David Price remembered a moment eight years ago when his Tampa Bay Rays were 1-8 after losing three of four to the White Sox. When they’d settled into their seats for a flight to Boston, their manager handed out paper cups and poured a small amount of whiskey. Joe Maddon then stood in front of his players and offered a toast “to the best 1-8 team in Major League history.”
Price recounted that story to the Boston Globe this week as he reflected on a rough start by the defending World Series champions. His point was that things can change quickly, and that the only thing the Red Sox can do at this point is stay together and keep going.
The 2005 Astros were 15-30 when the Houston Chronicle ran a tombstone on the front page of its sports section. As Lance Berkman would say later, “I didn’t think it was fair to say we were dead. You know, maybe staggering a little and not feeling so great.”
That Astros team with Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens and a galaxy of other stars got hot. The Astros went 44-27 after July 18 and clinched a postseason berth on the final day of the season on their way to making the franchise’s first trip to the World Series.
The 2005 Astros and '11 Rays are good reference points at a time when six of the 10 teams that made the MLB postseason in '18 are off to not-so-great starts, including three -- the Red Sox, Yankees and Rockies -- with losing records.
But is there any real reason to worry? Don’t baseball seasons ultimately expose every weakness and reveal every strength? Let’s take a look at the six teams and consider what should be their level of concern:
1. Red Sox (8-13, 6 games back in American League East)
Level of concern: What do you think?
Nathan Eovaldi’s cranky elbow has forced a trip to the injured list and tests what little pitching depth the Red Sox had. Besides that, the healthy arms have struggled. The Red Sox aren't getting enough offense, and their defense has let them down at inopportune times. Did we miss anything? This actually is good news if you look at it a certain way. If there was one problem, that could be addressed. With everything broken, we’ll chalk it up to a World Series hangover that ultimately will correct itself. The problem is that the Red Sox are already seven games out of first place, and that projecting a turnaround is a leap of faith at this point. If you’ve got to have faith, Sale, Betts, etc., are the right people to have it in.
Prediction: Playoff bound
2. Rockies (8-13, 5 games back in National League West)
Level of concern: Rocky Mountain high
First baseman Daniel Murphy's injury and two regulars hitting below .200 has left the Rockies unable to generate enough offense in a division in which the Dodgers are as good as ever and the Padres are on the rise. Murphy (broken finger) should return next month, and the Rockies have to trust that right fielder Charlie Blackmon will take off at some point. Remember when the annual issue with the Rockies was all about the pitching? Problem is, the NL postseason landscape has changed. Nine of the 10 teams in the NL East and Central believe they’re good enough to make the playoffs. Not everyone is going to go home happy.
Prediction: Keep the faith
3. Yankees (10-10, 3 1/2 games back in AL East)
Level of concern: It’s New York. What do you think?
Now Aaron Judge is injured? This team’s injury list was already beyond ridiculous. All things considered, the Yankees have been one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises. To be within shouting distance of .500 with so many core players sidelined is a tribute to how much quality depth the Yankees have. No one thought Clint Frazier, Domingo Germán and CC Sabathia would be the keys to the season, but that may be the case. Even if third baseman Miguel Andújar and right-hander Luis Severino don’t return, the Yankees will get enough players back to return to the postseason.
Prediction: AL East champs (said with less certainty)
4. Cubs (9-10, 3 1/2 games back in NL Central)
Level of concern: You bet
The Cubs are still the best team in the NL Central, and remember, you heard it here first. To write those words means right-hander Yu Darvish is going to take off and first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant are going to post their usual numbers. Maddon may have begun the season needing to show he’s the right man for this job. He is.
Prediction: NL Central champs
5. A’s (11-12, 4 1/2 games back in AL West)
Level of concern: Same as ever
This is about the quality of the AL postseason contenders and the state of the A’s rotation. At least one Wild Card team seems certain to come from the AL East, so the question is if the A’s can stay in front of the third-place team in that division. Left-hander Brett Anderson and right-hander Frankie Montas have been excellent, and recent history says righty Mike Fiers will turn things around. Those three might be good enough, because the A’s are good enough in every other area.
Prediction: We still believe
6. Braves (10-10, 2 games back in NL East)
Level of concern: We want Kimbrel!
When Braves fans began chanting for free agent Craig Kimbrel this week, general manager Alex Anthopoulos jokingly asked his staff if it was leading the chants. Given the state of the Braves' bullpen, that’s a fair question to ask at this point. The offense is good enough, and the pitching depth remains impressive. With closer Arodys Vizcaíno out for the season, the back of the bullpen is the issue. In a competitive NL East race, the Braves can’t stand pat.
Prediction: Kimbrel walks through the doors, and we live happily ever after