Panic time? Six slow-starting MLB teams dig early holes

You know it’s early when you look at struggling teams and neither the Pirates nor Nationals are on the list.

But there is no shortage of clubs to assume their spots:

Red Sox

David Ortiz and the Red Sox offense have struggled, but that's only part of the problem.
David Ortiz and the Red Sox offense have struggled, but that’s only part of the problem.

The problem: The offense has struggled with runners in scoring position, but that stat is bound to improve. More concerning is the lackluster defense. The Red Sox allowed nine unearned runs in their first 13 games, third-most in the majors. Four (in one inning) were the result of an error by center fielder Mike Cameron, who hasn’t displayed the defense expected of him. The Red Sox lost that game to the Rays, 6-5, en route to being swept in the four-game series. "I’ve made that catch a thousand times, but that time I didn’t," said Cameron, who had a tough week. He passed a kidney stone Friday, returned to the lineup Saturday, sat out Monday because of similar symptoms and was placed on the disabled list Tuesday with an abdominal strain.

Panic level: 6 (out of 10). The Red Sox have too much talent and resources to not win. Their real problem is the Rays, who have an even better team than the one that went to the World Series two years ago.

Cubs
The problem: A veteran scout likes to tell me, "The team that figures out its bullpen first is the team that wins." The Cubs have much figuring to do, specifically in the seventh and eighth innings. They already have lost six games in which they led or were tied going into the seventh inning. John Grabow was supposed to be Carlos Marmol’s setup man, but the lefthander already has lost two games with eighth-inning failures. Jeff Samardzija continues to disappoint and lost a game to the Brewers when he unwisely tried to throw a fastball past Ryan Braun. Bringing in Marmol in the eighth hasn’t worked, either. His only blown save came when he allowed an inherited runner to score in the eighth.

Panic level: 7. The pitching should get a lift later this week when Ted Lilly returns to the rotation (and Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny is sent to the bullpen). Offensively, Aramis Ramirez is hitting .157 with 17 strikeouts in 51 at-bats, and Ryan Theriot, who has a .271 on-base percentage, was dropped from the leadoff spot Monday night in favor of Marlon Byrd. Byrd is only Cubs with a double-digit RBI total.

White Sox
The problem: They aren’t reaching base, which is important considering their desire to play small ball. With new leadoff hitter Juan Pierre yet to warm up, the White Sox rank near the bottom of the majors in batting average and OBP. Pierre isn’t the only straggler. The White Sox didn’t have a regular hitting .300 after their first 13 games. "A bad road trip," manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters after Chicago totaled eight runs and was swept in a three-game series at Cleveland. "We continue to struggle at the plate."

Panic level: 5. They aren’t striking out much, which means the hits could start falling. The pitching has been solid, the relievers outstanding. The bullpen leads the AL in ERA with rookie Sergio Santos and Tony Pena both off to strong starts.

Brett Myers and the Astros have reason to be concerned.
Brett Myers and the Astros have reason to be concerned.

Mets
The problem: Jason Bay is off to a lousy start, Jose Reyes hasn’t returned to form and Jerry Manuel isn’t quite on his game. One example: Manuel admitted that he had Francisco Rodriguez warm up so often in Saturday’s 20-inning game that the righthander almost was unable to pitch. One estimate had Rodriguez making 100 warmup pitches. "If we had lost that game, you guys would have had plenty to question," Manuel admitted.

But those woes pale compared to what has happened at first base. Going into Tuesday’s action, Mets first basemen were hitting .192 with two runs and four RBIs, and that was after a successful debut by 23-year-old Ike Davis. Such a lack of production shouldn’t be surprising after the club neglected the position in the offseason.

Daniel Murphy was supposed to be the guy, though he did not take to the position last season. When Murphy injured his knee this spring, the Mets turned to journeymen Fernando Tatis and Mike Jacobs and started Davis, who hit .480 in spring training, at Class AAA. The Mets quickly gave up on Jacobs and promoted Davis on Monday, but not until he had warmed up and dressed for an afternoon game in Buffalo. Maybe they finally got it right; Davis had two hits and an RBI in his major league debut.

Panic level: 8 (for the minority who thought the Mets had a chance to contend). Finishing ahead of the Nationals figures to be challenging enough.

Astros
The problem: They hit three homers and averaged 2.3 runs in their first 12 games. Cleanup hitter Carlos Lee had yet to drive in a run.

Panic level: 7. Lance Berkman’s return will help, but not much.

Orioles
The problem: How about everything? Baltimore was outscored 74-44 in its first 14 games as the offense scuffled, the bullpen blew more than its share of leads and the defense was responsible for 12 unearned runs.

