetti acquired Lowe from the Atlanta Braves last Halloween, giving up minor league pitcher Chris Jones and getting the Braves to pay two-thirds of Lowe's $15 million salary for the 2012 season.
Lowe authored a masterful shutout on Tuesday, inducing 16 groundball outs with his trademark sinker in pitching the first complete game shutout without a strikeout since 2002.
At 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA, Lowe has become the anchor of the staff for the Indians, who continue to lead the AL Central Division.
Colorado Rockies: Starting out Has Been a Struggle
When Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy was given an indefinite contract extension this offseason, he probably never thought that the job would also include a rigorous health regimen.
That's exactly what Tracy has gotten with his numerous trips to the pitcher's mound so far in 2012.
The Rockies' starters have been, in a word, awful. With a 6-13 record and 5.42 ERA, the starters are dead last in the National League, and the Rockies are eight games under .500 overall.
Colorado is producing, ranking third in the NL in runs scored, but it's preventing runs that has been an issue, also registering last in that department as well.
At least Tracy will be in tremendous shape at the end of the year.
Detroit Tigers: Where's the Beef?
When Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch approved the acquisition of free agent first baseman Prince Fielder to help offset the loss of designated hitter Victor Martinez, he ponied up $214 million, hoping to see fireworks at Comerica Park.
He hasn't seen duds, but he also hasn't seen fiery explosions yet, either.
Fielder is hitting .292 with his three-hit effort on Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox, but with only five HR and 18 RBI. His middle-of-the-order hitting partner, Miguel Cabrera, hasn't exactly been terrible either, hitting .308 with eight HR and 31 RBI.
However, the offense has yet to really gel thus far in 2012, and with a pitching staff that has seen struggles from Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello thus far, the combination has led to just a .500 record.
Just about every expert worth their salt predicted that the Tigers would walk away with the AL Central Division title, and that could certainly still occur. But the offensive explosion that was expected simply hasn't happened quite yet.
Houston Astros: True Grit
With a change in ownership in Houston that included a completely new management team, the entire Astros' team, including manager Brad Mills, was literally auditioning for their new employers with the hopes of sticking around.
With a record of 15-21 and a roster that includes a bevy of youngsters still wet behind the ears, these Astros have responded to that audition with moxie and grit.
Thus far, 13 of their games have been decided by one run, and they have given their fans a great show thus far, playing hard right to the end.
The Astros may not go very far this year, but they are not going down without a fight.
Kansas City Royals: Bad Luck Follows Them Around
The Kansas City Royals defeated the AL West-leading Texas Rangers 3-1 on Monday night, but the news paled in comparison to the news received earlier in the day.
Highly regarded pitching prospect Danny Duffy walked off the mound after throwing just 13 pitches in Sunday's game against the Chicago White Sox, and it was confirmed that Duffy suffered a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery and shelving him for the season.
Duffy is the third pitcher in the past year to require the surgery—fellow highly-touted prospect John Lamb last year and closer Joakim Soria this spring.
For a staff that has struggled already, it was yet another blow, and Royals fans have to be wondering if there's something in the water at Kauffman Stadium.
Los Angeles Angels: Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth
All season long, the Los Angeles Angels have tried to come up with a winning recipe, yet nothing thus far has been close to palatable.
Manager Mike Scioscia has used a variety of different lineups to find the missing ingredients, yet he's been unable to mix together an offense capable of consistency.
While it's easy to pin the blame on newly acquired slugger Albert Pujols and his awful start (.197, one HR, 12 RBI before Tuesday night's game), Scioscia has been playing a game of mix and match.
Mark Trumbo has been moved around all over the field with no permanent home, Alberto Callaspo, Trumbo and Maicer Izturis have all manned third base at different times, and with Scioscia's attempt to get Trumbo into the lineup, veterans Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter have both sat on occasion as well.
Releasing Bobby Abreu helped the logjam somewhat, but for players who aren't sure whether or not they're playing every day or where they're playing, developing a consistent attack has proved to be difficult indeed.
Los Angeles Dodgers: A Fine Start to a Season of Change
At 24-11 heading into action on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers sport the best record in all of baseball, currently enjoying a six-game lead in the NL West Division.
It would have been excusable to give the Dodgers a mulligan this year, considering all of the wrangling going on behind the scenes regarding their ownership situation, and the limited funds that GM Ned Colletti had at his exposure to attempt to upgrade his team over the winter.
