Five MLB teams aiming to rebound after disappointing 2022 starts

Friends would recommend watching Schitt’s Creek, and for a while I just got stuck with it. Despite a great cast of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, the first season was a bit awkward and obnoxious. It felt like everyone was trying too hard.

But like a true pro (sitting on my couch, eating cookies), I stuck it out with Schitt’s Creek, and I’m glad I did. The characters developed in a winning way and began to play themselves perfectly. When the sitcom’s sixth and final season basically won the 2020 Emmys, I was happy for this group of misfits who managed to become a winning team.

This kind of thing happens all the time in baseball, so it’s never a good idea to completely rule out a team with a lot of talent until the math does it for us.

So far in 2022, there are five teams that were widely considered contenders that fell flat for one reason or another. All five of those teams went into the weekend with records that would put them out of the playoff picture at the end of the season.

But the season is not over yet. So, can these five teams look like a specific TV show and bring them together? let’s discuss

The situation: The South Siders entered 2022 as the clear favorite to repeat the American League Central. But their roster was ambushed early on by injury while the Twins played well enough to claim first place. The absence of Lance Lynn made Dallas Keuchel’s 6.86 ERA stand out all the more, the bullpen allowed plenty of traffic (1.38 WHIP) and the offense lacked oomph (.354 SLG, 24th in MLB).

Reason for optimism: We’ve seen a few lately, with third baseman Yoán Moncada and assist Joe Kelly returning from the IL, and Luis Robert coming alive at the plate after a slow start that included a groin injury. Michael Kopech has made a seamless transition to rotation (0.93 ERA in six starts) and Lynn will be back soon after a knee problem. As the Sox get healthier, helpers settle into their expected roles, and the bats reach their optimum level, there’s no reason they can’t hang out with a Twins team that has yet to prove its staying power.

Reasons for skepticism: Eloy Jimenez’s torn right hamstring will keep him out for the foreseeable future, affecting the form of the lineup. Liam Hendriks has had an unusually unpredictable season so far, and when he’s not his dominant self, that affects the shape of the pen. The biggest problem for the Sox is if the injury virus lingers year-round or key parts underperform, their farm system may not have the depth to make a positive impact through midseason calls or trades.

The situation: The defending champions lost three of their first five games of the season and haven’t come back over .500 since. The struggles of veteran starter Charlie Morton (5.65 ERA, 76 ERA+) hampered rotation, while outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall and shortstop Dansby Swanson were among the worst-performing regulars in the National League. While the Mets have moved up to first place in the NL East, the Braves are disappointingly mid-table in runs per game (4.15, 14th in MLB) and runs allowed per game (4.48, 23rd in MLB).

Reasons for optimism: Ronald Acuña Jr. returned earlier than expected from a gruesome injury to his right knee and made an immediate impression (.282/.391/.487 slash) despite a recent struggle with a groin strain. The expected stats show that Ozuna, Duvall, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies and Swanson all had some bad luck. In fact, the difference between the Braves’ slugging percentage (.398) and their expected SLG (.493) is the largest of any NL team. Morton has a long track record that suggests he will contribute positively to a rotation that will see Max Fried continue to grow to ace status and Kyle Wright provide a boost. The bullpen looked good on paper and was effective in reality, with the 10th best WHIP (1.17) and 7th best average versus (.214) in the MLB. The Braves proved over the past year that they can overcome a slow start.

Reasons for skepticism: It was one thing for the Braves to fight their way back to the top of the NL East in 2021, when it was baseball’s most disappointing division. But the Mets have upped the ante this year. If Morton gets washed or the rotation needs other fixes AND the offense doesn’t get going, that could be too much even for GM Alex Anthopoulos to determine what numbers are a seller’s trade market.

The situation: The Phils of recent years have proven that you can’t just buy your way into the playoffs. They have the second-longest postseason drought in MLB and the longest in the NL. By adding reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper to the roster with Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, Philadelphia seemed poised to jump into the competition this year. But Harper, while prolific, is playing through a UCL right elbow tear that limits him to DH duties on a team that already had plenty of DH types early on. And the pitching staff finished 22nd in the MLB in ERA (3.97) over the weekend.

