1 Reason for Every MLB Fanbase to Be Nervous Already

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 24, 2022

1 Reason for Every MLB Fanbase to Be Nervous Already

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    Arizona's Carson Kelly
    Arizona's Carson KellyNorm Hall/Getty Images

    The 2022 Major League Baseball season is roughly 10 percent complete, which is both a drop in the bucket and enough to identify early concerns.

    For some teamssuch as the unexpectedly above .500 Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Guardians and Oakland Athleticsit was hard to find any legitimate reason to worry. For most of the divisional basement-dwellers, it was tough to home in on just one major issue.

    But for all 30 teams, we pinpointed at least one semisignificant concern in the early going of the regular season.

    Teams are broken up by division and listed in alphabetical order within each division.


    Statistics accurate through the start of play Saturday.

AL East

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    Cedric Mullins
    Cedric MullinsAssociated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: Even Cedric Mullins Is Struggling

    No one expected the Orioles to compete in the loaded AL East, but we were at least looking forward to seeing what Cedric Mullins could do for an encore after joining Ronald Acuna Jr., Christian Yelich, Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez as the only members of the 30-30 club in the past nine seasons.

    Alas, even Baltimore's lone bright spot is on the struggle bus. Mullins was batting .182 with two home runs and one stolen base with a strikeout rate (26.2 percent) substantially higher than usual. Though, in fairness, it took him a little while to get rolling last year, too. His batting average was .346, but by April 25 of last season, he still had only one home run and two stolen bases. (Buy low if you can, fantasy owners.)


    Boston Red Sox: Except for Michael Wacha, the Starting Rotation Is a Hot Mess

    The Boston bullpen has been on fire. We still have no earthly idea what the long-term plan is at closer, but Garrett Whitlock, Phillips Valdez, Matt Strahm, Hansel Robles and Jake Diekman have given the Red Sox a combined 34.2 innings with 41 strikeouts and just two earned runs allowed.

    But there haven't been many leads for that quintet to protect, as Rich Hill, Nathan Eovaldi and especially Nick Pivetta have struggled to keep runners off base and balls in the yard. As far as FIP is concerned, Boston had the sixth-best rotation in the majors and the second-best in the American League. It is last in that category this year.


    New York Yankees: Gerrit Cole Ain't Right

    I'm not saying it has anything to do with Major League Baseball's crackdown on Spider Tack, but Gerrit Cole has not been the same since the end of June. And things have gone sideways in April. He had a 2.85 ERA and 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings from 2018 to 2021, but he's sitting at 6.35 and 9.5 through three starts.

    The good news is everyone else on the staff (except for setup reliever Jonathan Loaisiga) has been lights-out, particularly Nestor Cortes. So the Yankees are still a winning club. But it's far from promising that one of the highest-paid players in baseball (in just Year 3 of his nine-year deal) couldn't even make it through two innings without allowing multiple runs Tuesday.


    Tampa Bay Rays: 2021 Mike Zunino Is Nowhere to Be Found

    Batting average has certainly never been Mike Zunino's forte. Coming into this season, he was just barely above the Mendoza line in his career, at .202. But hitting .216 last year didn't stop him from mashing 33 home runs en route to the first All-Star nod of his career.

    But that version of Zunino has disappeared, as he is just 2-for-28 with 13 strikeouts and zero home runs. (At least backup catcher Francisco Mejia was picking up the slack before he tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, batting .348 with a team-best 10 RBI.)


    Toronto Blue Jays: Injuries Are Already Piling Up

    Both catcher Danny Jansen and right fielder Teoscar Hernandez are on the injured list with oblique strains, and former ace Hyun Jin Ryu made two disappointing starts (11 ER in 7.1 IP) before hitting the shelf with forearm inflammation.

    It's not a disaster just yet, but aside from George Springer's missing about half of last season, Toronto was fortunate in the injury department last year. And while the Blue Jays have managed a split or better in each series thus far, they can ill afford to play with less than a full deck for long, especially in this division.

