1 Word to Describe Every MLB Team 1 Week into 2021 Season

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IApril 8, 2021

1 Word to Describe Every MLB Team 1 Week into 2021 Season

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Baseball fans understand all too well that first impressions can often be deceptive. Still, enthusiasts undoubtedly have their opinions of their favorite team after the first week of the 2021 regular season.

    How would you summarize your club's performance? We thought we'd attempt that exercise by using one word to describe all 30 teams in the early stages. These descriptors are based on initial results as well as things like preseason expectations.

    Think of it as every team"s "elevator pitch" to fans one week in.

American League East

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: Whirlwind

    The Baltimore Orioles raced out of the gate by sweeping the Boston Red Sox. Left-hander John Means shined in the first game of the season, and the O's scored 11 runs in the series finale.

    But Baltimore ran into a buzzsaw in New York, at least early in the week. Jordan Montgomery and Gerrit Cole kept the O's bats in check while the Yankees erupted for 14 runs through the first two games. Naturally, Baltimore won the series finale in extra innings on a play at the plate.


    Boston Red Sox: Frantic 

    The Red Sox scored just five runs in three games against the Orioles. They responded with 11 runs in a win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the series opener before rallying for an extra-innings victory Tuesday and blowing the Rays out on Wednesday.

    There have been downright bad elements. Garrett Richards was atrocious in his Red Sox debut. Bobby Dalbec and Rafael Devers are struggling. However, J.D. Martinez (2 HR, 11 RBI) is putting his lackluster 2020 season in the rearview mirror early.


    New York Yankees: Warming 

    The Bronx Bombers' bats are waking up after they scored just eight runs in a series loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Aaron Judge is getting hot. He had five hits, two homers and five RBI in the first two games of the Orioles series before sitting on Wednesday. DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez all had a pair of hits Wednesday night.

    Additionally, the bullpen has been terrific. Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa combined to give up just one hit and zero runs in 9.0 innings through the first five games. All three worked again in the series finale.


    Toronto Blue Jays: Odd

    The Toronto Blue Jays got out to a 3-3 start in spite of scoring just 20 runs through their first six games. That's pretty surprising, considering the offense would seem to be crucial to powering their success.

    Toronto's bats have hit a rough patch, mostly because the lineup has had a hard time with runners in scoring position. The Blue Jays were 0-for-4 in those situations Wednesday and scored just one run despite racking up nine hits.

    The arms have been solid, though. Steven Matz excelled in his Blue Jays debut, and the bullpen—for the most part—has been tremendous. It's unlikely many pegged relief depth as a strong suit early on.


    Tampa Bay Rays: Shaky

    Tampa Bay Rays fans might be lamenting the departures of pitchers Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. Tyler Glasnow has been terrific through his first couple of starts. But veteran arms Michael Wacha and Rich Hill struggled in their Rays debuts, and Ryan Yarbrough gave up six runs in 5.0 innings on Wednesday against the Red Sox. 

    The bullpen has been equally disappointing and suddenly appears to be lacking in quality depth, with Chris Mazza, Chris Archer and Collin McHugh all getting lit up. Nick Anderson's elbow injury might loom larger than initially anticipated.

American League Central

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Chicago White Sox: Pedestrian

    The Chicago White Sox have hardly been spectacular. In fact, they have been mediocre.

    The lineup is mashing left-handers again, much as it did last season. But it has had a tough time hitting right-handed pitching.

    Additionally, some of the bullpen arms—notably Evan Marshall and Matt Foster—have had shaky outings. That said, the young and talented group looks even deeper with Michael Kopech displaying dominant stuff in his return from Tommy John surgery.


    Cleveland: Frustrating

    Cleveland got quality starts from all of its first four starting pitchers. It won just one of those games.

    Manufacturing offense has been an issue for this club in recent years. That could well be the case again in 2021, as Cleveland has scored just four times outside a nine-run outburst against the Detroit Tigers on April 4 and needed a late, two-run homer by Jose Ramirez to beat the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday.