Someone didn't tell the players that not much was expected of them, however.
Their sizzling start is in large part due to phenomenal starting pitching. Through Monday night's action, Dodgers' starters were 17-5 with a 2.81 ERA. Stingy would be the best way to describe their work so far, giving up just 168 hits in 217.2 innings.
Their ability to keep runners off base and work deep into games has kept their bullpen fresh. While the offense was hurt with slugger Matt Kemp's trip to the disabled list, as long as this current trend continues for the Dodgers, the pain of Kemp's absence may not be too terrible to bear.
Miami Marlins: Will Their Offense Heat Up with the Weather?
Monday night's game between the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates was a perfect example of why the boys from South Florida have struggled thus far.
Despite a quality start from Anibal Sanchez (2-1, 2.28 ERA), the Marlins were unable to offer support, going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in their 3-2 loss.
That's been the theme for the Marlins so far, hitting .201 as a team with runners in scoring position. While they have won 10 of their last 13 contests, their offense will need to heat up along with the weather if they have any chance of competing in the NL East.
Milwaukee Brewers: Find Some Healthy Bodies
At 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, thousands of fans lined up at Miller Park to take part in a promotion to claim 2,000 Chorizo statues that had been hidden in different areas of the park.
Chorizo is one of the famous racing sausages that runs around the warning track in between innings of Brewers games. Hidden in the statues that were found by fans were various prizes, including ticket giveaways and other assorted goodies.
Maybe the Brewers would do well just to find some healthy bodies.
There may be no team who has been as severely affected by injuries as Milwaukee.
Starter Chris Narveson tore his left rotator cuff and is out for the season. First baseman Mat Gamel and shortstop Alex Gonzalez are both done with season-ending ACL tears. And outfielder Carlos Gomez is currently on the shelf with a right hamstring strain, although he is rehabbing and should be back early next week.
Rickie Weeks has been suffering from a hand injury, although he has yet to even show up offensively this season, hitting just .157 thus far.
The Brewers extended the contracts of manager Ron Roenicke and GM Doug Melvin, and rightfully so. The two have been outstanding in their roles. However, they will likely be looking at a long season while they wait for bodies to heal.
Minnesota Twins: What's Not Wrong with Them?
The Minnesota Twins finished last season with a record of 63-99, one of their worst regular season records in recent memory. However, that record could look good compared to this year.
The Twins are currently 10-26 after getting shut out by Derek Lowe and the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday. Listless wouldn't even begin to describe the style of play seen in the Twin Cities.
Watching manager Ron Gardenhire grimace each time he looks at the field has become commonplace.
GM Terry Ryan has to wonder if he was crazy in coming back.
New York Mets: Small Ball and Starting Pitching
The New York Mets were certainly facing uncertainty heading into the 2012 season. With ownership fighting a lawsuit connected to the Bernie Madoff scandal, GM Sandy Alderson was hamstrung in working to upgrade a roster that struggled to a fourth-place finish in the NL East.
However, a settlement was reached in the Madoff case, and the pall that was cast over Citi Field was finally lifted. And the Mets started playing some good baseball.
At 20-15 entering Tuesday night's game, a combination of solid starting pitching and a small-ball offense were both factors in the Mets' early season success.
The Mets were third in batting average (.266), fifth in runs scored (149) and second in on-base percentage (.341) in the NL. With only 23 home runs as a team, manager Terry Collins has his team playing station-to-station, and it's working.
The starting rotation has been solid as well, with a 3.91 ERA overall. Johan Santana's shoulder has held up thus far, R. A. Dickey appears to be back to 2010 form and Jonathan Niese has provided consistently strong efforts as well.
New York Yankees: A Model of Inconsistency
A 20-16 record after 36 games doesn't exactly conjure images of mediocrity, but in the case of the New York Yankees, anything less than pure excellence is always cause for alarm and criticism.
Inconsistency has been the story, both for the offense and pitching. Season-ending injuries to Mariano Rivera and Michael Pineda has caused manager Joe Girardi to shuffle his staff, placing them in roles previously unfamiliar to them. Add to that the latest injury to David Robertson, and even more questions are sure to abound.
