The Biggest Pain Point for Every MLB Team This Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMay 14, 2021

The Biggest Pain Point for Every MLB Team This Season

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers are suddenly less than the sum of their parts.
    The Los Angeles Dodgers are suddenly less than the sum of their parts.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Every team in Major League Baseball has its problems, and they range from relatively minor to downright painful. 

    This is a list about the latter.

    We've specifically highlighted each MLB team's most frustrating weakness. These mostly involve underperforming and generally problematic aspects of teams' offenses or pitching staffs. Others concern individual players, and there's also one manager who doesn't look at all cut out for his job.

    We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.

American League East

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    Franchy Cordero
    Franchy CorderoJeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: Ryan Mountcastle Has Killed His Own Buzz

    This is another rebuilding year for the Orioles, so it's hardly an outrage that they're five games under .500. And with ace John Means and center fielder Cedric Mullins both having stellar years, it's also not as if they're devoid of watchable players.

    Yet it's disappointing that Ryan Mountcastle isn't also among that group. The 24-year-old hit .333 with five homers in 35 games last year but is thus far hitting just .218 with 42 strikeouts in 36 games this year. If he doesn't warm up soon, the rookie might benefit from a confidence-boosting excursion to Triple-A.

           

    Boston Red Sox: Franchy Cordero Is Not Andrew Benintendi

    At first glance, the Red Sox didn't have the worst idea when they shipped Andrew Benintendi to the Kansas City Royals in a deal that netted them Franchy Cordero. The former needed a change of scenery, while the latter had plenty of upside by way of his power and speed.

    In 30 games, however, Cordero has fallen flat by going 12-for-80 with zero homers. Benintendi, meanwhile, started cold but has since rediscovered some of his pre-2019 magic by hitting .373 over his last 18 games. Even though they're in first place, the Red Sox could use a guy like that in left field.

         

    New York Yankees: You've Gotta Be Shifting Me with This Hitting

    The Yankees were four games under .500 as recently as April 26, but they've since come around as their pitching has solidified behind ace Gerrit Cole. Yet in spite of its 48 home runs, they're still waiting on their offense to truly find its stride.

    There's no one reason why the Yankees are hitting just .220 as a team. But if it feels like they've been uniquely inept against defensive shifts, that's because they're hitting an MLB-worst .227 against them. That's simply too many hits going uncollected.

         

    Tampa Bay Rays: Middle-of-the-Order Hitters Wanted

    The Rays are hanging in the AL East race, but it'll be hard for them to climb the ladder if they don't start getting more from their offense. So far, it's hit just .219/.300/.366 with an average of 4.2 runs per game.

    What's more, this isn't exactly the supporting cast's fault. The Rays have gotten just a .212/.298/.323 line and an MLB-low 12 home runs from the Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 spots in their lineup. Those guys—especially you, Brandon Lowe—need to do better.

              

    Toronto Blue Jays: Danny Jansen Has Been Hard to Watch

    The Blue Jays are watching Vladimir Guerrero Jr. evolve into one of baseball's great hitters in addition to getting good stuff out of Bo Bichette, Marcus Semien, Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk. There's also more surely to come from Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and, when healthy, George Springer.

    But on days when Danny Jansen starts—and there have been 21 of those so far—the Jays have had an offensive black hole at catcher. He teased a breakout with home runs on three consecutive days (May 6-8) but is now back to slumping and just 8-for-75 on the season.

American League Central

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    Tony La Russa
    Tony La RussaAaron Doster/Associated Press

    Chicago White Sox: Tony La Russa Is Getting in the Way

    At 22-13, the White Sox are pretty good. But according to their 24-11 Pythagorean record—which is based on runs scored and runs allowed—they ought to be even better. Such discrepancies can be a sign that the team in question is being held back by its manager.

    Which is not an unfair assessment in this case. This is Tony La Russa's first year back in the dugout since 2011, and it's been marred by a handful of follies that reportedly (see here and here) have patience in the team's clubhouse wearing thin. No doubt many of the club's fans are also at the end of their own wits.

         

    Cleveland: Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes Can't Do Everything

    Life after Francisco Lindor isn't turning out to be a total disaster for Cleveland. It's solidly above .500 at 21-14, largely thanks to a pitching staff with a 3.34 ERA and plenty of firepower from Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes. Combined, the two sluggers boast an .898 OPS and 20 home runs.