    Detroit Tigers: Fun

    Miguel Cabrera homered through the snow on Opening Day. Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo had two homers—including a grand slam—and a walk-off single in his first eight plate appearances. He also tripled on Wednesday. Meanwhile, youngsters Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize had strong starts in the rotation. 

    Even the Detroit Tigers' mishaps have been sort of fun, like this airmailed fastball from Gregory Soto.


    Kansas City Royals: Inconsistent

    The Kansas City Royals put up runs in bunches early. They scored 25 times in the first two games of the season against the Texas Rangers.

    Whit Merrifield already had three homers and nine RBI through four games. Newcomer Michael A. Taylor had two homers of his own (1.346 OPS) after a red-hot spring. 

    But Kansas City has scored just eight runs combined in its last three and managed just four hits against Cleveland on Wednesday. The starting group has also been inconsistent, as Brad Keller and Brady Singer had tough first outings while Danny Duffy and Jakob Junis provided more steadying performances.


    Minnesota Twins: Encouraging

    The Minnesota Twins were just 3-2 through the first five games but had a Pythagorean win-loss of 4-1 after scoring 33 runs and giving up 18.

    Nelson Cruz and Byron Buxton had three homers apiece. Luis Arraez and Andrelton Simmons are offering more contact-oriented approaches.

    More importantly, the Twins got strong outings from their starting group the first time through the order. Kenta Maeda had another good outing on Wednesday in Detroit.

American League West

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: Silencing

    Fans hoping to rattle the Houston Astros' cages will be disappointed.

    The 'Stros raced out to a 5-1 start. Stars Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are all showing signs of returning to form, with Yuli Gurriel starching the ball. Houston averaged 7.5 runs in its first six games, more than compensating for a rotation that looked somewhat lackluster the first time through.


    Los Angeles Angels: Intriguing

    The Los Angeles Angels will be one of the most interesting teams in baseball.

    Mike Trout is off to an MVP start. Shohei Ohtani has displayed his tremendous two-way capabilities. Youngsters like Jared Walsh could play pivotal roles in team success. The revamped bullpen looks solid early despite a poor start by Raisel Iglesias. But the starters have predictably struggled.

    The rotation arms likely hold the keys to the Halos' playoff potential in 2021. Can they get on track?


    Oakland Athletics: Brutal

    We'll avoid using "disastrous" since the season is in its nascent stages. But it has been a brutal start for the Oakland Athletics.

    Aside from getting swept by the Astros and losing six straight to open the year, Oakland ranked last in the AL in OPS and ERA. Of greater consequence is the potential loss of closer Trevor Rosenthal, who might need surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

    Perhaps Wednesday's comeback win against the Los Angeles Dodgers can inject some life into this team.


    Seattle Mariners: Familiar

    The Seattle Mariners ranked 11th in the AL in runs scored and 14th in OPS in 2020. Their bats are off to a rough start again in 2021, as the M's ranked 14th in the AL in OPS through five games. Strikeouts have been a plague.

    It should help to get Kyle Lewis back from a bone bruise in his right knee. Jarred Kelenic could provide a spark whenever the M's call him up. For now, however, it has been a struggle to scratch out runs, though perhaps the seven-run sixth inning against the White Sox on Wednesday can kickstart the offense.


    Texas Rangers: Stunning

    The 3-3 mark isn't all that stunning. But the Texas Rangers were fourth in the AL in OPS through five games, and newcomer Nate Lowe led MLB with 14 RBI. Texas pounded out eight more hits in Wednesday's win over the Blue Jays.

    The early offensive success is pretty astonishing considering Texas ranked last in the AL in both runs and OPS in 2020. Plus, Kyle Gibson had a tremendous outing (6 IP, 0 ER, 8K) after getting shelled in his season debut.

National League East

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    Atlanta Braves: Shocking

    Not only had the Atlanta Braves failed to win a game through their first four, but they also found just about every way to lose. 

