Major League Baseball
What's up with Ronald Acuña, Julio Rodríguez? Orioles' weakness? 5 burning MLB questions
Major League Baseball

What's up with Ronald Acuña, Julio Rodríguez? Orioles' weakness? 5 burning MLB questions

Updated May. 30, 2024 4:03 p.m. ET

We're at the quarter mark of the MLB season, and Julio Rodríguez and Ronald Acuña Jr. still don't look close to their typical selves. Neither the Padres nor Rangers are hitting — or winning much — despite their loaded lineups. And the Orioles might be the best team in baseball, save for one recurring issue.

Those matters will all be under the spotlight of FOX Saturday Baseball this weekend, as Baltimore hosts Seattle (4:05 p.m. ET on FS1), San Diego plays at Atlanta (7:15 p.m. ET on FOX) and Texas hosts the Los Angeles Angels (7:15 p.m. ET on FOX). 

MLB Power Rankings: Yankees & Phillies hold top spots while the Dodgers and Braves tumble

Accordingly, FOX Sports MLB experts Rowan Kavner and Deesha Thosar tackle these topics and more in this week's roundtable.


1. If we're comfortable calling J-Rod a superstar, what's your level of concern with him right now amid another (really) slow start to a season?

Thosar: It is a bit concerning that, after two-plus years in the big leagues, Rodríguez still starts seasons this slowly. I figured at least by Year 3, he would have adjusted. Even the Phillies, historically a slow-starting team, have kept the same group together in recent years, and this season they became the first club to 30 wins. Not only has it been more of the same from Rodríguez through the first month of play, but this is now easily the worst early-season stretch even by J-Rod standards. 

Something to keep an eye on is his lack of slug, as many around the league are dealing with a power outage. His slugging is down from where it was at this point last year (seven home runs through 44 games in 2023; two homers in the same span in 2024). One quick glance at Rodríguez's Baseball-Reference page, bursting with accolades after just a couple of seasons in the bigs, tells us his ceiling is, in fact, superstardom. If he can have a big second half again, and go on his usual sizzling streaks where he looks like the best hitter in baseball, then that just might be who Rodríguez is: a slow starter with superstar potential worth having some patience with.

Kavner: It'd be a lot higher if he hadn't already developed a reputation for this. Last year, Rodríguez looked concerningly average in the first half (.721 OPS) before turning into the type of superstar who could carry an offense after the break (.941 OPS, supported mostly by an otherworldly month of August). His .646 OPS through 44 games this year is almost identical to the .656 mark he had last season through the same time frame, and he's still hitting the ball hard.

Rodriguez is going to chase and whiff, and that can lead to some serious ebbs and flows over the course of the year. I'd expect something similar to last year, where at some point he goes bonkers. The slow starts are a bit perplexing, though.

2. What should the Orioles do about their closer conundrum? Is this their lone weakness?

Kavner: Eventually, I think they should add a high-leverage reliever at the deadline. Look what Paul Sewald did for the Diamondbacks last year. For now, though, I think it should be a committee, with Yennier Canó getting the majority of opportunities (barring situations when he needs to put out a fire in the seventh or eighth). I know he recently blew a save, but I'd give him a chance and use Craig Kimbrel in other spots — as they have the past few outings — to get Kimbrel's confidence back. As he continues putting up zeroes in lower leverage, work him back into the ninth.

The offense is loaded, the rotation has looked great recently, and Jacob Webb, Danny Coulombe and Keegan Akin have really helped stabilize the entire bullpen, which was the most glaring weakness for much of the year. I don't think they need to completely give up on Kimbrel, but they might as well let other guys get a chance until he looks right.

Thosar: Baltimore's relief corps has a 3.23 ERA, which ranks seventh in MLB. That O's unit, though often unreliable and inconsistent, is right up there with other bullpens contending for the playoffs. Their 3.74 FIP is slightly telling, in that the bullpen could be getting a little lucky in some situations. So, the performance hasn't been that concerning, when compared to the rest of the league. But Craig Kimbrel can no longer be trusted in save situations, based on how O's manager Brandon Hyde has responded lately in the late innings. Kimbrel couldn't even finish the ninth inning in back-to-back clunkers this month, so since then, Hyde has demoted him mostly to the seventh inning. 

For a club as excellent as the Orioles, holding one of the best records in baseball, Kimbrel's was the only free-agent deal (one-year, $13 million) the front office agreed to this offseason. If the front office thought this was the only weakness on the roster that it couldn't improve from within the organization, then it is currently their lone weakness. The O's are not in so bad of a spot that they can't ride it out with Kimbrel until the trade deadline, and then trade for someone like A's closer Mason Miller. The team's strengths everywhere else on the roster have provided it with a bit of a cushion — for now.

3. Do you expect these Padres to go on an extended run and challenge the Big 3 of the National League (Dodgers, Braves, Phillies) or do they feel destined to underachieve?

Thosar: Considering the Padres are currently closer in the standings to the Rockies than they are to the Dodgers, I'm not counting them as a challenger to the Big 3 in the National League until (if?) they go on a consistent run that shows me otherwise. That being said, they certainly have the roster talent to turn it around. That roster is so talented that the laid-back fan base in sunny San Diego has started to boo the club for not meeting expectations. All the Padres can do right now is reiterate that it's a long season, they'll find their way and start challenging other top contenders. But that's exactly what they said last season. Fans are clearly having a hard time continuing to believe in them.

