Every MLB Team's Biggest Hole in the Lineup

Stephen SmithContributor IIIMay 20, 2012

Every MLB Team's Biggest Hole in the Lineup

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    As a baseball fan, you know the guy. Sure you do.

    It's the one player in favorite team's lineup that is suffering through a bad season and always seems to be in the batter's box in a big spot. A crucial moment in the late stages of a close contest when you need a big hit and you are resigned to the thought that this player just won't come through.

    Again.

    It's been a strange 2012 Major League Baseball campaign, hasn't it? Albert Pujols, the $252 million man, with THREE home runs. Incredible. It's almost Memorial Day. He's on pace to finish the season with 11 home runs. Ouch.

    Talk about no bang for your buck.

    Pujols is just one of many players that are killing their current clubs with a lack of production. Let's examine each team, starting with the American League, and determine which player is creating the biggest hole in their team's everyday lineup. You know, the guy that makes the manager reach for the Tums before he steps to the plate.

    Here is that dubious list...

Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees

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    "You're on the" Mark Teixeira is going through his usual early-season swoon. A notorious slow starter, Tex is batting in the fifth hole for the most part in the Bronx Bombers lineup.

    Despite finally showing some signs of life lately, the Annapolis, Md. native is hitting just .234 with five HR and 20 RBI. He is one of the main culprits as to why the Yankees are just 20-17 in 2012.

    Things should get better, though. He is still just 32 years old and usually heats up once the weather turns warmer in June. Last year, for example, Teixeira clouted nine of his 39 HR and drove in 25 of his 111 RBI in June.

    The Yankees will gladly take a repeat of that this June.

Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox

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    Gonzo is one of the best hitters in baseball, but he has gotten off to a disappointing start for the equally disappointing Bo Sox.

    Batting in the heart of the order for Bobby Valentine's club, the nine-year veteran is batting just .266 with three HR and 21 RBI. He is hitting just .271 against right-handed pitchers.

    The Red Sox are hoping the warmer weather will help heat up Gonzalez's lumber as well. The San Diego, Calif. native is a career .311 hitter in June, his best batting average month of his career.

Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

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    The biggest hole in Tampa Bay's lineup is not in the lineup. And won't be for some time. The Rays really miss him. Who wouldn't?

    All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria was off to one of the best starts of his career this season, hitting .329 with four HR and 19 RBI in 23 games before going down with a torn left hamstring on April 30. He'll probably be sidelined another four to six weeks.

    You simply can't replace a player like Longoria, who is averaging 28 HR and 100 RBI over his initial four big league campaigns. His return will make the first place Rays that much tougher to beat.

Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles

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    The Glen Cove, NY native has a nice stroke from the left side, but he has struggled for the most part for one of baseball biggest surprises this year, the Baltimore Orioles.

    A career .293 hitter, Markakis has gotten off to a slow start, hitting just .258 as of this writing. His power output is good with eight round trippers, while his 22 RBI is pretty good.

    However, a third slot hitter in the lineup usually owns a higher batting average, and the Baltimore right fielder needs to cut down on his strikeouts. He whiffed 30 times already in his first 154 at-bats this season. He struck out just 75 times in 641 AB in 2011. 

Yunel Escobar, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Now in his sixth season, Escobar bats second in the Blue Jays order, and it's been a real struggle so far in 2012.

    The Havana, Cuba native batted a robust .290 last season, but is hitting a meager .247 this year. Not only that, but his OBP has dropped dramatically, from .369 in 2011 to a putrid .296 so far this season. His slugging percentage is down 100 points as well.

    That won't do hitting in front of Jose Bautista.

Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox

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    What is the deal with Alexei Ramirez? Not only is he killing the Chicago South Siders, he's killing my fantasy team as well. Oh sorry, I digress.

    The Cuban native is just above the dreaded Mendoza line, batting a feeble .209 this season for the pale hose. A career .274 hitter, Ramirez has also belted just one HR (his career high is 21 in 2008) and knocked in only 16 runs this season.

    His OBP is down almost 100 points in 2012 (.229) compared to last year. That's brutal. Maybe Ramirez should get his eyes checked. He bats low in Chicago's order, but needs to pick things up quickly if he is to ascend higher in manager Robin Ventura's lineup.

Casey Kotchman, Cleveland Indians

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    The smooth fielding veteran first baseman had a fine season with Tampa Bay in 2011, hitting .306 with a .378 OBP in 146 games.

    2012 is not going quite as well. Kotchman has really struggled so far for the Tribe, batting a scant .208 with three long balls and a dismal .294 OBP. Also, his slugging percentage is way down from his career average of .394 (.325 this season). It's been a tough start.