    Offensive futility? Sure, considering Atlanta scored just three runs in three games in its first series against the Philadelphia Phillies. Extra-innings loss? Yep, that happened on Opening Day. The Braves recently blew a late lead to the Washington Nationals when the Nats scored a run in each of the final two frames.

    Atlanta is unlikely to remain in the cellar for long. But the offensive struggles (14th in the NL in runs and 13th in OPS prior to Wednesday) have been staggering, notably those of Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Marcell Ozuna.

    There was even a bit of a "shocking" element to the Braves' doubleheader sweep Wednesday. Max Fried gave up eight hits and five runs over just 2.0 innings in Game 1, and Pablo Sandoval, of all people, clubbed the go-ahead home run in Game 2.


    Miami Marlins: Regression

    The 2020 "Bottom Feeder" Miami Marlins were a nice story. But the 26-34 Pythagorean win-loss record suggested they got a bit lucky. 

    Said regression could already be happening. The young arms are still tremendous, with Sandy Alcantara in particular flashing brilliant stuff early. But the lineup has predictably been lacking, scoring just 19 runs and hitting just two homers in the first five games before being shut out Wednesday afternoon.


    New York Mets: Fireworks 

    The New York Mets had their first series canceled because of the Washington Nationals' COVID-19 issues. They finally opened the season this week against the Philadelphia Phillies, with all sorts of craziness ensuing.

    Jacob deGrom dominated the opener Monday, only for the Mets bullpen to give up five runs in the eighth inning. But it was New York's lineup that exploded Tuesday night, with a four-run seventh inning powering the Mets to their first win. However, New York never recovered after David Peterson gave up four runs in the first inning Wednesday against the Phils, falling to 1-2 on the year.


    Philadelphia Phillies: Promising

    Philadelphia Phillies fans should be immensely pleased with the team's early showings, especially because the rotation has looked terrific, and the bullpen—aside from Tuesday—has mostly held steady in the later innings.

    The bats showed signs of life with a four-run first inning Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, the trio of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin all were excellent in their first starts, with Chase Anderson also providing a quality start. Good pitching could be a boon for the Phillies given their offensive potential.


    Washington Nationals: Wild 

    The Washington Nationals had their first four games postponed because of COVID-19. They had a number of projected starters absent from the Opening Day roster.

    Max Scherzer gave up a homer on the first pitch of the season. He gave up another two batters later and conceded four total in his first three innings. Yet, the Nats rallied to tie Tuesday's game in the eighth inning before winning in walk-off fashion.

    After all that, Washington lost both games of Wednesday's doubleheader despite the fact Stephen Strasburg gave up just one hit over 6.0 innings in Game 2.

National League Central

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: Anemic

    The Chicago Cubs managed just two hits on Opening Day against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That has really set the tone for their season thus far.

    The Cubs came into Wednesday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers with the worst batting average in baseball and were subsequently no-hit through the first six innings by Brandon Woodruff.

    Chicago's offense has been boom-or-bust in past years. But the North Siders have been downright woeful at the dish thus far. 


    Cincinnati Reds: Feisty

    What other word could possibly be used to describe this Cincinnati Reds team?

    Nick Castellanos is playing with passion and yelling to the dugout after homers. Not to mention, he is also sparking benches-clearing scuffles. Then there's closer Amir Garrett, who channeled his inner Ric Flair in describing the charismatic personnel on Cincy's roster.

    It would hardly be a surprise if this hungry Reds squad mixed it up with opposing teams throughout the season.


    Milwaukee Brewers: Dearth

    The Milwaukee Brewers entered play Wednesday ranked last in the NL in OPS and 12th in runs scored.

    This is nothing new for Brewers fans. Milwaukee ranked 13th in the NL in OPS and 12th in runs scored in 2020. But the strikeouts are concerning. The Brewers led the NL in K's (fourth in the majors) through the first five games.

