Weaknesses that could sink MLB’s 10 best teams

Weaknesses that could sink MLB’s 10 best teams

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A quick glance at the standings reveals that it’s shaping up as a strange season. The Red Sox and Yankees both started 28-12, the first time two teams have won 28 of their first 40 games since 2002. In the National League, 10 of the 15 teams are over .500. Meanwhile, seven teams begin the week under .400, with the Dodgers sitting right at that mark. It all means we have a lot of good teams — at least, so far.

Even good teams have major flaws, however, so let’s look at the top 10 teams in this week’s Power Rankings and examine their biggest problems.

New York Yankees

Biggest problem: SP Sonny Gray (6.39 ERA, 46 hits and 24 walks in 38 innings)

Also of concern: 3B Miguel Andujar (.282/.296/.458, but 28/3 SO/BB and minus-6 Defensive Runs Saved)

Thanks to strong starts from Luis Severino and CC Sabathia, the Yankees’ rotation is fourth in the American League in ERA, helping to cover for Gray’s abysmal start. He has been able to go more than five innings in just three of eight starts, and the walk rate is way too high. His swing-and-miss rate is still in line with his career norms, but batters are swinging less because he’s not throwing enough strikes.

Andujar has certainly shown the hitting skills that could make him a long-term solution at third base, but the defense is a problem — he kind of slingshots his throws from the side, leading to accuracy issues — and the OBP is poor, leading to a player who has merely been replacement level. At a position with talent potentially available via trade (Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre, Mike Moustakas) or even in-house, if Brandon Drury recovers, the Yankees could upgrade.


Boston Red Sox

Biggest problem: Red Sox catchers are hitting .178/.228/.224 for the worst wOBA in the majors (.209).

Also of concern: Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .171, including .088 against lefties.

I’m not as worried about the bullpen as everyone else. The pen is second in the majors in FanGraphs WAR and sixth in Win Probability Added. Sure, Dave Dombrowski might look to add another arm in July, but it has to be a very quality addition — say, a guy like Brad Hand — to provide a significant upgrade.

The Red Sox love the defense Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon provide, but it also means they’re punting a position on offense right now. Good luck finding somebody on the trade market, however, unless you want to pay a hefty price for J.T. Realmuto.

Bradley’s underlying stats are actually similar to last season, so there’s been some bad luck, although the Red Sox are starting to sit him against lefties.


Houston Astros

Biggest problem: Who is the closer?

Also of concern: Jake Marisnick has become unplayable with a “Holy crap, that actually is happening” stat line of 41 strikeouts and one walk with a .141 average. Derek Fisher hasn’t hit. Marwin Gonzalez hasn’t hit like 2017. So, they could look for outfield help.

There are good pitchers in the bullpen: Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, even Hector Rondon has been solid so far. The big question will remain unknown no matter the numbers: Can you trust Ken Giles in the postseason? He’s off to an interesting start: He hasn’t walked anybody, but his strikeout rate is down — in part because he’s throwing more fastballs and fewer wipeout sliders. Does he not trust his slider, the pitch that abandoned him last October?

There are potential closers out there in Hand, Kelvin Herrera and maybe Zach Britton if he gets healthy, but it’s not clear those guys are any better than what the Astros already have. It could lead to another October of A.J. Hinch winging it with his bullpen.


Los Angeles Angels

Biggest problem: The always reliable Kole Calhoun is hitting .158/.187/.195.

Also of concern: Albert Pujols isn’t good.

What’s happened to Calhoun? The defense is still very good, but he’s completely lost at the plate with 37 strikeouts and just five walks and is getting blown away by fastballs with a .151 average and .330 OPS (after an .800-plus OPS against fastballs the past three seasons). That looks like a guy playing through an injury or somebody who woke up one day and the bat speed was gone.

The other outfield options are Chris Young and Jabari Blash, and Young is hitting .146. Adam Jones isn’t great, but he’d likely be available, and the Padres have a glut of mediocre outfielders who might provide a small upgrade at this point.

As for Pujols, I wouldn’t anticipate a move here, although it seems Jefry Marte might have to start getting more opportunities, even in the games Shohei Ohtani is the designated hitter.


Arizona Diamondbacks

Biggest problem: Their catchers are almost as bad as Boston’s group, hitting .183/.257/.310.

Also of concern: Well, Paul Goldschmidt isn’t hitting like a superstar, and they need him to hit like a superstar given some of the other holes in the lineup (both middle infielders have sub-.300 OBPs).

