"It's early! Still plenty of baseball to be played!"
Have we properly qualified ourselves? Yes? Fantastic, because since we talked about surprising starts on Wednesday, it's only fair to hold a little weekend discussion about teams that are getting a late start on the great things they may have been predicted for. Below you'll find a summary of six teams expected to contend for division titles and then a short tale about their slow break from the gate. Pick your sad surprise in the poll below or make your case for a disappointment in the comments.
(Records listed are through Thursday's games.)
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Philadelphia Phillies (6-8): Ace lefty Cole Hamels tried to hog all the blame for himself earlier this week, but his pitching isn't completely responsible for the Phils' 6.35 staff ERA or all of the 31 NL-worst homers allowed (just five of them, two less than Brett Myers). Meanwhile, the Philly lineup has struck out a NL-worst 71 times and Jimmy Rollins' OBP is an anemic .206. Not exactly the right ingredients for a title defense, but at least they've been somewhat better than the ...
Tampa Bay Rays (6-10): Apparently that players-only meeting didn't have a lasting effect because the Rays morphed back into the Devil Rays on Thursday and wasted a great effort from James Shields in a 1-0 loss to Seattle. Tampa Bay already rests 5.5 games behind division-leading Toronto (plus 3.5 behind NY and Boston) and have put up middling stats across the board. The fact that Evan Longoria is crushing the ball is a promising sign, but a 2-5 start at home is not.
Los Angeles Angels (6-9): Given the tragic death of pitcher Nick Adenhart, the slow start of the Angels is probably the easiest one to understand. Given that they're still missing John Lackey and Ervin Santana from the starting rotation, it'll also be easy to understand if their struggles continue. The Angels are 1-5 on the road and have yet to win two consecutive games. Playing in the AL West should give them a little more leeway than most, though.
New York Mets (6-9): The preseason fears of the weak pitching staff behind Johan Santana have proven real in the opening weeks with Livan Hernandez, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez all sporting ERAs north of 7.00. Meanwhile, Santana is at a miniscule 0.46. The Mets have already played seven one-run games, going 3-4 in them.
Arizona Diamondbacks (6-9): This team has an offense, right? The D'Backs rank last in the National League in batting average and OBP and have left Dan Haren out to dry more than should be allowed by humanitarian laws. Brandon Webb's injury troubles aren't going to make a resurrection any easier, especially with the Dodgers playing worldbeaters to start.
Cleveland Indians (6-10): This team doesn't look as bad as they did a week ago, but that 1-7 start is the stinkiest of this lot. Sparked by that Opening Day drubbing of the Yankees last week and following 22-4 blowout, the Tribe has gone 5-3 to semi-recover and get back into striking distance of a AL Central race that's going to be packed all season. But given Cliff Lee's struggles to start the season, it's hard to look at their rotation and think that the Indians won't go through some equally bad rough patches.
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What do you think?