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5/11/2007 09:30:00 AM

Wild Card: Seven Underperforming Teams

Ted Lilly
Ted Lilly, with a 2.78 ERA in 45 1/3 innings, has exceeded even the Cubs' expectations for him during his first year with the team.
Warren Wimmer/WireImage.com
By Cliff Corcoran

Thanks to everyone who participated in our little troll-baiting experiment last week. I stand by those evaluations, even if the Brewers haven’t lost a game since (they have been playing the Pirates and Nationals, you know). The idea, of course, was not to be inflammatory, but to pair last week’s list of overachievers up with a list of five underachieving teams this week. In the interim, however, two underperforming teams I had pegged for this week started winning (albeit against weak competition). Just to tick everyone off, I’ll start with those two criminally neglected ballclubs, but in the interests of fairness, I’ll make it up to you by listing two bonus underachievers at the end.

New York Yankees

Yes, Roger Clemens will make them a better ballclub, but the Yankees were due to improve even before they doled out the largest annual salary in major-league history to a 44-year-old hurler who hasn’t pitched since last September. The Yankees have the best offense in baseball and only recently got two of their top three starters (Chien-Ming Wang, who took a perfect game into the eighth inning last Saturday, and Mike Mussina) back from early-season DL stays. The return of the ultra-efficient Wang especially will help take pressure off the bullpen, where Mariano Rivera is sure to get over what have become his annual early-season hiccups. By early June, when the Yankees round out their rotation with Clemens and top prospect Phil Hughes, whose no-hitter-dashing hamstring tear turned out to be less severe than originally thought, the team could be right back in the thick of the wild-card hunt. That said, the Red Sox may be too strong for the Yankees’ to build on their streak of nine consecutive AL East titles.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ early-season struggles have led to a lot of I-told-you-so articles about how the team’s offseason spending spree was as pointless as the Blue Jays’ the year before. Don’t be so quick to judge. The early returns on Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis have exceeded everyone’s expectations, including GM Jim Hendry’s, and, although they lack gaudy homer totals, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez are producing at or above their career norms. Actually, one curious note about the Cubs’ April is the offense’s odd distribution of homers and doubles. In the NL as a whole thus far this season, there have been 2.21 doubles hit for every home run. The Cubs, however, have 3.04 doubles for every home run despite the presence of such elite mashers such as Soriano, Ramirez and Derrek Lee. Taking a closer look, Ramirez is on pace for 40 dingers, but Soriano and Lee are only on pace for 18 and 10, respectively. At the same time, Soriano and Lee are on pace for 72 and 86 doubles each, which suggests that the ball just wasn’t carrying at Wrigley in April. Indeed, the Cubs have slugged .456 on the road, but only .396 at home thus far. That will change as the weather warms up. Of course, that change will also inflate the team ERA, but the Cubs are due for some correction in their luck, much like the next team on this list.

Philadelphia Phillies

A team’s record in one-run games is largely the result of luck and tends to trend back toward .500. The three worst one-run records in baseball right now belong to the New York Yankees (2-6), the Chicago Cubs (2-7), and the Philadelphia Phillies (1-7). Those clubs are also three of only four teams in the majors that have outscored their opponents, but don’t have winning records, another strong indication of an underachieving team. The Phillies, of course, are perennial underachievers, having failed to make the playoffs since 1993 despite winning at least 85 games in five of the last six seasons and finishing second in the NL East in four of those. Thus far this year, their problem has been pitching, particularly the last two spots in a rotation that was supposedly six-deep entering the season. The Phillies have responded to that in their usual boneheaded manner by pulling their supposed ace, Brett Myers, out of the rotation after one strong start and two bad ones and sticking him in the bullpen even before they had a need to replace since injured closer Tom Gordon. Still, Cole Hamels (the team’s true ace), the ageless Jamie Moyer, and the formerly unwanted Jon Lieber have been excellent, and Freddy Garcia showed no ill effects after running into a groundskeeper’s cart while shagging batting practice flies. The MRI on Gordon’s shoulder was negative, and, having had a cortisone shot, he’s resumed throwing. If the Phillies would just dump Adam Eaton and reinstall Myers in the rotation, the natural corrections they’re due to enjoy in their overall fortunes could get them back in their customary bridesmaid position by year's end.

Toronto Blue Jays

The fourth-worst record in one-run games belongs to the Blue Jays (3-8). Unlike the Yankees, Cubs, and Phillies, the Blue Jays may not be much more than a .500 ballclub, but that’s still a big improvement over their current .382. The Jays’ big problem thus far has been injuries, which I wrote about a few weeks ago over on the AL East portion of this blog. Troy Glaus has returned and picked up right where he left off, but catcher and on-base machine Gregg Zaun has taken his place on the DL, rookie Adam Lind has yet to lived up to his billing in place of Reed Johnson, and the bullpen is still struggling to cope with the loss of closer B. J. Ryan, who had Tommy John surgery last week and is out for the year. Then again, much like the Phillies, the Blue Jays’ real problem is the rotation; the Jays have lost nine in a row and allowed an average of eight runs per game over that stretch. No team can continue to play that poorly. Not even the ...

