Athletes and teams have the goal of playing consistently throughout the year, but especially at the start of a new season.
No player or club works to gradually build up steam as the year rolls along—they want to come out of the gate charging.
Slow starts can absolutely kill hopes for success—a look at last year's Los Angeles Angels is a prime example.
The Angels were 6-14 after the first three weeks of the 2012 season and were forced to play catch-up for the rest of the year. They finished the season missing the playoffs by four games. One only has to point to their horrid start to explain the reason why.
The 2013 MLB season is only a week and a half old at this point, but each team has already had its share of frustrations.
Here is each MLB team's biggest disappointment thus far.
Note: All statistics are courtesy of MLB.com and current as of games played through Wednesday, April 10.
When Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers pulled the trigger on a deal that saw reliever Heath Bell come into town last October, he envisioned a player who would represent a great option as a setup man and occasional closer.
For Bell, the deal represented the end of a miserable existence in Miami in which he was twice demoted from his closer's role and posted an ugly 5.09 ERA.
The misery has thus far continued.
Bell currently has an ERA double last year's final figure at 10.80 through the team's first nine games. He's allowed nine hits in just 3.1 innings and opposing hitters are batting a robust .529 off the portly right-hander.
It's just a guess, but it's likely that's not what Towers expected.
The new outfield combination for the Atlanta Braves was immediately dubbed "Up, Up and a Hey."
One Up and the Hey have fizzled so far.
Justin Upton is off to a scorching start with six home runs in the Braves' first nine games. But brother B.J. and Jason Heyward have struggled mightily.
Their combined average to start the season is .088 with 19 strikeouts in 57 at-bats.
Fortunately, the Braves are off to the hottest start in baseball courtesy of their terrific pitching staff posting a stingy 1.89 ERA. Thanks to their 8-1 record, the local press isn't completely lambasting Upton and Heyward's slow starts.
But it's certainly not the start anyone who was looking forward to early fireworks from the vaunted new outfield combination had envisioned.
Aside from the Upton brothers combining to deliver the game-tying and game-winning home runs last Saturday against the Chicago Cubs, only Justin has delivered the firepower at this point.
Prior to the start of the 2010 season, Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts was one of the more exciting players to watch in baseball.
His combination of speed, decent power and the ability to spray the ball effectively all over the field led to Roberts becoming a dangerous threat at the top of the batting order.
The past three-plus years, however, have been nothing but a nightmare.
A host of injuries amounted to four trips to the disabled list from 2010-2012. Roberts played in only 115 games during that span, representing just 24 percent of his team's games.
Despite undergoing hernia surgery last December, Roberts was expected to be fully healthy entering the 2013 season. And he was, getting off to a hot start with a .417 average in his team's first three games.
Roberts was attempting to steal second base in the ninth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. On the play, Roberts ruptured the tendon behind his right knee, putting him on the disabled list once again.
It's another blow to the Orioles, who are already without the services of designated hitter Wilson Betemit, currently rehabbing from arthroscopic knee surgery.
While no one can blame Roberts for his all-out hustle in trying to take an extra base—it's just another disappointment in a long line of setbacks.
I begrudgingly selected rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. for the Boston Red Sox.
Bradley showed tremendous poise during his first-ever taste of big-league action in his debut against the New York Yankees last week. He displayed patience at the plate in drawing crucial walks that led to runs and made a terrific catch in left field off the bat of slugger Robinson Cano.
But Bradley has faltered since, hitting just .130 with seven strikeouts in 23 at-bats.
Daniel Nava's inspired play of late, along with the impending return of designated hitter David Ortiz, could have Bradley back in Triple-A getting regular at-bats and working to further refine his approach at the plate.
With Darwin Barney on the disabled list to start the season, Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum elected to go with the tandem of Alberto Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge to fill the hole.
Neither have filled the void, particularly Lillibridge.
After an 0-for-3 effort on Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers, Lillibridge is now hitless in 17 at-bats. Along with Gonzalez, the duo has hit for a combined .094 in Barney's absence.
To say that Sveum can't wait to get Barney back would be an understatement.
"You miss that defense and the lack of striking out," Sveum told Toni Ginnetti of the Chicago Sun-Times. "That defense is the best in baseball...There’s a calmness when he’s out there."
The Chicago White Sox made one free-agent signing of note this past offseason, signing infielder Jeff Keppinger to a three-year, $12 million contract.
The White Sox envisioned Keppinger as the solution to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. It was a clear area of weakness last year, with players who hit in the two-hole combining for a .221/.296/.354 slash line.
At this juncture, Keppinger hasn't even come close to that mark.
