10 Nightmare Scenarios Already Becoming Reality for MLB Teams in 2013
April is the easiest month of the year in the baseball season to overreact to. All the stats are going to move up and down at a rapid-fire pace because players are just beginning to accrue at-bats and innings.
Last year, there was a panic about Albert Pujols because he went an entire month without hitting a home run and hitting like Luis Mendoza. He wound up finishing with 30 home runs and 105 RBI, not a bad season for a player who was done because of a poor April.
So even as we look at teams struggling out of the gate, you have to remember not to push the panic button. Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys, but the key is to limit the former and extend the latter.
With roughly 140 games remaining for all 30 teams, a lot of things can and will change over the next five months. But there are a few warning signals that some things might not go exactly as planned for some teams.
Here is a look at the clubs with at least one big concern coming into the year that appears to be coming true.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
No One in Washington Can Hit (Besides Bryce Harper)
Bryce Harper's Stats (21 Games)
.364/.443/.740, 5 2B, 8 HR, 16 RBI, 11 BB, 13 K
Rest of Washington's Offense (22 Games)
.225/.277/.373, 33 2B, 18 HR, 67 RBI, 52 BB, 152 K
The Nationals have built an interesting offense around a lot of guys who can hit the ball out of the park, but few guys who make enough contact to consistently drive them in and get on base.
Bryce Harper has been a man among boys in that lineup this year, which is saying something considering he is just 20 years old. He clearly looks more comfortable, and the adjustments he made at the end of last season have more than carried over to 2013.
But no one else in the lineup is doing much of anything. Denard Span has given them what they need at the top of the lineup with a .289 average and .379 on-base percentage, and Kurt Suzuki is off to a fast start with a .901 OPS.
Every other regular in the order has an on-base percentage of .311 or lower. Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list (again) with a strained hamstring. Adam LaRoche is hitting .159/.243/.317 with 24 strikeouts in 63 at-bats.
As good as Washington's starting rotation is, if you can't score runs, you can't win games. Eventually, some of these players will start to hit, but they have built a team that is going to swing and miss a lot.
Oh, by the way, the deep bullpen that earned praise in the offseason is ranked 23rd in ERA (4.41).
Cleveland's Pitching Woes Look Worse Than Expected
Cleveland Indians' Starting Pitching Stats
5-11, 5.56 ERA, 102.0 IP, 81 K, 49 BB, .252/.342/.463, 98 H, 19 HR
No one expected Cleveland to have a lot of pitching, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who figured it would be this bad. The only starting staff with a worse ERA is Houston's, which basically put together a Triple-A rotation in the midst of a full-blown rebuild.
Brett Myers, who is on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, has an ERA of 8.02 in four games. He has also allowed 10 home runs in 21.1 innings. To put that in perspective, no other starting pitcher has given up more than seven.
Yet somehow, some way, Myers has only been the second-worst starting pitcher on the Indians staff. Ubaldo Jimenez is lost, with seemingly no hope of recovery. His fastball velocity is down to 91.2 (h/t Fangraphs). He is walking 5.82 per nine innings pitched, and his ERA is up to 10.06.
Justin Masterson has been a shining light right now, with a 1.85 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched. But a regression is coming, because lefties have always given him problems (.290/.365/.430 in his career) and are only hitting .229/.325/.371 so far.
Scott Kazmir made one start and got 19 runs from the offense, yet he couldn't make it out of the fourth inning against the Houston Astros. Carlos Carrasco is one batter away from completely imploding, and he got hurt in a start at Triple-A Columbus when a liner hit him on the arm.
Trevor Bauer, acquired in the three-team deal with the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, made a spot start and walked seven in five innings.
Run prevention from the starting staff was always going to be an issue, but what we have seen so far is wretched. This could be another long season for the Indians if they don't find someone who can get outs at a reasonable rate.
The Dodgers Aren't Perfect
It's always fun to see the things that are said during spring training about all 30 teams. Narrowing it down to the Los Angeles Dodgers, we heard they had to trade a starting pitcher because there were too many bodies for five rotation spots.
We heard that all the money they spent over the last eight months was going to bring a new dynasty to the West Coast. We heard so many things, all of which could end up coming true, that seem foolish right now.
That rotation depth?
Well, Zack Greinke got in a fight with Carlos Quentin that left him with a broken collarbone. Chad Billingsley's elbow finally gave out and he needed Tommy John surgery. Chris Capuano is on the disabled list with a strained calf, not that he was pitching well before getting hurt.
