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Friday, July 3, 2020

5 MLB teams off to surprisingly poor starts

Russell Martin

Who will be this year’s big MLB disappointment? There is inevitably a team or two that comes into a season with high expectations, only to fall flat on their face when the competitive games begin.

Here is a look at five teams that have performed very poorly during the first week of the season despite undeniable talent and higher expectations.

5) Kansas City Royals (2-5)

It’s been a rather rapid fall from grace for the 2015 World Series champions, with the team finishing 81-81 in 2016 and looking worse in 2017.

Offense has never been the team’s strong point, and with a team average of just .195 through seven games, it’s clear that the Royals simply are not hitting. .179-hitting Eric Hosmer and .227-hitting Lorenzo Cain have been particular disappointments. Though the Royals have clubbed 10 home runs, that’s about all they can do — they simply haven’t manufactured runs well.

Even in their best years, the Royals lacked an elite offense, but they made up for it with excellent pitching and defense. While the defense is still good, the pitching isn’t.

The rotation is anchored by Danny Duffy, but the lack of depth beyond that has already manifested itself, with Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel looking shaky. The real erosion, however, has been at the back of the bullpen. The three-headed monster that was Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera is long gone now. Only Herrera remains, and the closer has only appeared in two games, yet to collect a save. This matters in a big way.

The Royals could shorten games to six or seven innings in past years, and even when trailing, those three elite arms enabled Kansas City to keep games close and give the offense a chance to mount a comeback. Those days are gone, and in what may be the last season we see this core of players together, it may consign them to a disappointing year.

4) Seattle Mariners (2-6 entering Tuesday)

The traditional optimism surrounding Seattle may once again be misplaced, with the rival Houston Astros putting a beating on them in the season’s first series and the Los Angeles Angels, thought by many to be one of the division’s worst teams, following in the same manner. A big part of that is down to the offense, which hit just .197 through eight contests. Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz need to pull their weight if this team is going to be successful, and thus far, they have not done so, with Cruz in particular struggling to the tune of a .172 average.

The problems also extend to the pitching staff — more specifically the bullpen.

Closer Edwin Diaz has an ERA over seven and was a big part of an April 9 meltdown that saw the Mariners blow a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth against the Angels. Casey Fien and Evan Scribner have ERAs of 14.73 and 13.50, respectively, in four appearances each. Add in the fact that Felix Hernandez still doesn’t quite look like his ace self anymore, and you have to be a little bit worried about Seattle going forward.

3) St. Louis Cardinals (2-6)

Could the Cardinals really miss the postseason for a second consecutive season? The answer is definitely yes on the evidence of the first week of the year.

They haven’t hit, especially for power — they had just four home runs as a team entering Tuesday, and their .307 team slugging percentage ranked dead last in the National League. Six of the team’s eight position player regulars have an OPS under .650, with only Yadier Molina and Aledmys Diaz surpassing that.

They haven’t pitched well, either.

A team ERA of 5.37 will get you absolutely nowhere, with ace Adam Wainwright posting an even 7.00 ERA in his first two starts. Reliever Brett Cecil, who got a hefty sum of money from St. Louis in the offseason, has an ERA of 15, having given up five earned runs in three innings. Setup man Jonathan Broxton’s tally of five earned in 2.2 innings is even worse. All of this is despite decent starts to the season by rotation members Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, and Michael Wacha.

It’s hard to believe the team will be this bad all year, but things are off to a foreboding start, and major improvements will be needed.

2) San Francisco Giants (3-5 entering Tuesday)

The San Francisco Giants saw their 2016 season come to an end because their bullpen was a toxic waste dump, so they rapidly took steps to address that. The biggest of those moves was to add an established closer with a reliable reputation in Mark Melancon, and there was definitely some anticipation when the Giants handed him the ball on Opening Day in Arizona to close out a 5-4 lead. Melancon promptly got the first two Diamondbacks with ease, gave up four straight hits, and got the blown save-loss combination in a 6-5 defeat.

Here we go again.

The Giants’ bullpen is probably better on the whole, but they have definitely struggled to steady themselves early in the season. Despite solid outings from Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Matt Moore, the team ERA is still 4.92, good for 12th in the National League. It’s somewhat concerning that the Giants have struggled this much despite a pretty solid offensive showing early on — they’re top five in the NL in runs. It’s a correctable problem, but after how the bullpen fared last year, you can understand the concern.

1) Toronto Blue Jays (1-6)

There’s an old saying that you can’t win a pennant in April, but you can certainly lose it. In no division is that more true than the crowded AL East, and the last-place Blue Jays have to be very concerned with how things have started for them.

Kendrys Morales entered Tuesday hitting .208 and hadn’t shown himself as an adequate replacement for the departed Edwin Encarnacion until going 3-for-4 in a loss to the Brewers. Russell Martin is still searching for his first hit of the season after 18 at-bats. Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista are hitting under .200, and Bautista has yet to homer. Josh Donaldson is already battling an injury. It’s hard to believe these bats will stay this cold for long, but for now, they’re digging Toronto into a hole, and their 23 runs scored has them towards the bottom of the American League.

The saving grace is that, with the exception of a Francisco Liriano disaster start, the pitching has held up. Still, this is not how Toronto’s season was supposed to start. Their offense has been their calling card for the past several years, but it’s dried up so far. In a division where they will have to compete with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays can’t really afford to fall too far behind. They haven’t yet, but they need to pick up the slack soon.

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