Through the team's first eight games, Keppinger has posted just a .133/.133/.133 mark.
However, a solid two-game swing can turn those marks around this early in the season. The White Sox are certainly hoping that Keppinger will find his comfort zone sometime soon.
The Cincinnati Reds have already had to deal with offense lost due to the injury left fielder Ryan Ludwick suffered last week.
They're also dealing with a complete lack of offense from behind the plate as well.
Starter Ryan Hanigan and backup catcher Devin Mesoraco have combined for a .065 average and just two RBI in the team's first nine games.
Hanigan has been a solid contributor through his career with the Reds, posting a .270 average and .365 on-base percentage. It's likely his current slump is a mere blip on the radar.
But Mesoraco has yet to show he can hit major-league pitching, with just a .202 average in 75 big-league games. The Reds may want to start thinking about other options if the current tandem continues along its disappointing path.
The Cleveland Indians have to have some measure of concern regarding second baseman Jason Kipnis.
Kipnis got off to a nice start last season, hitting .277 with 11 home runs. He tailed off considerably in the second half, hitting just .233 with three home runs.
This spring, Kipnis also struggled, hitting just .179 in Cactus League play. Those struggles have carried over, as he currently sports a .138 average and just two RBI.
The Indians and Kipnis ceased negotiations on a possible long-term contract before Opening Day, wanting to avoid distraction during the regular season.
Considering Kipnis' ongoing struggles, they may wait longer than that.
With southpaw Barry Zito on the mound for the San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton was not in the starting lineup on Wednesday.
Given his current batting average of .095, he may be benched more often than not in the future if he doesn't turn things around.
This could well be Helton's final MLB season after a stellar career that began back in 1997 and has resulted in a .319 lifetime average with 354 home runs to date.
It would be a shame to see that career end with a whimper rather than a bang.
With the Tigers still searching for answers as to who can step up in the ninth inning, the entire bullpen hasn't exactly been a beacon of light in the early going.
Relievers for the Tigers have thus far combined for a 6.41 ERA, currently second to last in the majors.
Not having that clear ninth-inning choice leaves just about everyone in the bullpen without a definitive role. A veteran corps that was supposed to be a strength has been anything but thus far.
I know it's early in the 2013 season—but seriously, an 81-percent strikeout rate?
That's what Houston Astros first baseman Brett Wallace has delivered through Wednesday.
Wallace is 1-for-21 (.048) with 17 strikeouts.
During Houston's 16-run, 22-hit barrage on Tuesday night against the Seattle Mariners, Wallace was 0-for-4 with—you guessed it—four strikeouts.
Greg Holland is still the closer for the Kansas City Royals, and he will likely remain in that position despite a rocky start.
Holland has given up four runs on five hits and six walks in three innings over four appearances, blowing a save last Saturday night and nearly blowing another game on Sunday.
Both of his saves have been shaky as well, as he left the bases loaded on Tuesday night in locking down a win over the Minnesota Twins.
Manager Ned Yost isn't terribly worried, telling Dick Kaegel of MLB.com that Holland's struggles will iron themselves out.
"He's just been kind of a slow starter; he was last year, too," Yost said. "Once he gets his feet underneath him, he's lights out. We'll adjust it out."
The Los Angeles Angels haven't learned anything from last year.
Another slow start has fans more than a little worried.
After Kevin Jepsen's meltdown in the seventh inning of Tuesday's home opener against the Oakland A's, followed by another bullpen collapse on Wednesday, the Angels now sit with a 2-6 record to start the season.
After last year's 6-14 start in the month of April, the last thing in the world the Angels wanted or needed was a repeat performance.
Manager Mike Scioscia may not be helping his own cause. In that fateful seventh inning on Tuesday, Scioscia elected to keep Jepsen in the game to face the left-handed-hitting John Jaso. Scioscia had lefty Sean Burnett in the bullpen, but Burnett wasn't even warming up at the time.
Jaso promptly deposited a Jepsen fastball into the right-field seats for a go-ahead three-run homer.
Jepsen would give up another homer to left-handed hitter Brandon Moss as well.
Scioscia said after the game that Burnett wasn't going to work until the eighth inning.
“He had a blister two days ago on his throwing hand,” Scioscia told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. “I think he had an inning in him, but if he had to throw 30-35 pitches, that wasn’t going to happen. We felt Jepsen could get us out of that inning, but it went the other way.”
Burnett, however, disputed that claim.
“I was 100 percent tonight,” Burnett said. “It was that one day in Texas. It’s fine now. The nail came off my middle finger a little bit. It wasn’t really a blister. It was a one-day thing. It happens every now and then with me.”
