Too early to panic? Dissecting underperforming clubs

May 18th, 2022

With a little more than a month’s worth of games in the books, a few expected contenders have started off slowly, falling short of preseason expectations, while others opened the season scorching hot -- perhaps playing a little bit over their heads. A group of reporters gathered to discuss these teams and where they may be headed as the season progresses.

Alyson Footer, moderator/editor: When I look at the standings, of all of the teams expected to start off better than they have, the Braves and Red Sox stand out to me as two that can't be as bad as they've shown so far. We can start with the Sox -- they have to have a run in them, no?

Anthony Castrovince, columnist/reporter: Depends how much you trust that pitching staff, and particularly that bullpen.

Ian Browne, Red Sox beat reporter: They have a run in them if they can start hitting consistently. Most of the offense has woefully underperformed and it is the main reason they are off to such a bad start. The bullpen was supposed to be mediocre, but they've also been pitching with 1-0 or 2-0 leads on most nights. The starting rotation has actually overperformed and if they can stay on the outskirts of contention for the return of Chris Sale and James Paxton, they might be OK. But I'm telling you .... if they just hit, it could cover up a lot of other issues.

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: It's difficult for me to imagine that the Red Sox are as bad as they have shown, but sometimes these things can snowball on a team. If that run you mention doesn't happen soon, the trade talk (Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi) will start to dominate the headlines. It's tough for a team to come back when that starts.

Browne: Mark, what you talked about is what happened to the Red Sox in 2014. An underperforming team that overachieved the year before. Some unsettled contract issues. And ultimately, major trades at the Deadline in which they sold off key parts of a championship team.

Castrovince: I think you mean if guys NOT named J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts hit. Those three have a 159 wRC+. The rest of the lineup has a 54 wRC+.

Feinsand: Getting Michael Wacha -- one of the team's few bright spots this season -- back from the IL soon should provide a bit of a boost.

Boston has a problem that few other teams have: it plays in the AL East. Trying to climb back into the race with the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays ahead of them is quite a task.

Footer: Trevor Story has been a huge hole in this lineup, and while he's shown some life lately, you have to be concerned that the more time goes on and the pressure mounts, especially with the scrutiny that comes with being with a new team, the more things can snowball for him. And, possibly hurt the Red Sox long-term.

Castrovince: He wouldn't be the first free-agent signee swallowed up by Boston, but it's good to see Story starting to get some hits of late.

Browne: True, and Story had his biggest hit with the Red Sox yet. A game-tying homer onto the street against the Astros on May 16 that led the Sox to a big win over the Astros. It will be interesting to see if that ends up being a confidence booster for him.

Castrovince: Get a healthier rotation and put Garrett Whitlock back in the bullpen, and the Sox might be all right. But as Mark said, it's a different thing to come back in the AL East than in the AL Central.

Feinsand: I wonder if Story would settle down if (when?) Bogaerts gets traded and he can move back to shortstop?

Browne: Bogaerts is another issue onto himself. That might settle Story down, but it would unsettle the entire team and organization if he gets traded. He is their pillar.

Feinsand: Every time I want to count out a team in mid-May, I have to remind myself that the 2019 World Series-champion Nationals were 19-31 after 50 games. We're not even at the quarter-pole yet.

Footer: As baseball fans, we like to panic. Stop with all the reasonable logic.

Browne: In Boston, they never panic though. Everyone here is wicked calm! I promise.

Feinsand: Fair. Panic buttons are what keep the baseball world going at times.

Browne: It seems like the Yankees were as bad as the Red Sox offensively at this time last year and they won, what, 92 games?

The next two-plus months will be one of the most fascinating stretches since I've been covering the team. If they continue to stay out of the race, Chaim Bloom loves making trades and he loves compiling prospects. They have Bogaerts (opt-out), Eovaldi (free agent) and Martinez (free agent) as potential trade targets. This is going to get real, real interesting, making the Red Sox kind of must-watch TV between now and the Deadline. If they go on a run, he can't really justify breaking up the team.

Footer: Speaking of panicking, what’s going on in Atlanta? Charlie Morton had some quotes recently about being alarmed about his high ERA more now than he was last year. That's ... unsettling?

Feinsand: They won the World Series last year. I'm sure there's some panic, but isn't there some sort of grace period where all fans have to just be happy and let the glow of last year hover over them?

Browne: The Braves remind me of the 2013 Red Sox in the sense that nobody expected them to win last year and they did, and now they have all these expectations. And the team that wins it all the year before always seems snake-bitten the next year. And worn down, pitching-wise. But you figure the return of Ronald Acuña Jr. gives them an added element.

Castrovince: The Braves are in a different situation than a year ago, only because the Mets have played so well. I guess any freak out about the Braves comes down to one's trust in the Mets and their ability to not Mets this up.

Browne: Did you just create a verb?

Castrovince: Mets can be used as a verb, noun, expletive, you name it.

But yes, the Braves do need Morton to turn things around. The rotation could be this year's focus of their 137 July trades.

