Who’s Pushing the Panic Button?

josh-hamilton-ap2Every single Major League team now has 30 games under their belts, which gives us enough data to start surveying the MLB landscape looking for surprises and disappointments. Fans in Boston, Kansas City, and Denver have to be thrilled with their respective teams hot starts.

However, for fans in other cities things haven’t been as bright. The Toronto Blue Jays were handed the AL East by most pundits before the season even began and they’ve fallen flat on their face out of the gate, carrying a 10-21 record that only the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are envious of. Things are also starting to get dicey in Anaheim, where the Angels have once again stumbled in the early weeks of the season. Their supposedly vaunted offense has yet to earn its pay, thanks to its middle of the pack ranking in the AL in runs scored, and L.A.’s pitching staff minus Jered Weaver has been a disaster.

They’re not the only cities that are getting anxious about their ball club’s slow start either. Fans in Philadelphia were hoping that a once-great pitching staff led by Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee could rebound to carry the Phillies to the playoffs, but that hasn’t materialized thus far. The Dodgers were imagining themselves as the west coast Yankees with a budget to match. So far all that lavish spending has gotten them is 4th place and a struggling Matt Kemp.Even the handful of fans that attend Rays games have to feel a little nervous in the AL East watching their starting nine drop to 1-6 in games started by Cy Young winner David Price.

But this is baseball, and as we all know, it’s a long season. Teams have played less than a quarter of their total schedule, the weather has been unseasonably odd around the country, and there is still plenty of time for roster adjustments to be made, so the big question is: which of these franchises should be pushing the panic button and which ones have nothing to worry about?

Los Angeles Angels

It’s hard to argue that, based on name recognition alone, anyone has had a better past couple of offseasons than Artie Moreno and the Angles. Over the past couple of years they’ve been able to sign Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and C.J. Wilson while adding another MVP candidate in Mike Trout from the minor leagues. By all means this Angels team should be unstoppable, but that’s the thing about baseball. It doesn’t always work out as nicely on the field as it does on paper.

Josh Hamilton, much like Pujols a year ago, has struggled in his first season in the California sun. The only player in baseball who does a worse job of putting the bat on the ball is the awful Colby Rasmus, leaving Hamilton with just 5 extra-base hits in 131 plate appearances. Those numbers won’t cut it for a player making the league minimum, but they’re abhorrent for a player who just signed a 5 year/$133 million dollar deal. When (and maybe if) Hamilton comes around, the Angels will start scoring, that’s not the big worry, even if the media would like it to be.

Instead people should be focusing on the Angels homer-happy pitching staff. In the American League, only the Blue Jays and the Astros have a worse team ERA than the Angels. Joe Blanton might as well be putting the ball on a tee at this point and Jered Weaver’s replacement, Garrett Richards, has experienced similar struggles since moving to the rotation. Los Angeles is trying to correct the problem, moving Jerome Williams back to the rotation, but that’s not going to cut it either.

Panic Meter: 8/10 The Angels probably don’t have the pieces to pull of a deadline deal for some pitching and with Jered Weaver out for another month, things are probably going to get worse before they get better, especially in the rugged AL West.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The biggest story in baseball over the past 2 seasons has been the consolidation of power in California. The Giants have now taken 2 of the past 3 World Series, the A’s have been revitalized behind a youth movement, and the Dodgers and Angels are spending money like a pair of well-known rivals back east. Unfortunately for the two L.A. teams, all that spending has yet to pay off.

The Dodgers currently sit 4th in the NL West and more distressingly they’ve been outscored by 26 runs. Matt Kemp looks like a shell of himself right now, taking huge swings every time he’s at the plate with very little success. He’s got just 1 homer and 4 doubles on the year in 123 at bats and he’s struggling to generate the kind of power that made him a 40-40 threat.

You’d also be hard-pressed to find a worse 3rd base/shortstop combo in baseball right now than combo of Juan Uribe, Justin Sellars, and Luis Cruz. Dodger 3rd basemen have combined to hit .163 this year with just 1 homer and 6 RBI and their shortstops haven’t been much better hitting .214. Those numbers just go to show you how much the Dodgers miss Hanley Ramirez in the lineup.

Ramirez isn’t the only Dodger dealing with injury issues either. Offseason prize Zach Greinke is still hurting with a broken collarbone, thanks to Carlos Quentin, and Carl Crawford, who had been red-hot in April, is now slowing down in May thanks to a sore hammy. The worst news however comes in the form of Tommy John surgery for Chad Billingsley.

Panic Meter: 3/10 The Dodgers don’t have too much to worry about if they can nurse everyone back health. Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu should morph into quiet a fearsome trio once Greinke collarbone is healed and the Dodgers should have a solid amount of fire power on offense in support. Adrian Gonzalez is hitting the ball hard again and when Matt Kemp gets back on his game the Dodgers are going to be tough to beat.

Roy-Halladay-disgusted-USAT-Images

Philadelphia Phillies

Starting back in 2007 the Phillies went on a historical run of success, winning 5 straight division titles, 2 pennants, and 1 World Series on their way to becoming a dynasty in the National League. Each year if your franchise had dreams of a playoff run you were going to have to go through Philly, the team was just that consistently good.

