Major League Baseball
MLB progress report: 1 early flaw with each of baseball's best teams
Major League Baseball

MLB progress report: 1 early flaw with each of baseball's best teams

Updated Apr. 22, 2024 7:08 p.m. ET

Even the best teams in baseball have some sort of imperfection, one that might be more glaring now than it appeared when the season began. 

The Braves' rotation, arguably the most daunting in baseball before the season, is no longer quite so formidable without Spencer Strider headlining the group. Despite Juan Soto's brilliance, the Yankees still look mediocre offensively. The Rangers are patching their pitching staff together, while the Dodgers' trouncing of the Mets on Sunday was a rare complete win for a team that has dealt with issues on both sides of the ball and dropped all three series on their recent homestand. 

Of course, it's way too early to know if any of these teams' biggest flaws will be fatal. All the aforementioned teams are still leading their respective divisions for a reason. 

But for the teams who've jumped out to a winning record, these shortcomings are at least worth monitoring:



Cleveland Guardians (16-6, 1st in AL Central)

Flaw: Frontline starting pitching 
What else? Quality of contact

The Guardians have the third highest-scoring offense and, even more surprisingly, rank fifth in slugging percentage. It's a testament to the way this offense has produced — and a bit of a shock — that if we were to poke any holes in Cleveland's terrific start, it would be with their starting pitching. Shane Bieber looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball through two starts before needing Tommy John surgery, and with Triston McKenzie struggling with his command (15 walks, 11 strikeouts through four starts), this is a team without an obvious ace. As a group, Cleveland starters have the sixth-lowest strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors. 

The offense, however, has been soaring, guided by the bats of Josh Naylor (1.016 OPS) and Steven Kwan (.852). Still, this is a team with the third-lowest hard-hit rate and second-lowest barrel percentage in MLB. While more can be expected ahead from José Ramírez, it'll be interesting to see if the Guardians can maintain this offensive pace against better competition (16 of their 22 games have come against teams under .500).  

Baltimore Orioles (14-7, T-1st in AL East)

Flaw: Relievers in front of Kimbrel
What Else? Starting depth 

Craig Kimbrel has looked like one of the best closers in baseball to start the year, yet the Orioles' bullpen has racked up a 4.23 ERA, which says something about the rest of the group. Yennier Canó has a 1.55 WHIP. Mike Baumann's is even higher at 1.71. Both are letting opponents hit .275 or better. Dillon Tate has more walks than strikeouts, and after a terrific start to the year, Keegan Akin, the team's most-used reliever, has had a couple of shaky outings. 

As a team, the Orioles' pitching staff is surrendering a lot of hard contact without generating many whiffs. And while Corbin Burnes and Grayson Rodriguez have looked like rotation headliners, the group behind them has taken its lumps and is feeling the absences of Kyle Bradish (UCL sprain), John Means (forearm strain) and Tyler Wells (elbow inflammation). Offensively, it's hard to poke holes in a team with the third-highest OPS in the sport, but the young group does tend to chase and has struggled some against velocity. 

Who's the best team in baseball?

New York Yankees (15-8, T-1st in AL East)

Flaw: Non-Soto hitters
What else? Infield defense

It's been an opportunistic and timely offense in recent wins — four runs in the ninth last Wednesday, five runs in the seventh last Friday, four runs in the fifth on Sunday — more than a good one. A middle-of-the-pack offensive group was probably not what the Yankees envisioned when they added Juan Soto. He has been exceptional, but Aaron Judge is hitting .174, Gleyber Torres has a .516 OPS, Anthony Rizzo hasn't bounced back from a down year, and DJ LeMahieu is hurt. 

These are also reasons to believe the Yankees' hot start could be even better (how long is Judge really going to run a .645 OPS?), but the offense is lacking consistency. Their .706 OPS entering Monday was almost identical to the .701 mark they posted last season. 

