Every year you’ll hear it, especially if you root for a losing team. “It’s only April!” echoes through the blogosphere in an effort to reassure fans that a teams fortunes will turn around. Still, a slow-start in April could cripple a team’s hope for the playoffs, no matter how well they perform in May-September. These are a list of teams whose fans may need to be concerned.
1. Oakland Athletics
Wait, why would A’s fans worry? Their team is in first place in the AL West, they’re the defending division champions and have Sonny Gray in their rotation. What gives?
Sonny Gray is a very good pitcher, but keep in mind, his ERA is under two right now, which is cause to expect regression. But if you weren’t convinced by that, check out his numbers in the minor leagues – 3.66 career ERA, including a 4.14 ERA in AA and 3.42 in AAA. Does that sound like a pitcher who has the numbers to lead a team into the playoffs?
Then there’s Scott Kazmir, who currently sports a 2.11 ERA and is undefeated. Even at his best, Kazmir couldn’t keep pace with what he’s done so far. Also, journeyman Jesse Chavez is currently unblemished in record and has a 3.32 ERA. The A’s also shouldn’t be expecting any reinforcements to arrive this season, as A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker will both miss the remainder of the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
The A’s will likely need to score a lot of runs to remain in first place in the AL West, and a team with Alberto Callaspo serving as the starting first baseman doesn’t seem likely to hang a lot of crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Being in last place should seem pretty unfamiliar to the normally uber-successful Rays organization. What seemed like a team with infinite depths of pitching talent in the minor leagues has found itself struggling to compete.
Of course, any team outside of St. Louis that lost three pitchers like Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeremy Hellickson wouldn’t just struggle to stay afloat, they’d likely nose-dive. It isn’t so much that the Rays will suddenly become a bad team. They still have an amazing bullpen and enough offensive firepower to stay relevant. It’s the fact that the Rays will be competing against the Orioles, Red Sox, and Yankees in the East and will have to battle those three as well as the likes of Texas and Los Angeles for a Wild Card spot.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
Yeah, beginning the season 10-16 for a playoff contender is likely to raise a few eyebrows. But this isn’t about the demons the Pirates must conquer in 2014, it’s about the fortune they had in 2013 when they made the playoffs. Virtually everything went right for that ball club – Andrew McCutchen was the MVP, Francisco Lirano dropped the Jekyll and Hyde act, Gerrit Cole pitched like an ace, Charlie Morton gave them an unexpected 3.26 ERA in the rotation and Jason Grilli converted 33 of 35 save opportunities. Outside of Cole continuing his ace performance and Cutch battling for MVP, the rest of these occurrences seem unlikely to happen ever again. It also doesn’t help that the Brewers have the look of a team that’s going to surprise a lot of people in 2014.
4. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have the second best run-differential in baseball and are still a .500 team. What gives? The likelihood is that all things will even out, but this is the Angels we’re dealing with here, this is a team that finds the most creative ways to underperform. This season, the theme for the Angels has been coughing up leads. Los Angeles is 2-6 in one run games to start the season and has already replaced closer Ernesto Frieri.
If you think things will settle down in that bullpen, think again. The combination of Michael Kohn, Kevin Jepsen, and Frieri is about as dynamic of a mix as you can have. All three have dominant closer potential, and all three have a habit of hitting the backstop at least once per appearance, issuing at least one free pass per appearance and giving up the long ball at the most inopportune times. The Angels were expecting Dane De La Rosa and Sean Burnett to serve as their setup men in 2014, but both are injured without a timetable on their return. They do have three amazing relievers in the minors in Mike Morin (recently promoted), R.J. Alvarez and Cam Bedrosian, but would you feel comfortable hanging your playoff hopes on rookies?
If the Angels don’t find a solution soon, they could be staring at the Rangers and A’s tailpipe the rest of 2014.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
If you’re a D-Backs fan and aren’t worried yet, you’re either brave or delusional. This is a team that’s hovered around .500 for two years now and looked like they’d improved enough to contend for a title or Wild Card spot in 2014. Then they began the year 8-21. Their staff ace Patrick Corbin has been lost for the season. They traded away Tyler Skaggs for cleanup hitter Mark Trumbo, who has a broken foot. Big offseason acquisition Bronson Arroyo has an ERA close to eight. Top prospect Archie Bradley just went on the DL with the much feared “elbow soreness”. You’d think things had nowhere to go but up, and while that’s likely true, things won’t just need to go up for the D-Backs to make the playoffs – things will need to go into the stratosphere, and quickly. The Giants are playing good baseball, the Padres have a solid pitching staff, the Rockies have an unbelievable offense, and the Dodgers have one of the most talented teams in the game.