All that money spent? Carl Crawford is hitting better in a small sample size than he ever did with Boston. Adrian Gonzalez is hitting well and getting on base, even though his home run power still seems to be missing.
Getting Matt Kemp going and a Hanley Ramirez return to health will make the Dodgers lineup much deeper than it is right now. They don't have great depth and punch as it is, so they need those two guys at the top of their game to score runs.
And with all those starting pitchers hurt, never has Clayton Kershaw been under more pressure to perform. He is so great that he can handle it. Hyun-jin Ryu is a deception pitcher who is succeeding right now, but let's see how he looks when he goes through the league two or three times before crowning him Rookie of the Year.
Money can do a lot of great things in baseball, but the Dodgers are proof positive that it doesn't buy you anything right away.
Toronto's New Team Looks Worse Than the Old One
Speaking of teams being crowned before a game is even played, the Toronto Blue Jays were supposed to take control of the wide-open American League East this year after appearing to fleece the Marlins for Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson.
But at the end of April, the Blue Jays own the fourth-worst record in the American League (just ahead of Houston, Seattle and Los Angeles), Jose Reyes is out for two more months and Josh Johnson has an ERA close to 7.00.
R.A. Dickey, last year's National League Cy Young winner, is finding life a bit more difficult in the AL East with a 4.66 ERA. Mark Buehrle has always had to walk such a tightrope to succeed, and he's starting to fall off with 37 hits allowed in 28.1 innings. Brandon Morrow has the stuff to be a dominant starter, but his command and consistency has never been there.
On the offensive side of things, Adam Lind is the only everyday player who has an on-base percentage higher than .310. Eventually, players like Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion will start to hit, but how big a hole will they dig themselves into before it's too late?
Tampa Bay Still Can't Hit
Tampa Bay's 2013 Offensive Rankings
Batting Average: .227 (22nd), OBP: .300 (25th), SLG: .368 (26th), RS: 81 (22nd)
I posed this question on Twitter a few weeks ago and bring it to you here now: At what point do we start to wonder about Tampa Bay's ability to develop hitters?
Evan Longoria is great when he is healthy. Ben Zobrist continues to be the most underappreciated star in baseball. But when you look at the lineup they run out there beyond those two players, it is not really fun to watch
Shelley Duncan has played in 19 games. Desmond Jennings and his .250 on-base percentage don't appear to be putting things together.
Who knew that James Loney and Sean Rodriguez would actually be competent with a bat in their hands, even if it's only for three weeks?
The pitching rotation is as good as there is in baseball despite David Price's 5.52 ERA. The bullpen will be fine, even if Fernando Rodney reverts back to the mediocre reliever he was two years ago instead of the Hall of Famer he looked like last year.
But until the Rays start hitting, it doesn't matter how well they pitch. There is hope on the horizon, as Wil Myers will eventually get called up from Triple-A, but one player does not cure the bigger problem.
What Happens to Baltimore's Dylan Bundy?
There are two things that no team wants to hear when it comes to a star pitcher: sore elbow and Dr. James Andrews.
Unfortunately, that is exactly the situation the Baltimore Orioles find themselves in with stud prospect Dylan Bundy, who has not pitched in a game since spring training with an elbow issue.
Things haven't gotten better for the 20-year-old with rest, so now, according to Buck Showalter (h/t Baltimore Sun), he will make the trek to Florida to visit Dr. Andrews.
Every team thinks that it has the answers for bringing a pitcher up through the minors. Some will let them throw however many innings they want until they reach a certain pitch count. Others, like the Orioles did last year, will tell a player he is only throwing so many innings in a start before getting pulled, regardless of how well he is throwing.
Bundy started last season just throwing three innings per start. Eventually, he moved up to four or five innings before getting shut down, then the Orioles made a push for the postseason last year and decided to bring him up down the stretch for a two-game trial.
This is a truly special talent who can anchor a rotation for a long time, and hopefully whatever happens with Dr. Andrews turns out to be minimal, but optimism is starting to wane the longer Bundy is out.
Los Angeles Angels Seek Pitching Help
Being able to score runs is a magical thing, especially when you have the likes of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in the middle of a lineup. Even if Pujols can barely walk due to plantar fasciitis, and Hamilton strikes out more than 25 percent of the time, Trout is still amazing to watch.