    Apart from those two, however, Cleveland's offense has been a near-total embarrassment. It ranks 29th with a .208 average and likewise for its .283 on-base percentage. Particularly including Cesar Hernandez and Eddie Rosario, there are numerous guys that Cleveland needs to do better.

        

    Detroit Tigers: Rebuilds Aren't Supposed to Take This Long

    It's doubtful that anyone had high hopes for the Tigers in 2021, but it wasn't unreasonable to ask for some kind of step forward. This is, after all, the fifth year of a rebuild that began in earnest with the trades of J.D. Martinez and Justins Verlander and Upton in 2017.

    Instead, the Tigers are 13-24 with a minus-64 run differential. That's in part due to less-than-inspiring returns from building blocks such as hurlers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. It's therefore understandable that the locals are growing restless (see here and here) with general manager Al Avila.

          

    Kansas City Royals: What's Up with Brad Keller and Hunter Dozier?

    As recently as May 1, the Royals were seven games over .500 and comfortably in first place in the AL Central. But because there was an air of unsustainability to their early success, it's not the biggest shock that they've since been humbled by an 11-game losing streak.

    The Royals also have some individual stragglers to worry about, including purported ace Brad Keller and third baseman Hunter Dozier. Keller has an ugly 7.31 ERA through seven starts. And after signing an extension in March, Dozier is hitting just .140 overall and mired in a seven-game hitless streak.

          

    Minnesota Twins: They're Actually Good...In 9-Inning Games Decided By 2 or More Runs

    The Twins' 12-23 record obviously isn't much to look at, but there are silver linings. For one, they've almost certainly underachieved. For two, they're 12-12 in good, ol' fashioned nine-inning games.

    Unfortunately, the Twins are also 0-4 in seven-inning games—i.e., they've lost both of their doubleheaders—and 0-7 in extra-inning games. They're also just 3-7 in one-run games. So if a game is close or unbound by regulation length, they've had an uncannily high probability of losing.

American League West

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    Elvis Andrus
    Elvis AndrusTommy Gilligan/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: High-Leverage Relievers Wanted

    With 194 runs scored to just 149 runs allowed, the Astros are likely better than their 21-17 record. This makes it fair to wonder if manager Dusty Baker is holding them back in any way, specifically to the extent that he could be making better maneuvers with his bullpen.

    But since Houston's bullpen has never looked very strong, it's not all Baker's fault that his relievers have negatively affected the club's win probability in spite of their respectable 3.81 ERA. He at least shares said fault with the Astros front office, which should be scouring the trade market for help.

            

    Los Angeles Angels: Albert Pujols Wasn't Their Biggest Problem

    As of last Thursday, Albert Pujols' tenure with the Angels is over. It was reportedly an ugly separation, yet it's hard to argue that the future Hall of Famer's departure won't be addition by subtraction. Per his minus-1.9 rWAR, he's easily been baseball's worst everyday player since 2017.

    Pujols' release hardly gives the Angels a clean slate when it comes to deficiencies on the field, though. A much bigger problem this year has been a rotation that's gotten a 5.60 ERA out of starters not named Shohei Ohtani. Only by fixing that will the team avoid extending its six-year playoff drought.

            

    Oakland Athletics: There Has to Be Another Way at Shortstop

    The A's got off to a brutal start by losing their first six games. But largely courtesy of a 13-game winning streak between April 9 and 24, they've risen to the top of the AL West by winning 23 of their last 33 games.

    Not bad for a team that doesn't even have a functional shortstop. Elvis Andrus is manning the position on a daily basis, sure, but he's hitting just .177 and almost solely responsible for the minus-1.0 rWAR the A's have gotten out of the position. It's arguably the single biggest positional weakness in the league. 

         

    Seattle Mariners: Their Offense? It's Bad.

    The Mariners may only be two games below .500, but they almost certainly deserve worse based on their minus-25 run differential. And let's just say it's a good thing that top prospect Jarred Kelenic is now on the scene, because, man oh man, do the Mariners ever need an offensive boost.

    They rank dead last with a .201 batting average, and next to that are just .280 and .360 marks for on-base and slugging, respectively. Such things point to all the dead weight on their roster, as they're the only team with as many as seven guys who are hitting in the .100s through 70 or more plate appearances.

