Preseason MLB Playoff Contenders That Look Like Frauds 1 Month in
More than any other sport, preseason predictions in baseball are incredibly difficult to get right. Over the course of a 162-game regular season, anything can—and usually does—take place.
But those predictions sometimes help to set our expectations of both individual players and the teams that they play on.
Now, it's true that there's a lot of baseball yet to be played and that the standings at the end of the season are likely to look significantly different than they do right now. But after roughly one month of play, a number of squads that we pegged as contenders have looked like frauds, mediocre at best.
Here's a look at five teams that, so far, have failed to meet those expectations, forcing us to question what we were thinking a month ago.
Arizona Diamondbacks (8-19)
More than a few people took issue with my prediction of a 76-86 record and fourth-place finish in the NL West for the Arizona Diamondbacks at the beginning of spring training, and it would appear that those folks were right to do so.
One month into the regular season, it looks like that prediction was overly optimistic.
The Diamondbacks can't put runs on the board fast enough—and don't get on base frequently enough—to keep pace with the amount of damage that opposing lineups do to their starting rotation, which has put up some truly ugly numbers (6.32 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .295 BAA).
Thanks to some questionable moves by general manager Kevin Towers, the D-Backs no longer have the depth in their organization to make the kind of wholesale changes that the rotation needs.
The one potentially game-changing piece that the team does have left, 21-year-old Archie Bradley, is struggling badly at Triple-A (5 GS, 5.18 ERA, 1.56 WHIP). As Bradley explained to Bryant-Jon Anteola of the Fresno Bee, he's got a lot to learn before he's ready for prime time:
It's not like the lower levels when you could throw it by guys. Some of the guys here have been in the big leagues. They're a lot more patient. They make you work for it. When you do throw the fastball right down the zone, they don't miss it.
There's no silver-lining to be found in the clouds that sit over Chase Field, no knight on a white horse that is going to gallop into the clubhouse and make things better overnight.
It's going to be a long season in Arizona.
Cleveland Indians (11-13)
We wondered how the Cleveland Indians were going to replace the quality innings that Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir took with them to the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A's, respectively, as free agents and we've gotten our answer—they're not.
After Zach McAllister, Cleveland's rotation has been a mess:
Before his last outing, a complete-game shutout against the Kansas City Royals, Kluber had surrendered 14 earned runs over 23.1 innings of work (5.40 ERA). Meanwhile, Salazar, expected to be one of the youngsters that would step up and help replace the departed veterans, has been downright awful.
Things haven't gone swimmingly for the Tribe at the plate, either, with Carlos Santana (pictured) hitting only .128 with one home run, three RBI and a .518 OPS, the ninth-lowest mark among qualified players this season.
For all of their struggles, however, the Indians remain in the thick of things in the AL Central, trailing the first-place Detroit Tigers by less than three games.
If they can get their pitching in order—and Santana wakes up—all may not be lost.
Pittsburgh Pirates (10-15)
Despite sitting five games under .500, nearly nine games behind the juggernaut that has become the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and dropping nine of their last 12 games, the Pittsburgh Pirates have only allowed one more run (97) than they've scored on the season (96), leaving reason for optimism in the Steel City.
Of the team's first 25 games of the season, 12 have been decided by one run, with the Pirates breaking even in those games with a 6-6 record. Three others have been decided by only two runs, with the Pirates dropping all three of those.
The point is that Pittsburgh has been in more games than it's been blown out in, and with a bit more luck (a ground ball finds a hole in the infield, a line drive drops in between outfielders), its record could be drastically different than it currently is.
Production from multiple positions—first base, shortstop and right field—continues to be areas of concern, but the eventual promotion of stud right field prospect Gregory Polanco (pictured) could cut that list to two.
Seattle Mariners (9-14)
It was just over two weeks ago that the Seattle Mariners were the cream of the crop in the American League, sitting with a league-best 6-3 record, plus-18 run differential and sole ownership of first place in the AL West.
The Mariners then proceeded to drop 11 of their next 14 games (in which they were outscored by 27 runs, 67 to 40) and now have sole ownership of fourth place in the division, nearly six games off the lead.
At the end of spring training, I ranked Seattle's lineup as the 23rd-best in baseball, noting: "The Seattle Mariners lineup immediately improved this winter with the addition of Robinson Cano, but the team failed to add the other impact bats that it needed to really overhaul the lineup."
So far, that's proven to be the case. Cano has mustered only a .718 OPS, while spring training superstars Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller have contributed almost nothing to the cause, hitting a combined .199 with four home runs and 17 RBI.
The good news for Seattle, however, is that Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker will be back in the starting rotation before too long (Iwakuma before Walker), eventually joined by James Paxton. While their returns aren't going to help the team's lack of offense, they will help Seattle keep the opposition off of the scoreboard and give the team a chance to make up some ground in the division.
Tampa Bay Rays (11-13)
It's time for the always mysterious "Team X" to make its 2014 debut.
See if you can figure out which American League club's starting rotation has been equal to the group that calls Tropicana Field home so far in 2014:
"Team X" would be the Houston Astros. Yes, those Houston Astros, the perpetually rebuilding cellar-dwellers of the AL West.
For years, the talk in Tampa Bay has been about how the Rays have a seemingly never-ending supply of quality arms available to them, giving the team the depth necessary to fill holes in the rotation as they arise.
That theory has been severely tested thus far in 2014, with Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore all sidelined by injury, with Moore lost for the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Jake Odorizzi (pictured), one of the pieces that the Rays received from Kansas City in the trade that sent James Shields out of town before the 2013 season, has struggled mightily in trying to fill one of those holes (4 GS, 6.52 ERA, 1.71 WHIP), while veteran Erik Bedard (2 GS, 9.39 ERA, 2.22 WHIP) has been even worse.
The good news for the Rays is that Cobb and Hellickson will eventually return to action. Whether the team can keep pace with the rest of the AL East between now and then remains to be seen.
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