Meanwhile, the defense has committed the fourth-most errors in baseball. Anthony Volpe's hot start has picked up the group both offensively and at shortstop, but the infield defense has graded out below average by most metrics at every other spot. That becomes more troublesome behind a bullpen that has struggled to miss bats. 

Kansas City Royals (13-9, 2nd in AL Central)

Flaw: Lineup/outfield depth 
What else? Beating good competition 

The Royals rank 12th overall in OPS, but Bobby Witt Jr., Salvador Pérez and Vinnie Pasquantino have helped mask the inconsistencies throughout the bottom half of the order. The Royals have the lowest line-drive rate in baseball, and Kansas City outfielders collectively have the fourth-lowest OPS in the majors. They're not getting any offensive production in center field, new right fielder Hunter Renfroe is hitting .164, and MJ Melendez has cooled off considerably after a blistering start. 

While the rotation has thrived early on, there are some issues in a bullpen that has the lowest strikeout rate in the majors. In addition, the Royals have gotten where they are primarily by beating up on lesser competition. They're 3-6 against teams over .500, dropping both of their series to the Orioles and a series to the Mets. 

Boston Red Sox (13-10, 3rd in AL East)

Flaw: The defense 
What else? Swing and miss 

Beyond losing his bat, Trevor Story's season-ending shoulder injury is a brutal blow to a team that has struggled up the middle defensively without him. The Red Sox have committed the most errors in the majors, with the majority coming from the fill-ins at shortstop and third base with Rafael Devers banged up for much of the year. 

Which gets to the other surprisingly poor part of this group to start the year: the unproductive offense. I don't think anyone expected the rotation to stake the Red Sox to a winning record, but Boston starters have the lowest ERA in the majors while their hitters have the most strikeouts in the majors, rank 23rd in batting average and have the seventh-lowest OPS in baseball with runners in scoring position. Injuries haven't helped. Not only has Devers been out, but he also collided with Tyler O'Neill, forcing Boston's hottest hitter to the injured list. With Triston Casas also on the IL, this is a group that needs to get closer to being whole again to compete in baseball's best division. 

Detroit Tigers (12-10, 3rd in AL Central)

Flaw: Lack of offensive star power 
What else? Lack of actual power

The Tigers have fallen back down to earth after their 6-1 start, unable to get much of anything going offensively. They're the only team with a winning record and an OPS under .650 as a team, and they rank in the bottom six in baseball in every slash line category. The group as a whole has especially struggled to hit spin, ranking 27th in weighted on-base average against breaking balls. Kerry Carpenter is carrying the group and Riley Greene is getting on base at a high rate, but Spencer Torkelson is still looking for his first home run and it's been a real struggle for Parker Meadows, Colt Keith and the young talents in the lineup. 

Toronto Blue Jays (12-10, 4th in AL East)

Flaw: Power outage
What else? Allowing plenty of power 

The Blue Jays have gone on a nice run lately despite their best hitters scuffling. Last year's offensive troubles have only gotten worse. The Blue Jays rank 18th in slugging, 19th in OPS, 20th in home runs and 21st in batting average. Under the hood is just as concerning. Toronto has the third-lowest average exit velocity, the fifth-lowest hard-hit rate and the fifth-lowest expected slugging percentage in MLB. Justin Turner has been the best hitter on the team in the early going and a vital signing for an offense that needed the lift. 

The guys they need to rely on just haven't gotten going. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is hitting .226, while Bo Bichette (.641 OPS) and George Springer (.628) are both hitting below league average. While the Blue Jays have struggled to hit for power, they've surrendered plenty of it. Their pitchers have the highest hard-hit rate and barrel rate in baseball. It's no surprise, then, that they've also allowed the most homers in MLB. While José Berríos looks terrific, Kevin Gausman's struggles (0-2, 8.16 ERA) are concerning. His latest start was a step in the right direction. 