Kansas City Royals

That’s right, the Royals are underachieving. They’re currently on pace to lose 110 games, but I still think they’ll avoid hitting the century mark for the first time since 2003. The primary reason is that the offense is not nearly as bad as it’s shown itself to be in the early going. The Royals are currently dead last in the AL in runs per game, but Alex Gordon, Emil Brown, and Ryan Shealy (who’s been hurt) have contributed virtually nothing thus far and power prospect Billy Butler just arrived on the scene. I’m not saying the Royals are going to slug with the Yankees, but those four should kick into gear sooner or later, and the team could get an extra boost if Mark Grudzielanek is cleared away so that Esteban German can be given the second base job. Remember, everything’s relative. A 95-loss season would be a boon for this franchise.

Minnesota Twins

The first of my two bonus selections, the Twins are the fourth team without a winning record to have outscored its opponents. The Twins can easily upgrade the No. 5 spot in the rotation currently occupied by Sidney Ponson with any of a number of in-house candidates, and are currently without defending batting champion Joe Mauer due to a quadriceps strain. Also, two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana does his best work in the second half (2.55 ERA, 45-10 career in the second half vs. 3.74, 37-23 in the first half). Improvement over their current .500 record is almost guaranteed.

Washington Nationals

One thing that some of the more irate commenters failed to appreciate about my Overachievers post last week was that extreme performance of any kind is unlikely to persist. That’s why I tabbed the Braves, Indians, and Brewers as Overacheivers, and that’s why I’m including the dreadful Nats here as my second bonus pick. The Nationals have a .265 winning percentage. That would tie them with the 2003 Detroit Tigers for the sixth-worst winning percentage since 1900 if they were to finish the season at that level. The Nationals have scored just 2.91 runs per game thus far this year. Last year the worst offense in baseball belonged to the Pittsburgh Pirates; they scored 4.27 runs per game. The last time a team scored less than three runs per game over a full season was 35 years ago. This level of futility is unsustainable, particularly when Ryan Zimmerman hasn’t started hitting yet and Nick Johnson is starting to work out with an eye toward returning around the All-Star break.

Cliff Corcoran is the co-author of Bronx Banter.

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posted by SI.com | View comments |  

Comments:

I know the Yankees have the best offense in baseball but why they score fewer than five runs in the majority of their games? What is going to happen when Jeter stops hitting .370 and Posada comes back down to Earth? ARod already quit that three home runs a game silliness, the other two are right around the corner.
Posted: May 11, 2007 12:03 PM   by Jim
That's funny....most 'experts' picked the Twins to finish 4th in their division this year(even though they won the division last year), and yet they still end up on an underachieving list...amazing
Posted: May 11, 2007 12:04 PM   by Andrew C
I think you left out my beloved whitesox
Posted: May 11, 2007 12:04 PM   by Anonymous
YANKEES...come on now! They have an all-star but just don't dominate. It's a shame! and Alex Rodriguez is way overrated...
"usual boneheaded manner?"

really moving a 26 year old pitcher with heavy endurance a nasty hard curve ball and a 94 mph fastball into the bullpen when the reality of today's MLB is that the closer and set up man are premier positions, is boneheaded?

and if you don't think they are premier, then go look at what the braves did this offseason, or all the teams unwililng to part with their bullpen pieces this spring

let's ignore that the phillies have been better since myers was mvoed to the bullpen, and leiber to the rotation

