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Should these 5 slow-starting teams panic?

April 13, 2018

We've played 7.6 percent of this Major League season, and if you think that's enough to make a meaningful impression, then you might be new to baseball. The bottom line is that there is no bottom line yet, but that's never stopped us from letting some April awkwardness get the

We've played 7.6 percent of this Major League season, and if you think that's enough to make a meaningful impression, then you might be new to baseball. The bottom line is that there is no bottom line yet, but that's never stopped us from letting some April awkwardness get the best of our emotions.
That's why we present this early-season edition of the Freak-Out Factor, our patented system for determining how much, on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 for complete calm, 10 for pure panic), a particular fan base should be freaking out about a particular concern with their club. Here are five that have caught the eye in the first two weeks of action.

The Nationals are looking up at the red-hot Mets
Washington entered the year a prohibitive favorite for its fifth division title in seven years and started the season 4-0. It's been a dicey road since, especially when the Mets came to town and swept the Nationals en route to what is currently an eight-game win streak. Do we have an actual division tussle on our hands? Survey says … maybe! And in Bryce Harper's walk year, anything that presents the possibility of the Nats getting upended in their division has to make Washingtonians a little uncomfortable. As Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell pointed out, the Nationals were only out of first place for seven total days in Dusty Baker's two seasons at the helm (and six of those days were by a half-game).
A Nationals team that has struggled in the clutch so far is getting close to returning Daniel Murphy to the middle of the order and is still the favorite to win this survival of the fittest. And, hey, maybe a tense division battle will have the Nats playing their best ball if/when the National League Division Series round they've never conquered arrives.
FREAK-OUT FACTOR: 5, or one point for every loss to the Mets so far, plus two points for every Bryce Harper hair dryer

The Yankees' bullpen has had some blunders
I don't see the sense in expending more Internet bandwidth on Giancarlo Stanton's early struggles (he'll be fine), and Gary Sanchez's Wednesday breakout was also an indication that the early hand-wringing was likely much ado about nothing. The Yankees have had some injury issues early, but their lineup will hit.
The bullpen, though, is a point of emphasis and interest right now. It rated, hands down, as the best in the game going into the year, but it posted a 4.93 ERA in the club's first dozen games. Tommy Kahnle's early velocity drop has been eye-catching, Dellin Betances isn't inspiring any more confidence than he did in the second half last season, and Player Page for David Robertson, Adam Warren and Chad Green have all been roughed up at one point or another in the early going. The Yanks' relievers are still striking out north of 13 batters per nine innings, but they've been burned by 1.3 homers per nine.
Track records should tame the worry about this bunch, as should a deep farm system and financial flexibility that will allow the Yankees to replenish the 'pen in the trade market, if need be.
FOF: 3.65, aka the Yankees bullpen's early BB/9 rate

The Dodgers are off to a sub-.500 start
This offense definitely looks different without Justin Turner, who is still a few weeks away from swinging a bat because of his broken left wrist. Corey Seager's slow start (.214/.298/.286 slash line in his first 10 games) was especially jarring, and Seager's throws from short still don't look totally up to snuff after the elbow issues that affected his spring schedule.
But it's the bullpen that probably rates as the biggest concern here. Offseason acquisition Scott Alexander retired just 11 of the first 21 hitters he faced, and closer Kenley Jansen's cutter velocity has ranged anywhere from 93.2 mph (comparable to last year's season average) to a much-more-alarming 90.8, without the characteristic movement and command. The Dodgers are a really deep and talented team that deserves the benefit of the doubt, but for right now, the hangover affect feels pretty real here.
FOF: 4.5, aka the division deficit the Dodgers take into their weekend series with the first-place D-backs

The Giants' pitching staff has been barraged by injuries
The Giants did not have to wait for this Friday the 13th for the bad luck to arrive. It already hit them hard late in Spring Training with Madison Bumgarner's broken hand, Jeff Samardzija's strained pec and Mark Melancon's elbow flexor strain. Now Johnny Cueto has joined them on the shelf with an injured ankle. It's not an arm injury, of course, and Cueto, who looked great in his first two outings, could be back as soon as Tuesday. Also, Samardzija is progressing to a rehab outing at the Class A level this weekend. So a rotation of Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, Derek Holland, Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez is not long for this world.
Still, if Giants fans are especially skittish after the way last season went off the rails with the assistance of the injury bug, it is 100 percent understandable. This is not a team overflowing with great depth, and runs have been in short supply so far (San Francisco scored just 33 times in its first 11 games).
FOF: 6 or 7, for the number of weeks the Giants will probably still be without Bumgarner

The Rangers are 4-10
Texas' record is reflective of its place in the top five in runs allowed per game and the bottom five in runs scored per game. The Rangers have trailed by at least four runs in nine of their 14 games, and they've yet to win a game in which they've trailed. Elvis Andrus just broke his elbow. A 44-year-old Bartolo Colon has been thrust back into a rotation in which Doug Fister is hurt and Cole Hamels has an ERA north of 5.00. They entered the year as a bit of a tweener -- not in rebuild mold, but not exactly the "win-now" juggernaut they have been in recent years, which makes this start a bit more worrisome.
FOF: 8, for the number of home losses the Rangers have already compiled

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.