Offensively, Robinson Cano, off to a slow start, is heating up, as is Curtis Granderson, who launched his 13th home run against the Orioles on Tuesday night. But a consistent offensive has been lacking all season, and while the Yankees are certainly not out of contention, it's a rare sight indeed to see them sitting in third place at this point in the season.
Oakland Athletics: Smoke and Mirrors
The Oakland A's went through a major sell-off this offseason, trading three-fifths of their rotation and their closer, plus letting their best hitter walk via free agency. With an Opening Day payroll of $55,372,500, they rank second-to-last in the majors. Long season in Oakland, right?
Not so far.
With a record of 19-18, Oakland has been a complete surprise. Yes, their offense is woeful—a .218 average that is dead last in the AL, third-worst in runs scored and last in slugging percentage. The A's have continued with a sputtering offense that has plagued them for years.
However, their staff ERA of 3.47 is second-best in the AL, and they've shown a remarkable ability to hang in there.
Oh yeah, and Manny will be back on May 30.
Philadelphia Phillies: Is It Just Howard and Utley Missing?
If anyone had told you before the season started that the Philadelphia Phillies would be the only team with a record under .500 in the NL East Division, you would have called for a white jacket.
But that's exactly where the Phightin' Phils stand right now.
While the absence of both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could easily be looked upon as a major factor, the offense has held their own. The bullpen, however, has been abysmal.
Heading into Tuesday's game with the Houston Astros, the bullpen had lost nine of 12 games started by Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. That's a recipe for disaster.
Even on Tuesday's win over the Astros, Lee's brilliant performance was wasted when Chad Qualls failed to hold the lead in the top of the ninth. Only Hunter Pence's walk-off blast saved the 'pen from another loss.
With six blown saves dating back to April 21, the 'pen has been the issue, not the absence of Howard and Utley.
Pittsburgh Pirates: McCutchen, Pitching and Not Much Else
The Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder is out to show that he is indeed one of the rising stars in Major League Baseball.
McCutchen is hitting .339 with 3 HR and 14 RBI, leads his team with seven steals and is again playing center field with the grace of a gazelle.
Unfortunately, McCutchen has no support from the rest of the lineup. The Pirates are dead last in the NL in runs scored, last in batting average, and at or near the bottom of the league in nearly every major offensive category.
The pitching staff, however, has been terrific. Starters have chipped in with a 3.69 ERA while the bullpen has been ever stingier with a 2.44 ERA.
The Pirates are 17-19, but could very easily be much worse if not for the efforts of the pitching staff and McCutchen.
San Diego Padres: Friars Are Offensive to Watch
It speaks volumes for the offense of the San Diego Padres when third baseman Chase Headley is the team leader with four HR and 17 RBI.
The Padres are right there with the Pirates in terms of offensive productive—it's actually painful to watch them hit.
Last in the NL in home runs and slugging percentage, second-to-last in batting average and runs scored—it's no wonder the Padres have the worst record in the National League.
Carlos Quentin is badly needed in this lineup.
San Francisco Giants: Just One More Bat, Please
The San Francisco Giants are about where everyone thought they would be at this point in the season—a .500 record and in second place in the NL West. While many thought they would be in a race with the D-Backs instead of chasing the Dodgers at this point, one point has become evident thus far—they are literally just one bat away.
Despite the loss of Brian Wilson, the Giants' pitching staff has posted a strong 3.31 ERA, good for fourth in the NL. The bullpen has been good—not great, but good, posting a 3.55 ERA.
Offensively, the Giants are better than last year, but are still struggling to score runs, ranking just 13th in the league to this point.
The return of Freddy Sanchez should help, and Pablo Sandoval's return from a broken hamate bone will help as well. New acquisitions Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan are both off to fine starts, so if the Giants can get Sanchez and Sandoval back in the lineup, manager Bruce Bochy will have some weapons to go along with his stellar pitching.
Seattle Mariners: The Kids Are Not All Right
You have to give Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik a lot of credit. He took a chance in trading off a potential staff ace (Michael Pineda) for an equally high-potential guy in Jesus Montero, and he has developed talent that will hopefully excel at some point in the majors.
Unfortunately, that time hasn't quite come yet.
The youngsters in the Mariners' lineup—Montero, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Mike Carp—have yet to find their way at the top level of baseball, and the M's offensive stats bear that out.
The Mariners are second-to-last in batting average (2.33), 11th in runs scored (136) and are hitting just .228 with runners in scoring position.