AL Central

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    Jose Abreu
    Jose AbreuNam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Chicago White Sox: The Top Earners Have All Started Slow

    Chicago has seven players making eight figures this season. Neither Lance Lynn nor Yoan Moncada has played yet this season due to injury. AJ Pollock has played in just three games because of a hamstring injury. Jose Abreu is batting .205 with one home run. Yasmani Grandal has been considerably worse at .111 with one dinger. Dallas Keuchel got lit up for 10 runs in his last start. And even closer Liam Hendriks has already given up nearly as many runs (four) as he did in 2020 (six).

    The good news is the White Sox were in first place as recently as Wednesday, so they should be in business if and when that septet gets healthy / wakes up. But they just got swept by the Guardians and look nothing like the heavy favorites to win the division that they were to start the season.


    Cleveland Guardians: Is It Sustainable?

    Hard to find anything to complain about with Cleveland, which has a plus-22 run differential. Steven Kwan looks like the American League Rookie of the Year. Jose Ramirez is on pace for 249 RBI and is one of the top early candidates for the AL MVP Award. And Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac are in the mix for the AL Cy Young Award.

    But for all their early success, the Guardians are merely 7-6, and it's more than fair to wonder how things will play out when the inevitable regression to the mean comes to town. For the time being, though, this is perhaps the most entertaining team in the bigs.


    Detroit Tigers: The Entire Lineup Is Struggling

    There are 11 Tigers who have at least 22 plate appearances, and eight of them are hitting .226 or worse. Austin Meadows and Miguel Cabrera are holding their own, but Detroit is hitting .210 with six home runs through 12 games.

    Javier Baez's thumb injury just five games into the season has played a large part in the early woes. However, that doesn't explain why Jonathan Schoop, Jeimer Candelario and Akil Baddoo have all been gigantic holes in the lineup. And despite shutting out the Yankees on Thursday, Detroit isn't exactly built to win pitchers' duels on the regular.


    Kansas City Royals: See: Tigers, Detroit

    Through 12 games, the Royals have averaged a pathetic 2.7 runs. Salvador Perez is raking as well as he did last year with five home runs, but they have all been solo shots. And that's a product of Whit Merrifield, Carlos Santana, Adalberto Mondesi and even wunderkind Bobby Witt Jr. each batting below .160.

    This is nothing new for Kansas City, which would have ranked last in the AL in runs last year were it not for 102-loss Texas and 110-loss Baltimore. But at least last year's team hit .249. This year's bunch has been so disappointing that Brad Keller and Zack Greinke are still looking for their first wins despite a combined nine earned runs allowed in 33.2 innings.


    Minnesota Twins: Also Cannot Buy a Hit

    Minnesota invested a whole lot of money in Carlos Correa to come in and carry the offense back to its 2019 heights of setting an MLB record with 307 home runs and darn near leading the majors in runs. But the $35.1 million shortstop is batting .200 with three RBI. At least he's faring better than $9.3 million first baseman Miguel Sano, who is 3-for-39 with 14 strikeouts. (The lesser-paid regulars have also struggled mightily.)

    To add injury to insult, Byron Buxton lasted all of one week before hurting his knee on a slide into second base. He did return to the lineup Thursday after missing just five games, but not a promising start for a team whose hopes of competing are largely dependent on his staying healthy for once.

AL West

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    Anthony Rendon
    Anthony RendonAshley Landis/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: Wherefore Art Thou, Star Hitters?

    Suffice it to say, no one had second-year outfielder Chas McCormick and rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena pegged as Houston's best hitters two weeks into the season. But at least that duo has shown up, because Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker and Yuli Gurriel are a combined 17-for-120.

    Yordan Alvarez has three home runs, but he's only batting .172. Alex Bregman has fared a little better than the rest of the big names, but even he entered Friday with a worse OPS (.772) than he has ever had in a season. Just a bizarre power outage by the team that scored at least 120 more runs than everyone else in this division in 2021.


    Los Angeles Angels: Anthony Rendon Has Gotten Even Worse

    When he was with the Washington Nationals, we used to call Anthony Rendon "Tony Two Bags." From 2016 to 2019, the third baseman averaged 42 doubles and 70 extra-base hits per season. But after a disappointing, injury-riddled, career-worst 2021 campaign, Rendon has looked even more lost at the plate, managing just two extra-base hits through 47 plate appearances.