Panic level: 8. This was supposed to be the season the Orioles escaped last place, but they already are 10 games under .500.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Sponsored link: White Sox tickets available

You know it’s early when you look at struggling teams and neither the Pirates nor Nationals are on the list.

But there is no shortage of clubs to assume their spots:

Red Sox

David Ortiz and the Red Sox offense have struggled, but that's only part of the problem.
David Ortiz and the Red Sox offense have struggled, but that’s only part of the problem.

The problem: The offense has struggled with runners in scoring position, but that stat is bound to improve. More concerning is the lackluster defense. The Red Sox allowed nine unearned runs in their first 13 games, third-most in the majors. Four (in one inning) were the result of an error by center fielder Mike Cameron, who hasn’t displayed the defense expected of him. The Red Sox lost that game to the Rays, 6-5, en route to being swept in the four-game series. "I’ve made that catch a thousand times, but that time I didn’t," said Cameron, who had a tough week. He passed a kidney stone Friday, returned to the lineup Saturday, sat out Monday because of similar symptoms and was placed on the disabled list Tuesday with an abdominal strain.

Panic level: 6 (out of 10). The Red Sox have too much talent and resources to not win. Their real problem is the Rays, who have an even better team than the one that went to the World Series two years ago.

Cubs
The problem: A veteran scout likes to tell me, "The team that figures out its bullpen first is the team that wins." The Cubs have much figuring to do, specifically in the seventh and eighth innings. They already have lost six games in which they led or were tied going into the seventh inning. John Grabow was supposed to be Carlos Marmol’s setup man, but the lefthander already has lost two games with eighth-inning failures. Jeff Samardzija continues to disappoint and lost a game to the Brewers when he unwisely tried to throw a fastball past Ryan Braun. Bringing in Marmol in the eighth hasn’t worked, either. His only blown save came when he allowed an inherited runner to score in the eighth.

Panic level: 7. The pitching should get a lift later this week when Ted Lilly returns to the rotation (and Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny is sent to the bullpen). Offensively, Aramis Ramirez is hitting .157 with 17 strikeouts in 51 at-bats, and Ryan Theriot, who has a .271 on-base percentage, was dropped from the leadoff spot Monday night in favor of Marlon Byrd. Byrd is only Cubs with a double-digit RBI total.

White Sox
The problem: They aren’t reaching base, which is important considering their desire to play small ball. With new leadoff hitter Juan Pierre yet to warm up, the White Sox rank near the bottom of the majors in batting average and OBP. Pierre isn’t the only straggler. The White Sox didn’t have a regular hitting .300 after their first 13 games. "A bad road trip," manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters after Chicago totaled eight runs and was swept in a three-game series at Cleveland. "We continue to struggle at the plate."

Panic level: 5. They aren’t striking out much, which means the hits could start falling. The pitching has been solid, the relievers outstanding. The bullpen leads the AL in ERA with rookie Sergio Santos and Tony Pena both off to strong starts.

Brett Myers and the Astros have reason to be concerned.
Brett Myers and the Astros have reason to be concerned.

Mets
The problem: Jason Bay is off to a lousy start, Jose Reyes hasn’t returned to form and Jerry Manuel isn’t quite on his game. One example: Manuel admitted that he had Francisco Rodriguez warm up so often in Saturday’s 20-inning game that the righthander almost was unable to pitch. One estimate had Rodriguez making 100 warmup pitches. "If we had lost that game, you guys would have had plenty to question," Manuel admitted.

But those woes pale compared to what has happened at first base. Going into Tuesday’s action, Mets first basemen were hitting .192 with two runs and four RBIs, and that was after a successful debut by 23-year-old Ike Davis. Such a lack of production shouldn’t be surprising after the club neglected the position in the offseason.

Daniel Murphy was supposed to be the guy, though he did not take to the position last season. When Murphy injured his knee this spring, the Mets turned to journeymen Fernando Tatis and Mike Jacobs and started Davis, who hit .480 in spring training, at Class AAA. The Mets quickly gave up on Jacobs and promoted Davis on Monday, but not until he had warmed up and dressed for an afternoon game in Buffalo. Maybe they finally got it right; Davis had two hits and an RBI in his major league debut.

Panic level: 8 (for the minority who thought the Mets had a chance to contend). Finishing ahead of the Nationals figures to be challenging enough.

Astros
The problem: They hit three homers and averaged 2.3 runs in their first 12 games. Cleanup hitter Carlos Lee had yet to drive in a run.

Panic level: 7. Lance Berkman’s return will help, but not much.

Orioles
The problem: How about everything? Baltimore was outscored 74-44 in its first 14 games as the offense scuffled, the bullpen blew more than its share of leads and the defense was responsible for 12 unearned runs.

Panic level: 8. This was supposed to be the season the Orioles escaped last place, but they already are 10 games under .500.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Sponsored link: White Sox tickets available

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