It seems that communication is all of a sudden an issue. If Burnett indeed was okay, why wouldn't he have been brought in to face Jaso?
If the Angels want to avoid what happened last year, they need to deviate from a set plan every now and then. Holding Burnett until the eighth inning on Tuesday certainly did nothing to avoid extending the Angels' slow start.
Luis Cruz was finally given a shot at regular playing time last year at the age of 28 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He took advantage of the opportunity, hitting .297 with six home runs and 40 RBI in 78 games.
Penciled in as the starter at third base this season, Cruz seemed destined for another productive year after hitting .286 with four home runs and 11 RBI during spring training.
However, the start of the season for Cruz has been anything but productive.
Entering Wednesday, Cruz was hitless in 17 at-bats. He collected his first two hits of the season in the Dodgers' win over the San Diego Padres.
It's certainly early, but the Dodgers won't have a whole lot of patience if the early-season slump continues.
As a team, the Miami Marlins have started slowly offensively, scoring just 16 runs in nine games and posting a .217 batting average, third worst in the majors.
Their biggest offensive weapon has also been punch-less thus far.
Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is hitting just .167 with no homers and no RBI.
The Marlins' season promised to be long with a patchwork lineup. It could be a lot longer if Stanton keeps up his lack of production.
Milwaukee Brewers reliever John Axford put together a magical season in 2011, posting 46 saves with a 1.95 ERA. His efforts were a contributing factor in the Brewers' run to the postseason.
Axford had some struggles last year in posting 35 saves with a 4.67 ERA. Nonetheless, the closer's role was safely his entering the 2013 season.
Axford was temporarily relieved of his closing duties two days ago, replaced for now by Jim Henderson. A day after that decision was made, Axford again imploded, loading the bases in the eighth inning on Tuesday against the Chicago Cubs. Axford was relieved by Alfredo Figaro, who proceeded to allow all three runners to score.
The effort—or lack thereof—raised Axford's ERA to a whopping 24.30.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke clearly wants Axford back in that role, but it's simply up to Axford to deliver (via Adam McCalvy of MLB.com):
I told him that I want him to be our closer. How we think is the best way to get him back in that role is pretty much what we did with him last year—put him back in wherever it's going to be: sixth [inning], seventh, maybe eighth, and let him get his stuff back.
Once he gets his stuff back, we'd like him back in that role.
Roenicke said "once" Axford gets his stuff back. His optimism is nice, but Axford can't get anyone out right now. It could be more of a question than a promise at this point.
Minnesota Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks was given a rest on Tuesday night against the Kansas City Royals, replaced by Darin Mastroianni in the starting lineup.
The rest didn't help—Hicks was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in Wednesday's loss to the Royals.
Considering Hicks' dreadful start to his major-league career, it's understandable.
However, Hicks has started the season with just two hits in 35 at-bats (.057) with 16 strikeouts.
The Twins seem convinced that Hicks is their long-term solution in center field. How much longer the Twins will stick with Hicks remains to be seen, but at some point the patience will wear thin.
The New York Mets have pitched surprisingly well in the early going, posting a 3.53 ERA in their first nine games, good for third best in the National League.
However, starter Dillon Gee has already seen his share of struggles.
In two starts, Gee has allowed eight runs on 13 hits in 9.1 innings, absorbing two of the Mets' three losses to date.
With Johan Santana gone for the season and R.A. Dickey now with Toronto, Gee will be expected to take on an important role in the middle of the rotation. Thus far, he's finding it difficult to settle in.
The New York Yankees started the season behind the eight ball, as the majority of their stars were already on the disabled list. They're relying on others to pick up the slack.
Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki has struggled to deliver in the early going.
Suzuki is hitting just .185 through the first eight games. While that's not really cause for concern, it's certainly not what the Yankees were hoping for.
When Curtis Granderson returns from a broken forearm in a few weeks, he will likely push Brett Gardner back to left field.
With Vernon Wells off to a hot start, manager Joe Girardi could be inclined to move Wells to right to keep his bat in the lineup.
Suzuki will get playing time, but if he can't pick it up, that playing time will surely be more limited.
The Oakland A's are off to a 7-2 start and sitting atop the AL West division. It's a spot where many envisioned they would be for much of the season—or at least somewhere near the top.
They've gotten there without much production from right fielder Josh Reddick.
Reddick is hitting just .125 with one home run in seven games. Considering the numbers he put up last season, especially in the early part of the season, it's certainly a bit of a disappointment.
There's nothing disappointing about his beard, though. That is spectacular.