    Kotchman hits very low in the order, but if he finally heats up, look for him to move ahead of Johnny Damon in the Indians lineup.

    Chief Wahoo will be smiling even wider then.

Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers

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    The Hialeah, Fla. native enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2011, hammering 19 home runs, knocking in 82 runs and batting .295 for Jim Leyland's Tigers.

    Why has 2012 been such a struggle? Why is Avila hitting only .226 with four homers?

    Well, for one thing, Avila is batting a putrid .136 away from Comerica Park. For another, the left-handed hitting catcher is hitting just .200 against southpaws this season. His average was a solid .273 against port-siders in 2011.

    Avila is very talented, though, so look for him to pick things up soon.

Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

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    Sophomore jinx? It sure looks that way. There is no question who the main culprit is for the disappointing Royals this season.

    After a terrific rookie campaign in 2011, the southpaw slugging first baseman has really had a tough time of it this season. The third-overall pick in the 2008 draft is batting only .174 and was recently benched for the first time since last season.

    Hosmer needs to improve his production against right-handed pitching especially. He owns a lousy .192 mark against righties after pounding them for a .315 mark with 18 of his 19 HR last season.

Danny Valencia, Minnesota Twins

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    Another Miami, Fla. native (like Hosmer), Valencia is another player hitting below the Mendoza line after enjoying a respectable 2011 season.

    The Twins third baseman owns a .190 batting average as of this writing after hitting .246 with 15 round trippers and 72 RBI last year. He has clouted just one HR, and his RBI production is way down as well, with a meager 11 runs knocked in so far this season.

    Valencia is only in his third season in the majors, so it's hard to say whether this year is an anomaly or not for the Twin Cities infielder.

Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers

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    It's a little difficult to find an underachieving hitter in the powerful Rangers lineup, but the powerful backstop has struggled for the most part this year.

    After a tremendous 2011 campaign when Napoli batted .320 with 30 home runs and 75 RBI, the Hollywood, Fla. native owned a .242 average as of this writing, with only seven long balls. His OBP, SLG and OPS averages were also way down across the board.

    Expect Napoli to heat up, though, as the Texas summer simmers to a boil. The veteran catcher belted 12 of his 30 home runs in July and August last season.

    A repeat would shock no one.

Jemile Weeks, Oakland A's

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    The switch-hitting second baseman is a fun player to watch for the improving A's.

    What hasn't been so fun has been Weeks' performance so far in 2012.

    The speedy Weeks already has 10 stolen bases this year after swiping 22 bags last season. That's the good news.

    The bad news is that the Orlando, Fla. native is hitting a scant .205 after hitting a robust .303 in 2011. His OBP is down over 50 points, and he's knocked in just five runs after having 36 RBI last season.

    One positive is that Weeks has drawn 16 bases on balls after getting only 21 free passes last year. That shows he has better plate discipline.

    The hits will come soon enough.

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    King Albert's struggles have been well-documented, and he's finally shown some signs recently that he might be finally coming out of his season-long funk.

    What a funk.

    The future Hall of Fame first baseman is the biggest disappointment in all of baseball so far this season. The numbers are staggering: a .215 average with just three HR and 18 RBI as of this writing.

    Hard to believe.

    Scouts say that Pujols is pulling the ball too much and has not shown the plate discipline he has in the past. He's swinging at balls and taking strikes. His stats bear that out. Pujols' OBP this season is .253. His lifetime OBP is a staggering .417.

    The fact that Pujols hit home runs in two straight games recently may indicate that there is finally some light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners

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    It simply hasn't worked out yet for Justin Smoak.

    A former first-round pick in the 2008 draft (11th overall by the Texas Rangers), the Goose Creek, SC native has just not put it all together yet in his major league career.

    Smoak is still young at 25 years of age, but the meter is running. The switch-hitting first baseman is batting only .210 so far this season with a dismal .308 slugging percentage.

    Last year brought a glimmer of hope despite a .234 batting average. Smoak hit 15 round trippers and had a slugging percentage near the .400 mark. After belting 24 doubles in 2011, Smoak is on pace to crack just 10 doubles this time around.

    Time may be running out.

Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

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    This choice might be a bit surprising. It's not like the powerful southpaw outfielder is having a bad season for the surging Braves.

    Not really.

    It's just that compared to his stellar rookie campaign in 2010, the Ridgewood, NJ native just leaves Braves fans wanting more. And more.