Reasons for optimism: The offense was among the best in custom baseball (.747 OPS, 2nd in MLB) but struggled with runners in goal position (.714 OPS, 19th in MLB). A positive regression to the mean for a very good collection of at-bats would help the Phillies improve on their lackluster record in one-run games. The pitching staff is doing better than raw ERA (and a particularly notable blast against the Mets) would suggest. Several key members of this staff expected ERAs to be better than raw ERAs – including pivots Zack Wheeler (3.15 vs. 4.26), Aaron Nola (2.51 vs. 3.83) and Zach Eflin (2, 76 vs. 4.50) and bullpen arm José Alvarado (3.24 vs. 7.45).

Reasons for skepticism: Harper’s injury, which doesn’t go away on its own anytime soon, doesn’t affect his swing, but it does significantly affect the way the daily lineup is constructed. Defending wasn’t good and wasn’t (minus nine saves on defense). That doesn’t help a team that doesn’t have much room for error.

The situation: With last season’s 90-win club just two games away from a playoff spot and huge strides made for reigning AL Cy Young winners Robbie Ray, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez, the Mariners seemed poised to make a real run to make the AL West title. Unfortunately, it’s the Angels who are fighting back against the Astros while the Ms have been in an ongoing mess for the past two and a half weeks.

Reasons for optimism: This team got off to a promising 11-6 start, so you don’t have to squint too much to see them return to that level of play for longer stretches this summer. Highly touted rookie Julio Rodríguez appears to be finding himself on the plate (0.311/0.363/0.432 slash since April 22), and advanced metrics insist Winker (0.371 expected baseline weighted average vs. 0.276 actual woBA) will turn it around, to to expand a lineup in which Ty France and JP Crawford are thriving. Young George Kirby and Logan Gilbert have both shown their potential in the rotation. Last year’s roster went 4-11 in mid-May only to go the rest of the way 68-46. This team can certainly deliver a similar run.

Reasons for skepticism: Start with Ray, who performed better on his last launch, but whose underlying advanced metrics remain decidedly disappointing. If he’s just not right (and if Gilbert’s early success is being eroded by an increasing walk rate), do the Mariners have the pitch to be a serious contender? It is also heartbreaking to see the acclaimed Jarred Kelenic continue to struggle at the plate and he has now been selected for Triple-A. And with Mitch Haniger out for months with a sprained right ankle and Kyle Lewis not expected back for the next few weeks at the earliest, the Mariners are lacking reinforcements. Unfortunately, the team with the longest postseason drought in North American professional sports has a lot to prove, and to date, the M’s haven’t proved it.

The situation: A Boston ball club that had just two wins at the World Series last year now has a record that puts them among MLB scum. Though the roster hasn’t undergone a massive makeover since last year and the Sox made a splash with the signing of Trevor Story, the lineup was lackluster, Chris Sale was absent from the rotation and the ninth inning was a mess.

Reasons for optimism: The offense was carried by Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and JD Martinez, all of whom have OPS+ grades at least 40% better than the league average. Give the Red Sox an even league average offense from the other six spots in order and you’ve got a completely different team. There could be options within the system in the form of outfielder Jarren Duran and first baseman Triston Casas to improve lineup depth, and maybe Story can reverse it after a terrible start. The Boston Bullpen is a mess, but we’ve seen other clubs fix their pens in no time. Sale and James Paxton will eventually return from injury to give the rotational innings they desperately need.

Reasons for skepticism: Math, for one. The Red Sox not only went 12 games back in the brutal AL East over the weekend, but they also went 5 1/2 games back in a crowded wild card race. The Red Sox hunt clubs with better depth and fewer questions — and Sale’s return from a chest injury delayed by a personal medical issue certainly doesn’t help their cause. Story’s rocky start and Bogaert’s unresolved contract issue hangs over this club to a significant extent.

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