         

    Texas Rangers: Starters Not Named Kyle Gibson Are Having a Hard Time

    At 18-21, the Rangers aren't quite having a good year. Yet they are having a better year than they were expected to, and it would be even better if they weren't curiously 0-5 in interleague play.

    But even if the Rangers can get off that particular schneid, they'll still have at least one significant problem. Though ace Kyle Gibson is shining with a 2.28 ERA through eight outings, Texas' other starters bear an ugly 5.10 ERA with 30 home runs allowed in 157 innings. That's not going to cut it.

National League East

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    Francisco Lindor
    Francisco LindorFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Atlanta: Starting Pitching Wasn't Supposed to Be a Problem Again

    Despite the best efforts of Max Fried and Ian Anderson, starting pitching was a major issue for Atlanta in 2020 as its rotation racked up an NL-worst 5.51 ERA. Next to that, the 4.48 ERA that Atlanta starters have in 2021 looks like significant progress.

    Yet newcomers Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly have flopped, while Fried has regressed. And overall, Atlanta's starters have a major home run problem. The big picture is thus one of continued disappointment, and it doesn't help that Mike Soroka's comeback from a torn Achilles has hit a bump.

         

    Miami Marlins: Can't Anyone Hit Cleanup?

    Because they've scored 14 more runs than they've allowed, the Marlins deserve better than their 17-20 record. They just need to start winning one-run games, in which they've thus far dropped eight of 11.

    It wouldn't hurt if their cleanup hitters started producing, either. It's arguably the most important spot in the lineup, yet Miami has gotten an NL-worst .567 OPS and just four home runs out of it. That's mostly the fault of Adam Duvall, who's once again undercutting his power with a sub-.300 on-base percentage.

         

    New York Mets: Where's the Power?

    In spite of their 18-13 record and first-place standing in the NL East, it's hard to ignore the sense of disappointment that hangs over the Mets. They're winning games, sure, but their modest plus-four run differential captures how they've operated with a razor-thin margin for error.

    Of all the explanations for that, none looms as large as the club's power outage. It ranks dead last in MLB in isolated power, which measures extra bases per at-bat. That number will probably only go up if Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith warm up with the weather.

            

    Philadelphia Phillies: The Bullpen Is Still Shaky

    The Phillies have yet to be more than a couple of games over the .500 mark. However, they're sustaining as a winner with help from their core stars and, more recently, much greater stability in center field since Odubel Herrera took over.

    Yet the team's relief corps remains suspect. Mainly thanks to Hector Neris and Sam Coonrod, things are better than they were in 2020 when Phillies relievers racked up a 7.06 ERA. Yet the Phillies pen also features four regular relievers with ERAs north of 5.00, and overall it's in the red for win probability added.

        

    Washington Nationals: Their Starters Are Throwing Too Many Gopherballs

    It was only two years ago that the Nationals were World Series champions, but it's looking now like their 26-34 record in 2020 was just the start of their fall from grace. At 14-19, they're on pace to lose 93 games.

    If there's a potential turnaround here, it hopefully involves the club's starters keeping the ball on the safe side of the fence. They've thus far served up an MLB-high 1.78 home runs per nine innings, including 18 in just 82.2 innings from aces Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.

National League Central

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    Christian Yelich
    Christian YelichLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez's Errors, and Other Defensive Quagmires

    A couple of weeks ago, the Cubs offense was the team's biggest shortcoming. But it's been coming around with an output of 5.1 runs per game since April 29, and the rotation has since followed suit with a 3.62 ERA in May.

    Now, the Cubs need their defense to show up. Thanks to shortstop Javier Baez's MLB-leading nine errors, Chicago's fielding has suffered a collective decline just a year after the club netted not one, not two, not three, but seven Gold Glove finalists—including Baez, who went on to win.

         

    Cincinnati Reds: Their Bullpen Just Plain Stinks

    The Reds have had plenty of ups and downs since they opened eyes with a six-game winning streak between April 3 and 9. Whereas the ups have generally stemmed from their star-centric offense or top-heavy rotation, too many of the downs have come courtesy of their bullpen.

    Reds relievers are second-to-last in the NL with a 5.44 ERA. This isn't really any one player's fault, as they're the only team in the National League with as many as six relievers who've posted an ERA over 4.00 in 10 or more appearances.

