MLB: Three Teams Already Flirting With the Panic Button

Apr 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view of a baseball on the field prior to a game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports. MLB. 

The start of the MLB season has not been kind to everyone. Week two of a very long season has already startled a few teams. While plenty of time remains, the panic button is already within reach.

The first two weeks of a twenty-five week MLB season are generally viewed as irrelevant. Players are often still finding their groove and managers are still trying to successfully structure their lineups. Each MLB team, good or bad, experiences its initial optimism, though, unaware as to when the inevitable slumps will strike. A lot can happen in a 162 game span. Whether it’s April or August, the games count the same.

For this reason, the first two weeks of the season do matter. A club which is vastly deemed a loser gains some serious confidence and sudden respect if they shockingly get off to a hot start. Take the Arizona Diamondbacks for example. Everyone assumed they would take an instant back seat to the Dodgers and the Giants, yet a 7-4 start poses Arizona as a threat. The same goes for the 8-4 Cincinnati Reds. Who would have imagined they would start the season better than the Cubs and the Cardinals?

On the other hand, some presumed MLB heavyweights have stumbled out of the gate. There is of course ample time to get on track. What is most important in the early stages of the season is ensuring you are able to emerge from the hole you dig.

A few MLB teams have already dug a small hole. They must now deal with the unwanted task of scrapping together a good stretch of games in order to keep their oppenents within shouting distance. They must make sure it isn’t too late too early.

Apr 7, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Francisco Liriano (45) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. MLB. 

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Birds are off to a 2-9 start, holding the worst record in MLB. They have struggled in every part of the game. A combination of a 4.33 starter’s ERA and a .199 team batting average make it very difficult to win ballgames. Bright spots have been few and far between for the Blue Jays; however, per the theme of this article, there is plenty of time to turn things around. Unfortunately, there is no clear indication of where the upturn will come from.

The backbone of this Toronto team was expected to be the starting rotation. If there was any uncertainty regarding the starting staff, it was directed to the unknown as to who would step up as the team’s ace. Despite the overall struggles, that specific concern has already been addressed through the early dominance of Marcus Stroman. Aaron Sanchez got roughed up by a the Orioles Friday night, but he certainly has ace like qualities as well.

It’s the rest of the rotation that is lost. J.A. Happ may be a quality fantasy player (17 strikeouts in 2 starts), but his 5.40 ERA and .280 BAA is far from inspiring. Marco Estrada has followed suit, posting a 5.73 ERA and tossing only 11 innings in his first two starts. Estrada did salvage his slow start with a great one against the Orioles Saturday afternoon. Worst of all, Francisco Liriano has a 9.00 ERA in only seven innings covering two starts. He’s walked six batters and has a BAA of .286.

All three pitchers have held their own throughout their career and are following up on good seasons. That being said, they must pitch considerably better if Toronto wants to steer in the right direction. Stroman and Sanchez can carry some of the weight, however, winning two out of every five games will not get Toronto to the playoffs, it will get them to draft lottery.

Believe it or not, starting pitching has not been Toronto’s primary detractor. That award goes to their offense. We knew the loss of Edwin Encarnacion would hurt, but who would’ve thought it would be this noticeable. The Jays have only two players currently hitting over .200–one is injured, and the other has played in only five games. They are on pace to knock 12 home runs this April after hitting 29 homers in April of 2016. The supreme struggles of two of their middle of the order bats has crippled this offense. Troy Tulowitzki is hitting .216 with a OBP of .250; Jose Bautista is slashing .135/.250/.189. Bautista isn’t exactly fulfilling his role with a .189 slugging percentage out of the cleanup spot.

The Toronto Blue Jays find themselves behind the eight ball already. Plenty of time remains for the Jays to get their act together, but panic is justified. Frankly, they play in the wrong division if their plan is to slowly crawl their way to the top.

Jul 15, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal (44) is removed fro the game by manager Mike Matheny (22) during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at Busch Stadium. The Marlins won 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports. MLB. 