Roy Halladay may be the biggest enigma in the game right now.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner has struggled mightily, allowing 12 runs on 12 hits in just 7.1 innings.
Halladay's fastball is coming in at under 90 mph for the first time in his career and his signature cutter is being hammered as well.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told Jayson Stark of ESPN.com that the team will give Halladay as much time as he needs to figure things out.
"As much as he needs. He's Roy Halladay. He'll figure it out," Amaro said.
But what about what the Phillies need?
A line has to be drawn somewhere, and at some point Amaro's hand will be forced.
The Pittsburgh Pirates added Russell Martin to inject some pop into their lineup this offseason.
They have yet to even get a glancing blow.
Martin is hitting .043 to start the season (1-for-23). It could be that he's pressing to try to impress his new team, much like Albert Pujols last year with the Los Angeles Angels.
To be fair, Martin isn't the only one struggling. The Pirates are hitting a pathetic .153 as a team. But Martin was the one given the big bucks—at least for Pittsburgh, that is.
The San Diego Padres are 2-6 to start the season, with only one of their wins attributed to the starting rotation. In fact, only Jason Marquis has given the Padres a quality start thus far.
With a 6.34 ERA from the rotation, the Padres are putting themselves on the ropes quickly and relying way too heavily on the bullpen.
If they're unable to put together a string of quality starts soon, manager Bud Black and GM Josh Byrnes will struggle to keep fresh arms available.
After a productive 2012 campaign, San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt appeared to be emerging as a bright young offensive star.
Belt had a torrid spring as well, hitting a robust .410 and leading the Giants with eight home runs and 19 RBI during Cactus League play.
His play through the team's first seven games has been anything but torrid.
Belt was hitting just .091 before collecting two hits on Wednesday to raise his average to .148. He has yet to homer or even drive in a run.
Again—and this point has been stressed more than once—it's way too early to jump to any conclusions. It's certainly hoped that Belt can turn things around, and Wednesday could have been just the impetus he needed to do exactly that.
Brandon Maurer could have been forgiven for his debut performance on April 4 against the Oakland A's when he gave up six runs in six innings to take the loss.
But in matching up against the hapless Houston Astros on Tuesday, Maurer couldn't even get out of the first inning.
Maurer faced 10 batters, giving up six runs on seven hits and a walk before finally being replaced by Kameron Loe.
Maurer's next scheduled start is against the Texas Rangers on Sunday, although the Mariners have yet to publicly commit to him starting that game.
The St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen was given a break on Wednesday when starting pitcher Jake Westbrook threw a five-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds.
Considering the woes of the bullpen thus far, it needed the rest.
Cardinals relievers have combined for a 5.90 ERA with two losses and three blown saves this spring. What was considered a strength has been a downer thus far.
The news that closer Jason Motte could be lost for the season with a torn ligament in his elbow certainly doesn't help.
New Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar arrived in town to give his team a steady presence, something the Rays haven't been used to seeing at the position in the last few years.
He's giving them that presence, but the bat hasn't shown up.
Escobar is hitting just .100 (3-for-30) through nine games. The Rays as a whole are hitting just .227, so Escobar absolutely can't shoulder all the blame for the team's offensive woes.
But something above the Mendoza line would be nice.
At least there appears to be a reason why Texas Rangers starting pitcher Matt Harrison pitched like garbage to start the season.
Harrison, who posted an ugly 8.44 ERA in two starts, was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday with lower-back pain.
It's certainly a blow for the Rangers, who already suffer from a lack of depth in the rotation. Colby Lewis isn't expected back until June, Neftali Feliz is out until at least the All-Star break and Martin Perez is still nursing a broken forearm.
The Rangers' bats had better stay hot at this point.
Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind appeared to be making inroads last season with his swing.
Sent down to Triple-A after an awful start to the season, Lind rebounded to hit .304 in the second half.
However, his start to the 2013 season suggests regression again.
Lind is hitting just .105 thus far. He was replaced in Wednesday's game against the Detroit Tigers by Mark DeRosa, who delivered a key two-run double in the Blue Jays' comeback win.
The struggles last year were believed to have been solved.
After play on Wednesday, the Washington Nationals were sitting in second place in the NL East division with a 6-2 record. Their starting rotation, save for Dan Haren, has largely delivered.
The same can't be said so far for the bullpen.
The Nationals' 5.76 bullpen ERA ranks 24th in the majors. While it's managed two victories, it's also blown two saves and allowed a .280 batting average against.
For a bullpen that was considered to be one the strongest units in the National League, it hasn't quite lived up to that billing in the early going.
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.