Feinsand: I would think the performance of Adam Duvall, Marcell Ozuna, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson are more of a concern right now than Morton's ERA. The rest of the rotation is pitching pretty darn well.

Browne: Offensive underperformance seems to be an issue in a lot of places.

Footer: One other team I feel like is underperforming is the Mariners. I do think they'll be right in the AL West mix sooner than later. Too optimistic? Seems like they have more than a few young players that still need to find their footing, which could come in the second half.

Though Jarred Kelenic obviously has some work to do at Triple-A.

Browne: Yeah, that is another team suddenly dealing with expectations they didn't have before. It is easy to perform when you are the cute underdogs. This year, people are expecting something from them. That can be hard for a young team.

Feinsand: Seattle is experiencing both sides of the young player spectrum. Julio Rodríguez is on pace for a four-WAR season and became the third player in club history to reach base five times in a game at age 21 or younger. (Griffey and A-Rod were the others, in case you were wondering.) Kelenic has been a mess, so he's going to spend some time at Triple-A in an effort to get his confidence and swagger back.

Castrovince: First and foremost, the M's need Robbie Ray to be the guy they signed.

I still believe in the Mariners. I will not give up that dream easily. The Angels have upped the ante in the AL West, but I still think Seattle can remain relevant in that race.

Feinsand: Seattle will also get Kyle Lewis back at some point, which should help. But Ray getting himself straightened out would be as important as anything else.

Can we take a moment to appreciate how good J.P. Crawford has been? Over the past calendar year, he's a 4.5-win player. That's top 30 in MLB, right alongside Mookie Betts and Marcus Semien.

Castrovince: J.P. Crawford and Ty France are both underrated elements of that team. Jesse Winker has looked a little more comfortable of late. It stinks that Mitch Haniger is hurt and Kelenic has been a bust, but there's still a lot to like on that team.

Footer: Anyone surprised at the Blue Jays’ so-so record?

Browne: A little. But their offense is so good. At some point, they are just going to start hammering teams.

Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah are a couple of top starters, and José Berríos is no slouch either. Hard to think the Jays won't get hot and stay hot.

Feinsand: Toronto is over .500, so I can't go nuts. But the Jays are 4-8 against the Yankees and Rays, and 16-9 against everyone else.

Castrovince: I am surprised, given that Toronto won its first seven series of the season. The offense has really underperformed. Maybe they need a few home series in Dunedin just to get it going again.

Footer: Let’s talk about some of the teams that might be playing a little bit over their heads.

I covered one Angels game two weeks into the season and turned to a colleague and said something along the lines of, “I don’t know why everyone again has high expectations for this team. They’re as pedestrian as they come.” I think they’ve lost twice since then.

Are they for real? Am I just a grumpy AL West observer?

Feinsand: For years, we've been saying, "If only the Angels could pitch ... " Then something funny happened in 2022 -- they're pitching!

Castrovince: The Angels deserved to be pooh-poohed preseason because of their recent history, but for once they have the pitching.

Browne: I just want them to be good because everyone wants to see Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani play on the biggest stage possible.

Feinsand: Patrick Sandoval, Noah Syndergaard, Ohtani, Reid Detmers and Michael Lorenzen have all been solid. If that continues, the Angels will remain a legit contender. It's as simple as that.

Castrovince: My only question is if they'll get the innings they need from that crew. Syndergaard is coming off two missed years, Lorenzen is a full-time starter for the first time in seven years, Detmers and Sandoval are still establishing themselves, and Ohtani is the biggest injury risk in the game only because of his unique role.

Feinsand: Funny side story: I took my 13-year-old to a sports card show on Sunday. Almost every dealer had one or two Detmers cards in their display. I asked one, "Had you ever heard of Detmers before this week?" He said no. And he wasn't alone.

Browne: Watching Ohtani pitch was about the most enjoyable thing I've seen in the press box this season. Alex Cora called it the best game anyone has pitched against the Red Sox during his time managing the team. And, then, later in the game, he is rattling doubles off the Green Monster. What a player.

Footer: Are the Angels better than the Astros?

Castrovince: I still don't think they are better than the Astros, no.

Feinsand: Jake Odorizzi's injury could have an impact on that question.

Castrovince: But Perry Minasian is a pretty competitive dude. I'll be curious to see his approach to the Deadline if the Angels and Astros are still neck and neck.

Browne: The Astros are the Rays of the AL West. So consistent. But yeah, that Odorizzi thing was unsettling to watch. Looking forward to seeing an actual diagnosis for what happened to him.

Footer: Let’s touch on the D-backs for a minute. I love that they’re better. They deserve it, after what they’ve endured the past several years. But in that division, you have to be better than being simply “better than last year” to really be taken seriously. So while they’re definitely on a better track, do they fit into this debate?

Castrovince: Arizona is overperforming, but nobody thinks they're a contender.

Footer: In a less competitive division, are they 10 games over?

Feinsand: Ten over might be a stretch. They're 5-1 against the Marlins and 13-19 against the rest of the league. They're 5-8 against the NL West and haven't played the Giants yet. But they have a winning record against the mighty Rockies, which is pretty darn impressive!