St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals rank last in the NL Central to begin the season. Their powerless offense and a weak bullpen has resulted in a 3-8 record.

After leading the NL in home runs in 2016, the power bats of the Cardinals have not yet woken up this April. Aledmys Diaz leads the team with three home runs and three other players have two. The team’s total is ten. Last year’s power exposition leads you to believe St. Louis will get their power back; however, there are additional areas of greater concern.

The Cardinals loved their many infield options entering the season. They knew they had depth, and in the case of one player struggling, they could simply plug-in another one. Well, that plan is nice until every player involved can’t hit. Below you’ll see the stat line for the Cardinals’ infield mix:

  •  Johnny Peralta–.130/.167/.130
  •  Jed Gyorko–.227/.292/.409
  • Matt Adams–.167/.286/.167
  • Kolten Wong–.148/.258/.222

St. Louis will need at least one of these players to take command to help deepen the lineup.

As for the everyday players, the Cardinals need them to step up as well. Aledmys Diaz is off to a great start, however, Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty, and Dexter Fowler are struggling out of the gates. Those three will be crucial to any playoff pursuit the Cards make this season.

Above all, the area in need of a troubleshoot is the bullpen. St. Louis currently owns the worst bullpen ERA in the National League. Aside from Miguel Socolovish and Matt Bowman, every Cardinals reliever has inflated numbers. Closer Seung Hwan Oh is 0-for-1 in save opportunities with a 9.64 ERA. Opponents have a batting average of .333 against him. Trevor Rosenthal has an ERA of 6.75, Jonathan Broxton’s ERA is 16.88, and Kevin Siegrist’s is 13.50. This is a bullpen that repeatedly ranks in the top half of the NL and is known for their clutch performances. That is not the case so far this year.

St. Louis should be in a moderate panic. Thankfully the rival Chicago Cubs are also starting relatively slowly. At the end of the day, the Cardinals always seem to find their way. But, this season is off to a strange start. The team is struggling in ways they are not accustomed to struggling. We’ll see how they handle this early and out of the ordinary adversity.

Apr 10, 2017; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano (22) fouls a pitch off of his foot during the fourth inning against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field. Seattle defeated Houston 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports. MLB. 

Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners are competing with the Toronto Blue Jays as the most disappointing team in MLB to begin the year. Seattle is 3-8,  placing them last in the AL West. Their offense is consistent with the Blue Jays in its mediocrity and their bullpen is consistent with the Cardinals in its mediocrity.

The Mariners have a team batting average of .218 through 11 games. They’ve endured poor starts from just about everyone. Jean Segura was off to a nice start prior to hitting the 10-day DL, and Mitch Haniger has been a nice spark plug to this point. However, the very slow starts from Seattle’s blue blood hitters–Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager–has placed the Mariners in an inferior situation early on. All three are gradually heating up; it shouldn’t be long until they return to their usual dominance.

The ongoing question for the M’s is, can they get help from anywhere else in the lineup? Continued success for Haniger and Segura will work wonders for the offense. On the other hand, there is still no light at the end of the lineup. Initial observations indicate Jarrod Dyson and Danny Valencia aren’t the answers. Plus, Mike Zunino has yet to find his way in the big leagues. Baseball is a shared game. Cano, Cruz, and Seager will approach the plate just as often as every other place in the batting order. They’re going to need some help if Seattle wants to compete with the American League heavyweights.

The Mariners’ bullpen was best on display when they gave up seven runs in the 9th inning to the LA Angels last Sunday. Thus, blowing a six run lead and watching the Angels walk off with a 10-9 victory. Seattle’s relief core ranks dead last in MLB with a 7.34 ERA. Walks have not been an issue, but their .340 BAA most certainly has. Their relief staff consists of young and powerful arms, however,  arms that have not yet learned how to handle big league hitting. Extreme importance is placed on bullpens in today’s game. Last year’s World Series matchup between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians was a prime example. The Seattle Mariners have no chance if their pen continues on this trend.

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