Ackley and Montero are too good not to produce. Their day will come, and soon. However, how much patience will the M's continue to have for Smoak, who was thought to be the long-term answer at first base?
St. Louis Cardinals: Life After Albert Isn't so Bad After All
For all those who thought the St. Louis Cardinals' offense would greatly suffer after the departure of Albert Pujols, the Redbirds have a little message for you—we're just fine, thanks.
And fine they are. They currently lead the National League in most major offensive categories—runs scored, batting average, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage. Life after Albert hasn't been so bad after all.
Carlos Beltran, the big bat obtained by GM John Mozeliak to help make up the difference, has been outstanding, with a league-leading 13 HR and 32 RBI. Aging shortstop Rafael Furcal has found the Fountain of Youth and is hitting .359, and Allen Craig is hitting a sizzling .404 since his return to the lineup just over two weeks ago.
No offense without Albert, you say? The Cards say they're offended by that remark.
Tampa Bay Rays: Timely Hitting Supports Solid Pitching
The Tampa Bay Rays have become a team that can no longer be underestimated, not if manager Joe Maddon has any say about it.
At 23-14, the Rays are tied with the O's atop the AL East, and they're doing it without their star slugger, Evan Longoria. No worries, Maddon has the right answers.
Timely hitting has supported solid pitching. While no one Rays' hitter is lighting it up, they're getting solid production at the right time.
Newcomer Luke Scott leads the team with seven HR and 26 RBI, Matt Joyce (.282, seven HR, 19 RBI) is proving that last year was no fluke, and the bench has provided solid production, with Elliott Johnson chipping in with a .288 average in Longoria's absence.
The starting rotation has been as advertised, and Fernando Rodney seems to have found his mojo once again (0.51 ERA, 11 saves).
These Rays aren't going anywhere, and Maddon's boys once again are showing they're ready to tackle any and all comers.
Texas Rangers: No Holes Barred
There is a reason why the Texas Rangers are sitting atop the AL West Division once again and ready to take a third straight trip to the World Series—these guys are pretty good.
It's hard to find a hole anywhere on the Rangers' team right now. While everyone is in awe of the exploits of one Josh Hamilton, and rightfully so, the rest of his teammates are contributing mightily as well.
Rangers' pitching staff? Best ERA in the league.
Rangers' offense? Not one starter with a batting average below .270.
Rangers' bench? The combined efforts of Yorvit Torrealba, Craig Gentry, Alberto Gonzalez and Brandon Snyder has produced a collective .267 average and several clutch hits.
Can anyone or anything stop the Rangers' juggernaut?
Toronto Blue Jays: Bullpen Woes and Shoddy Defense Costing Jays
Tuesday night's loss to the Tampa Bay Rays could prove costly to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Brett Lawrie is likely facing a suspension after angrily tossing his helmet to the ground after a questionable called third strike in the ninth inning. Lawrie's helmet bounced into the home plate umpire upon hitting the ground, and his frustration could cost him a few games.
However, the Jays have more to worry about than Lawrie's temper-fueled tirade last night. They have now lost seven of their last 10 games, and Tuesday's loss was an example of why—shoddy defense and failures to capitalize offensively.
It's tough to win any game when you commit four errors, but the Jays still found themselves hanging around. A 1-for-8 performance with runners in scoring position helped seal their fate.
There are definitely factors that are of concern to the Jays right now. Jose Bautista is still mired in a slump (.195), Adam Lind isn't contributing much of anything and Colby Rasmus has yet to find his way in Toronto as well.
With 12 errors in their last eight games, the Blue Jays need to tighten up things considerably, and find a spark offensively if they even have a hope of competing in the AL East.
Washington Nationals: Starters Show NL Who's Boss
For the past few weeks now, many rabid baseball fans have been following the Washington Nationals just to see what young phenom Bryce Harper is going to do with each at-bat and each throw from the outfield.
However, it's the starting pitching that's been a joy to watch.
Harper-mania aside, the Nats' starting rotation has been simply spectacular—a 13-8 record, 2.55 ERA and 1.018 WHIP. Nats' starters are outpitching the staffs of both the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants, who both have some pretty high-quality arms as well.
The Nats certainly don't mind people tuning in to watch Harper's every move—they get to show off their strength in the process.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.