    At $36.6 million, Rendon is the third-highest paid player in the majors this season, trailing only Max Scherzer and Mike Trout. And when the Angels signed him to that huge contract, they expected much more than a .359 slugging percentage and .900 fielding percentage. It's still early, and he has historically been at his best during the summer months. Still, this has been tough to watch.


    Oakland Athletics: Team Is Actually Playing Well

    That's a super weird reason for a fanbase to worry, right? Hear me out.

    Oakland's 2022 payroll is $52.3 million, while the rest of the AL West is at $106.8M (Seattle), $147.0M (Texas), $175.7M (Houston) and $189.3M (Los Angeles). Fans are refusing to show up to games, but if the A's actually compete for the division crown while paying less than half of what the other teams are paying, the historically frugal front office might never sign a big-name free agent or long-term extension again. Fans are stuck between a rock and a hard place with wanting the team to be good but not wanting to reward the decision-makers for continually giving away valuable assets for pennies on the dollar.


    Seattle Mariners: Future of the Franchise Is Floundering

    Two of the most tantalizing prospects in baseball in recent years were Seattle's Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez. In January 2021, MLB.com had those members of the M's farm system at No. 4 and No. 5 in its prospect rankings.

    But it has been tough sledding. Kelenic hit .181 in 377 plate appearances last season and is sitting at .163 in 2022. And after hitting .347 with 13 home runs in the minors last year, Rodriguez has whiffed an MLB-worst 23 times with just six singles and two doubles to his credit. Got to hope those outfielders come around soon.


    Texas Rangers: Pitching Has Been a Nightmare

    The Rangers paid a pretty penny to land Corey Seager and Marcus Semien this offseason, giving them one of the most talented middle infields in the majors. But some lot of good it's doing with the pitching staff allowing nearly six runs per game.

    Per FanGraphs, Texas' starters have a collective 6.93 ERA and the worst home run rate in MLB by a country mile. A lot of that was Spencer Howard's giving up four blasts in just three innings before landing on the IL with a finger injury, but he's not exactly weighing down an otherwise solid group. Dane Dunning has been the Rangers' best starter, and he has a 5.68 ERA. Could be a long, long season in Arlington.

NL East

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    Charlie Morton
    Charlie MortonMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Atlanta Braves: Charlie Morton Might Be Approaching the End of the Line

    Charlie Morton is making $20 million this season, but he has delivered a 6.32 ERA. Maybe it's related to the broken leg he suffered in the World Series last year and he'll improve. Or maybe Father Time is the problem and the 38-year-old, who has pitched in each of the past five postseasons, is progressing into the denouement of his career.

    There's also a third possibility that everything is fine and he has just been unlucky in needing to pitch on the road against the Dodgers and Padres in two of his first three starts. That type of schedule could screw up anyone's ERA, so let's at least give Morton until Wednesday's home game against the Cubs before we consider throwing in the towel on this veteran.


    Miami Marlins: The Big Free Agents Have Disappointed

    The Marlins uncharacteristically made two big pickups this offseason, signing Avisail Garcia to a four-year, $53 million deal and Jorge Soler to a three-year, $36 million deal. Those two veterans make up nearly one-third of the team's 2022 payroll, and the hope was they could generate the offense necessary to support a young but solid starting rotation.

    Instead, Miami has paid big bucks for a whole lot of nothing. Garcia and Soler are a combined 15-for-87 (.172) with two home runs, three RBI and 27 strikeouts. After they racked up a combined 56 home runs and 156 RBI last year, these first couple of weeks have been a major letdown.


    New York Mets: Still No deGrom

    Surprisingly, the Mets have been no worse for wear without their two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, reaching double-digit wins before any other team. But if you're a fan, how could you possibly not be concerned about the complete unknown of Jacob deGrom's scapula injury?