let's ignore that healthy or not gordon has been terrible so far this season

the phillies are inf act underachieving, but your analysis of the situation is a wonderful condemnation of your understanding of the game of baseball
Yeah, how are the White Sox not on this list, seriously..
This is a farce - the Yankees and Cubs can't be called underachievers since they have weak bullpens.
Posted: May 11, 2007 12:34 PM   by joe yackee
The Royals are as well - they should be a few games better, though still be in last.
Posted: May 11, 2007 12:51 PM   by Sam
Extreme performance of any kind is unlikely to persist? That is some really shoddy logic. Obviously with Josh Beckett pitching so well he's due to break down and go on the DL any moment now, right? You said it about Hudson, why wouldn't it work for Beckett? Could it be that you only stick to your logic when it's convenient?
Posted: May 11, 2007 12:52 PM   by Gary Graul
This a good list with one exception: Washington. They really are that bad, and the farm is just as bad. This team isn't rebuilding, it is a train wreck.
Posted: May 11, 2007 12:55 PM   by Anonymous
How many times in the last 5 years has everyone written off the Yank's early in the year, only to have them win the division again? I'm not a Yankee's fan by any means, but I also don't have the immediate hatred of them that most fans do. With their lineup, and when they get their pitching back, plus the addition of Clemens, they'll be right back in the race by August, as usual. They may not catch the Sox for a change, but they'll make it race, just like they always do. Let's please wait until at least the all star break before burying them already. I'd really like to say my Card's are underachieving, but, in reality, they're just undermanned thanks to a chepskate owner. Pujols is starting to come around, as expected, and Edmunds and Rolen should as well. Beyond that, the pitching staff was decimated in the off-season, and then Carpenter went down, and, as everyone knows, pitching is what wins in the long run, and they just don't have it. Bet Jeff Weaver wishes he'd have stayed with Duncan and company, though, lol. 6 runs in 5 innings actually LOWERED his ERA.
Posted: May 11, 2007 1:02 PM   by Anonymous
whats funny is that the blosox were thought to be this extraordinary power house that the Yankees werent going to catch last year as well....seems to me they ended up in 3rd place in the AL East. The biased reporting for the blosox on this site is funny. This is a 162 game season, not 50. There is a lot of baseball to be played.
Why are the Nationals having a new stadium built for them? It's like awarding your kids for failing school. Kick the bums out of town
Posted: May 11, 2007 1:39 PM   by Anonymous
I think instant replay should be used when an umpire makes a call on a play that he can't even see. The great case inpoint was the "phantom" tag by Chuck Knoblauch in the 1999 ALCS; he missed the runner by at least 2 feet, but the ump called the runner out. The Yankees went on to win the game and the series.
Posted: May 11, 2007 1:43 PM   by Anonymous
How can the nationals be underachieving?!?!?!?!
yall predicted them to suck and they suck
Posted: May 11, 2007 1:50 PM   by Anonymous
A comment about 'biased' report from someone who writes 'blosox'. Now that's humor.
Posted: May 11, 2007 1:55 PM   by Anonymous
I still think the Indians are underachieving this year. I know that they are in the top 3 in the AL standing wise, but even with their record, they are just barely doing enough to win the games. Just enough defense, just enough runs, just enough bullpen relief. Their starters are the only dominant force they have for now. Just wait until Grady, Vic and Pronk unleash. Once they get all the engines running, they are gonna be nearly unstoppable
Posted: May 11, 2007 2:06 PM   by Anonymous
Yeah, the Royals have lowered the bar this year, even by their standards. I really think the organization sold its soul to the devil to win the unlikely 1985 World Series. This has to be the payment. Even if the prospects develop, I have a feeling it will be a Carlos Beltran situation; great has but no wins for the team.
Posted: May 11, 2007 2:25 PM   by Anonymous
Royals and Nationals? Wow, you must have had an epiphany to come up with those two. You can add them to your list of accomplishments up there with the Orioles. Don't you have to achieve something first to be considered an under-achiever?
Posted: May 11, 2007 2:52 PM   by Anonymous
The Nationals are performing as well as they possibly can. They might be the worst collection of baseball players ever assembled. Right now, Austin Kearns is their slugger?!?!?! He's at best a six/seven hole guy. The pitching staff is abominable and the relievers, outside of Rauch, aren't much better. They will win no more than 52 games.
Posted: May 11, 2007 2:57 PM   by Anonymous
blosox had too many injuries in the second half last year and couldn't recover. Yanks have too many injuries in the first half this year, and they won't be able to recover, either.
Posted: May 11, 2007 3:03 PM   by Tyler
I was almost certain that you would go ahead and tab the Mets as under-achievers thus far.

How you still have this job is beyond me.
Posted: May 11, 2007 4:08 PM   by Anonymous
What about the white sox? A team full of mashers is dead last in AL in almost every offensive category?
Posted: May 11, 2007 7:32 PM   by Anonymous
Lets look at things clearly here about the yankees, most of their early season schedule is against some of the more dominant teams in both divisions, redsox mets etc. They have a cake second half, not to mention were not even half way through may and theyre already back to winning 7 out of their last ten and gaining in the standings quickly over the last week. I dont think I would write them off yet, epsecially since the redsox have the opposite schedule that the yankees do. Their pitching staff is bound to cool off and Josh Beckett, who loves to give up home runs, is bound to cool off as well. Let's also hope for the redsox sake that their closer, who was a starter that didnt take to the reliever position well towards the end of last year, dosent start to have more arm trouble from pitching so often and that manny dosent start acting up again. Those two things alone could sink their ship quickly again.
Posted: May 11, 2007 7:38 PM   by Anonymous
for once, i would like to read something inciteful from an mlb columnist. when the yanks are so far behind the soxs this early in the season with a roster that looks like past allstar teams, of course there underachieving
Posted: May 11, 2007 7:40 PM   by Anonymous
lmao...one run games tend to trend back to .500? How did they compute that? Check out that Phillies comment--someone always has to lose and someone always has to win those games so you can't compare teams against each other because if you average them, everyone turns out to be .500
I think the Cardinals are clearly underachieving. Some say they overachieved last year, but when they were healthy they performed as expected. With the same offense this year, they are clearly underachieving.
Posted: May 12, 2007 12:29 AM   by Anonymous
well the yanks are going to need a lot more help than ropger clemens and a nobody like Brian Bruney throwing at guys trying to take them out - ( and don't be surprised when another team takes out posada or jeter over that BS with Bruney everytime he takes the mound ) I think the yanks year is lost- there are alot more probs there than injuries, fundamental and cohesive they are not. Put in the white sox
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