Five teams that have fallen far below expectations
Posted: Monday May 9, 2005 12:36PM; Updated: Monday May 9, 2005 5:55PM
Thumbs up? More like thumbs down for Jimmy Rollins' last-place Phillies.
At some point during the slapping around they received by the Braves on Sunday, it had to become apparent to the Astros -- painfully, starkly, embarrassingly obvious -- that this might not be their year. It sure as heck wasn't their afternoon. Atlanta pounded out 17 hits -- including five home runs -- and Mike Hampton held Houston to two singles in a 16-0 humiliation.
The Astros scored a total of eight runs as they suffered a four-game sweep in Atlanta, looking nothing like the team that beat the Braves in last year's National League Division Series and took the Cardinals to seven games in the NL Championship Series. Houston has lost six games in a row overall and 11 straight on the road, including four shutouts.
"Nobody," said Houston manager Phil Garner, "can be that bad."
Actually, the Astros have plenty of company on that front in this young season. For every nice surprise -- the White Sox, the Orioles, the Dodgers -- at least one bummer lurks. So here are the five most disappointing teams so far this year, from the least-disappointing of the most disappointing to the most-disappointing of the ... well, you get the idea:
5. Houston Astros (11-19, last place) Everybody knew the Astros were going to have a difficult time this season. Still, after taking the Cardinals to seven games in the NLCS and talking Roger Clemens back into the clubhouse, the expectations were high. Without Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent (lost to free agency), Berkman (lost for the first month with a knee injury), and with an achy and aging roster, the Astros are off to a nightmarish start. Only the Pirates have scored fewer runs in the NL and nobody's hit fewer home runs. Along the insult-to-injury lines, Clemens isn't denying rumors that he would return to the Yankees if the situation warranted it -- though Astros owner Drayton McLane, who has the Rocket signed to a long-term personal services contract after his playing days are over, says "No way." We'll have to see.
4. Chicago Cubs (13-17, third place) Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra is down for the count, hard-throwing right-hander Kerry Wood will be out for at least another month, the starters who are left have a 4.58 ERA (12th in the league) and the bullpen is going through closers like Dusty Baker goes through toothpicks. The Cubs, even with all that supposedly great pitching, have lost seven of their last eight. They can hit the ball -- their 39 homers rank second in the league, and they have the second-best slugging percentage in the NL -- but they're having big-time trouble scoring runs. (They don't walk, which doesn't help.) Early-season MVP Derrek Lee is their saving grace.
3. Cleveland Indians (12-18, fourth place) A darkhorse in the Central before the season began, the Indians have stumbled from the start with a lame lineup (down there with Kansas City and Oakland in runs scored) and lousy starting pitching (a 5.22 ERA; only K.C. and Tampa Bay are worse). No regular is hitting above .300, Aaron Boone is batting .124 (the worst mark in baseball with at least 75 at-bats), Jake Westbrook is 1-6 with an ERA approaching 7.00 and general manager Mark Shapiro already is fielding questions about midseason moves. He says, by the way, that he's sticking with his guys. Going down with the ship, they call it.
2. New York Yankees (13-19, fourth place) After back-to-back shutouts over the punchless A's, the Yanks may be stopping the stumble. Still, they'll need more from Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown (the two guys responsible for the consecutive wins), they'll need Randy Johnson to return healthy, Carl Pavano (2-2, 4.17 ERA) has to pitch better and they'll have to solidify their bullpen to get back in the race. Sounds like a lot to ask, but for $200 million, The Boss kind of expects it.
1. Philadelphia Phillies (14-18, last place) Jim Thome, the great slugger who was to anchor this team, has one homer this season and won't hit more anytime soon, as he's sitting on the DL with a balky back. Pat Burrell started off hot, but he's hitting only .222 in May and has only two homers in the past three weeks. No one else is helping much, either. Even playing in that bandbox of a ballpark, the Phillies rank last in the NL in batting average and slugging percentage. The pitching has been OK, though nothing like the rest of the division. Jon Lieber started off 4-0, and young Brett Myers is looking good (1.49 ERA in seven starts). But opponents are batting .288 against the 'pen, and only two teams are worse than that. This team of underachievers is playing no better under cool-hand Charlie Manuel than it was under hothead Larry Bowa. And the NL East, with the pitching of the Braves and Marlins and the surprising success of the Nationals, is no place for underachievers.
E Of The Week
First, former major league pitcher Tom House claimed that maybe a half-dozen pitchers on each team used steroids in the '60s and '70s. Then he says ... uh, no. Not really. He misspoke. He meant greenies. Amphetamines. Yeah, that's what he meant. "Maybe I wasn't saying what I thought I was saying," House said later in the week. Well, then, maybe you ought to just refrain from saying anything that pops into your head, Tom. Or stick to your story. One or the other.