Begin with this: It's too early to panic. No, more than that, it's way too early to panic. The season is barely a week old, there are 150-plus games left and all of that. You know that it's too early to panic.
And yet, let's be honest: Is it really ever too early to panic?
We are introducing the concept of PANCON. It is like DEFCON -- the Defense Readiness Condition that the U.S. armed forces uses -- only it's not like that at all. PANCON represents the Panic Condition for a team.
The PANCON conditions are as follows:
PANCON 5: All is normal, the team is playing as expected.
PANCON 4: There is a little edginess, a few players talk about how everybody needs to "pick it up," trade rumors float around, etc.
PANCON 3: There is palpable concern. Players-only meetings are called. The manager starts shifting lineups. Bullpens are shuffled around.
PANCON 2: Trouble -- manager is on the hot seat, fans start a FireTheGM.com website, players start anonymously talking about how teammates must play harder, the clubhouse becomes an unhappy place.
PANCON 1: Full-scale panic. Manager gets fired. Players get traded. Fans give up hope.
As of right now, nobody is close to the doomed PANCON stages … but there are some signs of concern. Here are the PANCON stages for the last-place teams after just a few games.
American League East: Toronto Blue Jays (1-5)
PANCON 4, edging down to 3.
There is some reason for real worry in Toronto. The Blue Jays had a testy offseason, one in which they lost Edwin Encarnacion and went back and forth and back and forth with Jose Bautista. This is an old team -- Bautsta, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, Kendrys Morales, Josh Donaldson -- all are in their 30s, as is three-fifths of Toronto's starting rotation. The Blue Jays have had some injuries, but this is a team teetering, and the slow start doesn't help.
AL Central: Kansas City Royals (2-5)
PANCON 4, with an asterisk.
There's an asterisk with anything involving the Royals this year, because the glow of their World Series victory two years ago shines brightly in Kansas City. It's difficult for Royals fans to feel anything but gratitude for the team that won back-to-back AL pennants, a World Series title and made Kansas City the center of baseball again. That said, everyone knows that the core players of this team will become free agents, and that a slow start will likely motivate general manager Dayton Moore to start trading off fan favorites like Lorenzo Cain. The Royals' makeshift bullpen has bombed early, which could portend bad things.
AL West: Seattle Mariners (2-6)
PANCON 4, with a hint of "Here We Go Again."
Every year, it seems, the Mariners threaten to break through. Every year, it seems, they do not. This offseason, Seattle made a series of interesting and exciting moves, and it was the trendy pick with so-called experts like yours truly. It's weeks and weeks too early for real panic, but the Mariners pretty much got off to the worst imaginable start, losing two walk-off games, including one in which they blew a six-run lead in the ninth.
National League East: Atlanta Braves (1-5)
The Braves, these days, seem to run in a perpetual state of PANCON 3. In the past year, they fired a manager, they finished last, they picked up a bunch of veteran guys like Bartolo Colon, Brandon Phillips, R.A. Dickey and Matt Kemp in order to put a presentable team on the field as they move into a new stadium and so on. It's a flurry of activity in Atlanta; there are many exciting young players, and the future looks bright. But for right now, it's testy for the Braves.
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals (2-5)
There is no particular reason for the Cardinals to be worried, except that it's St. Louis: Worrying about the Cards is a St. Louis tradition. Adam Wainwright's rough start, the opening hitting struggles of William Fowler, Matt Carpenter and Randal Grichuk, the shakiness of the bullpen, these are plenty of grist for a restive Cardinals fan base.
NL West: San Francisco Giants (3-5)
The bullpen struggles might be a cause for concern, but the Giants have won a couple of games in a row, they've been here countless times before, they're fine.