The Los Angeles Angels basically went into this season saying that they would have to bash their opponents into submission, because the rotation they put together after Jered Weaver was a huge concern.
Then Weaver goes down with a broken elbow on his non-throwing arm, and the pitching woes look even worse.
C.J. Wilson had to be great—not good—for the Angels to stay with Texas and Oakland in this division. Through four starts, the lefty has a respectable 4.13 ERA with a poor 18-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Joe Blanton has given up 38 hits in 20.2 innings. Tommy Hanson's stuff looks so mediocre that the bottom has to drop sooner rather than later. Jason Vargas has a 5.82 ERA and a 10-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Only Houston and Toronto have given up more runs than the Angels in the American League. Unless the offense just rakes the rest of the year, this is going to be yet another disappointing year in Los Angeles. You wonder what that might do for Mike Scioscia's job security.
Giancarlo Stanton's Power Outage
Everyone knew that the Miami Marlins were going to be bad when the season started, but to see that they are this bad right out of the gate is alarming. They are 5-18, the worst record in all of Major League Baseball.
But even more disturbing than the Marlins' record is the fact that their best player—and eventual trade chip—Giancarlo Stanton is off to a horrendous start. The power-hitting right fielder is hitting just .203/.320/.250 with three extra-base hits and no home runs.
Stanton has been dealing with a shoulder issue for the last couple of weeks that has undoubtedly played a huge part in his offensive struggles. But the only reason to watch the Marlins on a nightly basis—not including the days when Jose Fernandez starts, obviously—was Stanton.
At just 23 years old, Stanton has already established himself as one of the best players in baseball and arguably the preeminent power hitter in the game right now. His slugging percentage has gone from .507 in 2010 to .537 in 2011 to .608 last year. He hit 37 home runs in just 123 games in 2012.
Considering what the lineup looked like even with Stanton, having him off his game for even a few weeks is going to make them look, well, about the way they do right now.
Young Stars for the Cubs Having Issues
Anthony Rizzo's Stats
.200/.277/.506, 2 2B, 8 HR, 18 RBI, 7 BB, 26 K (85 AB)
Starlin Castro's Stats
.263/.286/.389, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 3 BB, 17 K (95 AB)
When you are a franchise in full-blown rebuild mode, you want to see the young cornerstone players already in the big leagues succeeding so that the next wave of prospects coming up can slide right into the mix.
The Cubs have a very talented young first baseman and shortstop in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, neither of whom has been able to capitalize on their past success.
In the case of Rizzo, he had a strong 87-game run last year when he hit 25 home runs with a .342 on-base percentage. Now, the 23-year-old appears to have reverted back to some of the qualities he had with San Diego that led to him being dealt to the Cubs. He is making a lot of weak contact most of the time, and his line-drive percentage has dropped by eight percent this year from where it was in 2012 (h/t Fangraphs).
For Castro, he is reaching a point where he is what he is. He can hit the lights out because he has excellent bat speed and plate coverage, but his inability to let the ball hit the catcher's mitt could make him so dependent on batting average that his on-base percentage is never very good.
Even Dale Sveum is (foolishly) threatening to send both players down to Triple-A if things don't improve. That wouldn't do anyone any good, because we know how good they can be in the minors. They have to adjust in the big leagues to reach their full potential.
Philadelphia Forgot How to Walk
If someone told you that Michael Young would have a .376 on-base percentage, Chase Utley was slugging .543 and Cliff Lee had already won two games, you would assume that Philadelphia was off to a hot start.
As good as Lee, Utley and Young have been through three weeks, no one else around them has really added anything. Ryan Howard is clearly a shell of his former self, hitting .284/.302/.432. Jimmy Rollins and Ben Revere have .305 and .242 on-base percentages, respectively. Domonic Brown, who had a strong spring and looked poised to at least be a starting outfielder, is hitting .243.
On the pitching side, Cole Hamels has been a little erratic early with a 5.40 ERA and 31 hits allowed in 31.2 innings, but I am not worried about him. Roy Halladay has given up just three runs with 14 strikeouts in his last 13 innings, though the stuff is still not where it needs to be, so I am skittish about him keeping up that pace.
But for the Phillies to win, the lineup has to come to life. They actually had a stretch of four games last week where they didn't take one walk, to which general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. acted like the most surprised person on earth even though he put this impatient, hacking group together.
Even though my expectations for the Phillies were low, for a number of reasons, based on what we have seen from them through three weeks, I may have overrated just how bad things will get as the season moves along.
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