The Baseball Notebook

April 18, 2010 9:02 PM

Who's To Blame?

With the exception of the Mets-Cardinals game going on as I write, we have two weeks of baseball in the books. For about two-thirds of the teams, it’s still a case of jockeying for position and waiting for the first big streak, good or bad, to set the tone. A few have either broken hard from the gate or languishing at the starting blocks. In this post, I’m going to look at six teams who are facing moment-of-truth time early in the season and ask the question of why. The key stat indicators I look at, both individually and as a team, are slugging percentage and on-base percentage. And of course from a team standpoint we start with the obvious ones of runs scored and ERA.

Houston—It’s impossible to imagine a team playing any more impotently then the Astros have thus far, and it’s frankly amazing they’ve actually stumbled into three wins. The offense is last in the league in runs and in OBP and slugging. Pitching is near the bottom across the board. Carlos Lee has only hit five singles for the entire season. Pedro Feliz and Hunter Pence join him in testing the depth of offensive ineptitude. What makes the pitching problems scary is that Roy Oswalt and Brett Myers are pitching well. What’s going to happen if either of them hit a slump?

Baltimore—The Orioles have been competitive more often than not, but an atrocious bullpen is their biggest area of concern. There is literally not a single reliable arm right now to back up a starting rotation that’s been pretty good, with the notable exception of Brad Bergesen and his 11.74 ERA after two starts. Offensively, there are problems, but the O’s rank 10th in both slugging and OBP, while only 12th in runs scored. This suggests to me a lack of timely hitting, which tends to even out over the course of time. That can account for a modest increase in runs, but Nick Markakis has to hit for some power, Miguel Tejada has to be on base more consistently and Adam Jones just needs to do anything at the plate.

Cincinnati—It must be a pattern with professional sports franchises in this city to struggle scoring while being pretty good at preventing others from doing so. In their best effort to imitate the Bengals, the Reds are sixth in the NL in ERA, but ninth in runs scored. Lack of baserunners is doing them in and Orlando Cabrera is the biggest culprit. Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs can’t escape scrutiny either.

Chicago White Sox—While Jake Peavy and his 6.00 ERA after three starts are certainly disappointing, pitching isn’t the problem on the South Side. It’s the bats that are holding the White Sox back. A.J. Pierzynski’s has been the worst, with Alexi Ramirez and Juan Pierre struggling themselves. Kudos to Mark Teahen, over from Kansas City to play third, for a strong start with the bat.

Boston—A surprise inclusion on this list, the Red Sox are 4-8 and already five games back of both New York and Tampa Bay. For all the expressed concern over the offense and David Ortiz—and yes, both are quite subpar—pitching is the bigger reason for the poor start. They rank 8th in runs scored and 11th in ERA. Chief offender? Jon Lester, rocked this afternoon, now sports an 8.44 ERA. On the positive side for the Fenway Faithful, Lester has an established tendency to struggle in April before righting himself as the weather gets warmer.

New York Mets—they’re 4-7 right now and honestly if they win tonight, I’d probably take them off the list. But there are rumors about Jerry Manuel already being on the hot seat, so clearly the Wilpons aren’t happy. The Mets aren’t getting any offense from Jason Bay and Luis Castillo. And Jose Reyes’ return to the lineup has been marked by 35 mostly punchless at-bats. Pitching hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t been the primary problem the first two weeks either.

See you tomorrow afternoon to look at the key series that will start Monday night.

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