Arizona’s catching problem is exacerbated even more because the D-backs carry three catchers, meaning Alex Avila and John Ryan Murphy are often used as pinch hitters.

Getting Jake Lamb back will help the offense, but the key is Goldschmidt, who is struggling with a .211/.337/.374 line. You blame the new humidor, but that hasn’t affected A.J. Pollock.

His problem has been a lot of swing-and-misses — but the trend line there isn’t good:

2016: 22.9 percent miss rate

2017: 26.5 percent miss rate

2018: 31.1 percent miss rate

Ruh-roh.


St. Louis Cardinals

Biggest problem: Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong are all hitting under .200, and Marcell Ozuna has a lackluster .658 OPS. I guess that’s four problems.

Also of concern: It’s the Cardinals, which means the bullpen is always of concern.

The guy to be least concerned about is Ozuna, who is still showing strong exit velocities and showing signs of coming out his slump. He was hitting too many ground balls early and pulling too many pitches, and the walk rate isn’t good (but the chase rates and miss rates are the same as 2017). He should get going soon.

Fowler and Carpenter are harder to figure out. They are at that scary age when decline can happen. Fowler has his usual strong plate discipline, but his swing-and-miss rate is up 5 percent from 2017, and he has hit a lot of popups. Carpenter’s miss rate is way up, from 19.5 percent to 28.2 percent. Maybe he has taken the whole plate-discipline thing too far and is finding himself in too many pitcher’s counts.

The good news is these guys should improve, but the Cardinals also have options: Jedd Gyorko in the infield and Harrison Bader in the outfield. They also have the depth to make a splashy move for a Machado.


Chicago Cubs

Biggest problem: Yu Darvish is 0-3 in six starts with a 6.00 ERA (he has also been on the disabled list with a virus, which sounds suspiciously like a “Let’s give him a 10-day break” virus).

Also of concern: Jason Heyward … this just in … still can’t hit.

Of the 10 teams listed here, the Cubs are probably the team least likely to make a big move, barring some kind of major injury. Anthony Rizzo has recovered from a poor April with a hot May, and Addison Russell has just one home run. Darvish will be fine. In my fantasy scenario, they flip Russell for Machado and go all-in for 2018. Hey, flags fly forever.


Washington Nationals

Biggest problem: Bullpen depth. Closer Sean Doolittle is fine, but the pen is 20th in the majors in ERA.

Also of concern: With Adam Eaton on the 60-day DL, they’ve started six different left fielders.

Washington is one contender obviously in need of relief help, and the Nationals will be tied to every available reliever. It will be interesting to see what they eventually do in the outfield. Michael Taylor is a plus defender but hasn’t hit, and Matt Adams has hit, but you don’t really want him in left field. Maybe Eaton gets healthy, or maybe top prospect Victor Robles, who injured his elbow on a diving catch in Triple-A in April, is ready to contribute later in the season.


Philadelphia Phillies

Biggest problem: Closer Hector Neris has three blown saves (and three losses) and a 5.17 ERA.

Also of concern: The right fielders are hitting .166/.287/.290.

Neris has racked up strikeouts the past couple of seasons, but he also has had home run issues that aren’t solely attributable to Citizens Bank Park. With a deep farm system, the Phillies have the resources to make a deal if they stay in the race.

Aaron Altherr had a solid 2017, his walk rate is up and his Statcast numbers suggest he’s underperforming his expected production. He should be fine.


Atlanta Braves

Biggest problem: Third base. Braves third basemen have actually hit well, but bringing in Jose Bautista shows the team wasn’t buying Ryan Flaherty‘s strong start.

Also of concern: Bullpen depth.

Bautista is more of a shot in the dark than a likely solution, given his poor performance at the plate with the Blue Jays in 2017 — let alone his ability to play the position regularly for the first time in years. Given the potential glut of third basemen on the trade market, is there a more perfect fit for Machado to land for three months? The Braves have pitching depth in the minors to make that move.

The bullpen has actually been surprisingly decent so far, ranking ninth in ERA with some good results from Arodys Vizcaino (a little wild, but a 1.93 ERA), Dan Winkler (1.02 ERA, strong peripherals) and Shane Carle (0.75 ERA). This group has allowed just nine home runs in 150 innings, but adding a quality reliever or two would help balance some of the inevitable regression. The Braves have to be careful about not pushing too early, but this is looking like a team that can contend all season.



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