    The latest from beat writer Anthony DiComo was that deGrom will get an MRI on Monday, after which he might be allowed to start throwing again. How long it will take him to ramp up remains to be seen, though it's hard to imagine the team will rush him back with Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, Tylor Megill and Chris Bassitt delivering quality innings on a regular basis.


    Philadelphia Phillies: The Starting Rotation Is Drastically Underperforming

    Before the season began, it seemed like Philadelphia might have one of the five best rotations in baseball. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler were well-established aces, Ranger Suarez was fresh off a sensational 2021 campaign, and Kyle Gibson and Zach Eflin have better-than-average stuff compared to most No. 4 and No. 5 starters.

    Things have not gone according to plan, though, with Nola, Wheeler and Eflin saddled with ERAs north of 5.00. Nola and Wheeler have been wild, with three hit batters each. Nola has also already allowed four home runs in just 14.2 innings. (At least new closer Corey Knebel has converted the three save opportunities that have come his way, so the Phillies might not need to worry about their bullpen as much as usual.)


    Washington Nationals: Juan Soto Is Rodney Dangerfield

    Even with the solid bats of Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell behind him in the lineup, Juan Soto don't get no respect. The keen-eyed right fielder led the majors in walks last season with 145, and he's the leader again this year with 16. Only one was an intentional walk, but it speaks volumes that his three RBI have come from solo home runs.

    Of even greater concern in the nation's capital: Still no sign of Stephen Strasburg, who has pitched just 26.2 innings in the past 30 months. Between his $35 million salary and the $15 million in deferred money going to Max Scherzer, that's a whole lot of cheddar going down the drain.

NL Central

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    Joey Votto
    Joey VottoGregory Bull/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: Even-Year Marcus Stroman Showed Back Up

    In odd-numbered years, Marcus Stroman has been pretty swell. He got AL Cy Young votes in 2017 with a 3.09 ERA, posted a 3.22 ERA and was named an All-Star for the first time in 2019 and had a career-best 3.02 ERA last season. But he struggled in 2016 and 2018, opted out of the 2020 season and has gotten shelled to the tune of an 8.78 ERA through three starts in 2022.

    The five-year, $85 million contract for Seiya Suzuki has worked out beautifully for the Cubs, but the three-year, $71 million deal for Stroman isn't yet returning the dividends they were hoping for.


    Cincinnati Reds: How Can I Pick Just One Reason to Worry?

    At 2-12, the Reds have been the worst team in the majors—by far. They have 11 players on the IL, and the ones who have stayed healthy haven't exactly thrived. Like, who ever thought we'd see the day when Joey Votto has four times as many strikeouts as walks?

    Even the one massive bright spot from the first two weeks presented concerns Friday night, as Hunter Greeneless than a week after setting an MLB record for pitches thrown over 100 mph in a single gamewas topping out at 97 and lasted just 66 pitches in a loss to the Cardinals. Here's hoping it was just an off night and the flamethrower isn't already dealing with arm fatigue or an injury.


    Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich Still Isn't Right

    In 2018 and 2019, Christian Yelich was as good as it gets. He won NL MVP in 2018 and was well on his way to going back-to-back until mid-September, when he fractured his kneecap on a foul ball. He won the batting title in both seasons.

    But these days, his on-base percentage is roughly what his batting average used to be, and his slugging percentage isn't much better. The Brewers used to be good because of him. Now, they're winning despite him, mostly because of quality pitching. We'll see how long that can continue with seven years and up to $176 million left on his contract after this season.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: Starting Rotation Is Dreadful

    Mitch Keller is 0-3 with a 6.23 ERA. On most teams, that would be considered a disastrous start. But for Pittsburgh, he has the second-best ERA among starting pitchers, as Bryse Wilson (6.35), JT Brubaker (7.30) and Zach Thompson (9.00) have been even worse.

    Of course, this is what happens when you incessantly trade any pitcher of value. Wild to think that just five years ago, the Pirates had Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon in their starting rotation. At least Ke'Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds are fun to watch.