Kavner: I don't expect them to challenge any of the "Big 3" in the regular season — Luis Arráez really lengthens the lineup, but that's not enough to topple the Dodgers in the West — but I do see them finishing second in the division and making the playoffs as a wild-card team. At that point — as they demonstrated two years ago — anything is possible.

If they can do that and win a series or two in the playoffs, that has to be considered a major achievement after dealing away Juan Soto. Dylan Cease looks like a Cy Young contender, Michael King has been a vital addition, and Yu Darvish has looked sensational since returning from injury, but this is a thin rotation after that. If King can hold up over the course of a long year (and limit the home runs) and if Manny Machado can get going, it's a dangerous group. At least they won't have to play the Rockies again for a while!

4. Which Brave(s) are you most concerned about at the plate?

Kavner: It feels weird to say a 26-year-old reigning NL MVP, but Ronald Acuña Jr. being a league-average hitter with limited power isn't going to get it done for a Braves team with title aspirations. He's slugging .342 this year, which places him 134th among qualified hitters entering Thursday, right behind Milwaukee's Blake Perkins and in front of Cleveland's Tyler Freeman, who has eight homers in 395 career plate appearances.

Health has to be the primary concern, particularly considering he's not hitting the ball as hard as usual, but the swing decisions are also troubling. Last year, he cut his strikeout rate in half to 11.4%. Now, that number has ballooned up to 24.9%. He's whiffing at close to a career-high rate, and he's not making contact even on pitches in the zone the way we're accustomed to seeing. There's obviously time for him to get right, and I expect most of the hitters in this lineup to start seeing more results soon.

Thosar: Ronald Acuña Jr. 

With a quarter of the season behind him, his slash line (.245/.354/.342) is eye-popping and highly concerning. His .091 isolated power, which tells us how often Acuña is logging extra bases, is the lowest among Braves hitters and among the worst in MLB. In the end, Acuña is a victim of his own potential. At this time last year, he had a 1.014 OPS, putting together his first career MVP season, and showing us it likely wouldn't be his last. One year later? He has just four hits in his past 31 at-bats. He has just three home runs on the year. 

It's obvious something is plaguing Acuña, and if he's playing through an injury, that's not helping his team. If the season ended today, the Braves would still be in position to make the playoffs, albeit through the wild card, but it's questionable how far they would go with Acuña looking as lost as he currently does.

5. Which unit has a higher ceiling, the (struggling) Rangers' offense or the (surging) Mariners' rotation? Will the better of the two ultimately decide the AL West?

Thosar: The Rangers' offense, in part because it's a proven bunch, which helps take the sting off their current struggles. We saw what they were capable of last year, riding their offense all the way to their first championship. The combination of Corey Seager and Adolis García alone can put up crooked numbers quickly and completely take the opposing team out of games. 

In the case of the Mariners' surging rotation, if starting pitchers are posting zeros and the offense just isn't scoring for them, then it hardly matters how dominant the rotation actually is. Seattle's .675 OPS ranks 20th in MLB. In the long run, if the Rangers can find their dominant bats again and hit their stride, they'll overpower the Mariners and take the AL West.

Kavner: I think the Mariners have the best rotation in baseball, but we already have proof that when the Rangers' offense is firing on all cylinders, it is championship-caliber. So, despite how good Seattle's starting pitchers are, I think the answer has to be the Texas offense — a group returning most of the stars from last year's World Series crew. I do expect the better of the two to decide the West, particularly given how far the Astros have fallen behind.

It's worth remembering all the reinforcements set to join the Texas rotation this summer. So, if the Rangers are lingering anywhere close to first place by the second half, they have to feel good about their chances. The Mariners certainly have the starting pitching to make a deep October run, but we don't yet know if their volatile offense will allow for that to happen.

Bonus: What did you make of Mike Trout opting to have surgery rather than staying in the lineup as strictly a DH?

Kavner: I think it was the right call. If it were a season-ending surgery, I think it would warrant more discussion. But this is not an Angels team that's about to compete, and a DH-only Trout hobbling on one leg all year wasn't going to change their fate (or offer them much trade value, should they ultimately decide to explore that route). We saw early this year what Trout still looks like when he's right, and it wasn't worth him playing hurt all year if taking a month or two off could get him back to his usual form.

Thosar: I think Trout was in more pain than he was letting on, and he wasn't confident he could play through it. If he was to continue DH-ing the rest of the year, it would've been about pain management for five months. That's a lot of time to let an injury linger, and potentially get worse. 

So, I'm of the opinion that DH-ing for the rest of the year should not have even been on the table for Trout as an option. Plus, Trout enjoys playing the game hard. It's tough to imagine a player of his caliber easily adjusting to a bat-only role. He might have to accept DH as his future, as he gets older, but the 32-year-old Trout clearly believes he still has plenty left in the tank on both sides of the ball — if only recurring injuries weren't preventing him from playing.

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.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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