As we near the end of April, much will be made about each team’s early season performance, both positive and negative, by fans and media alike, as is the case every year. Unfortunately, what gets lost in this instant reaction and evaluation frenzy is the context that there are roughly 150 more games to be played on the schedule for each team. The 12-game sample size that April has given us simply isn’t enough to make more than surface level observations and critiques, barring significant injuries or roster overhaul. Thus let’s get to 3 of the more common overreactions floating out there and either debunk or justify their validity.
Overreaction #1: The Boston Red Sox are about to pull off another worst to first finish!
Whoa. With that rotation? In that Division?
It’s fair to say the Sox have looked good early on, despite not getting full production from their heavily invested offense. Offseason acquisition LF Hanley Ramirez has provided much needed power, though not much else, while 2B Dustin Pedroia looks back to 2013 form after a down year last season. The offense will score far more runs than the paltry 634 it put up a year ago, simply because of talent on the roster and the relative ease of hitting at Fenway or nearly any other AL East ballpark for that matter. This should afford them the chance to finish in the top 3 in the AL East.
The pitching and defense is where we must temper expectations in 2015, barring a significant addition or unforeseen breakout season. The rotation, consisting of Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly, is something out of a bad horror movie. Buchholz is the only one who has performed at a high level for more than a single season, yet has never done it in consecutive seasons (a trend he will not be starting this season). The defense has been subpar with 9 errors to their name already. The bullpen is solid when Koji Uehara is healthy, and is anchored by the reliable Edward Mujica, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa.
Overall, it’s safe to say the Red Sox will be competitive as long as their rotation allows them to be. They’ll score enough to remain in the upper echelon of the ultra-competitive AL East, yet will struggle to contain teams like the Orioles and Blue Jays to the point where winning the division is no guarantee. However, I believe that the Red Sox will head into the final week of the season with a chance to complete the worst to first cycle again, simply because they have the means to upgrade as the season progresses and that division is a mess.
Overreaction #2: The Chicago Cubs are for real and will qualify for the Playoffs!
Never say never, but the Cubs? This isn’t a drunken phone call from a night out in Wrigleyville is it?
As farfetched as it sounds, this overreaction does have some legs in that this is the best outfit the Cubs have trotted out since Lou Piniella’s forgettable, but solid 2009 squad. Coincidentally, they’ve been unable to break the 700-run threshold since that season, which is something that should change in 2015. Second year RF Jorge Soler has provided the offensive spark to makes that a possibility with his pop. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and SS Starlin Castro have also been highly effective early on. The call-ups of prospects, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, should only further push their ability to put up crooked number innings. For the first time in a long while, the offense is suddenly not the detriment of this team.
On the pitching side, the Cubs seem to have struck gold with former starter outcasts Jake Arrieta and Travis Wood. These guys have spent time towing the line with the Cubs in recent down years, and it seems to finally be paying off. Big fish offseason signing Jon Lester has been terrible in his 3 starts thus far, which exemplifies a case where two things are likely equally true. First off, Lester was vastly overpaid for his skill level after taking advantage of a career season in 2014, and expectations are too high. Secondly, despite his price tag, he will more than likely bounce back and help balance out this rotation as the season progresses. The rest of the rotation will need it, as Jason Hammel has been terrible since July of last season and Kyle Hendricks is a young project. The bullpen here is decent but sort of non-descript, aside from the ever-improving Pedro Strop. Look for the pitching to flash brilliance at times, while coming back to reality against the elite offensive teams on the schedule.
Ultimately, the fate of the 2015 Cubs will come down to pedigree, experience and talent, which is something rival St. Louis Cardinals has more of in all facets of the game. Expect the Cardinals to win the NL Central, which will force the Cubs to have to focus on procuring one of the Wild Card spots. They’ll be in the mix along with the Braves, Padres, Reds, Pirates and Mets. but likely will be on the outside looking in come October because of their inexperience and lack of depth.
Overreaction #3: The Milwaukee Brewers are the worst team in baseball!
Excuse me, what happened?
From being the second best team going into the All-Star Break in 2014 to holding the worst record in all of baseball, the slip has been astonishingly bad for the Brewers. The offense, which is not completely devoid of talent and once looked explosive, has been totally lifeless thus far. In short, they’re overpaying that PED hack RF Ryan Braun way too much money to not produce and relying far too much on elderly 3B Aramis Ramirez. They don’t get hits, they don’t get walks and they’re incapable of stealing bases, none of which gives much hope of an ability to score something they’ll need to make up for their inferior rotation and fielding. The silver lining again, though, is that there is talent and it’s early. Eventually, some of the bats will heat up, but will it be enough?
Their rotation just isn’t very good, unfortunately. First off, they traded their best SP Yovani Gallardo to Texas for prospects and did nothing to attempt to replace his production or consistency. The combination of Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, Mike Fiers, Jimmy Nelson and Wily Peralta just isn’t inspiring, despite Nelson’s hot start. The fielding has been equally frustrating and the source of a lot of unnecessary runs allowed. That will be a theme for the Brewers in the early innings this season, as their starters are mostly all high ERA guys. On a positive note, the bullpen is one of the most consistent in baseball and a source of strength. Closer Francisco Rodriguez has put up some of his best numbers in Milwaukee, and relievers Jeremy Jeffress and Tyler Thornburg are solid. The paradoxical composition and performance of the Brewers pitching staff in 2015 will be something to watch, and then immediately after, scratch one’s head.
In spite of all of the well-documented negatives surrounding this team, from the struggling offense to the lack of quality starting pitching, the Brewers do have what it takes to bounce back from this horrendous start. There’s simply too much offensive talent and bullpen strength to believe that his team will lose 100 games. Thus, they cannot and will not be the worst team in all of baseball by the time this season is over, despite the early failures. Look for the Brewers to struggle most of the season and still finish in last place in the NL Central, but at least make it interesting at times.