    Milwaukee beat the Cubs Wednesday thanks to a two-homer, four-RBI game from Lorenzo Cain. But there weren't many base runners save for Cain and Christian Yelich, and the Brewers also had 10 more strikeouts. The Brewers need to make more contact to scratch runs across.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: Cellar

    The Pittsburgh Pirates were the worst team in baseball in 2020. Early indications suggest they could hold that distinction again in 2021. 

    Pittsburgh had a minus-18 run differential through the first five games. Plus, NL Rookie of the Year candidate Ke'Bryan Hayes went on the injured list with a wrist injury.


    St. Louis Cardinals: Improved

    The St. Louis Cardinals have the look of a better team with Nolan Arenado in the lineup. The offense is churning out runs, and Dylan Carlson (3 HRs) is hitting the ball out of the yard early.

    Daniel Ponce de Leon had a strong first start. John Gant could be of vital importance in the starting group after spending most of the past couple of seasons in the bullpen. Most importantly, Jack Flaherty bounced back from his poor Opening Day performance. Speaking of the relief unit, Giovanny Gallegos has been dominant, and Alex Reyes looks comfortable as the closer. The middle innings, however, have been an issue.

    All in all, the Cardinals have had a commendable start.

National League West

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: Uninteresting

    The Arizona Diamondbacks have been about as "meh" as one might expect. The rotation is lacking without Zac Gallen (hairline forearm fracture), though Taylor Widener looked great against the San Diego Padres. 

    Similarly, the lineup has experienced its share of ups and downs. One inherent positive of note: Ketel Marte slashed .522/.560/.957 with a pair of homers in his first five games. But he might be on the shelf as well after suffering a leg injury Wednesday night.


    Colorado Rockies: Foreseeable

    Ryan McMahon with a three-homer game? That definitely wasn't in the cards. But a 1-4 record and a staff that ranked 13th in the NL in ERA through five games? That sounds more accurate for the Colorado Rockies.

    They are likely to struggle to get quality pitching performances throughout the season, particularly in the middle innings. The starter have been fairly strong, though, with Antonio Senzatela putting together a tremendous outing against the D-backs on Wednesday. 


    Los Angeles Dodgers: Champions

    The Los Angeles Dodgers were the favorite to repeat as World Series champions entering the season. Their first week was a showcase of their total talent.

    Mainstays like Max Muncy, Corey Seager and Justin Turner were raking early. But Will Smith was off to a terrific start, and Gavin Lux has had some great at-bats.

    There's also the fact that Julio Urias and Dustin May were both dominant in their respective debuts, which speaks to L.A.'s tremendous arm talent. Wednesday's loss was but a minor bump in the road; the Dodgers will be quite tough to beat.


    San Diego Padres: Steady

    The San Diego Padres started are 4-3. They also had to endure a Fernando Tatis Jr. injury scare, though the star shortstop will not need surgery on his shoulder.

    Realistically, though, the Friars have reason for optimism. Eric Hosmer, Jake Cronenworth Wil Myers are all off to fast starts. Manny Machado ranked in the 97th percentile in both average exit velocity and hard-hit rate prior to Wednesday, per Baseball Savant.

    Yu Darvish overpowered the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday. Both Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove displayed dominant strikeout stuff in their Padres debuts, with Snell producing another strong start Wednesday afternoon. The bullpen has also been excellent, resulting in San Diego leading the NL in ERA through six games.


    San Francisco Giants: Scapegoat

    The Giants offense has scuffled a little bit, but the pitching staff has held its own. Most of the pitching staff, at least. This is certainly not the case for right-handed reliever Matt Wisler.

    Wisler gave up three baserunners to start the eighth inning on Opening Day against the Seattle Mariners, which would see the M's rally from a five-run deficit. He later gave up a go-ahead, two-run homer to Victor Caratini in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Padres.

    A team is obviously the sum of all its parts. But it is hard to ignore the dubious role Wisler (32.40 ERA in four appearances) has played in some of the early losses.


    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, unless otherwise noted. Stats accurate prior to the start of play on April 7.