    As of this writing, Heyward was batting .248 with five HR and 20 RBI. Respectable numbers. However, after a poor sophomore season in 2011, the right fielder's batting average, OBP, OPS and slugging percentage numbers are all down from his rookie season.

    It's probably nitpicking a little, but a few Atlanta fans that I know are expecting a little more from the young star.

Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

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    It's been a season to forget so far for Ryan Zimmerman.

    The All-Star third baseman has been suffering through an injury-plagued campaign, having missed 13 games already due to shoulder problems. He missed 61 games due to injuries last season.

    A career .287 hitter, Zimmerman has been mired in a slump recently that has seen his batting average dip to .250. He has hit just two long balls this season and is on pace to knock in just 55 runs this year, well below his career-high of 110 in 2006.

    Staying healthy has always been Zimmerman's biggest problem. The talent is certainly there. Manager Davey Johnson just hopes he stays healthy enough to show it.

Ike Davis, New York Mets

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    What is going on with Ike Davis? Simply put, it's been an agonizing, frustrating early campaign for the Metropolitans' first baseman.

    The Arizona State product has the Mets brass baffled. Seriously, a .164 batting average? There have been rumors that New York may send Davis down to AAA Buffalo to get his season straightened out.

    It might not be a bad idea.

    Mets fans really "like Ike," but their patience is starting to run thin. He does have five HR, but a major league team cannot support a key cog in their lineup when he's hitting so far below the Mendoza line.

    Whether Davis is feeling some effects from the Valley Fever he contracted in spring training or what, a trip to the minor leagues might be the panacea Davis needs right now.

Gaby Sanchez, Miami Marlins

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    Speaking of underachieving first basemen that may get sent to minors, as I write this, I have just learned that the Marlins first baseman has been optioned to Triple-A New Orleans just one season after making the NL All-Star team.

    Rightly so. If the Miami, Fla. native only had to hit against the Mets, he'd be a Hall of Famer, not just an All-Star. That is not the case, obviously, and the numbers are ugly.

    A year removed from a 19-78-.266 campaign, the 28-year-old has been a disaster this season for the fish. In 36 games, Sanchez was batting just .197 with a lone homer and just 11 RBI.

    Ouch.

    Hopefully, Sanchez can work out his issues because he is an important right-handed hitter in Miami's everyday lineup.

Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

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    A case could certainly be made for Ryan Howard, but Utley is the heart and soul of the Phillies lineup, and there is no guarantee he'll play again.

    A five-time All-Star, the 33-year-old Utley went on the disabled list in late March and has yet to play this season for Philadelphia. He has chronic tendinitis in both of his knees and was seen fielding grounders when the Phils were in Chicago recently. Currently, there is no timetable for his return.

    Prior to that, the Pasadena, Calif. native was going through rehab in Arizona during the month of April.

    Is Utley done? It's too early to tell, but one thing is for sure. The Phillies will not be the same without arguably their best second baseman in team history.

David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals

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    This is not even fair. I'll admit it.

    All the Cardinals are hitting well this season, and they certainly have not missed Mr. Pujols. That's one of the reasons they currently are in first place in the NL Central.

    This is a nitpick, but the only reason Freese, one of the best young third basemen in the National League, is chosen here is because his batting average is down this year from 2011 (.266 from .297) and his OBP has slipped from .350 last year to .327 this season.

    Aside from that, everything else is fine. When the Red Birds are hitting so well, it's hard to find a real hole in their talented lineup.

    A case can certainly be made here for Lance Berkman, but he was hitting .333. He just needs to stay healthy these days.

Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati Reds

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    Batting second in the Reds lineup for the most part, Stubbs owned a .282 OBP for Dusty Baker's contingent as of this writing, and that simply won't do at the top of the order.

    The University of Texas product has never hit for a high average in the majors (he is a .249 lifetime hitter), but the fleet-footed centerfielder's .235 mark this season has been a disappointment.

    Couple that with the fact that Stubbs has swiped just seven stolen bases after pilfering 40 last year, things need to pick up quickly for the former first-round draft pick (eighth-overall selection in 2006).

Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    A native son of the Steel City, Walker's power numbers have plummeted this season, and it's been one of the main reasons the Bucs have had trouble reaching the .500 mark in 2012.

    After hitting 12 home runs and knocking in 83 runs for Pittsburgh last season, the switch-hitting second baseman has just a solo HR and 13 RBI this season. Parlay that with just 11 walks and a .261 average, and Walker has struggled to get going.

    Better times might be on the way soon, though. The 26-year-old Walker owns a career batting average of .344 in July, by far his best batting average month of his career.

