5 teams that may already have legit concerns
We haven’t even made it through a full week of the MLB season, so it is obviously too early to draw any conclusions from anything we have seen so far. It’s four or five games! That’s absurd!
But the thing about four or five games, when we have no other context in which to put them, is that they can very much boost existing narratives: They can persuade us that what we thought coming into the season was going to happen is now actually true. They can make your greatest ambitions for your team feel fulfilled … and they can make your deepest anxieties about them palpable and real.
So let’s focus on that last one. Here are five teams -- five teams that are expected to contend, that have gotten off to slow or semi-slow starts, and have done so for precisely the reasons many people were worried about them in the first place. They are ranked in order of worry: The team with the biggest worry comes first. With any luck, all these teams will turn it around, and this piece will look ridiculous in a month. But they may depend on them solving this particular problem.
1) A’s: Did the bullpen makeover work?
Much of the concern about the A’s this offseason, other than the departures of Robbie Grossman and Marcus Semien, revolved around their revamped bullpen, which was cobbled together late in the offseason, with Sergio Romo, Trevor Rosenthal and Adam Kolarek all signed in February. Those pitchers have given up seven runs in three innings -- Rosenthal is on the injured list -- but the rest of the bullpen has imploded too, giving up a total of 19 earned runs in 23 innings. The A’s are off to a dreadful 0-5 start, and they’ve been outscored by a total of 33 runs. It is difficult to begin a season in a worse fashion than the A’s have. And they don’t know when Rosenthal will be back either. It’s early. But look out.
2) Cardinals: How’s the rotation going to hold up?
For all the concerns about the Cardinals’ offense, the larger national worry appeared to be with their rotation, which had Jack Flaherty (who struggled in 2020), a nearly 40 Adam Wainwright, an inconsistent Carlos Martínez and a bunch of injury concerns. In the first three games, Flaherty, Wainwright and Martínez -- the three guys the Cards thought they could count on -- gave up 16 earned runs in 12 innings. If anything, they were lucky just to win one of their games against Cincinnati over the weekend. Daniel Ponce de Leon was much stronger against Miami on Monday, and St. Louis needs John Gant to do the same Tuesday. But if Flaherty, Wainwright and Martínez don’t come through, the Cardinals aren’t going anywhere further than .500, which is where they are right now.
3) Braves: Will the offense regress?
The Braves’ offense carried them in 2020, with three potential MVPs (and one winner): Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna (who almost won the Triple Crown) and Ronald Acuña Jr. As great as they were, there was reason to be concerned that they, particularly the first two, would be unable to repeat that performance. So far? The trio is 3-for-32 with zero RBIs; the Braves have scored only three runs all season, which is an effective way to start your season 0-3. Of the three, Ozuna is probably the biggest wild card, as his 2020 performance was more of an outlier. All three will improve, obviously. But will they be able to carry this team again?
4) Brewers: Is the lineup going to be bad again?
The roughest part about the Brewers’ lineup in 2020 wasn’t that Christian Yelich had, by far, the worst year of his career. It’s that he was still easily the Brewers’ best hitter. It’s true: He had the highest OPS+ (110) of any Brewer with at least 150 plate appearances. The Brewers finally figured out their rotation, and they’ve upgraded their defense, but they still need to hit. How’s that going? Not swell. The Brewers, who are 1-3, have the second-worst OPS in baseball (ahead of only the Braves) and have just four extra-base hits in four games. Bad sign: Keston Hiura, who was ticketed for big things last year before regressing dramatically, has begun the season 0-for-15. Yelich, for his part, has struck out in nine of his 17 plate appearances.
5) Red Sox: What can we really expect from the rotation?
The Red Sox’s 2020 season felt over within the first week, with their rotation immediately in shambles. That wasn’t the case in the first four runs through the Sox’s 2021 rotation, with decent starts from Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck and Nathan Eovaldi. (Garrett Richards? Not so much.) The Red Sox have still lost three of their first four, including a home sweep to begin the season at the hands of Baltimore, but that’s more because of a sputtering offense to this point. The question is: When the offense rebounds, as it surely will, can the rotation continue to be halfway decent? And against teams that can hit a lot better than the Orioles?