         

    Milwaukee Brewers: There Is No 'That Guy' in Their Lineup Right Now

    The Brewers are hanging in the NL Central race with a 20-18 record even without much literally any help from an offense that's second from the bottom of MLB with an 81 OPS+. As such, it follows that they'll be that much more dangerous if they ever get some offense going.

    But how? Kolten Wong and Omar Narvaez are Milwaukee's only regulars with an OPS+ north of 100, which goes to show just how badly they need somebody to start carrying them. That will hopefully be 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, but that'll ultimately hinge on the health of his achy, breaky back.

          

    Pittsburgh Pirates: It's Getting Harder to Believe in Mitch Keller

    With 37 games ticked off their schedule so far, the Pirates are already just four wins shy of matching their win total from last year's 60-game season. And that's without star rookie Ke'Bryan Hayes for all but two games, so it's fair to say that their rebuild is progressing well.

    One catch, though, is that Mitch Keller is still struggling to break out with a 7.81 ERA through seven starts. That brings his career ERA up to 6.38, with 14 home runs and 51 walks allowed in 97.1 innings. It's nice that he's still only 25, but the Pirates need the former top prospect to start producing results.

           

    St. Louis Cardinals: Their Relievers Are Mostly Good...Apart from the Walks

    At 23-15 and in first place in the NL Central, the Cardinals aren't exactly in a position to complain. And especially now that Paul Goldschmidt is coming around in the month of May, their immediate future looks about as bright as their immediate past.

    Still, a suspicious eye should be cast on their bullpen's seemingly solid 3.94 ERA. It's good that St. Louis relievers have allowed only 0.5 home runs per nine innings, but bad that they also rank 29th with a rate of 5.54 walks per nine innings. If that number doesn't come down, it's bound to bite the Cardinals.

National League West

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    Manny Machado
    Manny MachadoKyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: Yet Another Team with a Bad Bullpen

    The Diamondbacks are four games under .500, but with only a minus-nine run differential. And with Madison Bumgarner suddenly unhittable and star center fielder Ketel Marte on his way back from a hamstring strain, things are looking up.

    Yet the team's bullpen is an ever-present threat. Though its 5.10 ERA isn't the worst in baseball, it is largely responsible for the league-high 5.46 ERA the club has generated between the seventh and ninth innings. Such is life when a team lacks even one reliable high-leverage reliever.

         

    Colorado Rockies: The Road Hasn't Been Kind to Them

    The Rockies are tough when opponents have to play them in their backyard. In 22 games at Coors Field, they're 12-10 with a plus-16 run differential.

    But when the Rockies have to hit the road, they're...well, bad. Very, very bad. With just two wins in their first 16 road games, they're on an early pace for the worst road record of all time. Correcting that is ultimately up to an offense that's hit just .224 with nine home runs away from Coors Field.

          

    Los Angeles Dodgers: Suddenly, They Can't Win the Close Ones

    After losing just two of their first 15 games, the Dodgers have rapidly regressed to the mean by winning only seven of their last 22 contests. Yet lest Dodgers fans go into a full-on panic, one silver lining is that the defending World Series champs have only been outscored by one run in this span.

    Of course, this also points to the club's frustratingly poor performance in one-run games. They've already lost 10 of those after incurring only five losses in one-run games throughout 2020. Though they have everything they need to be better in close contests, it all comes down to execution.

          

    San Diego Padres: The Middle of Their Order Needs a Power Boost

    In spite of their frequent use of the injured list—up to and including for COVID-19 purposes regarding Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wil Myers—the Padres are staying alive in the NL West by way of a 21-17 record. If and when they're finally fully healthy, they figure to be dangerous.

    In the meantime, they badly need more power from the middle of their lineup. Spots 3 through 6 have produced only 13 home runs, which is tied for last in the National League with the Mets. They specifically need more from Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer, who have only nine homers between them.

            

    San Francisco Giants: High-Leverage Relief Is an Obvious Achilles Heel

    There's been no bigger surprise in the National League to this point than the Giants. Initially deemed a likely also-ran behind the Dodgers and Padres, they've ascended to the top of the NL West with the help of a powerful offense and excellent starting rotation.

    The trouble is, the Giants have to hold their breath whenever the bullpen takes over. Its 4.09 ERA doesn't look so bad, but its negative win probability added is reflective of its issues in high leverage. For this problem, the Giants might not want to wait until the July 30 trade deadline to seek solutions.

               

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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