Brian Bogusevic, Houston Astros

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    The Palos Heights, Ill. native enjoyed a nice season for the Astros after being called up in 2011; the husky outfielder batted .287 with four long balls and 15 RBI in just 164 at-bats last year.

    It's still rather early, but Bogusevic has found the going a little rough this time around. As of this writing, he has garnered a .229 batting average with only one HR and 10 RBI in 118 at-bats.

    Houston plans on still running Bogusevic out there to see what he can do. The Astros brass like his potential. They're rebuilding and will be patient with their young players.

Prince Fielder (formerly of the Milwaukee Brewers)

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    Let's face it, the Brew Crew are just not the same team without their former powerful hitting first baseman.

    The Brewers knew this was coming. How do you replace one of the best sluggers in the game? You can't. Travis Ishikawa is doing decently as his replacement, but he is certainly no Fielder.

    Not even close.

    Fielder's departure is the main reason the Brewers were just 16-24 and mired in fifth place in the NL Central. Don't look now, but he's hitting .303 with seven HR and 24 RBI for Detroit so far.

    Sorry, Brewers fans.

Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs

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    The 36-year-old outfielder finally is showing signs of life with his first three home runs of the season this past week, but he has a lot of ground to make up.

    Is father time catching up to Soriano? He is on pace for 16 HR and 75 RBI after smashing 26 round-trippers and knocking in 88 runs in 2011.

    His slugging and OPS percentages have taken a tumble as well, and the Cubbies need Soriano to continue to improve his power production quickly if they are to escape the cellar of the NL Central.

    May has always been a good power month for Soriano; he has hit more home runs in that month than any other in his career.

James Loney, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    I don't know. Is it me, or does it seem like there is always something wanting with James Loney.

    Is it because he's a former first-round draft pick? Is it because in the past he seemed to be on the cusp of being really special and it's never quite materialized?

    Don't get me wrong. The Houston, Tex. native is a good player, but at 28 years of age, you wonder when the real breakout season is happening. It's certainly not in 2012. In 39 games, Loney had only one homer and 11 RBI and was batting a pedestrian .250 for the season.

    That is pretty pour output considering he had lines of 13-90-.289 and 13-90-.281 respectively in 2008 and 2009.

Pablo Sadoval, San Francisco Giants

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    Pablo Sandoval's injury on May 2 against Miami (fractured hamate bone) has left a big hole in the Giants lineup.

    The Puerto Cabello, Venezuela native was enjoying a fine campaign at third base, batting .316 with five round-trippers and 15 RBI in just 95 at-bats for San Francisco. The affable third baseman picked up right where he left off in 2011, when he enjoyed a breakout 23-70-.315 season.

    Sandoval is now expected back within three weeks. Manager Bruce Bochy can't wait to welcome him back into the lineup; as of this writing, the Giants were six games behind the first-place Dodgers in the NL West.

    The Panda Bear will be back soon. 

    Not soon enough, though.

Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Justin Upton is a two-time All-Star and a five-tool player. His talent is unquestioned.

    That's why it's so baffling that he is struggling so much this season.

    After a superb season in 2011 (31-88-.289, 21 stolen bases), the 24-year-old outfielder looked like he was on the cusp of greatness. He still may be, but it's been a rocky road in 2012.

    Through 38 games, the Norfolk, Va native has cracked just four HR and knocked in 13 runs. His average is a dismal .237.

    Don't be surprised though if Upton heats up next month. He hit a sizzling .382 in June last year.

Marco Scutaro, Colorado Rockies

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    The former Red Sox infielder usually bats second in the Rockies order, and the results have been disappointing so far in 2012.

    To date, the scrappy second baseman has just one homer and four RBI while batting .253. He is one of the reasons the Rockies have had a dreadful 15-25 season. Getting swept at home by the Mariners? Wow, that's rough.

    It sure looks like the Venezuelan native misses Fenway Park. Last season, as a Bo Sox infielder, Scutaro hit .299 with a .358 OBP. His hitting numbers are down in all categories, and remember, he is playing half his games in the thin air of the Mile High City.

    That's not a good sign.

Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres

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    There are a number of underachievers on the punch-less Padres, but Maybin stands out so far in 2012.

    The Padres have one of the worst hitting teams in baseball. Where have you gone Nate Colbert, Terry Kennedy and Tony Gwynn?

    The speedy centerfielder does have 12 stolen bases. That's the good news.

    The bad news is that the Asheville, NC native is hitting just .210 with one HR and 12 RBI. He hit .264 last season with nine HR, eight triples and 82 runs scored.

    Maybin is just 25 years old and has a world of talent. Give him time. He'll be just fine.