Who were the top performers of the week? Here's Verlander's list

Texas Rangers (12-11, 1st in AL West)

Flaw: Pitching depth 
What else? Rookies yet to click 

The pitching staff has done a decent job of holding up considering the plethora of injuries that Texas had coming into the year and the lack of moves made to address the issue this winter. That said, the handful of additions have been helpful.  Kirby Yates and David Robertson have been vital pieces in the bullpen, and Michael Lorenzen had a couple useful starts despite control issues, but pitching is not exactly an area of strength for the team — at least not until Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle are back. Their lack of starting pitching depth will be tested even more now that Cody Bradford, who excelled through his first three starts, is out with a back issue. The injury prompted an early call-up of rookie Jack Leiter, a move that might have been a little premature and backfired. 

And speaking of rookies, the Rangers have two in the lineup that were among the preseason favorites to take home hardware this year. Neither has quite gotten going yet. Wyatt Langford is still searching for his first home run, while last year's breakout star Evan Carter is hitting .211 in the early going. Really, the entire lineup outside of Adolis García and Marcus Semien has yet to produce to its potential, as the Rangers rank 12th in slugging and 13th in home runs. I'd expect that to pick up. 

Tampa Bay Rays (12-11, 5th in AL East)

Flaw: Bullpen 
What else? No pop at the plate 

While their starters have one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios in the majors, their relievers have the worst. It's one of the biggest surprises in baseball this year. The Rays' bullpen has lacked control, posting the highest walk rate in the majors. But their relievers are also struggling to miss bats. Their bullpen has a bottom five strikeout rate and is tied for the MLB lead in home runs surrendered. 

The Rays haven't been able to make up for the pitching deficiencies at the plate the way they might have last year. Missing Josh Lowe, Brandon Lowe and Jonathan Aranda hasn't helped a Rays offense that ranks in the bottom 10 in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. Similar to the Blue Jays, the stars they're relying upon most haven't produced. Yandy Díaz (65 OPS+ and Randy Arozarena (40 OPS+) are both hitting considerably below league average. It might be about time to promote top prospect Junior Caminero.


Atlanta Braves (14-6, 1st in NL East)

Flaw: Rotation depth
What else? Fried's slow start 

This is still probably the best team in baseball, but the rotation ranks 20th in ERA and 19th in both strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Normally, we could chalk this up to a weird early-season sample — coming into the year, this was arguably one of the scariest rotations in the sport — but with Strider out, it feels more glaring, especially considering Max Fried's shaky start to the year. 

Fried hasn't commanded the baseball the way he typically does, nor is he missing bats. His strikeout rate is about half of what it was last year, while his walk rate is nearly double. Through four starts, his lone good one came against Miami. Right now, the only pitcher stabilizing the rotation is converted reliever Reynaldo López. None of this is likely to prevent the Braves from winning the division, but with aspirations far beyond that, this could be a team looking for an ace at the deadline. 

Milwaukee Brewers (14-6, 1st in NL Central)

Flaw: Rotation depth 
What else? Production vs. LHP 

The Brewers are rolling to start the year, but the rotation behind ace Freddy Peralta doesn't exactly strike fear in opponents. Brewers starting pitchers rank last in innings pitched, 25th in strikeouts per game and whiff rate, 23rd in WHIP, 22nd in batting average against and 21st in strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

Their offense has so significantly outproduced what many expected that it feels silly to nitpick anything there, but if we had to, they've performed rather poorly in an extremely small sample against southpaws. Brewers hitters have the fewest at-bats against lefties of any team, but they're slashing .213/.307/.307 against them.

Philadelphia Phillies (14-8, 2nd in NL East)

Flaw: The offense 
What else? The bullpen 

On one hand, it could be viewed as encouraging that the Phillies are tied for the NL lead in wins despite their offense producing a  .709 OPS and their bullpen sporting the worst ERA in the majors. On the other … their offense is producing a .709 OPS and their bullpen has a 5.78 ERA. Even after beating up on the lowly Rockies and White Sox — averaging more than seven runs per game during a six-game winning streak — their 4.36 runs per game are tied with the Pirates for 15th in the majors. 