    St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado Still Has an Opt-Out Available

    Nolan Arenado has been nothing short of awesome so far for the 8-4 Cardinals. He's batting .413 with five home runs and a 1.329 OPS that is almost unfathomable after more than two weeks of games. He's also still making impossible plays look routine at third base. If you had to pick an NL MVP today, you're looking at him.

    While that's great for St. Louis in 2022, it might hurt in the long run. This offseason, Arenado has the right to opt out of the final five years and $144 million left on his contract. And it's plenty reasonable to assume that the just-turned-31-year-old would fetch something in the vicinity of six years and $200 million on the open market if he continues playing this well.

NL West

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    Blake Treinen
    Blake TreinenDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: Terrible Offense Keeps Wasting Strong Pitching Performances

    Madison Bumgarner, Merrill Kelly, Zac Gallen, Tyler Gilbert and Humberto Castellanos have made a combined 10 starts. They have logged 47.0 innings in those games, allowing a grand total of five earned runs. That's a 0.96 ERA, if you're wondering.

    And what do those pitchers have to show for putting zeros on the scoreboard far more often than not? A 1-2 record, because this offense has scored all of 42 runs in 14 games. Designated hitter Seth Beer is the only player getting hits with any regularity. But try as we might, neither people nor the Diamondbacks can live on Beer alone.


    Colorado Rockies: Got to Go on the Road Eventually

    Save for Brendan Rodgers' .095 average, Kris Bryant's zero home runs and Kyle Freeland's struggles, it's hard to find much to complain about with the surprisingly 8-4 Rockies. In particular, the bullpen has been outstanding, recording a save in each of the eight wins and putting up solid numbers even though 10 of Colorado's 12 games have been played at hitter-friendly Coors Field.

    But once the team starts playing more road games, let's see how it goes. The Rockies were 15 games over .500 in Denver last season and an atrocious 26-54 away from home. They had a similar home-road split in 2019, as well, and playing on the road in the NL West isn't getting any easier.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: Pitchers Are Dropping Like Flies

    The Dodgers have eight players on the IL, all of them pitchers.

    Andrew Heaney was phenomenal in his first two starts (10.1 IP, 0 ER, 16 K) but is sidelined because of shoulder discomfort. Setup man Blake Treinen pitched three innings before also hitting the shelf with shoulder discomfort. They joined Tommy Kahnle, Victor Gonzalez, Dustin May, Jimmy Nelson, Danny Duffy and Caleb Ferguson, who opened the season on the IL. (And Trevor Bauer is indefinitely on administrative leave.)

    Thus far, no problem. The Dodgers are 10-3 and have allowed just 2.5 runs per game (1.8 over their last 10). But even with their limitless payroll, it's at least slightly problematic that they are paying more than $61 million for nine pitchers who aren't pitching.


    San Diego Padres: Lineup Woes Go Deeper Than Just 'No Tatis Yet'

    Because the Padres placed him on the 60-day IL, the earliest Fernando Tatis Jr. can return from his broken left wrist is June, so they still have a ways to go before reinserting their superstar shortstop into the lineup.

    However, Tatis is the only San Diego position player on the IL, and with the exception of Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer, the lineup is struggling. Of the 10 Padres with at least 35 plate appearances, half are batting below .175, including leadoff hitter Trent Grisham. Hosmer, Jake Cronenworth, Luke Voit and Wil Myers are looking for their first home run. It's borderline miraculous the Padres are 9-6.


    San Francisco Giants: Injury Bug Is Biting Hard

    With Buster Posey's retirement, Kevin Gausman's departure for Toronto, and Evan Longoria, Lamonte Wade Jr. and Tommy La Stella opening the season on the IL, most everyone expected serious regression to the mean for the Giants, who won an MLB-best 107 games last season. Instead, they've been doggone good, especially on the mound, allowing just 2.6 runs per game.

    Will that success continue with the IL filling up, though? Center fielder Steven Duggar was placed on the 60-day IL with an oblique strain, and starting pitchers Anthony DeSclafani (ankle) and Alex Cobb (adductor) landed on the 10-day IL in the past few days. And while the Giants have a handful of promising prospects for 2023 and beyond, there's very little MLB-ready talent in their farm system.