But that 5-year foundation started to show some visible cracks in 2012, winning just 81 games while missing out on the end-of-the-year dance. Roy Halladay looked old, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard looked hobbled, and the bullpen finally collapsed despite the addition of a highly compensated closer.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. spent most of his offseason trying to patch those cracks in the foundation, but at this point it looks like they just run too damn deep. Their much-hyped pitching trio has been outpitched by Kyle Kendrick over the first month of the year, the offense once again struggles to get on-base, and the Charlie Manuel hasn’t met a victory that he doesn’t want to ruin with poor bullpen management.

The Phillies outfield has also been one of the worst in baseball so far, despite the fact that Domonic Brown has finally started to show some of the promise that once made him a top prospect. New centerfielder Ben Revere is doing his best Brendan Ryan impression, showcasing some brilliant defense to go along with at bats that make your eyes bleed. John Mayberry’s play has also been poor enough that Delmon Young and his stomach are now getting play in the outfield, which is never a good thing.

Panic Meter: 4/10 The Phillies are a group of proud veterans who know how to scratch out wins even if they aren’t at their best. I have no doubt in my mind that they will be able to stay within striking distance of the Braves and the Nats in the NL East, but that my be the closest Philly can get. Philadelphia is going to need Carlos Ruiz to play as well as he did before getting hurt a year ago and it wouldn’t hurt if Doc Halladay could roll the clock back a couple of years either.

Tampa Bay Rays

Perhaps the most surprising thing to happen during the start of the 2013 season has been the demise of both of the 2012 Cy Young Award winners. David Price and R.A. Dickey have both struggled mightily this year and thus far their teams are a combined 3-11 in games the two pitchers have started. Price in particular has looked downright odd during the early going, leaving way too many hittable pitches over the plate which has led to an ERA that tops 6.

Price is still striking hitters out at a solid rate and his walks are actually down from a year ago, which means that brighter days should be ahead. Price is just now entering what should be his prime, so I expect him to get things turned around in the next couple of weeks. The rest of Tampa’s problems won’t be solved so easily however.

The bullpen is probably the most concerning at this point, solely because one year after posting the league’s best ERA as a unit, the Rays are on pace to be one of  the very worst. Four of the seven relievers that Joe Maddon has turned to this season are getting hit like a cheap pinata and even closer Fernando Rodney is getting hit. Rodney gave up just 5 earned runs a year ago and has already allowed 4 through the first month of the season. A faulty bullpen can ruin even the best laid plans so Tampa will want to figure this out quickly.

Panic Meter: 1/10 Let’s face it Joe Maddon doesn’t panic. I don’t even think he even has that word in his rather extensive vocabulary. The Rays also catch the ball better than almost every other team in the league and Matt Moore looks like a star. Once Wil Myers gets the call up to the Show, the offense’s issues should correct themselves somewhat and the Rays should vault into contention.

Toronto Blue Jays

Before the season I was very certain that the Blue Jays would turn out to be a flop. I even wrote an entire article about it entitled “Baseball’s Most Overrated Team is North of the Border.” My hunches were that R.A. Dickey wouldn’t repeat his somewhat flukey 2012 season, the defense would suffer without shifting as much, the bullpen would be bad, and the AL East would just be too tough for this team. I also had a couple of other hunches, mostly centered around the fact that you can’t win the toughest division in baseball with the parts of a bunch of bad teams, but mostly I centered my thoughts around the four ideas listed above.

Well one month in and apart from having a league average bullpen, 3 of my other 4 predictions have come to pass. After Saturday’s poor outing, Dickey’s record now stands at 2-5 and his ERA is 5.36. He’s struggled to keep the ball in the park and after Saturday’s fireworks display in Seattle, Dickey’s now given up 8 homers in 7 starts, which isn’t exactly the ratio you’d like to have.

The rest of the rotation has predictably struggled as well. Brandon Morrow still remains better in theory than in practice. He struggles with his command most nights and, despite possessing quality stuff, he still leaves too many pitches down the middle of the plate, just waiting to be crushed. Josh Johnson was also a complete bust during his 4 starts and now he’s on the DL, nursing an arm injury. Oh and reliable ole Mark Buehrle? Well, he’s been anything but in his return to the AL, getting rocked to the tune of a 6.47 ERA.

The offense has also struggled in the absence of Reyes and it’s easy to see why. The Jays sorely miss his on-base abilities at the top of the lineup and they don’t have anyone who can replace what Reyes can do with the bat in his hands. Toronto ranks 3rd to last in baseball in on-base percentage, getting on at a paltry .291 clip this year, which means that most of their impressive 36 homers have been of the solo variety. That makes it awful tough to win a ball game.

Panic Meter: 10/10 At this point it’s pretty obvious that most of the so-called “experts” overrated the Blue Jays. Toronto fans should be mashing the panic button at this point.

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3 comments

  1. Pingback: Who’s Pushing the Panic Button? «
  2. Sean Breslin

    I’m surprised that the Blue Jays are this bad. I thought for sure they’d be contenders right out of the gate.

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