While Trea Turner is heating up, J.T. Realmuto, Bryson Stott and Nick Castellanos have all yet to get going. The outfield situation is particularly alarming, considering Castellanos currently has the fifth-lowest wRC+ among all qualified major-league hitters, while Johan Rojas has two extra-base hits and two RBIs on the year. At the back end of the bullpen, however, things have gone much better for José Alvarado since his five-run blowup on Opening Day. 

Chicago Cubs (13-9, 2nd in NL Central)

Flaw: Closer
What else? Pitching depth 

As a team, the Cubs' 3.99 relief ERA is more medicore than terrible. But that number comes with a 5-for-11 mark in save opportunities. After converting 22 of 25 save chances last year, it has not been smooth sailing this season for Adbert Alzolay, who has already blown four saves and looks to have lost his role as closer for the time being. Héctor Neris picked up a save Saturday, but he has as many walks (seven) as strikeouts (seven) this year. Maybe Mark Leiter, who hasn't allowed an earned run in 10.2 innings this year, will get the bulk of opportunities. 

Leiter and Keegan Thompson have lifted an otherwise pedestrian group that has played a considerable role in the Cubs' 3-4 record in one-run games. The pitching staff as a whole hasn't exactly thrived, with injuries playing a role. Cubs starters rank 21st in ERA, but Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon have combined to make two starts so far this year. Shota Imanaga (0.84 ERA) looks like an absolute stud, but Kyle Hendricks (12.00 ERA) has looked like the opposite of that. 

Cubs' Michael Busch homers in fourth-straight game

New York Mets (12-9, 3rd in NL East)

Flaw: The rotation's command 
What else? A catching concern 

The rotation's 3.91 ERA is a completely respectable mark. However, there's some cause for concern under the hood. Mets starting pitchers have MLB's highest walk rate, second worst strikeout-to-walk ratio and fourth-highest WHIP. Their FIP (4.10) and xFIP (4.64) are both much higher than their actual ERA. 

Now, those pitchers won't have Francisco Álvarez behind the plate for the foreseeable future after he tore a ligament in his thumb this weekend. Beyond the power he provides at the plate, Álvarez is also one of baseball's best pitch framers. 

Cincinnati Reds (12-9, 3rd in NL Central)

Flaw: Infielders not named Elly De La Cruz
What else? Beating good teams 

Injuries to Matt McLain and TJ Friedl threatened to take some of the wind out of the upstart Reds' sails to begin the year, but Cincinnati still finds itself in a fine position in the Central. Still, this is not a group that has hit (.225/.311/.399) the way it is capable of doing, and it especially seems to be missing McLain's bat. 

With Jonathan India, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Santiago Espinal all hitting under .200 (and Jeimer Candelario flirting with that line), the Reds rank 29th, 28th and 21st in OPS at second base, first base and third base, respectively. The infield defense has also graded out below average, and as a team the Reds are 4-8 against clubs that are .500 or better. 

Los Angeles Dodgers (13-11, 1st in NL West)

Flaw: Bottom of lineup 
What else? The bullpen 

The "big three" (really, "big four," considering what Will Smith means to this offense) is largely doing what it was supposed to do, especially now that Freddie Freeman seemed to get back on track this weekend. Keep going down the lineup, however, and it gets significantly dicier. Chris Taylor's hitting .051. Gavin Lux is hitting .148. Collectively, the Nos. 7-9 spots in the Dodgers' order are hitting under .170 and rank 28th in OPS. 

As a team, the Dodgers have the second-most strikeouts, and their 70 strikeouts with runners in scoring position are 10 more than the Pirates. Beyond that, their bullpen ranks 20th in ERA and is struggling to find reliable leverage options beyond Evan Phillips and Daniel Hudson while they wait for Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen to return from injury.

Rowan Kavner is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the L.A. Dodgers, LA Clippers and Dallas Cowboys. An LSU grad, Rowan was born in California, grew up in Texas, then moved back to the West Coast in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.


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