Two weeks into the MLB season, several divisions appear to have been turned upside down. In another two weeks, of course, it's likely that order will be restored.
But for that to happen, these would-be contenders – all of whom are .500 or worse – will have to address their most glaring flaws:
USA TODAY SportsAndy Marlin
Blue Jays: Start hitting
The injuries to starters Aaron Sanchez (blister) and J.A. Happ (elbow) are the latest pitfalls, but Toronto dug itself into this hole with its offensive futility. And Josh Donaldson’s on-again, off-again calf issue is on again, landing him on the DL and robbing an already struggling lineup of its most important bat.
Jose Bautista’s outstanding spring is a memory, and his woes are contagious. Even after Tuesday's seven-run outburst, the Blue Jays rank 29th in the majors in slugging percentage (.340) and runs scored (41), and 25th in OBP (.289).
USA TODAY SportsNick Turchiaro
Rangers: Find some relief
Despite some defensive issues and the ongoing absence of Adrian Beltre (calf), the finger of blame is pointing directly at the bullpen. Texas’ relievers have blown five saves, sport a 5.44 ERA and have served up seven homers. Sam Dyson already is out as closer after blowing all three of his save opportunities and allowing 13 earned runs in 4.1 innings (he’s been conveniently placed on the DL with a hand contusion).
Enter Matt Bush, who will take over the ninth-inning duties despite recently battling shoulder discomfort. And Keone Kela – banished to Triple-A to begin the season – is back in a setup role. This has the uneasy feel of a shell game.
USA TODAY SportsJennifer Buchanan
Mariners: Be more patient at the plate
A four-game winning streak had the team back on track, but Seattle was nearly no-hit on Tuesday night as that streak was snapped. And that has been the issue in the early going – even more so than the bullpen struggles. The Mariners rank 23rd in the majors in batting average (.220), 21st in on-base percentage (.298) and 25th in slugging percentage (.361).
Seattle’s offseason makeover added athleticism and speed, and the team’s 13 stolen bases rank fourth in the majors. However, the hitters must do a better job of getting on base in order use that aggressiveness as a weapon.
USA TODAY SportsJennifer Buchanan
Cardinals: Heat up the bats
There has been plenty of talk about the defense, and rightfully so. St. Louis has committed 10 errors in 14 games, resulting in seven unearned runs. But the defense was shaky last season, too, and the Cardinals came within one game of a wild-card berth.
The big difference is the offense – namely, the lack of it. St. Louis is slashing .206/.283/.325, with new leadoff man Dexter Fowler unable to get going (.143/.226/.196 with 16 strikeouts and eight hits).
USA TODAY SportsJeff Curry
Giants: Win the close ones
What did you expect considering San Francisco hasn’t reached the playoffs in an odd-numbered year since 2003? But this mysteriously slow start seems pretty solvable. There are a couple rotation concerns (Jeff Samardzija chief among them), the bullpen has had some bumpy moments and the injury bug is biting (Buster Posey, Jarrett Parker).
The most telling stat in the Giants’ slow start, though, is their 1-5 record in one-run games – something that will improve with slightly better pitching and more timely hitting (San Fran ranks among the MLB leaders with 106 runners stranded).
USA TODAY SportsJohn Hefti
Mets: Get Jose Reyes on track ... or move on
Not only is Reyes a non-factor at the plate (.100/.182/.140 with 14 strikeouts), he is becoming a liability in the field. In the eighth inning of the Mets’ fourth consecutive loss on Tuesday, Reyes dropped a popup that allowed the Phillies to tie the score. And then he nearly was picked off first base in the ninth.
Reyes has been dropped from the leadoff spot but has played in all 14 of the Mets’ games. Manager Terry Collins has made it clear that he will stick with Reyes, perhaps because there aren’t a ton of other options with David Wright sidelined indefinitely. But how long can the Mets remain so patient?
USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Dodgers: Be more consistent offensively
The striking similarity in all eight of their losses? Los Angeles has scored three runs or fewer each time, including in each game of their current three-game losing streak.
In fact, the Dodgers have scored 11 runs (and have been shut out twice) in their eight losses but have put up 54 runs in their seven wins. Worth noting: Only six teams have struck out more than LA (124 K’s).
USA TODAY SportsJayne Kamin-Oncea
Indians: Get more stingy
Prized free-agent pickup Edwin Encarnacion surprisingly is hitting as poorly as his former Blue Jays teammates, with five RBI and a .212/.339/.346 slash line. And the absence of Jason Kipnis (shoulder) also has been felt. However, the pitching should be good enough to mask the offense’s blemishes.
So far, however, only the Padres have allowed more runs than the Indians. And that is why Cleveland fans shouldn’t be overly concerned – unless, of course, this really is a sign of fatigue from 2016.
USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Cubs: Live in the now
If there were doubt about the existence an early season World Series hangover, it’s wearing a Cubs jersey. And the countless pregame ceremonies didn’t exactly help this year’s team to turn to the page from its magical 2016 run to its 2017 to-do list. The panic level is hovering right around zero, however, because of the sheer amount of talent on this roster.
Manager Joe Maddon was right to express some anxiety about the bullpen after Monday’s loss to the Brewers; those late-inning arms are much more of a concern than some of the slow-starting bats.